Cycle of the Object (By Jean-Louis Bédouin

Pages 295-302 of

La Civilisation Surréaliste

Jean-Louis Bédouin

Let us repeat it for the clouds, let us repeat to the dreamers who do not believe their ears: we are, we have not ceased to be realists, and to go into the affirmation of the almighty power of the Real up to the point to hold our dreams for another form of reality. Fantasy, escape, illusionism: that is for others! Our domain, both imaginary and real, is that of practical life, of daily existence, which is the only one in which revelation can occur. The “pure” mental representation, nourished by all that the trawl of our nerves tears out from the outside air, is no less concrete than the external perception. It suffices to objectify it, to represent it by means of tangible signs, plastic or otherwise, to “make both of them one thing”, which is the living myth or, if one prefers, the mythical reality of which we are the interpreters.

One knows what “unprecedented will of objectification” has characterized surrealism in its own sphere of activity, as it has characterized, in the field of mathematics, the scientific thought resulting from non-Euclidean geometry. This desire for objectification, which Breton emphasizes in a text dated from 1936: “Crisis of the object”, that it is then common to scholars, artists and poets, continues to underlie the surrealist approach in its most recents orientations. The goal that is pursued has not changed. It is always a question of “fortifying the means of defense which can be opposed to the invasion of the sensible world by things which, rather by habit than necessity, are used by men”. But the conditions of the struggle have changed and lead us today to formulate even more radically our resistance to this invasion.

The crisis of the object has been greatly aggravated since the last war; it reflects more than a crisis of civilization: it appears to be generated by a civilization of crisis. Repetition and habit exert more devastation than ever before in the practice of life, where we are threatened at every moment with asphyxiation. The agreed utility of things is no longer even illusory, since we no longer know how to escape the system of objects of which we are prisoners. Paradoxically, the object tends to “de-realize”, to lose its concrete meaning, losing its value of use. It acquires an abstract value, as it multiplies and becomes commercialized: before being a car, a pocket knife or a shell, an object is a packaged, labeled, symbolic product, starting with that of its market price, behind which  its intrinsic qualities tend to disappear.

The object thus becomes a prisoner of the system in which it helps to lock us up. Designed to lure customers who often only buy the idea of a commodity, what it represents and not what it is, the concrete object, the manufactured product tend to become real solidified illusions . They are the opposite of these objects seen in dreams, which Breton proposed to manufacture as early as 1924, in order to make the dream come into the world of tangible realities, and to circulate “real solidified desires”.

The many varieties of objects invented by the surrealists, from the ready-made to symbolic objects, including interpreted objects, have been enriched in recent years by new species. These are parallel objects, whose main interest is. to induce a new practice of collective creation, in close relation with that of the Parallel narratives, exposed elsewhere. It is always a game the rule of whiçch  is essentially summarized in this: each player distributes to his partners a copy of one or more identical objects. Each of the participants, thus having the same elements, must associate them in an autonomous construction, and give an account, in a short text, of the path which led to the obviousness or the enigma that it proposes.

The confrontation of the results made it possible to highlight the plasticity of three-dimensional objects, manufactured or natural, fragmentary or not, that proved to be able to integrate into extremely diverse sets, and thus to take very different or even opposite meanings, depending on whether they are incorporated into one or another of these sets, without changing their form or state. The objects which constitute in a way the deal of each actor are no less rich in associative possibilities, no less capable of provoking his unconscious desires, no less malleable or less active than the inductive words of parallel narratives.

Like verbal language, the language of objects is polysemic. The practical utility of an object does not exhaust its meaning. If we can admit that there are purely functional forms, it is not, on the other hand, any of the products of the activity of men which is not capable of satisfying ends different from those for which it is intended. All things conceal secrets, which it is up to us to discover. Yet, one must consent to ask them tactfully. And, to begin with, let us not require from things to acknowledge that their are our servants.

Yet the majority of our contemporaries, fashioned by centuries of shop rationalism and morality, usually tend to do with everything they consider as objects. On such a basis the universe in its totality should be their slave, since it can be considered as the sum of all the objects that it contains. Such an arrogance is not without causing a narrowing of the field of vision that would be perceived as a serious threat by any living species.

If walls reflect walls, it is because the builders have no ears for transparency, this song of cicadas in winter. Opacity gains, step by step, up to the sky whose stars are weighed down, to the sea that is held under lock and key. The anguish of death engenders the maniacal need for possession that kills love and the object of love. Reality becomes simulacrum. The object, frozen mirror, no longer gi_ves back a look. It suffers from blindness by the effect of reflection; it is suffering of paralysis by mimicry.

