Insoumission Poétique collects the tracts, broadsides, and declarations of the Paris group of the surrealist movement in the years following the conflicts that dispersed the Paris surrealists in the wake of May ‘68. Jean Schuster, who played a key role before and after André Breton’s death in 1966, had written in Le Monde in October 1969 that historical surrealism had come to its end though the idea lived in on its eternal form. His statement made public certain splits that had already occurred, but what followed has been obscure, especially to those outside of France, and has been ignored in even the recent histories of surrealism.
The Prague surrealists rejected Jean Schuster’s death certificate outright, having just established firm contacts with the Paris group and facing enormous pressures once again with the return of Stalinist forces. Some of the old group (Georges Goldfayn, Radovan Ivsic, Annie Le Brun, Gérard Legrand, Pierre Peuchmaurd, and Toyen) chose to work outside of the rubric of surrealism as the Maintenant group, publishing vigorously. Vincent Bounure, however, was joined by Jean-Louis Bedouin, Jean Benoit, Jorge Camacho, and Michel Zimbacca in pursuing collective activities as surrealists, even if with a more inward, more “occulted” quality. In 1970, the new group began the Bulletin de liaison surréaliste (BLS), producing ten in all with collaboration from the Prague surrealists and other friends. This work culminated in the 1976 publication of the collection la Civilisation surréaliste, which unfortunately hasn’t yet been translated into English. That year also saw the involvement of several of the Paris surrealists in the exhibit “Marvelous Freedom, Vigilance of Desire” pulled together by the Chicago Surrealists and the first of two issues of a new journal, Surréalisme.
The 1980s, however, were less active, due in part to the deaths of Micheline Bounure, Marianne Van Hirtum, and Vratislav Effenberger, de facto leader of the Prague group. It took an influx of energetic new surrealists, including the volume’s editor Guy Girard, in 1990 for the group to begin regularly producing collective statements and publications once again. The change is obvious in the collection itself: The first twenty years occupy no more than 15 pages, while the years from 1990 to 2010 take up 202.
These are not manifestoes—most are tracts decrying political outrages and one of the attractions of this collection is the mini-survey it provides of activist issues over the years, including AIM’s 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, political arrests in Argentina, the rise of neo-fascists in Central Europe, the 500-year centenary of the Columbus’ invasion of the Americas, the Affair Battisti, the Zapatistas, and many more. And though the concerns here are political, this is not to denigrate poetry: “Poetry isn’t a secondary practice. For us it’s absurd to abandon it in the face of urgent social struggles and privilege the reality principle.” The comment is derived from the text (by Guy Girard and Marie-Dominique Massoni) that provides the collection’s title and may be literally translated as “Poetic Insubordination.”
And the tracts are able (some moreso than others) to merge political concerns with a compelling poetic logic, as in a series that came out of the 1992 Columbus centennial:
In many Latin American nations of the nineteenth century a brief, commonly-used expression inspired fear and revulsion in decent people. The phrase: Tierra adentro, the Interior. It referred to the immense, still foreign territory where, beyond imprecise borders, the Indian circulated freely. This was unacceptable to the local oligarchy, linked to the interests of expanding British capitalism, not only because of the physical limits that this fact placed on their own ambitions, but because the uncolonized wilderness was a type of false-bottomed box, both geographical and psychological, where the persecuted, the nonconforming, and the outlaws might still take refuge. [Translation from Surrealist Tracts: Joseph Jablonski’s A Myth in Search of a Movement]
This is a geography that merges with the unconscious and evokes other anarchist utopias and uncharted territories from Captain Mission’s Republic in Madagascar and the quilombos of Brazil to Kowloon Walled City. (To gain some idea of what’s lost in their destruction, listen to Chris Watson’s remarkable field recordings of such things as vultures eating a zebra carcass). In the age of Google Maps, near universal mobile phone coverage, and GPS, we desperately need to leave some blank areas on the map for the species that shelter there.
