… a particular feeling of which [my friend] himself was never free, which he had found confirmed by many others and which he assumed was shared by millions, a feeling that he was inclined to call a sense of ‘eternity’, a feeling of something limitless, unbounded—as it were ‘oceanic’—Sigmund Freud, 2004
In the above citation, Sigmund Freud describes the ‘sense of “eternity”’ (2004: 2) which many people feel but cannot quite explain. This article re-considers the oft-cited argument that psychoanalytic theories of unconscious desire have deeply influenced Surrealism. It invokes André Breton’s automatic text Soluble Fish as a starting point for re-visioning how the Surrealists envisaged tapping into the unconscious because this text has no narrative structure. Rather, it is a meandering string of thoughts and images which apparently renders, or surrenders to, the unconscious. I suggest that Soluble Fish “speaks” the ‘oceanic feeling’. Consistent with Nietzschean concepts of the Apollinian and Dionysiac, the reader who sets aside the desire to interpret the imagery of the text, and who perceives the text spatially, hears its primal resonance. The unconscious of the reader hears and understands.
This article discusses the text against prevailing and dominant paradigms of language and the unconscious. Drawing on the theories of Freud, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, it considers desire as ‘lack’ versus desire as a productive force entirely necessary for life and ‘becoming’. In addition, using an extract of my own creative practice, I propose the taxonomy of ‘new Surrealism’—a contemporary interpretation of the Surrealist’s productive force, also known as the ‘Marvellous.’
In Civilization and its discontents, Freud reflects on the ‘oceanic feeling’ or ‘sense of “eternity”’ experienced by some of his friends and patients—a feeling that was evident to them, but which they found difficult to explain. Freud then argues that during infancy we do not see ourselves as separate from the external world—rather, we experience a ‘sameness’ with the universe in which we find ourselves. In our adult lives, he suggests, we remember that sense of oneness and are faced with ‘oceanic’ longing. Freud considered this the prime motivation for our seeking solace, if not consolation, through religion, in adult life. Freud also noted that we employ palliative measures to endure the hardships of life—we look for distractions; we seek our substitutive satisfactions (for example, art as a way to alleviate our suffering); or we employ intoxicating substances (to anaesthetise us).
For Freud, the human condition is such that while we strive for ultimate happiness, this state of oceanic embrace will never be realised. Freud considered happiness to be episodic—most intense when contrasted with unhappiness. He also believed that religion was inappropriate in providing any understanding and appreciation of happiness. Rather, for Freud, we each must follow a path that is unique:
The programme for attaining happiness, imposed on us by the pleasure principle, cannot fully be realized, but we must not—indeed cannot—abandon our efforts to bring its realization somehow closer. To reach this goal we may take very different routes and give priority to one or the other of two aims: the positive aim of gaining pleasure or the negative one of avoiding its opposite. On neither route can we attain all we desire. Happiness, in the reduced sense in which it is acknowledged to be possible, is a problem concerning the economy of the individual libido. There is no advice that would be beneficial to all; everyone must discover for himself how he can achieve salvation. (2004: 26)
In his later work, Freud came to the position that we will find satisfaction only in death, whereupon we return to the ‘primal oneness’ of the universe.
Freud was, of course, not the first to suggest that religion and God were humanity’s coping mechanism, and that art was a substitute for true and abiding happiness. Friedrich Nietzsche, in his Birth of tragedy (1872) had already posited that humanity’s attachment to the divine was a means of coping with the fear and horror of existence. According to Nietzsche, God or a higher power present to us an illusion to which we might aspire. In striving for the divine, however, life becomes an illusion of an illusion. Nietzsche suggested that the ‘Apollinian’ was how we see reality (the illusion), compared with actual reality, the ‘Dionysiac.’ The Dionysiac is the inner urge and emotion that we have all but forgotten. It involves a complete forgetting of self and the return to a ‘primal chorus’ (Nietszche, 2003: 36). Like Freud’s ‘oceanic feeling’, the Dionysiac unites us with the primal oneness. According to Nietszche, the Dionysiac is not communicable in words. At times the Dionysiac impulse in human beings will rely on an Apollinian mask—images or words—in order to make itself heard. The two act as counter-points, enticing us to look at the terror of existence and to find within it delight and lust for life.
