At the Surrealist film show, someone asked Stan Brakhage about the media’s use of surrealism (MTV, etc.); he answered that it was a “damn shame.” Well, maybe it is & maybe it isn’t (does popular kultur ipso facto lack all inspiration?) – but granting that on some level the media’s appropriation of Surrealism is a damn shame, are we to believe that there was nothing in surrealism that allowed this theft to occur?
The return of the repressed means the return of the paleolithic – not a return to the Old Stone Age, but a spiraling around on a new level of the gyre. (After all, 99.9999% of human experience is of hunting / gathering, with agriculture & industry a mere oil slick on the deep well of non-history.) Paleolithic equals pre-Work (“original leisure society”). Post-Work (Zerowork) equals “Psychic Paleolithism.”
All projects for the “liberation of desire” (Surrealism) which remain enmeshed in the matrix of Work can only lead to the commodification of desire. The Neolithic begins with desire for commodities (agricultural surplus), moves on to the production of desire (industry), & ends with the implosion of desire (advertising). The Surrealist liberation of desire, for all its aesthetic accomplishments, remains no more than a subset of production – hence the wholesaling of Surrealism to the Communist Party & its Work-ist ideology (not to mention attendant misogyny & homophobia). Modern leisure, in turn, is simply a subset of Work (hence its commodification) – so it is no accident that when Surrealism closed up shop, the only customers at the garage sale were ad execs.
Advertising, using Surrealism’s colonization of the unconscious to create desire, leads to the final implosion of Surrealism. It’s not just a “damn shame & a disgrace,” not a simple appropriation. Surrealism was made for advertising, for commodification. Surrealism is in fact a betrayal of desire.
And yet, out of this abyss of meaning, desire still rises, innocent as a new-hatched phoenix. Early Berlin dada (which rejected the return of the art-object) for all its faults provides a better model for dealing with the implosion of the social than Surrealism could ever do – an anarchist model, or perhaps (in anthro-jargon) a non-authoritarian model, a destruction of all ideology, of all chains of law. As the structure of Work / Leisure crumbles into emptiness, as all forms of control vanish in the dissolution of meaning, the Neolithic seems bound to vanish as well, with all its temples & granaries & police, to be replaced by some return of hunting / gathering on the psychic level – a re-nomadization. Everything’s imploding & disappearing – the oedipal family, education, even the unconscious itself (as Andrei Codrescu says). Let’s not mistake this for Armageddon (let’s resist the seduction of apocalypse, the eschatological con) – it’s not the world coming to an end – only the empty husks of the social, catching fire & disappearing.
Surrealism must be junked along with all the other beautiful bric-a-brac of agricultural priestcraft & vapid control-systems. No one knows what’s coming, what misery, what spirit of wildness, what joy – but the last thing we need on our voyage is another set of commissars – popes of our dreams – daddies. Down with Surrealism…
first published in OVO 7, later published in T.A.Z. The Temporary Autonomous Zone.