Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.


+4 votes

If yes, then how so?

Some background:

I've been introduced to surrealism through some of Ron Sakolsky's work (ex: 'Creating Anarchy') and gone on to Breton (of course!) and some of the Chicago Surrealist Group's writing (ex: 'Surrealist Subversions'). I was immediately drawn to the aim of destroying the omnipresent conceptual dichotomies of dream/reality, imagination/reason, etc. and replacing myself in 'the Marvelous' rather than continuing to inhabit the dominant miserabilist paradigm.

Edited to add link.

Another edit: For those who are already acquainted with surrealism's more philosophical aspect or perhaps unfamiliar with surrealism altogether, I'd recommend Refusal of the Shadow. RotS offers not only a great introduction to surrealism generally, but the Carribbean surrealists in particular mainly focused on Martinique. Some was written under the Vichy regime, and it offers a unique glimpse of a French colony during that period. The book's introduction is well written and contextualizes the authors of the essays which make up the rest of the book.

by (7.5k points)
edited by
Could you possibly briefly explain what surrealism is? I have no idea of what it is. :)

Here is a link to some writing that might be helpful:

I am not particularly influenced by surrealism, but kind of appreciate it all the same. I first came to understand surrealism as something possibly subversive (as opposed to being a thing related to Salvador Dali) through a special issue of the journal Race Traitor that was curated by the Chicago Surrealists (it was issue 9, by the way... here is the RT website:

Also, issue 13/14 of Race Traitor was focused on "Surrealism in the USA," and might be of interest as background material.

surrealism seems better described than explained. breton is a good place to start, but i'd really recommend 'surrealist subversions' which is an anthology of the chicago surrealist group. some of it is a bit marx-y for my taste. but then again, as penelope rosemont points out (somewhere. i'm trying to find the quote), phrases like 'proletarian revolution' are used in a much more expansive way than marxists generally tend to use them. this is isn't unusual since activist-y types are often narrow-gauge railroad going only one direction and always, boringly, on time.

the major aspect of surrealism which draws me is, as i said, the destruction of enslaving, miserabilist, dichotomies, like dream vs. reality for instance, which seem to have affinities with certain strands of anarchist process ('individualist', 'egoist'). a simultaneous creativity is born as the dichotomy is broken and 'reality' and 'dream' become the of the Marvelous, the latter of which is not yet another reification, but an indication of ineffable surrealism. this world is quite good enough to experience joy despite all the religious, political, and economic forms of  mutual acquiescence we find ourselves tangled in. it's the only world such joy may be found that i'm aware of anyway, though i hear tales of heaven and after the revolution.

i like it. i don't know how much it's influenced me. i certainly appreciate the things you list as characteristic, af (non dualism, non linearity, etc), although i tend to think of those things as anti-western project, vs pro-surrealism--just a difference in how late i came to surrealism, maybe.

"i tend to think of those things as anti-western project, vs pro-surrealism--just a difference in how late i came to surrealism, maybe."

dot, i would say that surrealism is anti-western and was part of why aime and suzanne cesaire, and richard wright were drawn toward surrealism, as were a host of other black intellectuals and artists. robin d.g. kelley notes that while surrealism may have originated in the west, it is rooted in a conspiracy against western civilization. further:

'Wright's engagement with surrealism seems to parallel that of many other Black intellectuals. They have found in surrealism confirmation of what they already know - for them it is more an act of recognition rather than a revolutionary discovery.'

this quote is gleaned from a great essay entitled 'freedom now sweet: surrealism and the black world' found in _surrealist subversions_ linked in the question. there's also 'surrealism and black african art' by cheikh tidane sylla. (so far, i'd highly recommend that book, some really fun stuff in it!)

also, i'd add another aspect of surrealism which draws me: the refusal to defer joy and creativity. one big aspect of western civilization, of which even some anti-civ thinkers still seem to cling, is this continuous deferral of joy.

you all might find this link helpful as well:
i agree it's anti-W. i was talking about my own associations and trajectory. that is, i came to this non-dualist, non linearity stuff from being anti-christianity, more than any other single thing.

and yes, i have read a lot of surrealist subversions (the book) and also like it very much.
ah. ok. yes, i too would say that my anti-christianity served me in a very similar way. i would also say that surrealism for me is far more a recognition than a discovery, although it has inspired me to play a bit differently with that recognition.
I liked some of the stuff I've read but when I was reading oystercatcher it started to feel like positivism and that annoyed the shit out of me lol
Thanks AmorFati and ingrate for the links and info. I'll look into writing by this Andre Breton fellow and the Sakolsky article you linked to, AmorFati. I've heard Breton's name before, but that's about it. :D
i've liked some of ron sakolsky's writing, but i don't know how much the surrealism plays into that. i find that style of writing to be sometimes beautiful and lyrical and poetic, but i don't think that has ever had any impact on my anarchic tendencies. i just don't think my mind works so well in the (what i think of as) abstract realms.
funky@, i don't find surrealism all that abstract. i do find the dichotomous concepts western civ is based upon (ex: imagination vs. reality), and surrealism is antagonistic toward, totally abstract. dissolving the conceptual separation between 'dream' and 'real world' is central toward my sense of anarchy, of reclaiming my life as my toto. it also plays into anarcho-speak when the conversation turns toward 'theory' and 'practice' which is simply another formulation of the dominating dichotomy mentioned above.
af, i feel like there are variants of the term "abstract", at least to me. while i don't necessarily find the dichotomies (per se) of western civ to be abstract, i definitely find a great deal about civilization to be based on abstractions.

