A recent email from RW Spryszak allowed me to voice some thoughts on the question of Peculiar Mormyrid’s themes and games, their uses and abuses…
This has nothing to do with your sub which we haven’t read yet, but I wanted to send a personal side-note from me on the “theme” question, something that has been percolating for a while and which your email just gave me an opportunity to send.
You say you simply cannot write on a theme. You’ve said it before. Indeed, it seems this particular word really sticks in your craw and I have noticed you made a few comments about it in the past, including in the editorial for SURREALISTS AND OUTSIDERS, where you refer to it as something other surrealist journals do which you simply cannot understand. But if I may, I think you might be approaching it from a rather narrow angle, dare I say even in danger of a commodity-based view: indeed, it might appear that way to somebody who is not familiar with the ludic aspect of the surrealist adventure; of the surrealist game.
You seem to treat it as if what we are asking is for participants to go and compose short stories or paintings or other art products based on a theme, so that we can collect a bunch of vaguely similar things together in an anthology with an overall aesthetic sense of cohesion. This is NOT the case. We are not interested in such superficial cataloguing.
Rather, from the angle of the surrealist game, what we are providing is an opportunity for participants to be “primed”; to be alerted to the possibilities inherent in some serendipitous or even prophetic utterances; to use the theme as an element for a game, or a mode of research, or to look for evidence in everyday life, on a walk, to test it with comrades in a collective exploration. As you know, surrealism is conceived as a collective adventure. We want the theme to be a jumping off point, not an end in itself, and certainly not as a criteria by which we judge things sent to us as if we had a checklist for finished works. I assure you we have no such list, either explicitly or implicitly. We want to be surprised.
The finished work is always a secondary byproduct—and like an experiment or an attempt—and perhaps we do not look too favourably on finished works at all. Aren’t they too suspicious? Too linked to a process of capture, package, submission, and consumption? Surrealism is not to be concerned with hurling out new artistic or written products in a variety of industrial colourways for market: we are above all interested in new modes of KNOWLEDGE, new experiences and ways of changing the world. Themes are temptations to a collective pursuit of knowledge.
So, in the paradigm of a loner or individual artist or writer concerned with the viability or quality of their product, or inordinately cautious about their preconceived “method of working”, the concept of a theme might seem restrictive or reductive. But for a collective participant and a researcher it is an invitation to the unknown. Moreover, it is an opportunity to step outside of individual concerns into a world of collective make-believe.
I also think there is some confusion regarding the notion of a theme as opposed to the well known “pure psychic automatism”, both in the core sense of the method of writing/creation and as a wider umbrella for the creation of works outside of all aesthetic or moral concerns. True, if our themes were meant to either lead to a preconceived aesthetic result or image, or likewise to a political moral or thinly veiled metaphor, yes, this use of a “theme” would be anti-surrealist and anti-automatist. Such a slippage is always a risk.
But that’s not what we are asking. Rather, we hope to generate new types of methods, new powers of explorations, and themes serve as an alchemical ingredient to begin the transmutation. So for example your “discovery” of an old text is a perfectly valid form of play here, perhaps even preferable to someone just naively writing a story or poem on a given theme with no experimental or daring or transformative intent. Maybe archaeology is better. It must be recognized that surrealism too has its cliches and its tropes, melting clocks etc. and that one of the best way to subvert these is through rigorous experimentation and the search for SOMETHING ELSE. The theme or game as a launchpad does this. It is not meant to delimit or circumscribe automatist play.
This means that following the game, playing along, putting on the masks, even breaking the rules…Above all else surrealist activity should never let itself lose that sense of play, don’t you think? Themes available to all in their own way, or maybe, to throw them off their way.
-Jason Abdelhadi, October 22 2018
Automatic response after watching the film Tourist Trap (1979)
Yes the broken manikin is the ending, this is a film about endings like all mannequins are in fact over and done with humans (wait, who with whom?) Discarded mentality is what this flurry of axes with makeup, how their lovely mouths flip open with a beautiful OOO like some gorgeous doo-wop band made-up of only dummies. And what a turnover rate, couldn’t help but admire the snakes that live in sacred pool, a glorious snake dance, “water moccasins” you can slip on and off like quality footwear. My snake-dance in Ventnor. GAS AND EATS is all you need. But they laugh so much, and the pressure is on when the “funny” music happens. The chaotic man in the top hat and the Elvis mask, I need to ask, is he a Resident? Into the coast of the mind, there are only inland oases, the long and beautiful woodpanelled dummy museum that screeches with happiness. What a totality, the manikin or homunculus turns out to be when it puts on a mask. I don’t believe in the sanctity of marriage but when it leads to orgies this good I can’t help but wonder if monogamy requires inanimate intermediates. But is it fair, after the ending, to call manikins inanimate? No, they are halting in their animation, fixated, but they have somewhere to be and something to do. I am so pleased she drove off with the manikins of her friends. I wonder if I could keep sangfroid when I get cake mix smeared on my face and then am told its plaster. It’s worth dying for certain aesthetic variations on the orgasm. It’s not a movie where expression means much. He sounded like a cartoon Klondike gold miner. And in the masked form, like Randy Rose. It’s glorious to combine manikins and masks and make them into conspirators together, against the holiday. We stopped for gas? Gas? We found the sacred grove where the Pythia (who is nothing but a strange old hag of a prediction machine, a gas masikin, who breathes out futures like murders).
There is a space where we wonder how quickly the murders actually begin. I thought it was setting the scene but that first attack on the schmuck, that was the scene. How gratuitous the manikins who laugh, and overabundance of them. Being smothered by manikins—yes, now I remember where I’ve seen it before: my friend Lake made a fantastic painting of a ladyboy awakening in just such a pile of manikins.
Perhaps we don’t need to die. We are not Norman Bates. We are not trying to recreate heteronormative family relations and patriarchal systems with our baskets and baskets of limbs. The swirling ballet of live-actors and manikins interchange, making all that is solid melt into plaster. It’s great to end life with an axe, but even better to hit the floor and scream laughing into the sunset.
A film with an abundance of charm. The snakes are the hidden stars. A snake with an abundance of harm. The mechanical automata aren’t, they are real actors. Much like Poe’s machine chess player. Exactly like it. (Meaning, even after all these years and iterations and romances with our dead-limbless cousins, we can’t get enough of them).
-Jason Abdelhadi, Sept 1 2018
“Penelope Rosemont once said, “in a sense, all outsider art is surrealist art…” And this was the singular inspiration for this collection. Here, Surrealists are teamed with stalwarts of Fluxus, renegades that have no compass, as well as Outsiders who have rejected the false map of convention. “Be capable of the marvelous” was our call. “Write what you know is there, not merely what is obvious.” We wanted a return to those roots of Surrealism that were in the written word, its first manifestation. The page inhabited. There was no theme. There was only proof that, in spite of what some academics have said, Surrealism is not dead. Nor does a person have to be physically dead to be an “Outsider.”
It is our hope that we may produce a collection like this every year for as many years as we can. Not to rehash older, foundational works of Surrealism but to continue to provide a platform for the new material. Material that has never stopped being created even after the learned obituaries were falsely finalized. The latest manifestos as well as the continuing parade.”
This microscopic moment was spotted on June 10, 2018 by Guy Girard who was accompanying Jason Abdelhadi and Amber Craig through the marché aux puces in Saint-Ouen. Photo by JA.