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.
American Pop-Freudianism, The Twilight Zone, Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Op art, the psychedelic revolution, the divine paranoia of Philip K. Dick: all of these are approximations at a distance of German Freudo-Marxism and French Surrealism, I convince myself — the concerns, techniques, and affects of the two prior European formations modified through contact with the postwar American culture industry and adapted to suit the conditions of the Cold War. After thinking the matter over, however, I reject this notion of “approximation at a distance,” as it demeans the above phenomena, framing them as if they were mere second-order simulacra. No matter: Famed downtown New York ‘80s DJ Jellybean Benitez gets me dancing, makes me an offer I can’t refuse, with his divine bass-bumping “Wotupski!?!” EP, a copy of which somehow fell into my hands the other day at Goodwill.
It would be a fine record even were it not to include its grand finale, the lavish 8:44 cover of Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican,” a US Dance chart-topper upon the album’s release in 1984. (Note, too, those echoing numbers. A synchronicity, I suppose: a “meaningful coincidence.”) From there, I dig down a bit, I grant myself the supreme pleasure of Bobbi Humphrey’s psychedelic flute-funk freakout, “Fun House.”
And why not? I’ve submitted my grades. I’ve completed the terms of my contract. Out from the realm of necessity, I’ve arrived into the world of summer. The time has come to party. The time has come to get down.