Soluble Fish, authored by the self-proclaimed leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, in 1924 has echoes of Freud’s ‘oceanic feeling’:
Less time than it takes to tell, fewer tears than it takes to die:
I have counted everything, and there you are. I have made an inventory of the stones; they number as many as my fingers and a few more besides; I have delivered prospectuses to the plants, but all of them refused to accept them. I have played along with the music just for a second and now I don’t know what to think of suicide, for it I want to separate myself from myself, the exit is on this side and, I spitefully add, the entry, the re-entry is on this other side. (1924: 55)
Soluble Fish was produced through the process of ‘pure psychic automatism’ (Breton, 1972: 26). Breton was inspired to use the technique through his readings on Freudian psychoanalysis.
Freud considered human desire Oedipal in nature and, due to societal norms, unacceptable for conscious consideration. Freud defined the unconscious as a dynamic repository of repressed thoughts and desires. For Freud the inaccessible unconscious could be examined only through its effects, namely, dreams, bungled actions and the symptoms of neurosis. ‘Free association,’ Freud believed, could enable access to the repressed contents of the unconscious. In his view, the output of free association was like a dream: it presented manifest content which could be analysed to reveal latent content beneath. Arguably, Freud suggested that the unconscious had its own idiosyncratic language, one that relied on sensory images or impressions to make its voice known. For psychoanalysis, it is therefore up to the analyst and patient, together, to interpret the images and impressions in order to reveal and resolve underlying concerns. Although initially conceived of as a tool for psychoanalytic practice, the Surrealists began to explore free association and psychic automatism as a means of inducing creative output.
Breton defined Surrealism in the first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924):
Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word , or in any other manner—the actual function of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised be reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. (1972: 26)
Breton questioned conformance to the ‘reign of logic’ and applauded Freud for revealing that human beings were not simply creatures of reason, but were driven by repressed and unconscious desires. To this end, creative output was held in high regard by the Surrealists, especially if it appeared to be uncensored by the Freudian ego and superego, thereby seemingly allowing the effects of repressed desire to find their way to the surface of the text as the newly acknowledged part of who we are and how we live. The Surrealists held that human action guided by unfettered desire would solve the principle problems of life:
We maintain that it is the poet’s, the artist’s role to study the human problem in depth in all its forms, that it is precisely the unlimited advance of his mind in this direction that has a potential value for changing the world. (Breton, 1972: 240)
The Surrealists experimented with spoken monologue, written monologue, and the movement of the hand with pen to create automatic drawings. Breton spoke of his experience with written automatism and how visual images came to his mind so that he had simply to describe them in words or ‘trace their outlines’ (1972: 21). The Surrealists also produced a number of individual and co-authored experimental automatic texts. Breton found that the technique of free association produced:
…the illusion of an extraordinary verve, a great deal of emotion, a considerable choice of images of a quality such that we would not have been capable of preparing a single one in longhand, a very special picturesque quality and, here and there, a strong comical effect. (23)
Soluble fish is one such meandering text of free association written at a time when Breton had abandoned all contemporary rules about art and poetry in favour of a process that removed, as far as possible, intervention of ‘critical faculties’ (23). Breton, whether he achieved it or not, aspired toward complete surrender to the unconscious. In this text, the author described, in words, a deluge of mental images: Great isosceles wasps flew up from below. The pretty dawn of evening preceded me, its eyes on the heaven of my eyes, without turning around. Thus do ships lie down in the silver storm. (53)
Thought-pictures, impressions and ‘the illogical’ dominate Soluble Fish:
There is an underwater smoking room, constructed in a particularly clever way, which is bounded in the water by a shadow theatre that we have found a way to project without any apparent screen, the shadow of hands picking hideous flowers and getting pricked, the shadow of charming and fearful beasts, the shadow of ideas too, not to mention the shadow of the marvellous that no one has ever seen. (63)
Images that once ‘owned’ a position in a logical chain of thought-association have been separated from that logic. The speed required by automatic method means that images are plucked from the chain when the pen is ready. Not all images are consciously acknowledged, fewer are transcribed. The greater the distance between the image that is transcribed and its relatives within the chain, the greater the apparent contrast. Juxtaposition therefore permeates many automatic texts.
The chain of logic no longer has supremacy. Smoke may exist underwater, shadows may grasp flowers.
