Fifth Estate #316, Spring 1984, Vol. 19 No. 1
NOTE: The following piece by Franklin Rosemont is an expurgated version of the first section of his manifesto: The Crisis of the Imagination. It originally’ appeared in the second issue of the surrealist journal Arsenal (1973). We edited the piece of what we considered “all and everything that restricts the quest for freedom…” and although we absolutely disagree with the authoritarian streak that runs through so much of the surrealist project (which we find as one of its greatest contradictions), the spirit of Rosemont’s Absolute Divergence is one which makes it impossible to read without confronting the reality of modern life and the desires of our dreams.
For more information on surrealism, write to: F. Rosemont, 1726 W. Jarvis, Chicago, IL 60626 or read his article Surrealism & Revolution in the latest issue of the anarchist journal The Match (P.O. Box 3488, Tucson, Arizona, 85722 — $1.50).
Is it not deplorable that those who were compelled as children to memorize that there are 365 days in the year, forget so easily, from one moment to the next, that there are also 365 nights? But what a pitiable circumvention, this forgetting, as if the morning’s headlines did not comprise, more or less degradedly it is true, at least agonized reflections of the imaginative energy everyone unleashes every night in the form of dreams. Look at these headlines spelling out the crimes, infamies, massacres, calamities, earthquakes, shipwrecks, suicides and hazardous voyages to the north pole, to the peaks of unconquered mountains, to the moon. Is not the latent content unmistakable and irrefutable? Are not men and women trying desperately to tell themselves something of the appalling jeopardy of life today, and the crying need to transform the world, to rebuild everything from scratch?
I take it as beyond argument, in spite of the fact that everyone avoids thinking about it, much less discussing it openly, that the flagrant contradiction between dream-life and waking-life remains the pivot of the misery of the human condition. Everyone knows there are always beasts larger than life breaking lose from their cages; that undiscovered continents continue to blossom forth at one’s fingertips; that the marvelous, in short, is an imperishable and inexhaustible well. Yet the ignominious farce of life, with its homilies on cradles and graves, the incessant stammering of the stock exchange and the intolerable omnipotence of the alarm clock, goes on day after day. Who can deny that surrealism was ushered into the world precisely to discredit and to smash this dismal, monotonous procession of cowardice, hypocrisy, evasion and venality? I know very well how wildly utopian, how silly, how incredibly childish, the surrealist project inevitably seems to those who, having proceeded ceaselessly throughout their lives from one set of prefabricated renunciations to another, are finally concerned exclusively with their little place in the sun, their ridiculous position in the world. Currently only a very small minority manifests its total disdain for the paltry joys auctioned off by the racketeers in charge of “reality.” The fact remains that serious discussion is impossible with anyone else.
Little by little this minority is growing, its self-confidence expanding. On the street corners, in the factories, in the pool halls, in the truckstops, in barracks and even in schools, a few lone individuals refuse to say yes to the existing state of affairs; a few lone individuals raise insolent questions and ruthless challenges: Above all, they see what everyone else prefers not to see. To them alone could surrealism have any true meaning; with them alone is it possible for us to speak freely, unburdened by the usual morbid concessions. Sooner or later these few will be more; I am even convinced that some day the world will be theirs. But meanwhile all the cynicism in the universe could not efface a single drop of the marvelous. Childish? “The storms of youth precede brilliant days,” said Lautreamont. There is still every reason to await great things—I am not even joking—from a handful of irreconcilable recalcitrants who continue to fling in the face of the bourgeois law and order messages of thoroughgoing demoralization, insults, blasphemies, imprecations and threats, and do not conceal the fact they are out to make it as miserable as possible for everyone who pretends to be satisfied with things as they are. I admit that the means at our disposal are severely limited—for the moment. And at least until the situation is corrected—until surrealism, that is, attains some measure of executive efficacy—it will remain impossible to expect anything emancipatory or beautiful except from violence.
