Karl Marx on What It Takes To Be A Writer

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There's been an exhibit of Surrealist art at the Vancouver Art Gallery for the past few months, and I've been going as much as possible. In one room there's a painting by Diego Rivera (seen here below), and a plaque that Diego_Rivera_-_Vasos_comunicantestalks about the Surrealist leader Andre Breton going down to Mexico, where not only did he visit with Rivera and an exiled Leon Trotsky, but the three of them apparently wrote a manifesto together called 'Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art'. What?! Why had I never heard of this? That sounded like a very intriguing document, and I for one was eager to have a look at that. So I searched online, and coming from a good Marxist heritage, it was of course available for free on the internet. You can view that here. It's a worthwhile read, a very interesting summit of minds. At any rate, within that document, they quote the young Karl Marx on what it takes to be a writer. I very much karl-marx354x440resonated with the passage, and wanted to share it here. Marx certainly lived a life based on its values:

"The writer naturally must make money in order to live and write, but he should not under any circumstances live and write in order to make money…The writer by no means looks on his work as a means. It is an end in itself and so little a means in the eyes of himself and of others that if necessary he sacrifices his existence to the existence of his work…The first condition of freedom of the press is that it is not a business activity".

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  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Saturday, 10 September 2011 18:03 posted by Bergen Vermette

    I don't know much about art (lame! i know), but I'm trying to learn. I plan to go to this exhibit later this afternoon, and so have been reading up on Surrealism a bit.

    Something interesting I learned has to do with the links between Surrealism and postmodernism. I usually associate the emergence of postmodernism with people like the Beats, or Foucault, or the cultural explosion of the Summer of Love. But Surrealism seems like it expresses a lot of postmodern elements. It's a response/rejection of the madness of modernity; it has a major emphasis on the individual and that individual's psychological experience; it aims to free people from "false rationality" restrictive culture and structures. They even called it a "social revolution", an ongoing theme that underpins postmodernism.

    Here's a quote I pinched from wikipedia:

    "The characteristics of [Surrealsim]—a combination of the depictive, the abstract, and the psychological—came to stand for the alienation which many people felt in the modern period, combined with the sense of reaching more deeply into the psyche, to be "made whole with one's individuality"."

    Interestingly, you could replace the word Surrealism here with postmodernism and still be pretty accurate.

    I also thought it was really cool to learn how much Freud had to do with Surrealism, and so postmodernism by extension. The Surrealists were all into unleashing the unconscious mind, finding a way to freely express their own streams of thought, etc. All to give the recipient a look inside the mind of the individual. I got the impression that these guys (and they were mostly guys) were discovering a whole new world of the personal interior. That's interesting because now in western culture we take it for granted that of course we have an interior world, but in the 1920s the individual psychological experience probably would've been quite a new orientation and something important to explore.

    The connection with communism is also interesting. As a political movement communism suited the surrealists because they were already interested in rejecting capitalism and modernity and all the horrors it brought with two world wars and colonialism (Although communism is still a modernist philosophy, i can see how at the time it would have made a lot of sense and I probably would have done the same. it was promising a different society). According to wikipedia both the surrealist and the communists were working for the "liberation of man". My own interpretation is that while the surrealists were looking to liberate us through expressions of the individual psyche, breaking free of culture, the communists were looking to physically and social liberate through political and social transformation.

    On a side note, which ties into a comment thread on another piece - Dali was a Fascist! He supported Franco. Does that mean we should reject his art?? I think not.

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