Monday, November 26, 2012

Exquisite corpses

Merl, Jonah, Kirsty, Patrick

Jonah, Kirsty, Patrick

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Voodoo Gong: the Apeman Walking Backwards to Hell

an exhibition of drawings, photographs and collages 
by Merl Fluin and Paul Cowdell
at Arkitektvägen 44, Stockholm, Sweden
Saturday 24 November, 2pm – 6pm
Sunday 25 November, 12 noon – 3pm
Other times by appointment: arkitektvagen44[at] or +46 736 17 20 20

The title of this exhibition was suggested through objective chance in a letter to Merl and Paul from their friend John Andersson. The images presented are all the results of investigations into automatism, dreams, objective chance, interpretive delirium and mad love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Psychic Portraits

Game devised by Jonah, Merl, Patrick and Paul

Each player in turn draws onto the same sheet of paper with their eyes shut.
The players are permitted to see what the others have drawn as the paper is passed around, but must keep their eyes closed when it is their turn to draw.
The paper is circulated until all the players agree that the drawing is finished.
Each player then produces a written interpretation of the image.

Jonah: We are the flames, and our dreams are stained by the entrails of horses.
Merl: A hanged man is pursued by arse-biting owls while a flying horse eats hay from the manger of the crescent moon and a turkey dances a mating dance with a pouncing cat.
Patrick: Whispering lines spreading their shadows searching for a hidden song.
Paul: The glove-eyed mouse is chasing a horse, sawn through, over flaming rocks, while a child is lassoed by stern-faced dogs and narwhals swim against the tide.

Jonah: The creature had a dead look; as if it lived and failed, as if a stake had been driven through its mind, its heart become sawdust.
Merl: The pineapple has grown wings and claws and become a triple-breasted eagle with the head of a Scottish headmaster.
Patrick: Whimsical wings sprout and flap to fly and lift the one-eyed head.
Paul: Drill through to the heart of her quivering flesh and her claws will grip, and her tail will speak.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Poe on Wight

The elderly creep away there to die. When they are on the brink of death they are encouraged into the iron lady. As it closes around them, their dying breaths are amplified and played across the waters.
Josie, Merl, Paul

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Two new SLAG publications

To celebrate Patrick Hourihan's solo exhibition in London earlier this summer, we are pleased to announce the publication of OBJECTS OF SLEEP, a full-colour collection of more than 60 of Patrick's paintings, drawings and collages.

OBJECTS OF SLEEP is available to buy in hard copy, and is also available as a free pdf download.

We are also pleased to announce the public release of Paul Cowdell's SCINLACE, a collection of Paul's recent photos, drawings and collages.

SCINLACE is available to buy in hard copy, and is also available as a free pdf download.

Note: Both of these publications are from Head Louse Press, the imprint we produce through the print-on-demand site Lulu. Head Louse Press is strictly not-for-profit, and all of our hard-copy book prices are set at the lowest permitted by Lulu.

KLIDONAS issue 5 out now!

Our comrades in the Athens Surrealist Group have just published issue 5 of their journal Klidonas, featuring games, reports and reflections on the meeting between SLAG, the Athenians and the Stockholm Surrealist Group on the theme of Surrealist Survival Kits.

Friday, September 07, 2012

I dream of the blonde beast

I dream of the blonde beast with the uncivil procedure, his scaled stains spilling onto his hands and feet between the arcing pillars of an inept and stumbling veterinary surgeon who worked with shadowy and surgical drinks to bring about turning a dog into a ventriloquist Trojan horse until the summer bristled like a hedgehog, pattering on the pendulous lamplit breasts hanging into the tapestries that flake and fall like tired almonds into the golden pool of cheddar and soft-boiled maggots, so delicious that they cried out for more in the late night through an open window where 6,500 interviews were conducted weekly to offer agency to animals and young ladies who have literally nothing better to do.
Merl, Patrick, Paul, Wendy

Monday, August 27, 2012

Poultry diseases

Collective painting by Merl, Patrick, Paul and Wendy

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Exquisite corpse

Patrick, Jonah, Paul, Merl

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Objects of Sleep: poetry reading and private view

For Patrick Hourihan's solo exhibition, Friday 27 July 2012, at the Vibe Gallery

Photos by Philip Durell

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sex Flesh for All

Collective drawing by Merl, Patrick, Paul. Interpreted by Vangelis after a phrase dreamed by Paul.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Objects of Sleep

a solo exhibition by Patrick Hourihan

Room of curiosities (acrylic on canvas)

27 July – 8 August

Private view: Friday 27 July at 6pm
with a poetry reading 
by members of SLAG ~ Surrealist London Action Group 

Vibe Gallery
Unit N001 The Biscuit Factory
Tower Bridge Business Complex
100 Clements Rd
London SE16 4DG

Gallery opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 noon – 11pm

Nearest tube: Bermondsey Station (Jubilee line)
Directions from the tube station to the gallery are on the flyer (pdf download)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Richard Andrew Wedgwood Steventon presents:


A Collection of Works on Paper and Canvas

Personal Experiences of an Existence in 21st Century England
[And Beyond]

A Gathering of Nightmares, Dreams, Truths and Dares

From the series Arcadia (oil on paper, 2009-2011)
From the series Arcadia (oil on paper, 2009-2011)

Friday 3 August 7.00pm
until Saturday 18 August

All is not right with this world (oil on canvas, 2011)

Artwaves CIC
Nile Street Studio
Nile Street
Stoke on Trent

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Alchemy of Dolts

See them running through the streets.

