Surrealism and the Sea 2017-02-25T12:07:01+00:00

Inquiry

All contributions to this issue were submitted as a response
to the following inquiry or to themes contained therein.

oneMichelet declared that the monsters of the sea are seeking “thy Death, universal Death, and the destruction of the Earth, a return to black Night and ancient Chaos.” Can the Sea function as a negation of the status quo? Do you envision the monsters and weaponry of the sea as potent forces against civilization, capitalism and miserabilism? How might this destruction unfold?

The Surrealist Group of Stockholm: To the extent that wilderness or the unknown would be a potent political force, it seems perhaps cynical, self-contradictory and vain to try to harness it as a draught horse and define its expected action.

On a more general level, monsters are among our best friends, and deeply revised coastlines (revised also conceptually) would breed new lifeforms: this is among other things a route back into the vast fauna of dream animals.

As a trope for the unknown, the sea in its cold black guise might also represent death, of course. Velvet Underground coyly playing in the bar in an almost abandoned cruising ship on a vast ocean. The mosaic cosmogony divides water in that above and that below the firmament. Below the firmament a you-relationship remains. Oxytocin has a convulsive connection. Universal Eros is measured in blood and sprouts milk. The sea corresponds with the dream as a fundament for new life. Kraken is the vagus nerve of the sea body, a tangle of tentacles between eye, heart and sex. They are all already there, and they all remain to be discovered.

Guy Girard: It is certain that the global warming underway for too many years already can only lead to a magnitude of changes on the surface of this planet: melting glaciers at the poles, rising sea levels, more frequent and more violent cyclones and storms, to speak only of marine reactions. From this out of their torpor at the bottom of the waters arise the legendary Kraken, Godzilla and some of the dragons that the ancient Chinese placed round about the Penghai Islands … Capitalist civilization in its present stage, will of course have to transform, adapt to be able to control the many consequences of the ecological disaster in progress (giant floods, displacement, wars and epidemics, etc.). And what should temper on our part all apocalyptic enthusiasm issuing from black humor, is that this transformation could logically give way to a neo-barbarism. This would combine an environmentalist-authoritarian techno-power, probably relying on a religious revival in response to collective anxieties and panic (current religions probably will do nicely in fantasizing a growing number of faithful not just minorities like today) and a violent control of populations subjected to excessive cretinizing propaganda to justify the new order and undermine the intelligence of any criticism of it. Unless this criticism, which we would expect to be more virulent and more active than now, led to movements of class revolt, collective invention and popular reorganization in an anarchist fashion that could effectively undermine the orientation of increasingly authoritarian social relationships? Capitalism was born in feudal Europe at the time of the Great Plague – I fear it can accommodate, and therefore turn to its advantage, this gigantic oceanic Plague to come…

Renzo Margonari: One day, while in the sea of Watamu, Kenya, I was chasing a beautiful colorful fish that fled into the deep seabed. I did not have the equipment to reach it. Returning to the shore, I realized I had lost my glasses that I kept in my wetsuit. Two days later, I felt a strong IMPULSE  to go back in the sea to SEARCH FOR MY GLASSES. At a point of the riff, about fifty meters from the beach I FOUND THEM.

Therefore – following the trail of your questions – the sea had very civilly and politely restored the status quo of my modus vivendi and my peaceful relationship with the seawater. You have to listen to the sea. There we find not monsters but an infinite variety of shapes foreign to our common experience. These forms are defined by the necessity of natural logic. They are forms of community, symbiotic and synergistic, not monsters. Of course, the sea will resubmerge the land. The sea will use its own body to reach that absolute and perfect equality in its own life that may be our death. Since all life originated in the sea, it would be a restitution.

TD Typaldos: The sea has the privilege of expanding to the Infinite, embracing the Unknown in its heart. Upon its waves, one can easily build castles full of crenelations, where Earth’s most deprived pin their hopes for a New Life. The disavowal toward the Old is imbued with saltiness and algae incubate the Flags of Tomorrow.