Breton describes this in his 1953 essay, ‘On Surrealism and its living works’:
The attitude of Surrealism toward nature is governed above all by its initial conception of the ‘poetic image.’ It is common knowledge that Surrealism saw in it the means of obtaining, most often under conditions of complete relaxation of the mind rather than complete concentration, certain incandescent flashes linking two elements of reality belonging to categories that are so far removed from each other that reason would fail to connect them and that require a momentary suspension of the critical attitude in order for them to be brought together. (1972: 302)
The aim of the Surrealists was to remove any resistance to these ‘incandescent flashes’. According to Breton, the more distant any two spontaneous images, the greater the affect. In the second Manifesto of Surrealism (1930), Breton explained the importance of the distance between two images. For Breton, the resulting contrast was necessary in order to excite wonder:
It is, as it were, from the fortuitous juxtaposition of the two terms that a particular light has sprung, the light of the image, to which we are infinitely sensitive. The value of the image depends upon the beauty of the spark obtained; it is, consequently a function of the difference or potential between the two conductors. When the difference exists only slightly, as in comparison, the spark is lacking. (37)
Importantly, such contrasts could not, according to Breton, be produced consciously: ‘it is not within man’s power, so far as I can tell, to effect the juxtaposition of two realities so far apart. The principle of the association of ideas, such as we conceive of it, militates against it’ (Breton, 1972: 37. Sic).
Soluble Fish is rich with juxtaposition: ‘orange-coloured rain with fern leaves on its underside’ (75), ‘jellyfish with a butterfly beak’ (93) and ‘necklaces of insects’ (80). Certain images are repeated or apparently associated. However great distances may also exist between images where the associative chain is missing connectors or omitted, perhaps—as discussed above—because the pen was not as fast as the mind images, or because some elements remained repressed.
There is a certain strangeness to Soluble Fish, as to all Surrealist texts. Surrealist imagery lends itself to the uncanny, that ‘species of frightening that goes back to what was once known and familiar’ (Freud, 2003: x). Through Surrealist techniques, repressed images re-emerge spontaneously and things that might previously have been conceived of as ‘unreal’ now appear to the reader as intensely realistic.
The conditions necessary for the uncanny, according to Freud, are that an actual experience is repressed, or an event appears to confirm something that a person has previously discounted as being impossible or untrue. Psychoanalysis might therefore seek to uncover a repressed experience that, through these images, interpellates the reader’s memory. Freud also suggested that an uncanny effect can arise when something previously considered fantasy or imaginary presents as reality—‘when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred’ (Freud, 2004: 151). For example, consider the following extract:
The walls of the room were covered with tears which, as they detached themselves, evaporated before they touched the floor, and were strung up again by a rainbow so small that one could easily have taken hold of it. When I touched it, the veil gave a distinct sigh, and each time I threw it on the bed I noticed that it had a tendency always to present me its light side, though it was made of all possible stars. (Breton, 1972: 85)
While the author of Soluble Fish writes automatically, the text produced looks and feels like a story, albeit one that makes no rational sense. The author presents a world that conforms to our notion of reality—rooms have walls and there are beds within them. However, this reality is also deeply unfamiliar. The walls are covered with tears that produce sighing rainbows. The real has become unreal. The unreal, real.
From a Nietzschean perspective, with its dense breathtaking imagery, Soluble Fish has a sweet Apollinian appearance. This is a mask, however, for its Dionysiac tendency. The incessant image-image-image reveals a yearning for something unexplained. Whereas a psychoanalyst reading might tend to bridge the images and interpret the associations, a Nietzschean reading would resist such tendency in accordance with the Surrealists’ agenda: the Surrealists were content to ‘experience’ discrepancies between images. In their view, the writer or speaker became ‘receptacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments’ (Breton, 1972: 27).
Kevin Brophy points out: ‘For Breton the discovery of the unconscious was the discovery of a technique. His aim was to live with the unconscious, experience it, and give it its due as the source of human thought and creativity. In this way the world changes irrevocably’ (Brophy, 1998: 133).While there is no intention on the part of Breton to communicate anything in particular, I argue that Soluble Fish still communicates.
From a Nietzschean perspective, the Surrealists were interested in the “thing in itself,” not the interpretation of the thing. Soluble Fish adopts Apollinian form in order to communicate that which cannot be captured by any image or any combination of images. The images defy logic. This causes the reader to abandon logic and to instead perceive underlying emotion.
When considered according to the theories of Jacques Lacan, Soluble Fish is an example of unconscious desire that is trying to make itself known. As such, it is beyond words. However, for Lacan, desire is metonymic, and to articulate desire, one must use language. Further, we can only articulate what we desire using a signifier that is defined by another signifier that is defined by another signifier. Ultimately, desire cannot be directly articulated. Soluble Fish is an expression of desire that is doomed to remain opaque, if not unknown.