One carries a flaming brand, surrounded by hierophants protecting it from any adverse reaction. This is bad magic, an attempt to cast a web of toxic filaments across the country, to create an unbreakable mesh that will tie us down as sacrifices to appease their gods. Acolytes carry the flame in a symbolic burning down of our homes around us. Each thud of their dulling feet nails us down a little bit more securely.

Their procession glitters with representations of the noble metals they hope to win by this ritual. Governments fight amongst themselves in a circle of crushing misery. Governments fight for the honour of staging the gladiatorial contests. To win this purported prize means handing over more than they can possibly afford simply to appear magnanimous and important in the eyes of their rivals. It is a suicidal high status potlatch with every nation offering up its own inhabitants as the gift. Victory grants each government the possibility of crushing its citizens ever more ruthlessly and effectively to pay for the spectacle.

It is an alchemy of desperation.

By this ritual sacrifice of their inhabitants governments are attempting to demonstrate superpower status. Like the Games themselves, this is a brutal attempt at transmutation. Brazil is raising the stakes already, committing its population to paying both for the Olympics in 2016 and the World Cup in 2014.

And look what it’s won already! Brazil has eased ahead of Britain in GDP ranking even while the cold cruel flames of the Olympic torch are playing across crumbling British ruins. That’s triumph enough, justification enough for the slum clearances at gunpoint and a rising poverty that has seen Brazil fall behind such glamorous titans of affluence as Kazakhstan and Albania on the Human Development Index. The Games give countries the chance to compound years of systematic neglect with a new brutalisation of those same areas.

The procession and the advance throat-slitting are only preliminaries to the ritual itself. The communion will conclude with two weeks of eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe gouging, biting, savaging and maiming. The measure of the alchemical process will be the exchange of tokens of metal, and from this the false magicians will conclude that they have now secured riches.

This is the alchemy of idiots.

All those noble metals that have been usurped will now be redistributed. During their passage through the host country, like bacteria through the blood, an alchemical process will occur. With the power of the Olympic torch there will be a reverse transmutation: the gold, silver and bronze, distilled with the skin and bowels of the unfortunate victims, will be transformed into excrement which shall remain for years to come, coating the landscape around all those unable to reverse this "magical" process.

The rings that cross over one another but never really touch are the shackles of this new order, which very few will escape unscathed. Athens, Sydney, Montreal … governments queue to amass debts on a similar or greater scale. For this demonstration of national wealth and happiness, each host country will ratchet up debts it will carry on paying for decades to come, mostly with the skin of the dispossessed and bestialised.  Don’t you just love competition and sport?

Against this transmutation of noble metals into shit there must be a real alchemy. Their ugly follies must be transformed into our magical cities.

There will be gold, but it will not come from their alembics.

Our streets will burn again, but not with their flames.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Second Time as Soap Opera

Like a retired colonial official living out his twilight senescence in a nursing home, the British ruling class has no new glories or power to conjure. Instead, in its shuffling, piss-ridden decay, it is forced more and more to turn back to its glorious past, to create a bri-nylon copy of its former landed brilliance. The Olympics offers another opportunity for the post-tumescent ruling class to fantasise once again about its country houses and land enclosures. This hackneyed and fictional vision hardly met widespread enthusiasm first time round, so in its period of decline the ruling class needs some help.

Step forward the World of Art™, corporatist champions par excellence.

Step forward those hacks willing to make a few bob passing their nationalistic bullshit off as an oh-so-ironic comment on the state of Britain. Possibly the most insulting part of the window-dressing for Cameron’s car boot sale being put in place by the likes of Danny Boyle and Simon Armitage is that it invokes something of Romanticism, whether in the faux arcadia of the Olympic ceremony, with its astro-turf grandeur, or in an ostensible criticism of imperialist onslaught that only reasserts Britain’s credentials as the reasonable voice of neo-colonial plunder.

This shouldn’t be so surprising. Romanticism, the great spirit of revolt, has long been prey to recuperation and co-opting in the service of the nation state. There is a long arc in Romanticism, from Hegel to Heidegger, Goethe to Riefenstahl, Blake to Boyle. From an analysis of the world’s changes and their revolutionary sustenance to the most vacuous and vicious support for the brutal suppression of any further revolutionary change, Romanticism has been pressed into the service of everything it arose against.