things like imagination, dreams, etc, to me these are inherently abstractions, although they are also quite real. i see no dichotomy there.

i guess i am not very well suited for these kinds of discussions. too much linear thinking, perhaps. ;-)

btw, while i hate almost all art i have ever seen that is considered "abstract", i love quite a bit of escher and definitely some dali. would that (surreal art) be considered abstract art?
yes, i'd say surrealism has influenced my anarchic process....although i didn't call what i did "surrealist"...much like i hadn't used the word anarchy or anarchist until recently, despite feeling, thinking, and often acting in ways consistent with anarchy most of my life.

i hope to come back and give an answer later, but for now i'll just say that i've experimented with lucid dreaming, which involved both becoming more awake while i slept and dreamt, and acting more dreamily (including acting out certain dreams and dream scenes) while awake (not sleeping).....breaking down the boundaries for what i thought of as real or imagined, and i had a lot of interesting experiences while doing this, a lot of the times completely unexpected, feeling very surreal.

the whole "real" vs "imagined" thing has always both interested me, and kind of bugged me. i'll say right off the bat that i am not talking about the many psychedelic experiences i have had in my life, which are the only times i can honestly say there was no essential distinction between reality and .... that reality.

af refers to " dissolving the conceptual separation between 'dream' and 'real world' ", and ba@ refers to "breaking down the boundaries for what i thought of as real or imagined". i actually have no desire for that, if i understand correctly. i guess i am referring to things that are tangible, physical things, not stuff like ideas, emotions, etc, which for me are always in some way real (and often imagined as well). when it comes to the physical world, i usually (not always, necessarily) want to know what is "real" and what is "imagined", since my own survival and joy may well be impacted.

have i completely missed the boat on this?


funky: have i completely missed the boat on this?

i'd say yes, and no. because it sort of feels like what you described below (without the psychedelics) :

" the many psychedelic experiences i have had in my life, which are the only times i can honestly say there was no essential distinction between reality and .... that reality."

it might help if i told you a story from my lucid dreaming experiences. it blew me away at the time, and i don't really know why i haven't done it in a while, other than it took a lot of effort and attention. but basically, not only did some of my waking hours feel dreamlike and my sleeping hours very vivid and awake, but some of the same things occurred during each, often in different sequences, and during those experiences it felt more difficult to discern a difference between "dream" and "real". i also often lost a sense of time.

this is a very interesting topic, the thing I liked about hallucinogens is it's an experience completely different from normal reality, but I wouldn't say it has anything to do with dream states. The thing I like so much about dreams is that things make so little sense in a logical sense when I'm dreaming, and I don't realize it when I'm dreaming. There are some dreams where I have intense anxiety and I feel like the world is against me, but when I'm not dreaming like that It feels very pleasant, like one experience/image shifting to another.

I wonder what that says about one's waking state of mind when they are having lots of lucid dreams vs. when they aren't dreaming strongly at all?

rs6: I wonder what that says about one's waking state of mind when they are having lots of lucid dreams vs. when they aren't dreaming strongly at all?

when i experimented with lucid dreams, the difference between my waking state and asleep state seemed much more blurred, i felt more aware of things, more peaceful, less fearful, and more creative than i usually do. but i don't know how long i could maintain it, or how long i'd want to. but having this discussion has made me want to take another crack at it.

were you taking something to induce lucid dreamings before? if not, i wonder how you would simply "have another crack at it"

this discussion is making me wanna do something like that as well...i've been trying to grow mushrooms with no success. One thing that I associate with the dream world at times is video games, but that is such a bland dream world to me, i would like it to be something more loving and strange than that
no, i didn't take anything...i did quite a few different things to induce them though, including writing my dreams down extensively. at first i could only remember one or two flashes of a dream and jot down a few notes (some nights i didn't remember any), but after 3 or 4 weeks i got to the point where i'd remember multiple scenes from up to 10 or 12 dreams in one night, writing up to 20 pages at times.

i also did something where i'd sort of act out or role play a script created from a combination of my written down dreams. i'd take the original notes and dream stories and fragments, and re-create them into a story or script, and then ultimately, in my waking life, i'd act the dream out. if it involved people i knew, i sometimes asked them to participate. the results of these experiments surprised me, and twisted things in ways hard for me to describe without writing one of the stories here.

