Skip to main content

more quick thoughts of/on surrealism

So there is American surrealism of the deep image and pastoral variety

(perhaps Matthew Rohrer is a good example of this tendency although he sometimes moves away from deep image and the pastoral to some kind cyber erotics.)

There is also the surrealism of Eastern Europe with its folklorish qualities (Simic etc.)

And French surrealism seems a little heavier on the intellect than say latin American surrealism.

So American imagism meets say Latin American surrealism and becomes deep image? (I realize this history is very simplistic and watered down)

What I am interested in exploring is the interaction of textual poetics and surrealism (or neosurrealism).

If I remember correctly I think Watten denounced surrealism (and perhaps other poets of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school).

So when (or in who) did textual poetics meet surrealism? I haven't read enough Yau to know if his poetics involve both, but from little I have read it seems possible.

John Ashberry has elements of both, but I guess I am wondering about new meetings, recent meetings, say meetings in the last ten years?

Also, cyborgs and surrealism and textual poetics. I know it's happening.

If I thought, it it's already happening. Somewhere. Since I haven't read enough to have an original thought in my head.

I am deeply attracted to the political possibilities of surrealism (both its negative and positive poles) and its pleasure functions (not just Freud/Jung).

Context. Does a surrealist commercial have context? Say the baby growing in the womb which turns out to a full grown man and the commercial ends with a nice nugget (the closing lines, the key, the epiphany)

"Life comes at you fast."

It's funny, it's wit, it stands out, sticks out. It's memorable.

Images are becoming more and more of a storage device than text.


I suppose I have a real emotional attachment to surrealism (it grabbed me first when I "came" to poetry)

Or did poetry come to me?

Anyway. One complaint I hear still today about surrealism (perhaps going back to the French symbolists) is private images. The same complaint is launched against L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics (and all experimental poetics since most of these same people lump it all together) in terms of private language.

So when (or rather how) does an image become public?
And when does language move from private to public?

And while I am at, what the hell is private and public?


Tony Tost said…
One lense is whether a poem or commercial strikes you as surreal in its imagery, or if it places itself in a surrealistic tradition via its procedures, values. A complaint can be laid before the poems of Bly, Merwin & such that their poems have appropriated a vaguely surreal imagery (bizarre juxtapositions, quote-unquote deep images) without maintaining the difficulties or at least the risks of accessing that imagery through a derangement of the senses, chance operations, or fidelity to subconscious drives. The reason perhaps many of us tire of what gets labeled American surrealism is what seems like the pretermined outcomes; at my most ungenerous I would charge that the poems of people like Dean Young, Bly, Tate come out fairly homogenous, which isn't intrinsically itself a criticism, but it does seem somewhat counter to what I've taken as surrealism's fundamental range. Visual artists like Cornell & Ernst are considered (by some & by many, respectively) surrealist, yet they seem to have a wider range of effect within their ouvres, but they're two of my favorite artists, & I think Ernst in particular was wildly inventive in his use of imagery, materials & techniques, while I think there is tremendous precision & care in the imagery in Cornell that I don't sense in lesser surrealist artists.
postpran said…
good point Tony. The range is lacking in watered down American surrealism. I like your distinction between surreal imagery and surrealism. I agree that surrealism is more than just a surreal image. It's the whole exploration of consciousness itself.

I read somewhere there is some surrealist group in operation in Chicago. They claim the rigor of French surrealism. They also claim purity. Perhaps another kind of limited range is fidelity to the original concept/movement etc.

So the poles of fidelity and infidelity interest me. Some infidelity lacks rigor and range. Some fidelity is like a pure breed with severe health problems.

