The Surrealist Movement /By Mr. Ramses Younane

Artwork by ramses younan

The Surrealist Movement
By Mr. Ramses Younane

The Surrealist Movement, Ramses Younane Al-Risālah [The Message], Year 7, Issue 322, September 1939

Every man has to obtain a portion of bread … and a portion of poetry …

{ Trotsky}

Those who think that the Surrealist movement is a purely literary or artistic movement are mistaken, although poetry, story-telling, painting and cinema are employed … as are those who think that it is purely a political movement, although its proponents do embrace a specific political doctrine. Neither is it a blend of art and politics: the leader of the movement, André Breton, frequently and repeatedly explained that he did not agree with adopting art as a means of political propaganda. Aragon split from the Surrealist group because he disagreed with them on this view. So what then is this Surrealist movement? And what is its purpose? It is difficult for us to define Surrealism in just a few words. But if compelled to, we would have to say: it is an artistic, political, philosophical and psychological social movement … and there would be no harm in adding that it is also a religious movement. For it seeks inspiration in the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire and Lautréamont and borrows from them their love of the revolutionary imagination, so different from logic and their Western methods of expressing feelings. It also is inspired by the philosophy of Hegel in its belief in freedom; it embraces Karl Marx’s material explanation of history; and it adopts from Freud his theory of the unconscious mind; then on top of that, it tries to draw on all of these elements to create a mythology—a new collective myth—that equates to the mythologies that were created by the old religions. Whatever has been said about Karl Marx, and whatever has been said about Freud, there is no doubt that these are the two men who have managed to have the greatest influence on modern European thought. The credit goes to Karl Marx for explaining history on the basis of class wars and predicting the workers’ revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and then the coming (promised!) era in which classes will cease to exist and economic equality will be perfected. The workers have been influenced by the Marxist doctrine because their movements have become active and their parties have grown until the struggle between socialism and capitalism has become over the past few years the basis of European politics. A large number of thinkers and writers have also been influenced by this doctrine—among them we see distinguished people such as Bernard Shaw, Wells, André Gide, Malraux and Thomas Mann embracing it and defending it. The Surrealists, as we have said, embrace the Marxist doctrine but at the same time they consider that the call for social liberation must be accompanied by a call for psychological liberation, for the human soul is also made up of layers that control each other. And there is no means of achieving psychological liberation until we are able to remove the boundaries which separate the conflicting elements within the subconscious. Freud has persuaded us that the person who is “free” of mental illness is an ideal that does not exist and that the only difference between “the sane” and “the mad” is one of degree, not of quality. The fundamental reason for all of these illnesses is that the human mind has desires, many of which cannot be attained because of the obstacles that they encounter from the external environment. The small child is not aware of these obstacles and therefore his imagination knows no bounds, so if he wishes to have a fancy car or a beautiful horse or a luxurious palace, he does not feel that there is any obstacle at all that can prevent him getting what he wants, but little by little the child learns as he goes through life that all of his wishes cannot be achieved, so he is compelled to suppress these desires and become accustomed to submitting to reality. The older he becomes, the more this habit grows—a habit of submitting to reality. Nevertheless, the conflict between desires and reality continues throughout life, so that even when an old man is at death’s door he cannot dispense with dreams. People’s habit of submitting to reality is the basis that the appeals of the conservatives rely on and is the serious obstacle that stands in the way of all renewal and reform. And it is why the Surrealists believe that it is essential to change the current social structure so they are stirring up an all-out war on this habit. They use various methods for this, including what they call the “displacement of objects,” that is, their transposition from their customary surroundings to a place that is alien to them (the classic example of this is Lautréamont’s expression “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”). It is normal for us to see beds in bedrooms, so it surprises us to see them in a surrealist painting on a seashore within the walls … and this is how the sea is seen in surrealist paintings; and we are accustomed to seeing clouds in the sky, so we are taken unawares by a tree with two arms growing out of it and a fish lying next to a naked girl, and an eye emerging from the middle of a breast, and parts of the human body flying through the air, and a grand skeleton dancing because a fish next to it is singing … The Surrealists have another method of resisting the habit of submitting to reality, which is the recourse to stirring up suppressed desires, activating them and inciting them to rebellion. Hence Salvador Dali’s famous saying: “Art should be edible,” that is, capable of achieving desire and bringing pleasure, and Nicolas Calas’ expression: “Art is a powder keg,” that is, a means to tear down our habits of thinking and behaving. There is an important third method used by the Surrealists which is what they call “automatic” writing and painting. By this means, the surrealist poet or painter tries to free himself from the conscious mind’s control, leaving the reins to his imagination, until he achieves a trance-like state, then records all the thoughts that drift and flow through his mind or the shapes that appear to him. Freud sits his patient on a soft, comfortable seat and he is inspired so the Surrealists may have borrowed this last method from Freud. He has to relax his muscles and send himself inside himself, then he discloses without caution or reservation all the thoughts that cross his mind, and all the feelings that fill his heart. By this means, Freud uncovers the “complex” that has been created from the suppressed desires in the mind of his patient, because he speaks frankly about these desires, and he tries to convince him to think about them with his conscious mind and to relinquish them if they conflict with the facts of his external environment: that is, to submit to reality. Here lies the point of substantial divergence between Freud and the Surrealists: the latter do not want the conscious mind to control the subconscious in any way, but rather they want to confront the conscious mind with the subconscious, and logic with imagination, and reality with dreams, and fact with myth, and wisdom with madness … trying to combine all these elements together to create a new tool for thinking and knowing and viewing things. For this reason, the Surrealists accuse Freud of: “acquiring his courage in scientific research on behalf of conservatism and submitting to reality in societal terms.”


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