For Lacan, the presence of desire in itself is the presence of something lacking in speech. It is the presence of something which haunts speech, but which is not always translated into a precise demand. That is why Lacan says that desire is metonymy, something which slides in speech but is impossible to grasp (Feldstein et al, 1995:50). For Lacan, desire is ‘lack’. It is a no-thing. On a daily basis one may strive to fulfil one’s desires, but as soon as one desire is fulfilled it is replaced by another—desire cannot, ultimately, be realised. Lacan’s theory offers a way of understanding the relentless search among many human beings for something they feel they can never name or find— Freud’s ‘oceanic feeling’. Soluble Fish communicates because the reader unconsciously recognises, in the words of another, their same futile quest.
In his study of literary uninterpretability, Leonard Orr suggests that a reader may approach Dada or Surrealist texts by ‘forming an understanding’ of the text rather than by interpreting the sentences or words of the text (2007: 127). He draws on the work of David Bennett who suggests that readers may approach such texts by ‘perceiving spatially and not completely’ (Bennett, 1989: 480). In such texts, fragments and images may be presented without the boundaries of narrative or plot. In approaching the text as montage or collage, the reader may perceive a ‘wholeness’ that is otherwise not there.
In the organically unified work, the materials are the bearers of an imminent meaning that pervades the whole. Nothing is superfluous, all is necessary and congruent; the individual parts can only be understood through the whole, the whole only through the parts. Whereas for the avant-gardist, meaning is something to be produced from disparate, non-synthetic “reality fragments”…Where the organically unified work stands in relation of apposition to the world as an analogue or model of the harmonious integration of the individual with the totality, the avant-gardist work is continuous with a reality whose conflictual, non-synthetic material (fragments of discourse, images, objects) it borrows or uses rather than imitates or re-presents. (Bennett, 1989: 483).
Such theories provide a way of understanding the communicative capacity of Soluble Fish. The mind perceives spatially, sensing the presence of the un-sayable and recognising the dilemma. The written product of one person’s unconscious triggers a reaction rooted in the unconscious of the other. There is recognition that the words and word-images substitute desire or, for Nietzsche, that the word-images are the masks beneath which the terrors of our own existence abide.
A spatial interpretation makes primal resonance known. It allows the reader to accept the Apollinian, without seeking image-interpretation, but to hear the ‘original chorus’ or base collective emotion. It allows a bridge between author and reader, both of whom, in that moment, negate the self:
Under the influence of the narcotic potion hymned by all primitive men and peoples, or in the powerful approach of spring, joyfully penetrating the whole of nature, those Dionysiac urges are awakened, and as they grow more intense, subjectivity becomes a complete forgetting of self. (Nietzsche, 2003: 17)
John Wiltshire’s analysis of pathography draws on the psychoanalytic theories of W.R. Bion in relation to the ‘container and the contained’. Wiltshire proposes that:
…containing is the capacity to take in the anguish or pain of the other, to bear with it, to moderate and return it to the other person so that they can bear it too, instead of being overwhelmed or consumed. (Wiltshire, 2000: 417)
Wiltshire provides the example of a mother who takes in a child’s terror, but shows to the child that it is tolerable and therefore communicates back to the child that such fear is bearable.
Applying this concept to Soluble Fish, one might say that the text has the ability to communicate to the reader: ‘I know of your internal longing, I hear and understand.’ In this sense the text communicates that the longing is shared and bearable. It is understood by another human that, in relation to desire, no single word or image, no single metaphor, is adequate.
This idea that an authored text can help to make pain bearable can be related back to Lacan’s concept of transference. According to Lacan, transference is successful only because the patient believes the analyst to be the subject supposed to know, or the supposed subject of knowledge, in the place of the ‘Other’. For Lacan, speaking with another person is critical to the process of an individual coming to terms with desire. For Lacan, ‘each time a man speaks to another in an authentic and full manner there is, in the true sense, transference, symbolic transference—something takes place which changes the nature of the two beings present’ (Lacan, cited in Dor, 1997 :2). This may explain how the interaction between reader and text in Soluble Fish can be transformative.
