Untitled (1960s), by Unica Zürn
"I climb this staircase not to get to the first floor but to get closer to myself. I lean on the banisters not to avoid vertigo but to prolong it. If when I get to the top floor I open a door that leads straight out onto the street, I will fall into space but will not die. If I do happen to die, it is a phenomenon used by another objective and more easily understandable phenomenon only as a pretext. I understand the feeling of guilt but I do not understand death."
—from The Passive Vampire, by Ghérasim Luca (translated by Krzysztof Fijałkowski for Twisted Spoon Press)
On February 26 New York’s Romanian Cultural Institute will present an evening dedicated to Gherasim Luca; see Events for more details.
Agony, 1947, by Arshile Gorky
Agony, composed in 1965, by Ilhan Mimaroglu
Things are afoot: A Hannah Hoch exhibit at Whitchapel Gallery, Has’s Hourglass Sanatorium at Lincoln center, and more exhibits, screenings, and talks are coming up (see Events) as well as new items in print including Merl Fluin’s Deadwax Inscriptions, the English translation of Patrick Lepetit’s The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, and Henri-Pierre Roché’s novel about his New York years with Duchamp, Cravan, and Picabia (see Publications).
Image: Flight, 1931, by Hannah Hoch
Recently, Thom Burns sent me a note of explanation and response to a letter he received from Vincent Bounoure, a founder of the groupe de Paris du mouvement surréaliste in 1970 and author of many works, including Le surréalisme et les arts sauvages, La peinture américaine, and Vision d’océanie. The letter appears in the Anon Editions collection Invisible Heads, which may be downloaded for free for a limited time at Lulu.com.
There are certainly pages of Invisible Heads that could use extra commentary. This concerns just one. In volume two in the chapter on Arizona on page 494 there is a letter in translation from Vincent Bounoure addressed to me dated December 16, 1985. In it is expressed something about the subject bravely termed “civilizations without writing,” by which he means, in particular, Native Americans and the people of Oceania whose artistry once profoundly interested surrealists, although he is speaking much more broadly about tribal peoples throughout the world. You, dear reader, know without much fuss precisely who and what the author of Surrealism and the Savage Heart means by the term.
Although the letter is addressed to me while I yet lived in San Francisco, it finds its place in the Arizona chapter of Invisible Heads because it marks, at the time anyway, my last formal contact with the surrealist movement and coincides with the beginning of my journey to Arizona, which will take another five years to complete. He is responding to a letter I wrote to him after I learned of the death of his wife Micheline. I do not have a copy of my letter but I remember that in it I express condolences and remind him of the life-affirming ceremonials of the Hopi people to which my friends and I are already witness, and through which new friendships and collaborations with Hopi individuals are forming. I offer assistance as liaison or guide should he choose to get away from Paris—it might do him some good after all even if it means stepping on US soil to get there.
It is interesting that he can find no words to respond to this invitation but chooses instead to respond to my admonishment of surrealists for essentially ignoring the vast ceremonial habitat of “primitive art” in favor of its narrow plastic power as a source of “convulsive beauty,” which in my opinion makes it generally a flat aesthetic concern like any other. To this I use, like anyone would, the example of Jean Benoit’s grand ceremonial as a touchstone leading in the right direction out of the gallery and into live realms. To this also, for reasons I can only unfairly speculate, he chooses to refrain from comment.
I met Bounoure in 1976 and experienced the weekly meetings of his Bulletin de liaison surréaliste (BLS). In writing to him nine years later I sought and achieved clarity about a certain insufficiency in surrealist material culture; it is incapable of conveying the common thread it has often explicitly presumed to share with its counterpart in “civilizations without writing.” Beyond that are the shadows because he indeed expressed the point quite unequivocally: There can be no hope of achieving anything close to the deeper meanings radiating from Oceanic or Pre-Columbian works unless life as a whole is changed. Only then, in his opinion, will we again communicate with that ancient lucidity restored. My opinion will be different; achieving the lucidities of meaningful communication with artifacts and particular attire, rhythms and voice, dance, time, place, and good cause, is something clearly available everywhere as long as those rare birds who pick up the cause will be up to the task. This is the last contact I have with Vincent Bounoure. Then the deserts are soon in bloom and in 1985 the Surrealist Movement is getting so damn old.
For more on Bounoure and the Paris group of the surrealist movement, see the review of Insoumission Poétique.
the-marianna-arc asked: What kind of music are you into?
Anon editions has just announced that In The Arms Of The Honey Eaters - Selected Writing by Jhim Pattison is now available in two new editions. A free PDF Download is available at Lulu.com as is a “nicely priced,” high quality, trade paperback edition, high quality, trade paperback edition.
Merl Fluin of the Surrealist London Action Group (SLAG) has also just released free downloadable versions of her new book Deadwax Inscriptions.
Brumes Blondes have just announced the release of What WIll Be, an almanach of the International Surrealist Movement. The first edition was printed for contributors only, but the publisher’s notice indicates it will soon be available in print via Lulu.com.
Many more recent international surrealist works are listed on the Publications page.
Raintaxi has just published my recent interview with Allan Graubard about the labyrinthine history of the surrealist movement in the U.S. as he and his friends lived it in San Francisco, New York, and among the Hopi.
The drama of the Surrealists’ exile in New York has long been fascinating, yet it remains an open question why they weren’t able to establish a movement in the U.S., whereas surrealist groups had sprung up in England, Spain, Chile, Peru, Japan, Romania, and many other countries, often in the face of active repression. The wartime group may have made headlines, but surrealism’s U.S. presence remained almost invisible for decades, its poetry and publications circulating in subterranean passages.