Surrealism, as everyone knows, is among other things a struggle against both exchange-value and identitarian thinking. That is why dialectics is so fundamental to Surrealism. André Breton famously nailed Surrealism's colours to the mast of dialectics in the Second Manifesto:
Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point.
This definition of Surrealism as a search for the vanishing point between contradictions is often-cited, but there is a danger that it can be misunderstood when taken out of the context of the manifesto's wider discussion of dialectics. Readers who misunderstand the wider dialectical argument can take the passage to mean that the task of Surrealism is merely to deny the contradictions, rather than to strive to find the vanishing point between them. Dialectics does not mean abolishing contradictions with an act of wishful thinking; it involves conflict and struggle, both within and without, so that by overcoming the contradiction between X and Y we produce Z – and it's the newly-born thing, the Z, that's the vanishing point, the point of surreality. Simply denying the contradictions rather than overcoming them – claiming that X and Y are already just the same thing, rather than actively struggling for Z – is a capitulation to precisely the logic of equivalence and exchange-value that Surrealism opposes.
The prevalence of postmodernism and poststructuralism, which seem to have seeped into contemporary consciousness by osmosis, may at least partly lie behind the apparently increasing frequency with which this kind of mistake is made. Poststructuralism in particular has taught at least two generations that contradictions – now reframed as "binaries" – can be deconstructed through textual play. This notion itself rests on a conceptualisation of texts as comprised of signifiers which are explicitly theorised as free-floating, interchangeable exchange-objects in a flattened-out linguistic field. While conformist humanities undergraduates everywhere are now able to "deconstruct the binaries", including those of class and gender, with a wave of their textual wands, the more popular versions of this style of thinking merge at worst with New Age burbling about "the illusion of reality" and "the underlying oneness of being". Thus the field of struggle has been turned into alphabet soup on the one hand and sentimental goo on the other, and a pattern of thought based on defeatism and/or escapism – "contradictions are bad, but they don't really exist so it's all ok" – has become habitual in all kinds of "radical" and "anti-capitalist" circles.
One of the most damaging consequences of such misunderstandings of contradiction and value is that they ultimately apply the logic of equivalence and exchange-value to Surrealism itself, turning Surrealism into just another interchangeable thing on the shelf. On a practical level this comes up rather concretely, for example, when Surrealists play or collaborate with non-Surrealists who are interested in some of the same things as us, such as jazz, automatism or the occult. Collaborations with non-Surrealist fellow-travellers are often exciting, refreshing, energising and revealing, but only on condition that everyone involves keep sight of the differences between Surrealism itself and the collaborators in question. The fact that some artists use automatic techniques does not mean that what those artists are doing is the same as Surrealism; the fact that contemporary pagans are interested in Tarot and occult symbolism does not mean that Surrealism is the same as paganism, or that the "voice" a pagan hears in the forest is the same "voice" that we hear from the automatic muse. If we deny these differences between Surrealism and its (real or apparent) allies – if we reduce Surrealism to something interchangeable with art, jazz, New Age spirituality or whatever it may be this time – then we have capitulated to the logic of exchange-value when we should be defeating it. Surrealism is irreducible. Accept no substitutes.