anyway, i did several other things like this, mixing dreaming and waking life through various exercises in a couple of books on lucid dreaming that i read, and altering a few for my own tastes.

regarding taking something, I've taken a few things over the years and enjoyed mushrooms mostly, although i didn't involve those during the lucid dreaming stuff. also, i vape weed a decent amount, and i like what it does for me creatively, and i guess i could say, surreally.

edited to add.....that i only got to the point of lucid dreaming a couple of times - meaning i had awareness of my dream state and could alter (somewhat) the course of my dreams. but what came out of the process more than lucid dreaming, was my ability to connect to things happening without my physical presence. again, another story would probably illustrate better, but i hesitate to write a short story in the comments just because of the length - this one seems pretty long already.   :)
along the lines of this conversation, i strongly recommend the movie "waking life" to anyone that has not seen it.  ba@, well worth a good vape for watching. ;-)
it's been a while since I've hit a vape, they give you a much more clear-headed high than just smoking it, which I don't do cuz it makes me too judgemental and analytical
ba@, i think a story like the one you describe would be the perfect answer to this question... :)

dot, thanks for the encouragement. i'll give it a shot.

funky, i liked "waking life"...haven't seen it in a while, or with a vape...good suggestion

rs666: "video games, but that is such a bland dream world to me, i would like it to be something more loving and strange than that."

i recommend exploring dreams....i think you will find it more strange and loving....and surreal....than someone else's programming.

af, thanks for that new link, i will check that out when i can. i have never really felt like i understand surrealism philosophically. i only know that i like some of the visual creations of escher and dali.
you may enjoy some of wilfredo lam's work. he was an chinese/afro-cuban surrealist painter who figures prominently in the book.

1 Answer

+1 vote
Here's some scattered thoughts about surrealism: the second manifesto of surrealism (which is a terrifically fun read actually) breton explains his reasons for expunging various members of the group: so and so has shit politics, so and so is an 'ideological slut' etc. etc. This way of operating scares me because it seems like it indicates that he was so sure he had the correct praxis that he was prepared to be awful to people he had considered friends. (not to mention that many of the people he kicked out were actually highly interesting and radical). one of the surrealist magazines (probably la revolution surrealist after breton took over, but I could be misremembering) they w/ an air of boastfulness reprint a telegraph exchange between breton and the 3rd international. It goes something like this: "3rd int. asks answer to following q: what will the surrealists do in event of imperialist assault on soviet union? breton: will continue with that to which we are most suited, (i.e. cultural production) until given specific instructions. if needed can transform into armed guerrilla faction or whatev."

3.breton met w/ diego rivera and leon trotsky on the shores of a certain lake where between the 3 of them they hammered out a nice, clear programmatic statement on the autonomy of art (except, like, in the statement this is posed entirely in relation to a revolutionary project...)

I suppose what I am getting at is that for people interested in the kinds of things they were, they could be surprisingly doctrinaire and cloddish.

Another problem I have w/ them is that much of the work they made doesn't make sense except in terms of Freudian dream theories, which to me is just awful.

However, a lot of them are still quite compelling to me.  I think Michel Leiris is really cool. Duchamp obviously. People never talk about it but Man Ray had some really excellent readymades as well. Although I hate his art myself, and his public persona, I think that Dali was actually quite a good writer, and his "paranoiac critical method" is quite interesting.  Marcel Broodthaers, a kind of post-surrealist, is actually one of my favorite artists. You might be able to tell from this list that I prefer thinking about them in terms of value theory rather than theories of the unconscious. I guess that's my answer.
by (8.0k points)
edited by

interesting answer. although, for me, it seems a bit too confined/constricted (ie. as art-movement-from-the-20s-roughly-to-the-40s?), at least from what i've read. for instance, no mention of the Cesaires' who's impact on the surrealist movement during the 40s-50s was quite pronounced and vice versa. or the Chicago group founded in 67 and which is still active.

also, Dali was booted for the reason that he was increasingly at odds with surrealism (ex:approving statements of fascism, his snide comments regarding 'l'art négre').

i do agree that some of the earlier stuff was a bit doctrinaire and cloddish as you say, and far too lefty for my liking, but overall the movement moved beyond those parameters in many ways, particularly given its internationalist perspective which in turn evolved and broadened as the movement actualized in different places outside France (ex: Cairo, Dominican Republic, Martinique, the US)

edited to add:

i realize too it could be that my tag ('andre-breton') creating the conditions conducive for more historical answers. i may remove it.

edit: tag replaced

that's true - and even within this period my answer is mainly just about the breton group. I didn't even mention lautreamont, tzara, photography or biomorphism or anything. it's not a good history at all, just me reacting to the aspect that I think of as being the most productive as well as the most worrisome.

Aime Cesaire is really interesting - I think notebook of a return to the native land is very compelling. I didn't know of him as being a surrealist (rather just a friend of Breton) but I don't know very much about him so that's not surprising.