Surrealism is not a twentieth-century art movement. It is a not a form of the avant-garde, nor a painting style, nor a set of artistic or poetic techniques, nor an arena for individual geniuses, nor a precursor of postmodernism. It cannot be comprehended as a ‘legacy’, a ‘heritage’, or an ‘influence’ on contemporary art or consumer culture. It cannot be captured in a gallery, a textbook, or a database; it cannot be explained with art criticism or postmodernist philosophy or literary theory; it cannot be traded on the art market or consumed as a media spectacle.
All of these facts should be self-evident to anyone who claims to have even a basic understanding of the principles of surrealism. Nevertheless it is precisely those who claim ‘authority’ and ‘expertise’ on the subject who most systematically misrepresent and betray it. Art historians, academics and art galleries worldwide persistently treat surrealism as an ‘object of study’, dissecting and pickling it as if it were André Breton’s decomposing corpse. Their attitude amounts to a total incomprehension of the purpose, force and living energy of the international surrealist movement.
This incomprehension cannot be excused as a failure to understand. On the contrary, it is a wilful refusal to understand the very texts, images, objects and events which they subject to their pedantic academic scrutiny. For if they truly shared the surrealist commitment to Mad Love and Revolution, to Poetry and the Marvellous, to our unwavering goals to change life and transform the world, then they would see that this commitment is by definition incompatible with careerism, the pursuit of professional or academic status, or capitulation to the international art world in either its commercial or state-sponsored guises. They would see, in fact, that the only way for them to proceed with integrity is to abandon their pretensions to institutional respectability and join the surrealist movement. Their failure to do so indicates that their so-called admiration of surrealism is really a complacent admiration of the social, cultural and political order which surrealism is pledged to overthrow.
We call on academics and art historians whose passion is genuine – if there are any such individuals – to stop their academic activities in relation to surrealism. Stop writing academic books and journal articles, stop organising and attending academic conferences, stop building your careers on the back of surrealist struggles, in short, shut the fuck up. If you want to promote the surrealist cause, if you want to seek the Marvellous and to live by the principles of freedom and poetry, turn your energies to the practice of surrealism instead of its betrayal. And while you’re at it, encourage your students to do the same: show them the way into surrealism as a living movement instead of peddling them a lot of art-historical bullshit.
We also call on our comrades in the international surrealist movement whose passion we share and reciprocate not to fall into the traps of academic debate. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you try to explain it to them just one more time, the academics might finally ‘get it’ and stop talking bollocks. Don’t be tempted to write for academic publications, or to attend academic conferences where your presence will at best be used to legitimate the organisers. Don’t apply to academic or other state institutions for funding; don’t accept the patronage of those who want to further their careers through having ‘discovered’ you; don’t market yourselves as minstrel shows for academic glee clubs.
Surrealism is a movement of uncompromising revolt and total freedom. It is outside of all state, cultural and artistic institutions, not by accident or on the basis of misunderstanding, but by design and on revolutionary principles. We demand clarity about those principles, and we declare our revolt against their continued betrayal.