Perspective views of the surrealist city and others
[Excerpt from The Surrealist Civilization of Vincent Bounoure and Al. – Payot 1976, P340 to 346]
The description of the surrealist civilization, as we have sketched it, remains silent, as we have seen, about the essential themes under whose name it had so far thought desirable to externalize itself. The four colors of the Jeu de Marseille, alas, have certainly not ceased to be our daily games, but bear names that the recent use has so constantly and so improperly diverted, that their sharpness and their edge, when it comes for us to act in a current and concrete drama, would serve us as much as swords of comedy. The declarations of intent, the diplomatic toasts, the political programs, the discourse of the power, make what one knows about revolution, freedom, love, and soon of the dream of which the technicians of the orthopsychie are disputing the cantons among themselves. It was then not important to rephrase the statement our constant preoccupations , but rather to indicate where they bite in 1975.
There would be only superfluous justification here if the preference here given to immediate tasks did not illustrate a constant method of surrealism, although sometimes, it is true, a momentarily forgotten one. A method which, in the future, is called to take precedence over the exposition of the fundamental directions of surrealism, that no one now ignores unless he wanted. Applying itself to a changing reality, the surrealist action is brought to manifest itself on various terrains and to take successive forms, that one would heavily deceive himself if one was to lend them a timeless quality. This foolishness of historical philosophy is still rather common and perhaps, in order to perpetuate itself, does it find a useful support on the side of the various kinds of structuralism that seek to eliminate time of their equations.
Thus are slices cut off from the movement of the centuries, and deprived of any clock, and which after such an amputation, become liable to a global and synchronic description; Thus, have historyless peoples been brought forth out of far-off areas that, with one single voice, testify to the well-founded doctrines of immobility and of the fundamental non-temporality of the concept.
Surrealism, which is a civilization of the far-off, would have been in good company, if, like the Neo-Guineans or Motilones indians, it had been frozen into a stable schematism in which only the uncertain progress of the science of civilizations, the perils of philological, literary and artistic research, the upsetting adventures of the Benedictine investigation, introduce an exciting suspense.
The private pleasure of some, the career satisfaction of others, even the peculiar observations of psychopathology, that so many examiners are expected to give rise after their conferences, do not make us any obligation, in order to help them construct a timeless doctrine of surrealism. to provide them with the lures that rendered transparent to us the cerebral convolutions of hamsters and goldfish.
No offense to domestic animals that surrealism has always fed with benevolence, surrealism is however reluctant to deliver them the periodic and balanced ration they have so far only discovered at the cost of pasture efforts, whose profit is certain and that we will hence not abbreviate. Thus, without putting our hand in it at all, the synchronic panorama of the surrealist civilization will one day be drawn up: we wish it to corroborate the first critical attempts of which it was the object, and to which it would be painful, that some sort of dialectical bend may seem to give a temporary denial.
However, these scientific problems are perhaps beyond our competence and, failing to study those of others, one can see that we are content with having mores.
In other words, this series of pages only fits its title and only has any chance to, strictly speaking, be the surrealist civilization, by refusing to describe it timelessly, while an urgent fight is necessary, due to the spell made to all, by the acceleration of the verbal mill and the proliferation of kitchens where the strongest heads are liquefied into an irrepressible flow.
Ancient propositions by Aragon, such as “bullshit is French”, may seem a bit short. They testify to a singularly narrow geographical view. We have learned that the internationale of the technicians of the Power, the internationale of horse dealers and the internationale of lecturers, or in short, the internationale of policemen, bankers and professors, all united by their taylorized specialization and walking shoulder to shoulder towards the last days, have abolished all territorial privileges.
The New World that is offered to us, assuming that it would today lead to some “in orbit” manufacture of new metal alloys, would not it invite us to question the risks of diffusion of the French “bullshit” as herds of overdoped Hercules let us fear, piled up as they are in cantonments for the invasion of the dead stars and the installation of prolific colonies in rarefied atmospheres?
The handicap of the sealed pajamas and of the respiratory apparatus was not necessary when the loving words are now transcribed into information units in order to reach the beloved one .
The absence of an explicit reference to some of the traditional surrealist themes and action modes in our present expression, would possibly reveal the lack of scope of our reflection and the insufficiency of our organizational energies, as the price that had to be paid, as soon as we gave primacy to the assurance that, like all others, the surrealist civilization is neither timeless, nor even actual, but operative.
The experience we have elicited as calling for general conclusions is of the kind that defines the internal criteria, even in the course of an action of limited scope ; these criteria reject as superfluous the description of a constant state or even of instantaneous states, that their chronology, taken for consequence, would vaguely illuminate.
The practice of collective automatism, instituted among us in the conditions of authenticity that public life denies us, has not been without inducing a tangible transvaluation of the relations that were undoubtedly still overshadowed until then, by an instinctive and conformist belief, in the structural unity of language, on which a less tardy suspicion should certainly have been casted. Did not Breton tell us already? “Automatic writing, with all that it brings into its orbit, he confided to Aimé Patri as soon as 1948, you can not know how dear it remains to me. I believe, however, that nothing has been less understood. That will come … In the meantime, to my knowledge, no one has realized that, when we are required to provide a quick answer, we spontaneously only have one verbal structure to express ourselves, that excludes the most categorically, any other structure that would apparently carry the same meaning. We hence reply, for example: “You do not believe it”, whereas, theoretically, one could have just as well said : “It is impossible” (or vice versa). Too bad if such a necessity is devoid of any importance in a rationalist’s eye. I hold it as the sole guarantor of the emotional authenticity of language and (of course, beyond the language) of human behavior. “
Our experiment concerns the diversity of the organization structures of language in its individual formulation and, not only on the stylistic cut of formulas: much more on their innervation by the powers of the imagination. To them, to them alone does language owe, even in its elementary units, its form and the immediate re-use of its materials by the listener who interprets and responds.