If ever it was necessary to speak out for nonconformism, total insubordination, the necessity of atheism, revolutionary intolerance, systematic sabotage, treason, armed insurrection and to lash out in all directions with absolutely modern fury against all and everything that restricts the quest for freedom and true life, it is here and now. Make no mistake: As far as surrealism is concerned, the whole stinking parade of patriotism, the flag, private property, God and everything having to do with religion, cops, the family, government, civilization, the “moral value” of work, etc., provides nothing more than objects of derision, targets for spit. Refusing to relinquish the unsparing rigor and incorruptible extremism that alone ensure the advance of thought and action, surrealism recognizes not only the basic orientation but also its entire spirit in the principle of absolute divergence originally elaborated by Charles Fourier, which is the necessary completion of Marx’s call for “merciless criticism of everything in existence.” A profound and lyrical radicalization of Cartesian doubt, absolute divergence makes short work of every “eternal value” of civilization, every justification of human misery…
Surrealism today, far more than in the past, is surrounded by forces inimical to its development; every action undertaken by us brings us into direct confrontation with those who would like nothing so much as for us to call a halt. There are still those, for example, who are disturbed to find us constantly overstepping the conventional boundaries of art or poetry and defending the organization of factory committees or workers’ militia; that is, there are those who wish to confine surrealism to the boundaries of bourgeois culture, to concede it a corner in the Museum of Modern Art and a page or two in the text books. But there are also those who would prefer that we abandon the surrealist project as such, so that we could devote our energies exclusively to socialist propaganda and political organization. To these “classical” critics must be added a third category, which is today more and more numerous: the ideologist of pseudo-surrealism (or “post-surrealism”), representing a development comparable to the appearance of revisionism and Stalinism in the workers movement. United essentially by the same reactionary fear, the same conservatism, the same skeptical bad faith, all these critics lose sight of the specific historical mission of surrealism. For such critics, poetry, freedom and love are mere words. Such critics have forgotten, if they ever new, that in the struggle for consciousness, as Hegel says, “The process of bringing all this out involves a twofold action—action on the part of the other and action on the part of itself…But in this there is implicated also the second kind of action, self-activity; for the former implies that it risks its own life. The relation of both self-consciousnesses is in this way so constituted that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must enter into this struggle, for they must bring their certainty of themselves, the certainty of being for themselves, to the level of objective truth…And it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; only thus is it tried and proved that the essential nature of self-consciousness is not bare existence, is not the merely immediate form in which it at first makes its appearance, is not its mere absorption in the expanse of life.”
Disinclined as I am to engage in exegetical exercise, I wish to emphasize here, for the sake of elementary clarity, that too much of what passes for surrealism today is merely rotten meat with a false label. Countless swine throughout the world are building entire careers, all rights reserved, on a line or two lifted from the works of Breton or Peret, just as Duchamp’s discoveries of 1912-23 are repackaged, at enormous profits, in the sickening “idioms” of the current “art market.” Such putrescent intrigues are not surrealism, however, but only its worst caricatures.
When we use the word surrealism we intend above all an adventure, the supreme adventure, which may be undertaken only at the risk of everything that gets in its way. We have nothing to discuss with those who use this word to signify anything less. The word itself, in any case, is hardly the decisive issue. What is essential is to devise—from scratch—a system of ” challenges and provocations,” as invoked in the Second Manifesto, “to keep the public panting at the gate”—that is: to secure the PROFOUND AND VERITABLE OCCULTISM OF SURREALISM. Everything everywhere awaits its true invention.
It is not for us to succumb to a “tradition,” even a pretend “surrealist” tradition; it is not for us to permit ourselves to fall to pieces before “great works” that are indeed great but which today are shoved down too many throats by too many reactionary scoundrels whose every grimace and every gesture make it perfectly clear that these works have to be completely renewed and followed through all the way to the end.
The defense of the marvelous, like the struggle for freedom, admits but one watchword: STOP AT NOTHING. “Those who make revolutions half way,” said Saint-Just, “merely dig their own graves.”
And thus I hope it will be understood that the well-known reproaches brought to bear against us by enemies and critics of every description—that we are nihilistic, conspiratorial, irresponsible, narcissistic, authoritarian and crazy; that we are purists, dogmatics, animators of tempests in teapots, consumed by the thirst for vengeance, addicted to invective, driven by compulsions to excommunicate, to polemicize, to scandalize, to fly into rages, to disrupt, to denounce, to destroy—for us, these are not even reproaches. Similarly, it is a matter of little importance if this or that transient associate or fellow traveler loses his nerve, starts slipping and comes to prefer the security of literature, the consolations of philosophy or even “making a living…Away with the intellectual tourist, the perpetual moaners oozing with vanity, the speculators in boredom ready to peddle half truths at thirty-five cents a line, the timid bibliophiles for whom the pursuit of pure psychic automatism is reducible to a literary technique, the philosophical snake in the grass, the dead weights, the two bit cowards and the shilly-shallying impostors! To go forward we must sweep the road of every obstruction. The revolution we desire and foresee—the revolution that alone can clear the way for the actualization of the marvelous—is of such a character as to admit of no equivocation, no wavering, no compromise. Surrealism would be nothing if it did not demand everything of each of those who incarnate its living presence.
Entirely on the other side of hope, beyond literature, beyond boredom, at the point of total despair or sublime love, one is less than ever inclined to deny that “all consciousness is an appeal to other consciousness(Hegel).” One must not only go as far as one can, but always farther. I insist on being one of those who always goes too far. Every fork in the road of thought demands a knife. A century ago, Lautreamont wrote: “‘When a thought offers itself to us like a truth running through the streets, when we take the trouble to develop it, we find it is a discovery.”
As a child I resolved always to be a fanatic. Certainly I do not mind in the least if idiots take me for a madman.