In contradistinction, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari reject the idea that, as human beings, we lack something which, when found, would make us whole. We live today in the age of partial object, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers. We no longer believe in the myth of the existence of fragments that, like pieces of an antique statue, are merely waiting for the last one to be turned up, so that they may all be glued back together to create a unity that is precisely the same as the original unity. We no longer believe in the primordial totality that once existed, or a final totality that awaits us at some future date. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1996: 42)
Deleuze and Guattari consider that an author should not attempt to write a text in order to communicate or to represent something to the world. This is because the author and reader are subjects that exist in an infinitely complex reality. The meaning of a text cannot, therefore, be controlled. For Deleuze and Guattari the role of the author and reader is to participate in this complex reality and to engage with one another to create new subjectivities (1997: lii). A text that is free of any structural model and is created to deliver new possibilities is, for Deleuze and Guattari, ‘rhizomic’. Like a rhizome, it follows no mandated path but is allowed to grow where and how it will.
Soluble Fish might be described, using the theories of Deleuze and Guattari, as the ultimate rhizome, meandering from one idea to the next, no point a beginning or end, always the middle. Free association as used in psychoanalysis is, for Deleuze and Guattari, locking language into a system whereby the end is pre-determined. In their view, the process always seeks to uncover the root signifier, the signifier of lack. Deleuze and Guattari reject this linear approach. Instead, they see signs as infinitely more complex: ‘These indifferent signs follow no plan, they function at all levels and enter into any and every sort of connection; each one speaks its own language’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1996: 38).
Elsewhere, Gilles Deleuze draws on Nietzsche’s pluralist approach whereby any symbol may be appropriated by a force or successive forces. Deleuze concludes from Nietzsche that a symbol is never static but has a history of appropriations, and is of itself, an appropriating force: ‘there is always a plurality of senses, a constellation, a complex of successions but also of coexistences which make interpretation an art’ (1983: 3).
However, in their Anti-Oedipus, first published in 1975, Deleuze and Guattari conceive of desire as a machine, with the objects of our desire other machines connected to it. Life is an interplay between such ‘desiring-machines’. Desire is no longer the ‘absence of something’ but a process—the process of connecting to other people, creating experiences, communicating, feeling, loving and dying. For Deleuze and Guattari, therefore, transference between an analyst and patient is no longer required and a work of art is evidence of something positive and productive in and of itself:
From this point of view, there is no longer any need for applying psychoanalysis to the work of art, since the work itself constitutes a successful psychoanalysis, a sublime ‘transference’ with exemplary collective qualities. (1996: 134)
According to Deleuze and Guattari, all things are in a state of wrapping up against, encountering each other, separating and being affected by that which is around them. This is never static in time. It is a state of constant movement and flux. Instead of conceiving of individuals or objects as, locked into a state of ‘being’ or existence over time, Deleuze and Guattari described a state of constant ‘becoming.’
The relationship of reader and text can therefore be conceived of as an act of becoming. In reading of ‘great isosceles wasps’ and the ‘branch of blood coral’, the reader connects with the images and underlying Dionysian emotion and ‘becomes’. The reader is drawn into ‘zones of proximity or undecidability’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004: 558) and is redefined by their proximity or relationship to the text and to its primal chorus. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire produces becomings and becomings perpetuate desire. As Deleuze puts it: ‘We are not in the world, we become with the world’ (1997: xxxiv). We find our Dionysiac essence—that lust for connection, oneness, recognition, ‘same’.
Style, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the moment when language is no longer defined by what it says, but by what it causes to move, to flow. It is through their style that authors construct new ‘possibilities of life’ (Deleuze,1997: Iii). Interestingly, they define style as an ‘absence of style’:
That is what style is, or rather the absence of style—asyntactic, agrammatical: the moment when language is no longer defined by what it says, even less than by what makes it a signifying thing, but by what causes it to move , to flow, and to explode—desire. For literature is …a process and not a goal, a production and not an expression. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1996: 133)
Such production was what the Surrealists recognised as the workings of the ‘Marvellous’, which is within each of us and allows each of us to be poet. The aim of the Surrealists was not to reinstitute bourgeois art production and consumption but to demonstrate that art could be created and consumed by anyone. The Surrealists saw their movement as revolutionary because the Marvellous was accessible to all.
My own creative practice starts with the Surrealist principle: ‘Put your trust in the inexhaustible nature of the murmur’(Breton, 1972: 30). An example of what results when I put my trust in the murmur is The Brorsen-Metcalf comet, the naiad and the sea, a short story previously published in Double Dialogues (Bruinsma, 2013). This story, like much of my creative fiction, began its life as strong mental imagery borne of automatism and my own dreams. The images, like those of Soluble Fish, emerged of their own volition. When I closed my mind to censorship and control, there came whiteness, wingless child, damselfly, teeth, water, glass, lightness, space. The story then came of the images—it was not predetermined.