And yet, by their very proliferation, objects manifest a will to be, which it is important to encourage. The augural thrill that roamed the carcasses stranded under the glass houses of the Palais de l’Industrie, in the deluge vapors of the beginning of the century, was not extinguished with the delirious aesthetics of the neo-Gothic machines. The search for functional forms, stripped of all parasitic embellishments, has led, in different ways, to a baroque of a new kind, the creations of “design” of which offer numerous examples. This movement, which has spread with the randomness of the technological progress, is nowadays disrupting the development of techniques, the coherence of which is called into question. It flows back to its original place, where objects and their men stand quietly on their perches, petrified by the same fear, that of the great breakage, which they vaguely imagine as an apocalypse of garbage collectors.

May they reassure themselves! The object, may it apparently be the most subject to the contradictory tyrannies of physical laws and metaphysical caprices, the object, which can  so easily be destroyed, is never destroyed. Put out of use, it is transformed. It delivers, like a rock to the break, its intimate structure, hitherto unsuspected. It frees new potentialities, which the imagination uses.

To speak of the object is to dive into oneself, to discover one’s own depths. What future engulfed cities are waiting to welcome me, in the shadow of their belfries in flames ! This is the inn, under the banner of the “Invincible Armada”. I gave you an appointment, my crazy oats, the color of the wind on the deserted quay in a small station of Outer Mongolia. It’s raining sherds of the rose that Sade plucked on the legendary manure, and which remains the rose, since its perfume continues to miraculously protect me , to protect me against the hideousness. Did I say that the eternal spring reigned a little further than the limits of the continental shelf? I am talking about objects, which are an endless speech, of which I hardly begin to catch snatches …

There is nothing inanimate. At most we can say that there are immobile objects, or more exactly immobilized objects, as the movement may be by the photographic snapshot. This armchair, stretching out its arms, is an infinitely suspended leap. This chair moves forward on one leg. The floor is agitated: its boards play leapfrog in bad weather. The bottle mimics the momentum of a spring that only aspires  to rush towards the sun. As for this blank page, the smoke of my cigarette, it draws a question mark that opens like a mushroom. Some furniture is afflicted with tics; others think they are animals. The door of my room walks on its hands like a balancing actor, and the lamp, a finger on the lips, beckons me to say no more.

Every object, and not only that window without glass that pulls off its feathers to please the decapitated lion, every object is a bird on the branch. It only takes a moment to make it fly away, and even less so that it resumes its pose. Appearances and disappearances are instantaneous, as in a film that would project our own eyes, on the screen of their eyelids with eclipses. From one image to another, the time that a broken glass changes into a keyboard of ice cubes, the invisible object awakens to the light, the ghost object breaks its chains and is reborn, unrecognizable, in the fire of desire. Thus some fishes dreamed one day of getting out of the sea. It did not take more for the fin to become a foot, and for the wing to come out of a palmed paw, like a squadron, all sails out, comes out of of a press iron.

There is nothing as alienating as wanting to cling at all costs to the sacrosanct principle of identity . This bias may lead to a delirium much more formidable than the famous delirium of interpretation, which is after all not more than a superabundance of inspiration. The identity of two things conforming to the same model is only a philosopher’s illusion. It is denied by the whole creation, of which no element is the exact copy of another, every being, every form being endowed with more life, containing more sense than they need to survive. It is this excess of energy, it is the hidden meaning inscribed in each thing that distinguishes it from all the others, but also makes it possible to connect it to all other things in the great movement of the universal symbolism, excess of meaning, the song of the bird, the perfume of the flower, the beauty of the woman; excess of meaning, the hieroglyphic writing of the stones, the veins of the wood, the diaprures of metallic oxidation, the star-like arrangement of apple pips; moreover, excess finally, the expressive mimicry of old scrap iron, the traces of fire on boards, the figures of erosion revealed by salt, the look that lights up in the driftwood.

Freed from utilitarian servitudes, the object soon discards the mask to reveal its true face, where we can decipher our own expressions. Hero of an adventure where I have no difficulty in recognizing mine too, it gives me back me a hundred times what I had thoughtlessly deprived myself of ,by wanting at all costs to safeguard its status as a tool, a work of art or machine. Freed from this prejudice that consists in believing that a device must necessarily respond to a particular and unique function, that a broken jug is no longer a jug, or that a ship has no future when the storm scatters it like a deck of cards, I have seen life come back stronger than ever in these mortified bodies, poetry reborn from these out of use memories, love transfigure these rags.

