The Triumph of the SURREAL / Gregg Simpson

The Triumph of the Surreal / Gregg Simpson

Forty-six years after the publication of the first draft of the Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton, 

     we are pleased to announce the absolute triumph of the surreal and magical consciousness. It was 

     the expressed aim of Breton and his followers to alter the course of the unconscious of society. We 

     feel that this has been accomplished. It has been largely a question of those who are initiates in the 

     esoteric arts remaining hidden and, in the process, becoming the shadowy figures they are. With the 

     exception of the emergence for a while into the public eye of certain surrealist ‘stars’ in the 1930s, 

     the initiates have led a secretive and mysterious existence. By initiates I mean those who know and 

     use the various procedures for probing fantasies, dreams, visions and intoxications with the purpose 

     of rendering the results in some formal way, with no moral preoccupation, or comment on the 

     nature of what comes out, no matter how startling they are. The formalization must necessarily be 

     of an empirical and/or classical nature, in order for the next step to be evident in a clear and 

     archetypal way to the explorer. 

         In his 1924 manifesto, Breton also included what he felt to be the definite and traceable history of 

     surrealism and magical art in the work of certain artists and visionaries, many of whom were 

     obscure then. I will also define my reference to magic by defining magician as someone who can use 

     the arts of illusion and staged phenomena to induce an audience to believe to be not only true, but 

     highly so, no matter how outrageous their Cartesian credibility is. He must have th patience and 

     process-consciousness of the alchemist. We relate here to alchemy in the following context: any 

     manifestation on a physical plane of unconscious, or divine processes. Alfred Jarry, the French 

     writer referred to the science of pataphysics as the laws and equations which describe or govern the 

     astral level, or as he put it on one occasion, “the surface tension of God”. 

         With the Age of Aquarius beginning, we find attention shifting to the image of the sun. The 

     general condition of mankind is to become peaceful and benevolent. But even if this is not true or 

     evident, those who have reflected on the Eygptian’s sense of time and phenomena to the Hopi’s time 

     system, will realize that is they themselves who are already embodying these manifestations. True, 

     there are many hangovers from the last era: wars, racism, pollution, etc., but they are just 

     that, “hangovers”, which must clear up as the day continues. Perhaps ritual will resume its rightful 

     place as the proper outlet for aggressive tendencies. In this case, the artist who is involved in the 

     processes I have mentioned, is the likely person to help in describing the form of these rituals. There 

     will also be a coming awareness of the true descent of Western culture from Atlantis. The truth of 

     the Sufi teachings will enable Western man to recover his true spiritual heritage and just as the 

     Eastern modes of learning have come to light, so will there be a re-learning of the real Western 


         Artaud realized that Western man must be able to re-live his passage in terms of Western 

     archetypes and attempted to show them in his plays. Eastern, or any other myth senses, have 

     inestimable value as teaching aids, but serve no real emotive or personal value to Western man 

     compared woth his own archetypal allegories. Likewise, Greek mythology is at best an interesting 

     study, but survives mainly as literature. Although Greek logic, science, etc. did invade Europe 

     through Rome, the inherent magic of that era is gone. The one exception is the Tuatha de Danaann tribe 

     who migrated from Greece to Ireland where they became a legendary Celtic fairy clan. This places 

     them in touch with other aspects of Celtic myth lore, the King Arthur legends and Druidic mysteries, 

     which Robert Graves describes in The White Goddess. In that book, he relates that the lore of the 

     British Isles was spread by the minstrels. This, then, brings us to the fountainhead of Western 

     learning, the Sufis. 

             Through their influence, the tradition of the troubadour  spread through Spain and southern 

     France with the Saracens and eventually led to the tradition of “romance”. Going back even further, 

     we find the existence of the divine arts and sciences from Atlantis preserved in ancient Persia and 

    Eygpt. Here were developed the various practices and beliefs which eventually found their way into 

     Europe: alchemy, Freemasonary, Rosicucianism, minstrelsy and such institutions as the Knights 

     Templar and the Order of the Garter. These did not fare too well when they encountered the 

     Hebrew-Christian theologies, the ‘official’ Bible myths being a distraction for the student of magic 

     that often the true Christian mystics are overlooked by him. It is an interesting fact that many 

     Christian esoterics from Assisi to Jacob Boehme were actually indoctrinates of the Sufis. This also 

     applies to many scientists and scholars such as Roger Bacon. from there the tradition largely went 

     into the arts. 