This recuperation of Romanticism has not happened without a struggle, without a denunciation of such acquiescence. Shelley, a revolutionary to the end, wrote to Wordsworth that by abandoning his poems of truth and liberty ‘thou leavest me to grieve, Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be’. Armitage may once have followed the Auden and MacNeice trail across Iceland, but when push comes to shove he’ll still be a probation officer.

But the triumph of these forces is not inevitable. Romanticism, for all the problems and pressures, has continued to encourage the awkward and the furious: Sade, Blake, Lautréamont. The only possible revolt against co-opted state Romanticism today rests with those awkward and furious revolutionary Romantics of Surrealism, the apogee and negation of Romanticism. ‘Surrealism does not accept all that shines in Romanticism, but only those aspects of it whose lighting terrifies. And it has a lot to reproach Romanticism for’ (Nicolas Calas).

Today the recuperation of Romanticism takes the form of a layer of ‘professional radicals’. Safely ensconced in the bosom of the establishment, such figures claim that their comments and criticisms are subversion from within while they can barely make an effort to conceal their adaptation to the existing order. They also find a willing audience amongst people one would have thought would know better.

A lot of bloody sheep

Their attempts to cover for the complete erosion of all revolutionary potential involve a cheap copy of earlier manifestations of Romanticism in new conditions. As one of the great heroes of revolutionary Romanticism (Marx), writing of another (Hegel), noted, ‘all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ Such is the degenerative pressure on these recuperated self-styled radicals that the farce has become ever broader and less funny. The repetition is now taking on the character of a domestic soap opera.

Which brings us to Danny Boyle, whose whole career has involved presenting apparently gritty facts of social reality as a way of satisfying the desires of a complacent middle class to feel radical without having to change anything. Ooh, heroin! Ooh, Indian street urchins! Open another Pinot Grigio so we can discuss that over dessert, like a gritty storyline from The Archers.

It’s The Archers, but without even the connection to reality of that show’s agricultural advisers. Boyle’s cretinous tableau for the Olympics of a rural idyll with real sheep is the degenerated view of pastoral bliss as the foundation of Englishness, the most backward echo of early Romantic visions. Not since John Major fantasised about old ladies with warm beer cycling across village cricket pitches has such a rank proto-fascist vision of national life been advanced, but such is the recuperation of figures like Boyle that the only public response to his vision was concern for the welfare of the sheep.

Fuck the sheep.

Eat the sheep.

Let the sheep go.

Where is the outrage? Not about the sheep, but about the vacuous invocation of a pastoral Englishness being passed off as a subversive Romantic statement? These people have not only given up on the possibility of transformation, they have turned instead to a superficial parody of Romanticism that can only fuel and succour a rabid reaction. Turns to the rural, to fanciful notions of a peasantry at the heart of the nation-state, were limited enough even when they had some progressive content. Now, even in the name of anti-globalisation or some such radical-sounding idea, they’re just backward rubbish to prevent change.

It’s this that makes Boyle’s shop-window mannequin arrangement so contemptible – not that it vacuously champions the landed gentry’s own idealised views of home, but that it does so under the pretence of a knowing and detached comment on them. Danny Boyle is just another Artist who has bought a vision and now expects us to pay for it. Boyle’s maquette, hilariously, looked like the entire careers of the Chapman brothers produced in 1/12 scale by Airfix.

No, damn you, no countries! No accepting the strictures of capitalism under the pretence of local progress! Enough parodies of a nature tamed and harmless! With Sade we insist that ‘Destruction … like creation is one of Nature’s mandates’. The view of Romanticism peddled here is one that condemns people forever to the prison of a Romanticised national past rather than offering them the way to break out of that into a new and different future.

‘A romantic stance towards Romanticism is today conceivable only through Surrealism’ (Calas). We’re not recreating the English country estate, the German peasantry, the slave-owning Greek democracy – we’re striving to overcome them, to be their negation. It is not good enough to make some clever-sounding detached comment about it: we have to take it all out of their hands stone by stone and build something new on their bones.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mortal Engines

In Philip Reeve’s steampunk classic Mortal Engines, predatory Traction Cities roam a world that has become a vast wasteland, devouring each other and destroying everything in their path. The parallel with the Olympics is all too apt. Every four years the great Olympic Traction City lumbers across the plain to launch an attack on some new site, carelessly flattening the inhabitants as it hoovers up power and money from the local state.

The Olympic appropriation of money is insultingly obvious. The Olympic appropriation of power is perhaps more insidious. To complement the massive police operation, the full monetary cost of which is not yet known, the Crown Prosecution Service recently announced that it will be creating a special category of “Olympics offences” and operating fast-track courts that will sit for up to 24 hours a day – an innovation that is explicitly based on the “lessons” learned by the CPS during its brutally draconian response to last summer’s riots. Olympic sites are also being militarised, with the deployment of up to an estimated 16,500 troops – 7,000 more than are currently serving in Afghanistan – and the use of warships, fighter jets and surface-to-air missile units, including in residential areas. This is in addition to Locog’s own notoriously hostile security personnel, provided by the private security firm G4S.