The beings born into its damp subsoil, our allies. Monsters which hate capitalism, modern civilization (the oil slicks of multinational fuel corporations, which contaminated their damp habitation), miserabilism that channelled toward their country by scattered naturalistic books, forgotten to the shore by suntanned bathers, enabling the wind to dash them into the waves and, consequently, the monsters to read them without having the slightest idea about their content.

They are monsters that bear the faces of Marx, of Che, of Bakunin. Sprouted amianthus sea shells dress their bodies by birth, while their ends are tentacles made out of moonlight rays, which, during the August nights, caress the mother Sea.

As weapons, they carry fiery hammers and sickles and Molotov bombs made of iodine mixed with coral reefs.

The attack on the society of the land will unfold (it has been scheduled) in cahoots with the underprivileged and the slaves of today, only for a night of October, and, first and foremost, as the beggars of every megacity occupy all the studios of every big TV channel and lull the bourgeois performing concerts for violin and flute.

Mary Jacobs:
All Children must learn the Secrets of Dream Ship
The clock is ticking. Monsters embrace our brainpans, dance suction cups in all directions. Only by angling below the watery surface do we find the capability of flight. Our ears echo with the rhythm of mighty barnacles. Our children must walk away from the cities and build downwards into the murk in order to breathe.

John Thomas Allen: Michelet was right, and this should in no way discourage us.  Time has adjourned any quest for social justice which is meaningful in the United States; we have embraced sadism and demagoguery’s cheap titillations at a horrendous cost the incarnation of which is obvious.

Ocean is the still reservoir nighttime keeps for the ignition of the fecund powers the unconscious mind possesses when courage, real courage, bursts forth and does even the merely necessary, bestowing upon it for a moment a marvelous miasma which never never stops smoking.

Dale Houstman: I prefer to understand the sea as a substance which originally birthed a brand of status quo that laughs at our trivial notion of such Latin phrases. We are still flecked with flames, and the entire ocean doesn’t care. The sea is the sky which waits without the slightest effort to smile. We do our best imitate to imitate its implacability in bouts of amnesia, when memory hits the floor in order to avoid the insistence of gunfire. Each thought is a threat to our trifle of “status quo” but the ocean is not a thought, it is an astonishment of serious nullity.

Jesús García Rodríguez: I think that the sea, as has already been suggested, can be assimilated in a certain way with the unconscious: it is deep, deeper than can be imagined, inhabited by unknown and monstrous beings, and its changing behavior does not seem to obey any rationality. Its presence, its very existence is already a denial of all civilization: it precedes and will survive all of them. Its power, triggered by tsunamis, is likely to devastate entire coastal cities in the next few years. At his side, capitalism is like an ant in front of an elephant.

Given the expected rise of oceans due to global warming and the impending conflict between terrestrial and the aquatic modes of existence, do you foresee an opportunity or choice for Surrealism? Do you think it is high time Surrealism abandon the land once and for all?

The Surrealist Group of Stockholm: Islands may be ”tips of icebergs” in the concrete sense that they are the scattered emerged points of the vast, global, submerged geological structure, or they may be rafts woven together of found objects in the classic assemblage pattern utilised in surrealism, in many other animals’ nest-building, and in other areas which seem to represent premature resting points: arcimboldoesque constructs, gurlesque toyflow, and steampunk. Does it matter? What kind of a vehicle is surrealism?

We are often encouraged to imagine submerged cities, and we are often encouraged to imagine postsubmerged (emptied) cities, including those represented by the ocean floor itself. These are maybe opposites but they can be strangely similar: in the world where the plug has been pulled it is still damp everywhere with dark rags of seaweed and slippery membranes and trails of puddles, movements are still slowed, and everything is similarly empty, swollen, oversensitive. And in the concept of emptying, the sea becomes surrealism again (consciousness takes a walk in a recently disclosed part of itself). Deep-sea trenches make sure it is incomplete, something is always missing, like the black god’s phallus.

