The original French version can be found in L’ombre et la demande – projections surrealists, by Guy Girard (2005). Translated by Jason Abdelhadi.
What do we want to talk about? About “the only idea: the idea of freedom” (Darien). That which draws out of our encounters a hint of other human relations, which we delight to see substitute themselves for the ensemble of social models currently in force. Rather than inherit, with their little economies of submission, those alienated determinisms that aggravate in each one of us the same malaise, a condemnation of this civilization, we prefer to invent our own customs, mores, dreams and loves. We are not of this era: it is true that we have another idea of time and history that staggers at the crossroad of utopias. If the part played entails that our watches be not totally soft, we nevertheless do not confuse our singularity with that which is called culture among the superstructures of that galley sinking into plasticized memory. That same culture where everything equivocates under the sign of the commodity, its indifference masked a thousand times over by a thunderous vacuum. Or where every idea tends, not towards its realization, but towards its semantic corruption, its term now employed only in the plural. And so too with freedom: any old political pundit will speak about “freedoms”. A concept that does not fulfill its potential except in the qualitative mode, it is only ever used in the quantitative, that is, in the mode of the economy. “Freedoms” make an economy out of freedom. Fundamental or public, they primarily qualify the circulation of merchandise, and, in addition, those humans who in the same vein jump from a reality submissive to illusion to virtual worlds scarcely more irreal. A final modality which, right before disappearing in turn into the gray cream of nostalgia, takes away with it whatever is left of sense. The naive consumer is meticulously offered the false pleasure of associating their future with the illusion of whatever point of origin. Whether it be their nation, race, language or religion, these identitarian affirmations, which purport to recover the marvellous permeability of human cultures, are fetters that prevent individuals from passing beyond the mirror of narcissism; a passage beyond which all authentic correspondence with the other must needs begin.
Will we ever be able to give way to our passions to the extent that they demand of us? Our rage is to not be able to furnish enough images that are worthy, insofar as they are singular or collective affirmations of the pleasure principle, to face down the scandal of false consciousness. But such images do emerge, in between the foundations of the labyrinth, and it’s a step forward. And if not an immediately useful weapon, then at least a clearer vision for exalting whatever it is that still resists the enslavement of the mind. Lightning is a reversed tree; its branches carry the song of revolt right up to the lining of the sky, which unfurls within each individual some old unfinished business with regards to the notion of power. “Freedom means not to suffer that any power should reign within us against our own being, our own knowledge, and our own desire.” So affirms, in 1848, that friend of Bakunin’s, Richard Wagner. But will the experience of freedom only be that of a lucid consciousness that denies what threatens it, and that hinders its deployment between the unconscious and its share of the world? The mind lives on myth; the most beautiful dreams feel it and chant along with it: a multiple-song in the ear of the human condition; a song that responds magnificently, in the voice of an “arctic flower”, to all that is insufficient in life. But do we hear it? In days with the poorest possible resemblance to everyday life, nothing is less sure, so long as interference distorts the signal, so long as the most subtle echo is in danger of an alienation undetectable to us.
Listen, attend. To be surprised by the object of the attempt? I am waiting for life to reveal its charms to me. I know – did I learn it, or did I dream it? – that the desires which carry it prepare the encounter with the other, and that this experience of otherness is the same as that of freedom. Because I never wish to be disappointed, but rather enraged and delighted, the movement of my life cannot be dissociated from the social movement that has furnished me with a thousand causes, and with which I do not share the effect with any other, a thousand causes from which I wish to seize an apt sense for forming the thousand and first, that has as its object to provoke the most vivid pairing of revolt and the desire for utopia. It is again about recognizing oneself, to exchange signs that speak and create, moved and revitalized in the crucible of subjectivities, an awareness affirming that total life does not emerge except in the quest of its own singularity, but that this itself is nothing more than an abstraction if it does not exalt in the incessant upheaval of everything that surrounds it. Nothing that is alive is foreign to me – the unheard song of the desert fowl, the boredom of a tree spilling its shadow on a garden in Oxford, the laziness of a Moscovite wise-woman – none of this differentiates me from a world that is re-enchantable at will. No matter what exists, am I not at free, according to whatever my preference, to imagine it differently? I lend enough energy to that particular audacity of the mind to envision this impetus, without which the charms invoked cannot take effect. A wheel that almost goes off-kilter, through the exasperated passion of the attempt, this impulse transforms me and the relationships that I have with the real world – so long as I do not forget how much this also includes the oneiric experience. The marvellous property that this movement has to surpass itself, to shoot every which way towards possible becomings, could, if the individual allows for sufficient chance to counter the malaise of civilization, serve as a model: but that this entails, inverse to all belief and all aesthetic diversion, the necessity of utopia.
Cries and murmurs, incantations and jubilations, curses and laughs, inextinguishable revolt and songs of love; poetic expression opens onto its widest angle; it desires that the liberation of language, by making known the true functioning of thought, induces a total re-foundation of society. Giving voice to that unconscious other within ourselves takes part in the same emancipatory movement that gives voice to the oppressed; to those slaves who will liberate themselves all the more securely when they transform the meaning of a language learned from their masters. But how fragile is the gift of this language, that reiterates the powers of innocence! This draws the line of separation between the culture of received ideas, a field limited by the worst conservatisms, and the quest, within a forest of symbols, for a response to the absence of the Sphinx of Freedom.