All of this is for our own good, of course, and the triumph of Olympian doublethink is that the Games are viciously mugging us while pretending to be doing us a favour. The Olympic legacy involves a great deal more than just buildings and infrastructure: one of its more under-publicised aspects is the security legacy, which has been a key feature of all Olympic Games since at least the mid-20th century. Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988 both left a legacy of private policing; Sydney 2000 gave the police enduring zero-tolerance powers to move people on; and Athens 2004 left a shiny new security infrastructure, including an extensive CCTV system that was subsequently used against the city’s uprisings. The nature and scale of the 2012 security legacy is not yet (publicly) known, although it’s certain to include the privatisation of parts of the police force: G4S already employs about two thirds of Lincolnshire Police’s civilian staff. The post-Olympics British state will be increasingly privatised and increasingly authoritarian – all supposedly with the consent of a docile and grateful public.

The buildings themselves, however, are another story. It’s become a popular online pastime among Olympic sceptics to poor scorn on the notion of the Olympic Legacy by posting photographs of abandoned and decaying stadiums, especially the Athens site. These photos are usually presented as icons of failure and betrayal. But we prefer to see them as utopian windows. Such sites are atoposes or worthless places in the Surrealist sense, rejected or forbidden zones where strange encounters are fostered and obsessions acted out, where transformations take place and the repressed returns with a vengeance. When the Traction City finally discards London and lumbers away towards Rio, the physical wastelands it will leave behind will be full of utopian possibilities, a poetic munitions dump where we will be able to scavenge weapons for our resistance against the Olympics’ more enduring and dangerous legacies.

Atoposes or non-places are also portals to the nowhere of utopia. Even extant buildings are haunted by the spectre of their own ruin; chaotic fertility, vegetal abundance, anti-social deliria, ostentatious uselessness are all waiting for their chance to take over before the concrete is even dry. In this sense the Olympic Village is already pregnant with what Ernst Bloch calls the utopian surplus, the excess that spills over the limits of the status quo and reaches out towards the Not-Yet.


Finally, these decaying sites are also a reminder that the Olympic Traction City is a mortal engine, and its own rapaciousness will ultimately be its downfall. Destructive consumption is not a sustainable basis for society, or for life. The riotous assembly of worthless fauna and flora – among which we include humans of the future – will repopulate the wasteland, and plant a new forest of desires.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Corpse 10/06/12

Aniano, Jonah, Patrick, Paul

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saturday, June 02, 2012

A birthday salute to the Divine Marquis

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade
born 2 June 1740

One more effort, Londoners, if you are to become republicans. Soaring above the crowds of police officers, that rings a bell inside my head, an ear growing in my stomach unaware of a dangerous meeting by the empty railway station. The evening grew darker and there was a sudden scream from the man in the bearskin coat. "These!" he cried, "these are the easy leaden chains you have bought at the market! And here!" He flourished them above his head. "Here are the silver snakes swimming towards each of the muddy gutters of London's rivers." As water flowed over the guillotine blade, the greasy writhing of the butcher's tattoo beneath the nocturnal wax melting my house, the sky is my ceiling on desperate nights, hiding my image behind the curtains. She walked towards the doorway, afraid of seeing her reflection in the mirror. It was a figure with one more head than he had, but he knew that he had two more eyes than the reflection. "Ha ha," he laughed, "you cannot see me now!" He stepped backwards, pulling his green-scaled cape down over his shoulders. With his characteristic swagger and a dead chihuahua under one arm, he headed down the stairs to the underground and bought a one-way ticket to nowhere.

You should find your own ego hanged by the ceiling smiling at you because the bird had flown away into the night.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy birthday Edward Lear

Trickster, ancestor and pioneer botanist

 He weeps by the side of the ocean,
      He weeps on the top of the hill;
He purchases pancakes and lotion,
      And chocolate shrimps from the mill

Friday, April 20, 2012

Exquisite corpse

Patrick, Aniano, Paul, Merl

Monday, April 09, 2012


At the island of skulls a one-armed man washed his clothes in a bath of cocaine in the downstairs room of a house in Berkley Square. Meet each other overseas: dancing, and setting fire to unwary pedestrians who swallow poison ivy to die and understand madness. They thrive in the crimson carcass that feeds on Ariadne’s blood while she holds the fire of the darkened moon and breeds the wolf with innocuous style in a feathered incubator, just like in the good old days when all soldiers were nothing but shepherding buffoons in leather trousers, and their crooks hanging by the clock under a homeless cock, waiting, for the next train to Wonderland will be tomorrow night. So stay awake for crazy dreams involving egg-like diamonds with eyes of sugar and fire.