And even if the sea level is the universal measure of horizontality (this is just a statistical average effect of gravity), we shouldn’t forget that many water surfaces are vertical. Not just the threat of the approaching tsunami or the ominous odd horizon in a dream, but also all these mirrors and other portals between different perspectives, the possibility of dramatic perspective shift through curtain breakthroughs made possible by merely visualising these membranes.

But a game will want to keep things simple in the outset. How do we navigate the submerged city?

Read Surrealism as a Vehicle here and Life Partially Submerged here.

Guy Girard: Do surrealists all know how to swim? Do they have gills? Are they preparing themselves to look like the creature from the Black Lagoon? For several decades, scientific experiments have been undertaken to study the behavior of a few volunteers to spend more or less time in underwater housing obviously equipped with all the necessary technology. Eminently rational experiences, like the conquest of outer space, to which they are also often related: I do not see myself inhabiting this new type of “machine for living” and having put on a suit to go for a drink at the local bar, if such a friendly place even still existed …
I do not understand what you mean by conflict between earthly life and aquatic life. Will wild boar and kangaroo fear attacks from moray eels and sharks? Even after all kinds of disasters, nature always knows how to find a balance in the diversity of the apparently contradictory elements that compose it. Now that we are in what some call the Anthropocene, where an armed biped with an iPhone reigns over millions of hectares of transgenic crops and creates a sixth continent of garbage drifting off Hawaii the question is acute whether this being as a species is detrimental to all the others, or if at the price of a revolution in which the surrealist ideas and practices will have their role to play, humanity may discharge of capitalism, religions and its sadomasochistic impulses to finally, as both the Taoists and Fourier had dreamed, invent a civilization that placed harmony in the center of its conduct that will begin a new myth. This could return to the oceanic element (as well as even older ones) its matricial or initiatory role which in the twentieth century, Lovecraft, with his gnostic black humor, was wickedly able to evoke. The paving stones of our future barricades could then also come from the ancient city of R’lyeh …

Renzo Margonari: The idea of being able to reach out and learn about other planets, of interstellar travel or to experience other forms and other lights is charming and fantastic, but it is not surrealist, it is science fiction. Surrealist explorations take place within our psyche. We should not abandon our planet as we do not yet know the major part of it. The sea is much larger than solid land. In the sea there are countless forms of life, other colors, other forms, which we have not even begun to approach, the “here there be dragons”. There is no contradiction between the sea and the land. The solid exists to confirm the liquid.

TD Typaldos: Surrealism, which is inextricably connected to the very nature of things, while also desiring the overthrow of what is not well set, has a responsibility to grab every opportunity offered to it by its nature, for the purpose of an overthrow. This is especially the case when such opportunities are presented as a result of actions resulting from criminal human intent, and nature’s resistance to such actions.

And yes! The worldwide climate change, and the clash of animals of the sea with those of the land, could well represent a unique chance, offered us by nature, that we might put the brakes on the alienation suffered by our human species, from years of such estrangement from nature so as to have turned it into an enemy.

And yes! That would be the moment when Surrealism would abandon its home on dry land. It would drive into the sea, sucking its marrow, and changing the balance of things in the waters as It has done for years on land. Its essence would then be so transubstantiated, into an even more potent pole of development, by virtue of having achieved the impossible: going further than Poseidon himself.

Only after such an experience, could Surrealism return, like a Sur-Venus, to offer a New Light to the land; provided of course that it shall not have self-destructed by then.

But regardless, we, Surrealists, shall make certain to turn Super Reality into action, through that very experience, and to endure to the end of Time.

John Thomas Allen: To abandon the purple skylark’s song, shutting childhood’s vision once and for all is a prostration for the monstrance held above each man and woman in this dog eat dog, miserably competitive, “get it done” megacapitalist culture, always holding another bit of greasy lucre for one more thing done, one more incompletion in a danse macabre of rot.

Dale Houstman: I suspect the land abandoned Surrealists a long time ago now, and we have been searching for the “Loco Invisus” in which we would always be in the foreground, no matter how far apart we all positioned ourselves. From the viewpoint of my own selfish comfort, the ocean is too humid, and I would prefer a drier clime, but I am willing to compromise on such specifics if dainty feet metamorphose into tentacles and they squirm in anticipation of the ocean journey.

