Sunday, April 23, 2006


I grant you that the morality Surrealism aims at promoting is still in its intuitive phase. It’s quite certain that for the famous “Each man according to his abilities,” “his works,” or “his needs” (materially speaking), not only Surrealism but all poetry worthy of the name has substituted an “Each man according to his desires.” […] In return for abolishing the “verboten” in every tongue, I have no doubt that the most extreme, and even most antisocial, points of desire would soon be absorbed.
(André Breton 1948)

The Unconscious is not a happy place; desire does not always bring joy. To anyone who has ever fallen in love, experienced violence, or simply been woken by a nightmare – that is, to everyone – these truths must be so obvious as to seem not worth stating.

The world against which we struggle is not just the ‘exterior’ world, but also the ‘interior’ world. Insofar as Surrealism seeks to bring these two worlds into communication, it will bring forth not just the beautiful Marvellous which we seek but also, inevitably, the reality we repudiate: the painful, the terrible, the horrific and the repulsive. The extent to which the history of the international Surrealist movement has been marked by acrimony, conflict and pain is testament to Surrealism’s propensity to call forth these monsters. They arise from the Unconscious not only in the sense of the Unconscious of individuals, but also from the Unconscious as an intersubjective force that operates between as well as within us. Collective dreaming can produce nightmares no less horrific than individual dreaming.

Such nightmares demand to be taken seriously as an essential aspect of Surrealism’s pre-figurative nature, just like the Surreality Principle itself. In living by Surrealist ideals we are striving paradoxically to act in harmony with the principles of a reality which does not yet exist but which we ourselves are trying to bring about: “Surreality – a relation in which all notions are merged together – […] the common horizon of religions, magic, poetry, intoxications, and of all life that is lowly – that trembling honeysuckle you deem sufficient to populate the sky with for us” (Louis Aragon 1924).

According to Freud, nightmares are the dreams which bear most clearly the marks of the conflict between the Pleasure Principle and the Reality Principle. Mutual anger and pain among Surrealist comrades bear the marks of the conflict between the Reality Principle of the world as it is and the Surreality Principle of the world as it will be: they are negative signs of the Marvellous, indentations or reverse impressions of the Surreality Principle. The nightmares we live through can guide us no less surely towards our revolutionary goals than our lovelier dreams of the Marvellous, but we must be prepared to regard them without flinching, without evading them or retreating to the comforts of narcissism, without losing courage or taking the easy route of either self-defence or self-blame.

By paying attention to our collective nightmares we can open a path by which those aspects of eroticism which are feared, rejected or abhorred may ultimately become transubstantiated, may stand revealed as a form of the Marvellous which can only be recognised by a fantastic leap of Surrealist Imagination – a leap begun in fear and rage, and ended in love and wonder.


The morning after I drafted my first notes on this posting – several months ago now – my close friend Stephen told me that he had dreamt about me that night. In his dream I had told him: “To make sense of a dream you have to make a circle with a monster at one end and an eye at the other. If you run away from the monster, the eye will tell you about your dream.”

Surely this reveals the true meaning of our dream-wars: an eye for an eye to reveal the truth of desire?

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