Question- How many Surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer- A fish.
This past summer a special exhibition of Surrealist art was on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery, entitled The Color of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art. With the exhibit being local I jumped at the chance to spend extended time with this important 20th century movement in the arts, and bought my first ever membership to the art gallery. I went to the exhibit multiple times, sometimes only for an hour, sometimes only spending time in one room, or sometimes just watching the Surrealist films in the cinema. What comes below is a series of impressions I jotted down on my iPhone notepad while on these visits - themes, aphorisms, vignettes, mini-gestalts and mild disturbances that arose as I spent time with the artifacts on display.
I choose the word artifact intentionally. In Jeremy Johnson's recent article on William Irwin Thompson, he writes:
"If you ever crack open Ever-Present Origin, you'll notice Jean Gebser pays special attention to the symbols and cultural "artifacts" and "texts," be they paintings, statues, poems or the myths themselves. You'll find the same careful attention to art and culture in Thompson's books. Expect a fascinating journey through the evolution of consciousness through an interplay of science, myth, art and imagination. This is a much needed and balancing alternative to other theorists who focus on consciousness from a strictly psychological (transpersonal or otherwise) and developmental perspective".
I very much agree with Jeremy here; if we're to truly recognize and understand a structure of human consciousness, we must (also) study in detail the many cultural artifacts emanating out of these unique noetic constellations (1). All too often in mainstream Integral theory the structure-stages of consciousness are presented with simple labels only, a highly anemic version of these rich and multifaceted cultural codes. This can lead to a crude use of these concepts on the one hand, or a nervous skepticism on the other, neither of which is very helpful. To strike a middle path we must- to riff on the famous phenomenological phrase- "return to the things themselves"! In my view, the movement of Surrealism is a wonderfully rich place to observe the emergence of the postmodern geist as it resists, reacts to and pushes off from the confines of a modernity it can no longer abide. There are genuine emergences (multiple perspective taking, collage), the digging up of the rejected past (the magic and the mythic), and the unearthing of zones repressed by the modern moment (sexuality, the unconscious). There is darkness and light, dead ends and new openings, all wrapped up in a riddle of the unusual and absurd. I offer the following works of art and my notes as a meditation on the postmodern via the cultural phenomenon known as Surrealism.
The unreal, the surreal, the un-realing of the Real. The uncanny.
The kinetic, the subtle, the dissolution of
The unleashing of energies both dark and light,
The dark. The Gothic.
The magical, the mad,
the festive and fantastical,
The incomprehensibility of time.
Film, cinema, and
above all- stimmung (mood).
Shadows, scorpions, eyeballs, desire.
The mysterious recesses of the human psyche. Freud. Hallways.
Dreams, associations, memories.
“purveyors of the marvelous”
The disorienting world of the labyrinth- and the monster within it. Part human and part beast we are.
Centaur, minotaur, integration?
The cutting up of reality,
the mash-up, fragmentation, collective writing.
Collage-"the joining together of unlike elements".
The odd, the oddball, the inventive, the unexpected.
Humor. Picasso uses a car as a monkey head. And it works!
Salvador Dali and his lobsters.
The mythic and the magic.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was a close contact. Trips to the Pacific Northwest, to Alaska, meetings with Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. The collecting of native masks, feast dishes and other artifacts. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City was frequented.
Nature, natural histories, inherent meaning in all things,
animals, animalia, animism, the wild.
“Man animal transformations in Surrealist art were witnesses to Primal forces and a world view in which man was not necessarily the center of the universe”.
The scorpion and
the perfect instrument of death.
Politics, the political, polemics, Marxism, revolution against capitalism. Andre Breton goes to Mexico, meets with Frido Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, they write ‘Manifesto of an Independent Revolutionary Art’.
The independence of art — for the revolution.
The revolution — for the complete liberation of art!”
Androgyny. Desire. Exploding sexual convention,
liberating repressed desire.
Breaking down stereotypes.
The Marquis de Sade,
the divine Marquis. Radical liberty, unbound desire
Dismemberment and the obscene. The problem of gender differentiation.
The convergence of erotic objects with violence and fragmentation. Hans Bellmer’s Dolls.
"An unconventional approach to social and aesthetic conventions"- to say the least.
Enamored by science, wary of rationalism, a desire to subvert science.
Automatic writing, receptivity, creative flow.
(1) For more information on structures of consciousness, I recommend a great little paper by Allan Combs and Stanley Krippner called Process, Structure and Form: An Evolutionary Transpersonal Psychology of Consciousness. www.sourceintegralis.org/Process,%20Structure,%20and%20Form.pdf . The last section is out of date.
Here's an excerpt from the abstract for the paper:
"In the spirit of William James, we present a process view of human consciousness. Our approach, however, follows upon Charles Tarts original systems theory analysis of states of consciousness, although it differs in its reliance on the modern sciences of complexity, especially dynamical sys- tems theory and its emphasis on process and evolution. We argue that consciousness experience is constructive in the sense that it is the result of ongoing self-organizing and self-creating (autopoietic) processes in the mind and body".
Also, for a summary of structures from the view of Wilberian Integral theory, cf. Sean Esborn Hargens An Overview of Integral Theory, particularly the section titled 'All Levels: Depths and Complexity'.
*Stimmung- for an excellent discussion on the concept of stimmung, cf. the Entitled Opinions podcast on 'The Philosophy of Moods'. Episode 119.