Jesús García Rodríguez: It could be the proper time: a return to the origin. A regress in the evolution of the species. If ontogeny summarizes phylogeny, the sea of death is the same as the sea of the placenta. Whenever you look at an aquarium, you see yourself in there, diving in the water.

Maria Brothers: While Surrealism has a strong grasp on the terrestrial side of life, it would not be erased from the minds come the day when Surrealism is forced to abandon the land (or even be banished) – having no other option – and be dunked into the liquid front of life. The elements and surroundings would be of great comfort when Surrealism itself witnesses the beauty of the unknown deep before its eyes (and only beauty will you find), the unusual shapes and forms of life, the abstract ‘not of this world’ scenery a landscape cannot offer. A change of environment will only allow Surrealism to continue the journey and uncover what lies beneath the surface of the earth and the seas’ subconscious mysteries. A vast intra-terrestrial universe, unseen that neither had ever imagined. An opportunity, indeed, as the highest privilege of surviving through the centuries to come

Verne, Lautréamont, Marx, Michelet, Haeckel and many others have seen in the attributes of sea creatures an underwater utopian social organisation in action (e.g. the communism of the madrepore, the egalitarian distribution tentacles among octopods or the corporatism of siphonophores). Do you agree that a kind of utopia currently exists among such life forms? And if so, what can we draw from them?

The Surrealist Group of Stockholm: On one hand, sea creatures have also developed new senses and through them new routes of communication that are not immediately available to us. Common oceanic fantasies often involve imagining partaking in them. We can’t even distinguish them from those not yet developed, to the extent we are able to envision those at all, or can we? The midline pressure sense, the general electric sense and the sonar sense, with all their telepathic potential, the tastebuds all over the skin, the external fertilisation, the decephalisation, the lateral patchwork organisation, the non-lateral patchwork organisation.

One of us made an effort to approach this question unprejudiced.

Read Deep Sea Communism here.

Guy Girard: I am scarcely knowledgeable in the natural sciences but is this utopian organization in action specific to the marine creatures so different from what has been identified as analogous to an egalitarian society, governed by self-help, in particular terrestrial animal species? We can probably legitimately find similarities between our utopian views and social behavior in madrepores just as much as in elephants. In any case, a coral covered elephant periodically wanders through the surrealist phalanx …But the “old ocean”, whose depths fortunately remain mysterious and still eludes hungry multinational oil, stimulates our imagination by providing us with the same abundance of examples of utopian organization as well as fascinating monstrosities including those wonderful sharks who gorge on human flesh at fashionable beaches. What surrealist, following Maldoror, would dare to fornicate with a female shark? The maintenance of such fantasy seems relevant to criticize the valuation of a sea taken as the ultimate place of sovereign good: the dialectical imagination helps clear the project of a “maritime communism” of its apocalyptic slags where after the engulfment of Babylon, a surviving humanity will regenerate candidly under the waves. If we exit the Age of Pisces to enter that of Aquarius, it’s not just to swim in the tranquility of an aquarium…

Renzo Margonari: It’s a spontaneous communism determined by the need to live in an element that invades every space, an element that is modeled in the body shapes of animal, vegetable, mineral, and contains all that can be contained. In the animal world and among terrestrial plants there are social forms of the same kind, very clearly, for example, among insects, or in the organization of crystals. In the sea, we see how certain forms are sacrificed to serve as support to other similar forms. It is an organized but unconscious form of mutual interdependence . There is a certain resemblance to human psychic automatism, but not idealism. Surrealism, however, seeks individualistic enhancement and does not like symbiotic phenomenon (in fact, in art, there is no pre-determined “surrealist style” ). Surrealism is not naturalistic, but ideological.

TD Typaldos: It is well known that Utopia is an island! But as an island, it cannot be but the island of our dreams, the place of our innermost desires. It cannot be but the reason why we continue to live, even if we are never to get there.