It is not enough, of course, that an object be destroyed so that it becomes poetic. When sawing a violin like one would saw a tree trunk, you only get a sad song. Just like when trapping a car, or when blowing up an armchair, one manages at most to transport the technique of “happening” in the field of still life. The real dissolution of the object is similar to an alchemy operation . Out of the debris, out of the wreckage, which are dead and vile only in appearance, as is apparently the mortified material on which the alchemist works, the point is to bring out a new vision, marked with the  seal of poetry.

The ocean is awake, and it is a good thing , “because beauty is easy for it.”.  It’s a kiss that lasts longer than a night without night, a look that looks for itself and meets itself in the capsule of a bottle of beer, this monocle for a blind pilot, which fits me as the fly-bird fits the orchid. The evening falls and the horizon rises on the opera of the rocks. Breathless, a locomotive sinks right into the Brazilian jungle; it will come back to haunt the imagination of poets, spitting red and blue macaws by its copper chimney. The feet of the clock without a dial that is called the mist are a loaf of sesame fat for the sparrows. On my right, love is paddling , as silent as a Huron; on my left, love flies away, his green song at the tips of his eyes, The foam in the distance buzzes. My feet are on the ground, on the sea. My steps gather no moss. Shut up, you tribunes! Crotales of practical necessity, down with your saws! This is the place where memory turns itself inside out like a glove, where the vision, with his hands of hair mounted on telescopic arms, questions the wreckage, caresses Leviathan, and picks the bean of kings that spews the chaos, as a bloody hook.

“Any wreck within reach of our hands should be considered a precipitate of our desire”. By the time that this Breton phrase reaches me, that it makes within  me its way of swallows launched in pursuit of the ephemeral, this time lapse , I make gift of it to the faience dogs of destruction and conservation which argue fiercely for a reality in peau de chagrin. My life, this groundswell that blows the swimmers like the candles of a cake, is as smooth as a table waiting. I dedicate it to chance and to its menagerie of birch shavings, to the innocence of the moss playing dice, against the parrot of the islands, this fairy veil: the memory of the land that he will not see again, because the galley is already  invaded by disturbing visitors, rusty nails, beards of swordfishes candied in melancholy, cage-beds clutched upon corpses of eggs, – not to mention this little man, hardly higher than a dice cone, who approached me on a moonlit evening, and offered to lead me safely to the untraceable sources of autumn jealously guarded by frogs, if only I showed enough composure to support my ancestors.

He smacked his incisors without humor under his frozen tar beard, which hid all the front of his body and made me deaf to the ticking of the rusty watch he had to wear in saltire. He seemed more lost than any of my love’s faces and his skull shone like a grain of rice in times of famine. Where had I ever met him, except in the vending machines of a brand of coffee, which offered as bonus similar figurines, molded plastic in the effigy of historical figures? But his presence on a deserted beach, at a time when the squids themselves are fleeing the eye of God, gave me more freedom than I had ever dreamed of in my youth.

So, here I am transported inside the Castle of the Wait, from where I discover as far as the eye can see the procession of those who will come and of which I open the march. They stand out against the light, like the strict silhouette that lurks in Chirico’s paintings and is set in the latest fashion of hell. Ambiguous creatures, translucent skeletons of the unseen, like the currents that crisscross the bay, these shadows of a shadow are all that I expect more than a farewell, among the sounds of men and the flight of owls.

Lying in his overcoat, facing the sky whose weight he bears, the little man. He does not even defy death, which, drunk with spite, tries to throw itself into the well of truth, but just succeeds in breaking its bones. He is so snug in his goëmon poulaines, icy like a blue-skin leather, which smells as the goat so much as  to make all the trawlers dance on their moorings at the end of the world. A pneumatic ribbon planted with nails fits him like a aureole fits a dwarf. It is an open mouth, this aureole , a mouth gaping towards the inside, and it is the wheel of a rudder, but which obeys only the mutineers.

Right on the albinos coral reef ! The lookout grinds the octopus, this marine variety of poppy that I use to bait the salt statues, the virtuosic cetaceans of the cello, and the fossil bicycles that raise their round arms towards me, in a gesture of offering.To find myself at last, at the end of a wave that resembles me like a drowned man resembles his sister, on the dune of iron straw, the key in hand, the liquid key, which is the net of the storyteller! Ready for everything. Including to be reborn in the body of this salt-laden radio, which is the hidden face of the moon.

Jean-Louis BÉDOUIN


(1) See « Jeu des objets parallèles », catalogue de l’exposition « Armes et bagages », Galerie Verrière, Lyon, mars 1975,

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