I suppose I am looking for a rigorous infidelity. As well as the experiences of something beyond.
Anonymous said…
Marcus, I am also very interested in Surrealism, and the issue you get at in
your blog is a vital one. Breton clearly feared that Surrealism would
degenerate into a literary style, and he saw that as a failure of vision. What
happened with so much English language poetry that attempts Surrealism is that
it adapted the style, an extremely watered down version of the style, but did
not commit itself to the quest that Surrealism ultimately is. The tremendous
intellectual curiosity, the passion for thinking, the disposition to consider
the full field of consciousness as the true ground for poetry, was not in the
poets of the seventies, or even very fine poets like David Gasgoyne, the one
bona fide English Surrealist, though one could make a case for some of Dylan
Thomas, I think. The coopting of the style by the market was already happening
in the thirties, when Salvidor Dali came to New York and decorated department
store windows and caused a sensation. And this is not necessarily an outrage,
in fact it affords us a chance both to see the deeply popular traditions that
Surrealism draws on, folk tales, the gothic, that makes it prey to the
marketplace, while reminding us that we can't accept the bottle in lieu of the
wine. I'm deeply fond of the Surrealist manner as well as the matter, and I
have to ask myself what is Surrealism now, what is a larger thing than
Surrealism that Surrealism opens the door to? In some ways I find Gertrude
Stien, who had a very sharp and accurate critique of Surrealisn, a place
through which a certain aspect of the Surrealist enterprize can evolve. Because like Breton and even Artaud, for that matter, she places the exploration of
consciousness at the center of writing, and she sees the act of writing as
essentially magical, as in its way, the marvelous. Then there's Finnigan's
Wake, but since you are Irish, you already know the Irish invented Surrealism.
(Interesting that it was in Ireland that Artaud went totally mad.Do you know
David Rattrays wonderful essay about that episode?)

Another aspect of the question is the extent to which we take Bly Merwin etc to be the place where Surrealism enters our idiom. There is of course the one
American poet affirmed by Breton himself to consider, Philip Lamantia, and I
think a strong case could be made for the Ginsberg of the late fifties, the
drug poems, and things like Television was a Baby Crawling Towards That
Deathchamber, and it seems to me that the Duncan of the forties and later is
keenly interested in Breton, translates him, and summons him up in Roots and
Branches. Then there's Bob Kaufman, about whom I know not a whole lot, but who
seems to be engaging the questions posed by Surrealism in a fuller way. And
Kenneth Koch, who seems the only one to connect with the frenetic inventiveness of someone like Peret, and to bring it into postwar America. And lastly, for
the moment, Burroughs of the cut ups. These works seem to me a powerful and
original recasting of Surrealist inquiry.

- Joseph Donahue
Anonymous said…
Marcus, what are you reading to get this background? I would be very interested to learn where this map is coming from. I am familiar with a basic difference between French and Spanish surrealism, but a lot of the other stuff you mention is new to me. Any reading suggestions?


Tim Peterson
postpran said…

You said you are familar with French and Spanish surrealism so I won't go into that.

There is a strong element of surrealism in Eastern European poetry. A very brief rundown of some poets I have read:

1)Tomaz Salamun has/is influencing a lot of younger poets. Check out Poker (from Ugly Duckling Presse, Feast, and Four Questions of Melacholy.

2)Miroslav Holub's Vanishing Lung Syndrome is also interesting.
3) Vako Popa's Homage to the Lame Wolf

some other names: Novica Tadic, Rudolf Dilong, Rudolf Fabry, Paul Celan, Vitezslav Nezval.

Yet, I find many of these poets boring after a while. A limited range of surreal snapshots (Charles Simic is a good example of this and the other window shopping surrealists: Franz Wright, James Tate, and so)

The only poet that really still excites me from my early love of the eastern europeans is Tomaz Salamun. (the others are worth checking out however and besides that's just my take).

In terms of American surrealism, I am still getting a hold of it. Joe mentions Philip Lamantia and his name keeps popping up in connection with rigorous American surrealism. I look forward to reading him in detail soon. There's also Sotere Torregian and George Hitchcock (two other names that keep popping up in connection with American surrealism, but I haven't read either one yet).
Anonymous said…
I believe it to be natural to be out in public and realize that my face is a penis being used as a door handel to a (pub)lic restroom.

Popular posts from this blog

poets reading poets

There are on A now: Andrews, Antin, Apollinaire, Ashbery

A project from the Atlanta Poetry Group. Check it:

The Poetry of Tao Lin