Aniano, Merl, Nikos, Patrick, Paul, and Vangelis

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A squadron of corpses

Merl, Patrick, Paul

Aniano, Merl, Patrick, Paul

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Surrealism Is Revolutionary

SurrIV have now responded to our text Poaching Durruti’s Egg. There is nothing in their response that persuades us to alter any of the positions we articulated in our original text. On the contrary, the attitudes displayed in the SurrIV text merely illustrate our points.

First, perhaps Poaching should have stated explicitly that its co-authors included Surrealists with backgrounds from five different countries, representing a varied spectrum of political choices and activities, including one person who is a member of the Greek section of the Fourth International (Vangelis Koutalis, who belongs to both SLAG and the Athens Surrealist Group). This might have made it clear to slow-witted readers that the major concern of our text was to restate basic Surrealist principles, rather than to intervene in local organisational politics.

Second, let us note that SurrIV have missed all of the points of our text, and instead have put great effort into a) asking rhetorical questions with no direct connection to the issues at hand, b) pointing out entirely imaginary internal contradictions within our text (for example, there is no contradiction in seeing watering-down alliance-building and disciplinary party-building as two sides of the same coin), and c) complaining about entirely imaginary ad hominem attacks without demonstrating any, while simultaneously attempting one themselves by mistakenly attacking Paul Cowdell for having written the text In Praise of Infighting (of which he is not in fact the author, although a layout glitch in our e-zine may have given that impression).

Third, SurrIV’s claim to be merely an informal link between like-minded friends is either a tactical lie or mere stupidity. Launching a public website with an explicit political-organisational aim is not like starting a teenage hobby club or a Facebook group for a random combination of interests or shared identities. It's not as if we actually need separate forums for, say, Surrealists who are birdwatchers, Surrealists with heart conditions, Surrealists with Jewish ancestry, middle-aged social-scientist Surrealists, pipe-smoking Surrealists, Surrealists aged between 30 and 35, or any other contingent combinations of characteristics that may or may not have anything to offer to particular Surrealists in terms of individual creativity, the facilitation of social contacts, or even the highlighting of certain aspects of Surrealism, but that remain completely uninteresting in terms of Surrealist organisation.

Fourth, we note that two in particular of the arguments that SurrIV raise are very much part of the problem we were identifying in our original text:
  • The argument that it is unreasonable to emphasise the necessity of thinking about what not to do is an example of exactly the mindless political voluntarism that was the prime target of Poaching. No, gentlemen, doing something is not intrinsically better than doing nothing. Doing nothing is in fact very often better than doing just anything whatever out of mere desperation or a feeling of inferiority or a lack of any detailed assessment of the situation. Doing nothing is sometimes exactly the right thing.
  • Again, SurrIV’s attempt to counter our text In Praise of Infighting with a general argument against infighting merely proves our point. A general argument in favour of infighting (which that text does not in fact make) would be pointless, but a general argument against infighting is in effect an argument for tact, superficial alliance-making and mindless voluntarism (if not indeed for closing ranks, duty and discipline) – which was exactly what we were attacking in the first place.
To restate the point of Poaching in other terms: our basic argument is simply that SURREALISM ITSELF IS A REVOLUTIONARY PROJECT. This means that we see the revolutionary implications of Surrealism itself, and that as Surrealists our specifically Surrealist means are identical with our specifically revolutionary means: non-conformism, surrationalism, poetic phenomenology, imagination, games, creativity, refusal, research, theory, poetry, art, music... It is significant that many individual Surrealists choose to engage in specialised political struggles and organisations. It is no less significant that some Surrealists do not. Those who do not are no less revolutionary than those who do, precisely because Surrealism itself is a revolutionary project.

Despite their apparent pretensions, the SurrIV initiative is not analogous to the FIARI project of the 1930s. That was an alliance formed to place our specifically Surrealist means and resources in conjunction with the revolutionary process in the broad sense. It was explicitly not an affiliation drive for a particular political organisation, but offered a platform for genuinely revolutionary artists to ally with the left opposition of the world communist movement, which at the time was apparently led by this brilliant theorist from the Russian revolution... If anything, SurrIV probably has more similarities with the Surréalisme-Révolutionnaire project of the 1940s (an attempt to tie Surrealism to the Stalinist PCF), or with the PCI (Trotskyist) attempt to revive FIARI in the 1960s (the Paris group rejected this attempt, and consequently were attacked by the Rupture group of ‘Trotskyist-Surrealist’ artists).