My creative fiction lacks the traditional ‘conflict, action, resolution’ proffered by creative writing ‘how-to’ guides. Plot, character, ending ‘arise’ and are, more often than not, ambiguous. The image is paramount. The image in my work stands for that which cannot otherwise be said or explained, or Lacan’s ‘presence of something that cannot be translated’ (Feldstein et al, 1995: 50).
The images are the necessary masks of the Dionysian. Without the images, the Apollinian, there can be no echo of the primal chorus. The beauty of winged insects is required as part of a collage that, when perceived spatially (that is there is no attempt to interpret image-image-image) allows the music beneath to be heard.
The collection of images, the story, when perceived spatially, cries of ‘lack’ but, as we learn from Nietzsche such lack may be considered fragmentation of the individual and unification with the primal being. Following Deleuze and Guattari, lack, fragmentation—whatever its label—becomes connection.
I am mute and deaf and empty
I don’t remember why I am all of these things
I am broken and tangled and distraught
I am mostly empty. (Bruinsma, 2013)
The story says ‘Here I am’ and for some readers, the response is: ‘I hear you, I know, I understand’. There is a shared sense of desire that no single word or image, no single metaphor, can explain: ‘I begin to remember I once had a memory…’ (2013).
She looked back toward the earth, remembering something―the faint smell of linseed oil and turpentine, smoked eel and sea-salt, and a lady’s lamb’s wool touch. (2013)
May I then refer to my writing as a form of contemporary Surrealism?
This is a complex proposition.
Breton held that the value of automatism was that no effort was made to filter the workings of the unconscious. The writer or speaker became ‘receptacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments’ (Breton, 1972: 27).
Does Surrealism allow any reworking of an automatic text or any application of reason to the ‘raw material’? In this respect the first Manifesto of Surrealism distinguishes between ‘Absolute Surrealism’ (which was held in the highest regard and was exemplified by the work of Breton and some of his counterparts) from writing that was close to achieving Surrealism but resisted surrendering absolutely to the ‘Surrealist voice.’ My writing clearly does not meet the exacting standards of Absolute Surrealism.
Breton identified authors whom he deemed Surrealist in ‘elements’ of their writing: Edgar Allan Poe, Jonathan Swift, the Marquis de Sade and others. They were, according to Breton’s standards, of a less esteemed category:
I would like to stress this point: they are not always Surrealists, in that I discern in each of them a certain number of preconceived ideas to which—very naively!—they hold. They hold to them because they have not heard the Surrealist voice, the one that continues to preach on the eve of death and above the storms, because they did not want to serve simply to orchestrate the marvellous score. (Breton, 1972: 27)
While Breton could find something of the Marvellous in their work, ultimately these authors they did not wholly surrender to the unconscious. It was their desire to be recognised against the literary standards of the day that appears to have influenced Breton’s final judgment upon them: ‘They were instruments too full of pride, and this is why they have not always produced a harmonious sound’ (1972: 27).
Writing that was not purely automatic in nature therefore had to be at least anti-literary to be associated with Surrealism. Breton loathed the realistic and materialistic attitude of the novels of the day, and story-telling techniques (1972: 14). He described novels as predictable, stereotypical, purely informative, full of clichés, and ruled by logic—thereby stifling new possibilities. He refused to accept society’s standards for success and lamented: ‘forbidden is any kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practice’ (1972: 10).
The Surrealists were determined that any text allowing desire to escape censorship, logic or reason—allowing the voice of the Marvellous to emerge—must be valued more highly than established ‘literature’. Such texts should, according to the Surrealists, overthrow the concept of ‘literature’. In both the dream and in waking automatism, it was, for many Surrealists, the image that came first, then its translation into words or its replication as a drawing, painting or other art object. Breton commented in the first Manifesto of Surrealism:
It is true of Surrealist images as it is of opium images that man does not evoke them; rather they ‘come to him spontaneously, despotically. He cannot chase them away; for the will is powerless now and no longer controls the faculties.’(1972: 36)
Contemporary Surrealism must therefore not compromise in giving voice to the Marvellous. It must either meet the exacting standards of Absolute Surrealism (that is, pure automatism, transcription of the hallucination and the dream, and surrendering to chance) or it must realise the ideals underpinning Surrealism—the primacy of the unconscious and the effect that this produces; the voice of the Marvellous that is unique to each one of us and does not conform; the equality of dream and waking life, the resolution of both in the life as lived. In the case of the The Brorsen-Metcalf comet, the naiad and the sea, I will leave it to readers to decide.
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