         In art, music and literature, the traditions of Sufism and magic lay beneath the surface until some 

     19th century French artists uncovered them. These artists, who are by no coincidence, the spiritual 

     predecessors of the Surrealists, saw as evidence around them, and in the wisdom of their 

     imaginations, the traditions stemming from Arabia. The most mysterious inheritors were the 

     Gypsies, with their Tarot cards, fortune telling and intoxicated rituals. They parallel so closely the 

     Sufi Dervishes who used mushrooms and hashish to prolong their unusual ‘whirling’, that the 

     influence is unmistakable. There is also the phenomenon of the Basque region near the 

     (French)-Spanish border, which because of its strange and customs which relate to no other in 

     Europe, is thought by many scholars to be a last remnant of Atlantis. 

         One artist who perhaps best personified those tendencies was Maurice Ravel. A Basque by birth, 

     he spent hours of labour over his immaculate compositions in order to express what he felt was the 

     effect of the Arab pollination of Europe. Although rarely, or never mentioned with regard to the 

     Surrealists, he was, in fact, a favourite of such magician-painters as Magritte and Ernst, who 

     obviously saw the hallucinatory and anti-gravity effects of such compositions as “Alborada del 

     Gracioso” or “Une Barque sur l’Ocean”. To a lesser degree perhaps, Claude Debussy also translated 

     the tradition into his work*, but it seems he was more pre-occupied with the Norman-Celtic myth 

     sense that he had in common with writers like Maeterlinck and Mallarmé. The other composer who 

     was with the first two were referred to as ‘Orientalists’ at the time. A Rosicrucian for a time, Satie’s 

     delicacy reminds one of a Persian tableaux, or a Moorish garden at night.

     Comparable examples in painting would be people like Delacroix, Gustave Moreau, Douanier 

     Rousseau and Odillon Redon. Then there were the other Symbolists, the writers. This would include 

     men like Gautier, Baudelaire and the Club des Hashiciens, Rimbaud, Huysmans and many more. 

     Perhaps the most outstanding and easily the most outrageous of these was the meta-magician and 

     poet/playwright, Alfred Jarry.  Jarry actually embodied in his everyday life and attire the most 

     extravagant and hyper-real of his hashish and absinthe (later ether) hallucinations to the degree that it 

     consumed him at an early age. His life made it possible, however, for the Surrealists, through the 

     poet Appolinaire to appear.

         By the end of the First War and after the convulsion of Dada, it was high time for a gigantic 

     flowering of all these accumulated knowledges to erupt in the intoxicating, and intoxicated 

     atmosphere of Surrealism. It was by this time pretty well agreed that the Mediterranean was the seat 

     of Western magic. Even Picasso eventually moved there to be closer to his inherent mythologies. 

     Dali never ceased to speak of his Catalonia. Miro lives on Majorca Giorgio de Chirico was a 

     Mediterranean by birth. Paul Klee resolved himself as a painter after a trip to Morocco.

         The last note was sounded by Antonin Artaud, who symbolized the apocalyptic end of the first 

     phase of the reinvestigation of magical art.  Through the hysterical and acute vision of his madness, 

     he saw these and other possibilities for Western man’s salvation. Artaud even travelled to Mexico to 

     take peyote with the Indians and learn their god and myths. This seems to us to be a matter of his  

     trying to assemble the trans-Atlantis antediluvian myth sense himself, proving too much for his 

     already unstable mind. As he said himself, “In Mexico, while climbing a mountain with my guides, I 

     was bewitched by an agent of the International Dark Forces”. This also seems to have been the case 

     fir the Surrealist painter and inventor of the decalcomania technique, Oscar Dominguez. A native of 

     the Canary Islands, which we know to been a portion of lost Atlantis, Dominguez’ untimely suicide 

     in 1958 shows the strain on those who endeavor  to investigate the true myths. Max Ernst seems to 

     have survived intact, however. Announcing at one time that he had been reborn at the end of World 

     War One as a young man seeking the myths of his time, he managed to get through with his life.

         For reasons of survival, similar to Ernst’s, the magic-artists have again gone underground. there 

     they lie, in pseudo burial, waiting to take their rightful place as the people’s magicians.

Gregg Simpson

Published in the Georgia Straight.  1970

The collage was published with the essay in the Georgia Straight in 1970.
, The Temples Profaned, 1970

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