The poet should first become aware of his nature and place in the world. […] He fights so that humanity can attain an ever more perfect knowledge of itself and the universe. It does not follow that he wants to put poetry at the service of political, even revolutionary action. But his being a poet has made him a revolutionary who must fight on all terrains: on the terrain of poetry by appropriate means, and on the terrain of social action, without ever confusing the two fields of action under penalty of re-establishing the confusion that is to be dissipated and consequently ceasing to be a poet, that is to say, a revolutionary.
(Benjamin Péret, The Dishonour of the Poets, 1945)

It remains a task to develop ways for Surrealism to make political interventions, to find strategies to add our resources to revolutionary processes, and to find particular techniques to communicate and collaborate with other revolutionary actors without compromising our integrity, and some of us will keep thinking and experimenting in this area – but the question of which political organisations Surrealism should support at this moment is as dead, uninteresting, boring and misguided as the ‘anarchism or Trotskyism’ question in general has been for many decades. That's simply not the point.

Paul Cowdell, Merl Fluin, Mattias Forshage, Aniano Henrique,
Patrick Hourihan, Vangelis Koutalis, Josie Malinowski,
Wendy Risteska

SLAG ~ Surrealist London Action Group

Friday, March 16, 2012

Poaching Durruti's Egg

Four years ago, when the banking system collapsed, there were still some who argued (hoped?) that it was just a temporary glitch in capitalism’s unwavering dominance.

So much for self-deluding idiots.

Capitalism is a self-destructive exploitative system. With each new day we see it fighting to save itself by the savage slashing of all the basic components of human life. Capitalism will only be able to survive by vomiting its crisis onto the backs of those it uses to produce its profits. They, in their turn, will only be able to overthrow it by their deliberate actions.

In the last year we have seen a change. The working class, the mass of the oppressed, have made their first tentative steps onto the stage of world politics again. We have no results, no victories – yet. But the first steps have been taken.

Even the biggest idiot in thrall to the supposed dominance of the market now recognises that we’re in a situation of unprecedented political turmoil. In places like Wisconsin – once a watchword for Middle American staidness and stability – revolution is no longer a dirty word, no longer unmentionable. It is beginning to make sense to the very people who will wage it.

Situations are unfolding. We continue to insist that the world must change.

For Surrealists this is something of a vindication. Our revolutionary impulses drive us to seek corresponding actions. We want to act, to engage with the crisis, to transform this world. For some it can be intoxicating to find that they are, at last, not alone. The breaking of a genuinely revolutionary wave can lead others to seek solace in what they already know.

Political developments unfold as external events. They sweep us all up by the simple fact of their occurrence, but just being swept up as the object of events doesn’t mean we’ve triumphed. For that to happen, we need to intervene as subjects, to engage with our entire beings, to contribute our deepest desires and sharpest critical thinking to the direction of the transformation.

This requires us to make some decisions. What those decisions are is being fought out already, although the discussions are all too often implicit and assumed.

Above all, we need to consider what decisions not to make.

In the current context there will be increasing pressure on Surrealists to make tactical concessions to ‘radical’ politics – to water down our Surrealism, or abandon it altogether, so that we can work in broadly ‘radical’ political and art movements. Tactical manoeuvres will be proposed, and because of the gravity of the political situation, they will be tempting. This may also be behind the recent tendency to establish Surrealist ‘liaisons’ and loose collaborations rather than groups. How very tactful this is, in the face of political upheaval, differences and disputes!

Fuck tact. Surrealism hardly lacks history on this question. Aragon’s ‘Red Front’ was a move towards propagandist writing: the controversy marked the beginning of his rapid adaptation to Stalinism, which necessitated his ditching Surrealism. Stalinism pursued its treacherous Popular Front in France as well as Spain: propagandist opposition can easily be accommodated within class collaborationist political liaisons.

In Britain, the new ‘SurrIV’ initiative is a case in point. Although in terms of numerical support SurrIV seems to be minuscule, its appearance on the scene at this juncture is both alarming and instructive. It appeared silently, like the ghost of Red Fronts past, in February 2012, and describes itself as a ‘virtual meeting place for supporters and sympathisers of the Fourth International who identify as surrealists’.

The formulation of SurrIV’s target audience as those who ‘identify as surrealists’ is a mealy-mouthed evasion, and a prime example of a lowest-common-denominator approach to forging liaisons. By both reducing Surrealism to a form of identity politics and obscuring Surrealism’s profoundly objective character, it presents Surrealism as something that is easy, accessible and makes no demands on anyone, least of all on Surrealists themselves. This is part of a general drift, which we have already critiqued elsewhere, to present Surrealism as just another instrument in the cultural repertoire, and Surrealists as a disparate and easy-going bunch of collaborating individuals. SurrIV’s vagueness on this point undermines Surrealism under the guise of inclusion. After all, Keith Wigdor, Santiago Ribeiro and every fantasy artist on the block ‘identify as surrealists’.

SurrIV states that it is ‘an informal collaborative project’, and that it ‘has no formal links with any existing socialist or surrealist groups, nor is it in competition with them’. More of that fucking tact! Placing itself explicitly outside of any existing Surrealist groups and declining to challenge them, this ‘collaborative project’ is an informal liaison precisely in an area where more formal and rigorous political discussion is necessary.