So, it falls upon us to map out its beaches of emerald sand, of seaweed that sparkles. There are other life forms. They are there in the waters that bounce upon these beaches, and they are there for us to gain from a bottomless knowledge that lurks inside them; the knowledge of their utopian wisdom.

John Thomas Allen: We are the denizens of a drowning dream, the submarinal stars wheeling in pyrite caverns and bending voodoo. Just recently there was a flood on Wall Street; where were our activists to go for a swim?To pee in the pool of capitalism?

The seahorse encrusts its silver on the eye of the man passing through the River Styx, helping him gently over the tide, tentacles as freed lava lamps electron spores. The Octopus in his head carries our advancing lost pilots, the adventurers of tomorrow. Night taxi on the river styx.

Dale Houstman: That Utopia exists only in instinctual cooperation, and any small step away from instinct kicks off an IV drip of hunger for control. If so, am I willing to trade human conundrums (and both the battles and the delicious dishes) for piscine incorporation? Why not be a rock wrapped in a tablecloth, unannounced and lacking social graces?

Jesús García Rodríguez: Echinoderms are Trotskyists. Sardines are Maoists. Congers have a tendency to anarcho-syndicalism. With regard to cuttlefish, we will say that they are followers of individualistic anarchism.

 

A Surrealist deep-sea expedition is charting its course. What should it do? What equipment does it need to bring? What creatures do you envision it would observe? What types of samples should it collect?

The Surrealist Group of Stockholm: On an intellectual level, we might remain satisfied with the lazy response that answers to this question are already freely available around us: any deep-sea expedition is a surrealist deep-sea expedition. Enroll on one, or just find a documentary to enjoy…

Nevertheless, we conducted the Svartsjö experiment. Maybe a suggestion of equipment for the expedition, at the time formulated as the packing list for a world circumnavigation under the sea.

Read the Svartsjö experiment here.

Guy Girard: The surrealist group of Seoul has made a remarkable entry into our movement by offering those of us who so desire a maritime expedition aboard an old refurbished junk – three sails decorated with exquisite corpses, every comfort onboard as well as a few surprises, including an accompanying tame sperm whale to tow us in case of dead calm. While leaving to chance its due part, course is set for Oceania and from there we will head to Easter Island, and after there on to the island of Tsalal, where we confront the enigmas evoked in turn by Poe, Jules Verne and Lovecraft…We are furnished with all the equipment necessary for such an expedition, based above all else on those used by hunters of the Snark: a bell, thimbles, forks, some railway-share and whatever hope we might still have, but taking care to add a magic mirror, winged suits, panpipes to charm any sirens, cutlasses in just in case, a whole lot of psychic hooks and all kinds of earth and gardening tools that will serve us, once we land on the mysterious island, with our stargazing. Of course everyone will, as required by Leonora Carrington, carry their surrealist survival guide (in austral surreality). Apart from our sperm whale, accompanying us will be the ineffable mascot of our Korean friends, a Tibetan bear, which in its highly colorful dialect, told them about his years on the island of Mount Analogue. Before setting sail, everyone will have imagined, or better yet dreamed of wonders to encounter during this journey. And certainly almost all of us wish to cross the sirens at the risk of their lives, but also all the fabulous bestiary of ancient legends plus creatures interviewed by some seawrecked mariners in the confines of the Land of Mu: moray typists, moon-flower-singing-fish, amiable albatrosses ready to carry us on their wings, and crabs whose shells are covered with fruit the juice of which has psychic properties. But above all, it is important to collect from among the giant algae psychopomps of the Coral Sea down to Antarctica, and from among populations of lion-headed jellyfish and sea snakes, the shadows that these beautiful chimeras willingly leave off, and once brought back to our own countries, dried, powdered and deftly distributed to the amazed population, have the surprising ability to render the latter rebellious and insubordinate against the dominant order.

