[ Excerpt from La Civilisation Surréaliste by Vincent Bounoure,
Traces, Payot 1976 – P20 à 23 ]
To publish today a collective surrealist book is of necessity: as we have perhaps not forgotten, surrealism, from its very birth, was attracting ominous forecasts from the augurs; it was supposed to already be in death, As soon as born, it was wrapped up with the last linen. Considering things a few decades later, I wonder if the learned diagnoses, which announced surrealism imminent end, or even made rather premature observations of its death, were not in search, amid the sand grains of historical criticism, of the constant relation that surrealism maintains with the extinction of what it was. Not more than it was yesterday, is surrealism enveloped by death today, but death is in it, as the flame from which it tears out its daily existence in great palpitating shreds.
And, in today’s surrealism, there is Breton’s death. Will not it be to speak against him to pronounce oneself beyond what Breton said? I will very quickly enter this debate, which for a few months was of cardinal importance for the “horrible workers” that he left behind him. However, he had only wanted to open a wider future for the mind, than its present. He had said, he had repeated the hopes that he placed in the surrealism that would survive him. He had even doubled the stakes with the gestures of his last days.
From which results a basic contradiction for those who believed Breton on his word. Nothing is less surrealist than repetition. Hence, any further development of surrealism can only take place in a cantilevered fashion, in an audacity without guarantee, in the permanent risk, for those who believe to be animated by such a project, to get out of surrealism, so little that they deviate from imitation, as soon as they pass beyond the reproduction of what was born in the hands of those who were the inventors of surrealism.
Thus an alleged surrealism of rigorous observance would put an end to surrealism. And a surrealism of adventure seems abusive in the name it gives to itself, precisely in proportion that it is adventurous, and to the extent that history draws previously unpublished words from it. No surrealist action can now be accomplished until this trap is removed. To refuse to see that, would mean to fall in this trap even more surely. That would mean to believe that a surrealism of plagiarism is possible. And, conversely, to see an insoluble contradiction in this situation, under the sole pretext that the way to solve it was not discovered, would mean to be condemned to get out of surrealism, and hence to read the historical end of surrealism as a “constituted movement” in Breton’s death .
In either case, that would mean to take exclusive consideration of what Breton was, or rather of the image that was made of him, this in defiance of what he expected and wanted. It is true that, in a cautious combination of the two previous attitudes, it would be possible to avoid the trap, by ceasing to admit that you are a surrealist, hoping to be all the more a surrealist in the room. However, all the benefit of such a miserable ruse would only promote, in a dilatory narcissism, a surrealism of shame, at the center of which the public disavowal,concealing the intimate conviction, would only serve to make the seniors less cumbersome, to make the copying less visible, to make malpractices indiscernible, and to allow one’s cubits to be more free.
What is the reality of this trap? There is, in surrealism from the time when there were men to define and assume it, not only this inner risk that comes to us with the daylight, but also that risk to engage more than yourself, by being the organ of a speech which is not yours, for which you perhaps only have the duty to be, as much as possible, transparent. There nevar was any surrealist who was not conscious of engaging much more than what a man can pay.
In which scales does not life leave as ultimately insolvent, the one who thinks to lead and play his own life !
Historically speaking, since its definition in 1924, each year has drawn out of surrealism, the initiatives by means of which it escaped from what had hitherto specified it. Those who spoke it, I believe, threw out words that were not conclusions, words that were drawn out of them, risky words, words of scandal, formulas exceeding what could be deduced from all the coherent sequence of preceding sentences. Of whatever importance its history may remain, surrealism is made of successive decisions, none of which is implicit in those which preceded it. Thus the poet must “start all over again every day” (1): his works and his service are the black head of his being, the dead meat to which he opposes, in a dawn light, his own initiative, the absolute risk of a departure without any sort of maps.
In the physical body of surrealism, it has been known that Breton’s death was, at some distance, generating burstings. It must be said that such consequences add a precise meaning to this death and give it an emblematic significance. All what Breton’s death did, was to make more urgent and dramatic the same summons of which Breton, in a permanent injunction, had multiplied the examples during his life. The trap is identical today and always; but as it is now stretched to its maximum opening, it is obvious danger, it is threat. I admire that in a place, the first approach of which, was a book that Breton and Soupault composed for the sake of writing dangerously (2), within what in surrealism survives Breton, the action of his presence persists. And even, that through a fortuitous series of intellectual and affective accidents that were determined by his absence, Breton’s presence makes a new brilliance shine into the heart of this very lightning where, from its origin, surrealism borrowed its shadows and its coat of sparks.
Since 1920 or 24, every human gesture has been enveloped in a new gravity. It is entirely to be invented in the immediate future. In every man, it carries the entire responsibility of the inventor. It takes shape against the background of non-knowledge. This gesture is nothing, it is despicable, or else it is accomplished in risk, out of any security, out of any guarantee. With regards to a law more severe and more general than any other, the human speech is then in full daylight, the revelation of a central injunction: it is the expression of the very innocence. It is morality, in its exact fidelity to the obscure will that sets it up.
In a place, said I… In a place where it was proclaimed that ‘in the matter of revolt none of us should need ancestors’, one shall admit that fidelity requires something more and better than just formal references. So it would be in vain that anyone could, at the same time, try to remain a surrealist and to avoid the trap that surrealism has set up on its threshold. As if it was an initiatory trial to the recipient; but then, a daily ordeal where personal disqualification or personal requalification are played. Where freedom is constantly to be reclaimed by virtue of a true categorical imperative, that exercises the fullness of its rights of high and low justice — assuming that one takes things in an idealistic view. This summons must be called by name, at the peril of who formulates the new modalities. There is no tolerable ruse.
As a project of transformation of man and of his relations with the world. Of man, “eternally building himself and eternally unfinished” and of the world of which he is a part, surrealism consists in incessantly recusing historical reminiscences and its past even, to avoid “blinding itself as regards its own object”. Thus it differs from those “previous revolutions” that were obsessed by the revolutionary past, and to which Marx (3) reproached to reinterpret a new world with a vocabulary incapable of accounting for it — let alone transforming it.
Here the object of surrealism is declared as it is perceived today. Here is declared how, by virtue of its permanent internal necessity, in a new world, surrealism differs from what it has previously accomplished. Here surrealism is attested as an invention whose successive products, would in vain be opposed to each other.
(1) La parole est à Péret. Éditions surréalistes, New York, 1943.
(2) Témoignage de Breton à propos des Champs magnétiques.
(3) Le 18 Brumaire de Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.