Wednesday October 3, 2018

Instrumentalization of consciousness. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Rule-based ideology imposed upon the many by the few. Where might we apply agency? How might we change the game or rewrite the narrative? Perhaps Surrealism contains the doorway out of this purblind, disaster-bent assemblage. Described by Roger Shattuck as “a sustained artistic adventure extending from 1885 to 1939 and reaching a paroxysm of public demonstration in the Twenties,” Surrealism warded off instrumental reason by juxtaposing amid the latter’s prison reality dream materials, chance as compositional technique, nostalgic reimaginings of childhood, and “acknowledgement of the essential ambiguity of experience” (The History of Surrealism, p. 13). I read with awe Shattuck’s distinction between “two contrasting ways of grasping experience”: one as a realm of continuity and significance, parts held in place by “lines crossing and interweaving’; the other a mere mechanical temporal sequence, where “any effort at insight or sympathy ends in despair” (19). Surely these are the poles between which we vacillate, “blind chance dogging conscious effort at every turn” (20). Between these poles, the Surrealists charted a middle passage into the hidden order of what they called “objective chance.” Shattuck characterizes this latter as “the most reticent of creatures” (21). Yet out it came, with Breton and crew at the peak of their powers juggling “chance and destiny, passive automatism and active revolution, optimistic faith in man’s future and pessimistic doubt over the disasters of civilization, the conviction that ‘life lies right here’ and the conviction that ‘life lies elsewhere,’ the marvelous and the absurd” (22). In juggling these, Shattuck concludes, the Surrealists succeeded where most of their contemporaries failed. They preserved within life a capacity for love and laughter.

3 thoughts on “Wednesday October 3, 2018”

    1. If we feel ourselves stranded in despair, as these days we so often do, a possible solution as I understand it involves giving oneself over to what the Surrealists call “objective chance.” Let being happen in unplanned and spontaneous ways, as it does in dreams, trusting that these spontaneous happenings will synchronize and lead toward love and hope. For me, it takes the form of these daily experiments in automatic writing. However despairing I might feel after encountering the day’s news, however much the world of possibility seems closed, the exercise never fails to rupture all of that. When I allow “objective chance” to play a role in the day’s unfolding, new meanings emerge, life regains its mystery and significance, and my awareness is taken somewhere new.

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