Renzo Margonari: Such an expedition should seek to understand the totalizing truth in water. It should equip itself mentally above all. This expedition would look especially for the endless forms of specific diversity in  the behaviors of anarchical Plankton and its inactive migrations. At the end of the expedition, there should be a measurement taken of the facial expressions of the participants.

Craig S. Wilson: A surrealist exhibition will be put together in a transparent glass, resin-sealed cube; it will be dropped into an ocean trench in the North Sea. The area was chosen because the sea creatures there make their own light. Of course, everyone will have headlamps on their diving suits and will have flashlights, but the exhibition will not be lit up by any other means. In the manner of a quest, people will search within a three-mile radius to allow for plenty of other scenery and encounters.

The surrealists will go to the deep-sea exhibition in a submarine named Diving Bell. It’s a 70-foot, two-story submarine covered with objects welded onto its surface. It has advanced stealth features like camouflage and invisibility. Its maximum capacity is about thirty people.

On the way to the show there will be opportunities for swimming and exploring along the English coast. The trench can be found within a day’s time and once the cube is spotted people will suit up and check it out. As they approach they will see the oddly shaped fish, eels and other creatures pulsing and glowing as they swim around. By flashlight beams and headlamps, the divers will take in the crowded assemblage of paintings, drawings, objects, inventions and other things that have been affixed into the cube’s interior. A button on the outside will play field recordings, poetry and found sounds through waterproof speakers.

Once everyone gets a chance to see and hear everything and the scene is documented, the transparent cube will be cut from its moorings and fall deeper into the trench, toward the dark ocean floor. The divers will watch it vanish as it sinks into the domain of sea monsters and hybrid humans far below, who eagerly await this gift from the surface world.

TD Typaldos: Its mission must also be one with many parameters. It must drown, must swallow, the land, but must not end that which is human, or that which is animal. Rather, it must simply lead it where, for so many years now, Surrealism has wanted it to go: there, where the Spirit is Free; there, where the search for a true Becoming is possible.

But to do so, it must go armed. It must go armed with pictures and ideas of another reality; accompanied by the Truth of Freedom and the Freedom of Truth. And it must go armed with the words of a new philosophy; an anti-philosophical thought that will not foreclose the reception of anything human.

In this way, the creatures that it will find, and the creatures that it will observe, will be those immaterial beings, those luminous spirits, which, free of matter, will nevertheless be rich in the senses possessed by man. But these will be enriched senses, animated by man’s earlier and more primitive instincts; those instincts that can bring him into full and direct contact, his first contact, with nature.

Thus will be sampled what constitutes the DNA of a race of Supermen, the race where the human and the divine will mix and go forward together; forward into the eternity of that which is outside reality, that which is boundlessly dreamlike, that which is the context and domain of what is beyond Truth, the context and domain that destroys its own reference.

John Thomas Allen: Gold dust magma. An understanding of the orgasmic, seismic flow of perhaps the one natural piece of geography we have not entirely destroyed. Swims at nighttime, having no idea where we are going, or what our destination is, except to find X.

Dale Houstman: Go to the Kalahari and dig for the image of moisture, packing only a kaleidoscope of smoke and a star map with the stars cut out. We would often spy a cozy nothingness, and we could request an camel to collect some, and carry it to the vein of an English tourist, recalling some imperial shoreline.

Jesús García Rodríguez: From a plant of a skyscraper, and through an elevator of descent, the investigator accedes to the marine bottoms. It comes with an umbrella, fisherman’s boots, snorkel goggles, a pink pamela hat and a cigar. At the bottom of the sea you see white octopuses with blue dots, fishes with heels shoes, plants that look like cabbages and lettuces planted in the ground, constellations of starfish, squid emitting ink of a thousand colors, fish in the form of a key, a a tap, a toothbrush and a violin, underwater giraffes and a gigantic coral city, inhabited by all kinds of fish, where a populous jellyfish assembly is celebrated. From the bottom of the sea, the surrealist scout brings a nacre flower. It also brings a silvery shell of fusinus rostratus, from which comes a mysterious marine melody, and a sponge in the form of a vagina.

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French Translation

 

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