It’s part of the ABC of the Surrealist movement that Surrealist collectivities as such cannot be ‘supporters’ of any particular political group or party. Surrealism can only support the social revolution as a process – ‘au service de la révolution’, not in the service of political groups. As our comrades in Athens have written of the relationship between Surrealists and the Left:

These two dimensions of the human adventure, political practice and subjective expression, in this society are segregated. The Left tries to piece them together, without questioning the segregation itself. Within its parties and organizations, as a rule, there is no space for subjectivity, but there is always space for a periphery of artists, as ‘fellow travellers’, thus setting up an alibi that compensates for the lack of any creativity on the part of the politically enlisted subjects. The segregation is repressed. It is not only that it does not tend to be challenged, but also that it is corroborated as something given in advance. […] Where we need to turn our gaze is towards a new community, a universal culture and universal polis, that will breathe within the social field, that will sublate the division between mental and manual labour, that will be incarnated by self-organized collective undertakings, that will be exercised through labour that is also a game, that will unfold itself in a time admitting of many unrepeatable times, many self-emancipated subjectivities.

Who is providing an alibi for whom in SurrIV? If the Fourth International is turning to Surrealists to enhance its artistic or cultural credibility, it is clearly doing so as an add-on, with no attempt to transform its own subjectivity or creativity, in exactly the way the Athenian text describes. This attitude to the position of artists is made explicit by Artists of the Resistance, an initiative of the Coalition of Resistance: ‘We must remember that we are not just artists but fighting against all cuts.’ Artist, know your place! The Coalition of Resistance is supported by the Fourth International.

If, conversely, SurrIV is turning to the Fourth International for the latter’s revolutionary credentials, then it inevitably makes its participants’ Surrealism secondary to their support for Fourth International. In that sense the SurrIV initiative is reminiscent of the old Stalinist tactics of opening up small controlled zones of so-called fellow travellers, zones in which no real travel is ever permitted to take place. Those who choose to enter those zones will become useless to Surrealism and, in the process, will also become useless to the social revolution.

Let’s be clear about what it means to ‘support’ the Fourth International. The Fourth International is an actual political network, made up of particular political organisations (in the UK, the organisation in question is Socialist Resistance). SurrIV is thus, absolutely explicitly, a meeting point for ‘supporters’ of a specific political network. But the Fourth International itself has a very particular and well-known take on what ‘support’ for it means: supporters of the Fourth International, in their role as supporters, seek to build the Fourth International and to persuade others to join its cause. By definition, then, and despite their mealy-mouthed protestations of innocence, SurrIV is not simply an example of Surrealists engaging in discussion with or about a revolutionary political current, exchanging ideas and criticisms. They can’t have it both ways: if they are not working to build the Fourth International, then they don’t really support it. The launching of the SurrIV initiative is not about what its participants bring to the revolution as Surrealists, but about using their Surrealism as a calling card for the Fourth International.

So how can Surrealists engage in revolutionary struggle without compromising either Surrealism or revolutionary politics? We must go into these struggles acting on our own impulses, adding our own subjectivities, stepping out into the unknown while struggling to realise our own perspectives. Manifestos aren’t just holiday documents, the right thing to be heard saying. They must embody what you’re actually fighting for. The demand for a free revolutionary art was, and must remain, a call for ‘free creation’ and a gathering of forces against ‘the loud choruses of well-disciplined liars’. That doesn’t mean making tactical concessions or finding the lowest common denominator for joint action. It means fighting at the height of our artistic and theoretical powers.

Independent revolutionary art must be genuinely independent and revolutionary, and must ‘uncompromisingly reject the reactionary police patrol spirit’. Disagreements between independent revolutionary artists – and there will be many – will thus be conducted with all of our passions and convictions, and will be conducted for our revolutionary goals. Alchemy and synthesis, not subordination or compromise.

In 1937, back from fighting with the POUM on the Spanish front, Péret half-dreamed the words:

My beloved inclined toward anarchist attitudes and admired Durruti. She was not entirely with me, she wasn’t born to my life, but I hoped that she would make up her mind soon, that she WOULD BLOOM.

She must make up her mind soon. The world is waiting for her bloom.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Left and Culture Reloaded

A Declaration by the Athens Surrealist Group

Time and again, we must insist on words and their meanings. Every formulation implies some focalizations, carves out a direction while repressing or even excluding others, demarcates a particular horizon, and brings forth the possibility of one range of significations against several others. The problem concerning the relationship between the Left and culture – as long as the terms “Left” and “culture”, and their connotations too, are uncritically embraced – comprises a displacement of the real – and crucial, if we still take as our yardstick the accomplishment of universal social emancipation – problem of the relationship between the real movement to change the existing order of things and subjective expression, which is hooked to the world and refracts its echoes. This is the problem of which we must speak, reckoning the two terms of the above-mentioned relationship as two available ways to tread the same road. Through the displacement effected by the wording of the “Left” and “culture”, what is being repressed is the dichotomy – which is insurmountable within the context of dominant social relations – between political practices that are motivated by objective class interests and have their bearing on objectively ascertainable balances of power, and cultural practices that originate in subjective obsessions, accentuations, fixations, regressions and outflows, and culminate in works to whose interpretation subjectivity again is the key.