Where then does this fabulous beast live and flourish? It has as its nest, for preparing all its flights and metamorphoses, all the utterances of desire, and of love. But there is also that which injures and wounds it: all facile satisfactions that commercial society selects and promotes. There is that self-forgetting (which is the worst egoism), and the fear of the other, which is the mark of servility. There are almost no roads left that do not resound with the sing-song of debraining. At the markets of flesh and minds betrayed, at the bargain bins of a heart disdained, we choose not to recognize anything; we much prefer that which is given by surprise and relieves us of the burden of mental habits. That which desire dictates is pronounced with a white voice, by whoever wants it, like popular tradition once dreamed, free like the air. If it is not therefore a poetic experience, separating the real day from the everday, so subtly in the midst of the thick realism which it must confront, that is to say, total life, freedom will not be able to play its part on the social plane.
It all depends again on the sense assigned to poetry. From that sense which it reveals to those who are not satisfied with (along with the bad joke of the “end of ideologies”) literary exercises cavorting between formalist de-realization, pestilential irrealism supporting some kind of religious devotion and a realism that is often nihilist except when paradoxically praising the escape to a virtual dimension in which all desire is falsified. All around prowl the surveyors of the cultural, and the conditional freedoms of contemporary expression… Cultural facts, they claim. Poetry, by its essence emancipatory, and surrealism, are elsewhere than where their enemies, whose cynicism today is masked with a suffocating tolerance, expect to find them and believe themselves protected from their embarrassing magic. Today, it is important to recognize that terrain which the gardeners of power do not know of or are not able yet to co-opt according to the recipes of the all-cultural; and to protect from such enterprises, by using in all registers of expression, the polymorphous nature of the link that unites these utopian places to the most secret mythogenic movements of the unconscious. It is about rediscovering the power of words that denounce the criminal nature of capitalism and the civilization in which it was developed and transformed; and, to affirm the power of ideas to imagine and to conceive of the overthrow of this world. It is about putting these ideas in action, against the everyday barbarism that mutilates the lives of everyone, that suffocates words of distress or anger, that sets up false mediations certifying identitarian paranoias while at the same time making a profit from illusions generated from schizoid mechanisms; it is about fighting against a barbarism nourished on all the sophistications of technology that works to separate one from others and each one from their own individuality, and to fight by ceaselessly inventing and re-inventing new glories for the idea of freedom. Do not the least of these charms stir up, in contradiction with the ineluctable disasters that promise the mutation of capitalism, the desire for revolution?
It would be vain to affirm the freedom of the imagination, if we did not use it to propose the most flagrant imagination of freedom: the imagination, we know, is either subversive or isn’t. That which it proposes always reveals other relationships to the real than those to which we habitually submit under the dominant authorities and their cultural relays. It also necessarily brings a critical function against common sense, typically portrayed as rational. This criticism operates as much by negation of identitarian logic as by recourse to analogical processes, which open on unsuspected relations between the subject and that which surrounds it, between the real, mediations of desire and the possible. It never frees itself more readily than when fanned by the breath of revolt – that force of refusal whose dynamism knows equally well how to stir up the invention of utopia. And yet, where today does this power of the imagination to change the real show itself and live? In the last few years, social movements of revolt and refusal have risen up, going and coming before a daze, a languor skillfully done up by the knights of social democracy, an abandonment to routine by all those who might have a thousand reasons to think and to act towards the new by means of protest, however much with a far too fragile voice: to know that there is but one single solution, revolution. Revolution, that is what is desired, that is what must be imagined. And without a doubt, above all, we take pleasure in thinking differently, in imagining ourselves free, in freeing ourselves and getting caught up in this passion. It’s the immediacy of poetry that has no reality unless it imposes itself on and triumphs over official banalities. A revenge on everyday survival that invents itself and begins anew each day.
Neither belief, nor fantasy, the force of the imagination is not to be tested against discourses whose future is at the mercy of the latest slogan. But to make apparent thereby the spectacle of all alienations, that which truly falls or not beneath our rage into ruin, and how that which we are able to construct already circulates in order to enchant lives ready to thunder with laughter in the face of boredom and its ruses. It is poetry: this foundational requirement that, insofar as we share in its sensible experience, gives form to the emancipatory myth. A necessary project that delineates for us the entirety of surrealism’s relevance. Its spectre haunts the poverty of reality. Shall we give with it a sign of life? A sign affirmed with whomever, in the harvest of the crowds, also submits themselves to the same attraction proportional to a destiny which must needs be overthrown? Nothing, otherwise, would make any sense, if the signals are not sufficiently perceived, if they do not participate in a more vast exchange that is willing to admit the most serious consequences. This exchange, and the poetry that materializes the spirit and spiritualizes matter activates itself in the demand for another civilization. We have dreamed of this for a long time now, in our anachronistic legends, where the beard of Bakunin is confused with that of Merlin the Wizard, dreams where beneath the pavement there are to be found beaches of sand. Sand we are resolved to never let fill the hourglass of resignation.