In response to the encroaching forces of conservative religion in public life, the Paris group issued a selection on surrealism and atheism that also deserves note. In To Have Done with the Spectre of God, they distinguish surrealist atheism from atheism’s rationalist version and from monotheism:
Our atheism is not a philosophical or logical position. It is, like the atheism of de Sade, the tone of a way of life, the palpable fluid in which we can breathe and in which our imaginary can enjoy its powers. The atheism of the positivists and other anti-clericals who pile up proofs of the non-existence of God appear to us like a fruit incompletely detached from the tree of a monotheism finally transformed into a simple ideology of transcendence. Our atheism is rather the radiant, joyful atheism of the Cyrenaics or of Lucretius, and, on the tangible level, it expresses the position of universal immanence that one finds among all animist peoples, for whom the sacred is none other than the sense of nature’s presence. This is why the idea of a single omnipotent god appears to us so ridiculous and so tedious. And we cannot forget that this god, created in the worst image of man – an old, somewhat obsessive male – has always been used to justify the mental poverty of anthropocentrism and its voracious stranglehold on the wonder of the world. Should the imagination, drawn par excellence towards the excesses of poetic invention, be satisfied with such a sad figure on the horizon of its questioning?
Another of the real pleasures of the collection are the striking and varied images throughout, including drawings and paintings by Anthony Earnshaw, Guy Girard, and Karol Baron; constructions by Dominique Paul, Josette Exandier, Michael Zimbacca, and Krzysztof Fijałkowski; photographs by Bruno Solarik, Roman Kubik, and Pierre André Sauveageot among many others.
As the years pass, the signatories on the declarations come and go, with the most recent from May 2010 including Anny Bonnin, Michèle Bachelet, Hervé Delabarre, Afredo Fernandes, Michael Löwy, Marie-Dominique, Massoni, Dominique Paul, Bertrand Schmitt, and Michel Zimbacca, and their friends Guy Girard and Jean-Jacques Méric. The brief tract is in memory of Betty Cariño and Yiry Jaakola, both killed by paramilitary forces while trying to bring food to the autonomous commune of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca.
This collection won’t give you a sense of the poetic activity of the group’s members, or the games they’ve engaged in, but Guy Girard’s introduction provides a sound overview of the history of the group, and the texts with Girard’s accompanying notes outline the progress of their concerns over the decades. For those seeking English translations of other works by these authors (and other contemporary surrealists), Oyster Moon Press’s Hydrolith collection, Michael Löwy’s Morning Star: Surrealism, Marxism, Anarchism, Situationism, Utopia , and Penlelope Rosemont’s Surrealist Women anthology are fine places to start.
Information about ordering the collection as well as online versions of some of its contents along with the contents of the journal S.U.R.R. may be found at the website of the Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement and it may also be ordered in North America from Sonambula.
Although the texts in Insoumisson Poétique are all in French, English translations are available for some in print and online. In particular, see:
- “Hermetic Bird” in Surrealism Against the Current , edited and translated by Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijałkowski
- ” Warning Lights: A Statement on the Recent Riots in France by the Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement ” at The Surrealist Movement in the United States
- ” To Have Done with the Spectre of God ” at the Leeds Surrealist Group (PDF)
- “1492-1992: As Long as Tourists Can Replace Seers” in Surrealist Tracts: Joseph Jablonski’s A Myth in Search of a Movement , Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, 2012
Caledioscopio surrealista: una visión del surrealismo internacional (1919-2011), by Miguel Pérez Corrales (La Pagina Ediciones, 2011)
Jean Schuster’s statement: “The Fourth Canto” in Surrealism Against the Current, edited and translated by Michael Richardson and Krzysztof Fijałkowski, (Pluto Press, 2001)
The Prague response: “The possible against the current” in Surrealism Against the Current
Statement of the Maintenant group: “When Surrealism turned fifty” in Surrealism Against the Current
“Surrealism’s phoenix act in the sixties” by Mattias Forshage at Icecrawler/Heelwalker