If we translate the question about the possibility of real political action capable of changing the world into a question along the lines of “what must the Left do?”, then we have already begged the question we should be posing, a question that is hard to resolve: namely how, in the mainstream political scene, there might emerge an expression of the scattered forms of the agent and self-organized actions, the sole actions that truly guarantee any actual political conduct that will alter the relationship between power and society on the road to emancipation. And what’s more, how it might be possible for such an expression not to restrain the revolutionary dynamics of those forms, but instead to render them politically prolific, leading to their generalization. In fact the Left, contrary to the image projected by its bureaucracies and micro-leaderships, marks only a limit on the political spectrum of capitalist democracy. Within the parties and organizations of which the Left consists, the phenomena of substitution, hierarchical functioning, the entrenched allocation of tasks, and the reproduction of the inequality between those who govern and those who are governed, are the rule rather than the exception. After decades of Stalinism, the political experience obtained through left-wing political collectivities usually correlates not with the horizon of self-emancipation, but with the cage of the citizen who is socially alienated, subjected (to domination), and destitute of any real power.

“Culture”, from the other side, today pertains to a whole industry producing commodities, to an array of social relations that are posited as a demarcated and mapped out (in departments) territory for anyone who chooses to express themselves as a subjectivity through writing, painting, sculpture, music and so forth. The mirror that every aspiring creator of words or images encounters is a priori turbulent, punctuated with social contradictions. The space of culture is abstracted from the experience of social antagonism in order to contain the intensities of the latter in a seemingly anodyne reflection of the creative auteur (who fancies that s/he is attaining his/her autonomy just because s/he is expressing him/herself) in his/her work, a reflection that appears cleansed of the misery of real everyday life, and this is exactly why it ultimately affirms the perpetuation of that life.

It is not a matter of contenting ourselves with a rhetoric about “a world to change” which fails to thematize, here and now, the possibility of actually changing the world, breaking the chains of the “citizen”, claiming the position of the active revolting subject. Nor with a delusion of subjective independence that validates the really existing cultural industry and the distribution of roles within its limits (“writer”, “painter”, “man of letters”). These two dimensions of the human adventure, political practice and subjective expression, in this society are segregated. The Left tries to piece them together, without questioning the segregation itself. Within its parties and organizations, as a rule, there is no space for subjectivity, but there is always space for a periphery of artists, as “fellow travellers”, thus setting up an alibi that compensates for the lack of any creativity on the part of the politically enlisted subjects. The segregation is repressed. It is not only that it does not tend to be challenged, but also that it is corroborated as something given in advance. The Left, remaining just “Left” – evenly assimilated, that is, into the field of the capitalist state – has its artists, and in their turn, artists, eagerly assuming their role inside the cultural industry, have a left-wing political reference to claim. We do not in the least intend to give a description that levels the field, erasing every difference. Nevertheless, we want to underline that the cause of social emancipation is decided in practice. There are undoubtedly left-wingers who assert their dedication to the struggle for communism, but with regard to the setting of their own activity, they still consider the issues of agency and self-organization as collateral issues; and there are also artists who don’t neglect to emphasize their revolutionary mood, but who keep producing works of art under the control of capitalist state.

Only a twofold gesture that will place both the “Left” and “culture” under the sharp edge of critique could point towards another horizon, where political action and poetic frenzy will be manifestations of a subjectivity that retrieves, and invents, the evanescent unity of its body with the world, through a posture of revolt and solidarity. Where we need to turn our gaze is towards a new community, a universal culture and universal polis, that will breathe within the social field, that will sublate the division between mental and manual labour, that will be incarnated by self-organized collective undertakings, that will be exercised through labour that is also a game, that will unfold itself in a time admitting of many unrepeatable times, many self-emancipated subjectivities. On this new community – which is in accord with the free societies of the future, divested of all servitude imposed by capital and the state – it is worth putting our stakes from now on, whether we are writing poems at night in our beds, or facing the oppression of the state and the exploitation of bosses in the streets or workshops, or even when we are discussing with our comrades “what is to be done”. The surrealist movement, to which we have chosen as a group to belong, attempts to detect such an horizon here and now, calling into play every means that can help us, as oppressed human beings, to achieve the goal of universal freedom, without for a moment substituting for it or postponing it for a future that is not, already now, experienced, as it lets itself unfold as a bundle of real possibilities in this unsettled present.

17 October 2007