Any theory of language, any social project which, bypassing the conditions of authenticity of dialogue and, more generally, of human relations, would tend to perpetuate the lie of the univocity of the sign and of the structural identity of social units, would thereby only belong to the history of religions for us, and, as one would expect of us, would then only call for reactions of the most primitive anticlericalism or for the filthy distortions of the most up to date atheism .
Contemporary epistemology considers as one of the first steps necessary for the construction of materialism to renounce this creed that the only possible science is a science of the general.
The notion of interpretation model, which has advantageously supplanted this ancient calembredaine, is not more exposed to the accusation of idealism — or, if one prefers, of nominalism — than the sequence of shots fired against the superstititon’s henchmen: it only brings back to objective proportions the pretensions of the mandarins who, merely experimenting with the operation of their private electric network, imagined that they were calculating the world itself, and hence, to the detriment of an illusory knowledge of the world, to proportions that are likely to provide an authentic relation with the world, an entirely historical relation: in other words mythological, and given for such, after subtracting the acts of faith of conceptual theology.
The scientific type of intervention differs from ours here; it is a dialogue with the world, while we are starting to talk to each other through parallel stories. But when we state that matrices are particularizing, that the meaning of the words and the stylistic organization of the expression are individual fact, then far from concluding that the mental systems are deadly closed upon themselves, or far from from concluding that they are helping to “raise the language barrier”, we subtract implicit ideologies from the theory of language and from its practice, as well as the underground intentions that underlie the totalitarian use of it. In other terms, all beliefs that affirm the identity of the message sent and of the message received, so that to ensure a long lasting pseudo communication that would spread step by step in the entire field of human relations. There is no subjectivization of the theory of language in an urgent exorcism which highlights the destructuration and restructuring phases that punctuate the real practice of langage and are the basis of human relations. It means to break once and for all the bonds in which true communication has so long remained hindered.
Is this for us a way to answer the anxieties that Breton felt thirty years ago? “Alas,” he said to the Yale students, “what have we done with the word ? Without prejudice to the other changes required, yes, we will have to go back to this source. The call to the unsupervised thought puts us in possession of the key to the first chamber. In order to enter into the second chamber, nothing less is required than to render to man the feeling of his absolute dependence on the community of other men”. If we managed to introduce ourselves into this second chamber, it was not without noting that the first chamber commanded access to it, in other words that the unsupervised thought was no less a guarantor of human interrelation than of individual expression in their authenticity.
The current theories of communication have made it possible to calculate the maximum size of groups that may be compatible with the egalitarian circulation of information. Since the limit assigned by the neuron recording function does not exceed forty-five units of information per second in the human species, it is easy, with a few basic assumptions, to deduce from this the maximum size of a sociological unit of communication, “Yona Friedmann,” reports Robert Escarpit, “has estimated to 16 people – say 12 to 20 – the critical dimension that an unmediated egalitarian group can not overcome without making communication impossible. This is the dimension of the round table, the seminar, the working group or combat group, By playing the specialization of functions, then the hierarchy, then the use of mechanical means of transmission, it is possible to define other critical dimensions, for other types of groups. “
Well! Who would not have noticed it in a sardonic accent… The format of the surrealist groups, was in fact, from the beginning to these days, around sixteen people. But the calculation of the technicians leads straight to conclusions which make such an observation fortuitous or, at least, relate it to other explanation principles. Indeed, if the so-called theory of communication ever set itself a concrete goal, it was certainly to master the laws of communication in order to increase the performance of information instruments. In periods of demographic gallopade, the absolute limit of twenty individuals leaves many empty chairs at the banquet of unanimous pleasures, except menus regarding audio-visual programs or routed through the hierarchical channel. The whole effort of computer theory, leading to the definition of the “free exchange” of news and of communication as the doing of two dozen individuals, isolated among large billions of human beings, is a quite sinister success. So let us take this admission for what it is, and, having known for a long time what it is all about, let’s check that the limits of communication, until the future, numerically undefined, are independent of the limits, very precisely enumerated and definitively closed , of information.
Surrealism is civilization because it is a place of relationship and it does not resemble to any press agency, nor to any of these current barbarities that the quantity of the various events prolongs by the mercurial circulation of desolating words, of words which do not incorporate any private or public passion, and that shrink the life of the mind to the dimensions of the telephone unit.
While a juxtaposition of innumerable, incessant, frantically multiplied informative monologues tries to obviate the accelerated disappearance of all interrelation and of all actual seizure of the world, while at the same time the anthropology of communication tries to interpret all social behaviors through quantities of classifieds ads, we affirm that civilization only exists by virtue of the successive dissolutions and restructurings of speech, which ensure that exchange actually occurs and which, by putting men face to face, and by knotting them by words and gestures, make them unique, free and united.
This is where we see that the idea of a surrealist civilization is an unachievable project whose present data call for immediate developments.