SURREALISM

A Bridge Between Heaven and Earth
by Graeme Jones
copyright 2008

In the early 1970’s I concluded that the remarkable hatred and fear directed at Communism by the miserable, small-minded cretins that ran the New Zealand Government suggested that there just had to be something good about that political philosophy. And quite possibly something important. In my instinctive and unschooled response I was applying the Hegelian dialectical principle; if evil organizes itself against a thing, then search within that thing for a boon. So I decided to take a look at Marxism, and therein began my journey.

This same law of opposites comes to our aid when we examine the political focus of those really serious Fascists, the Nazi’s. When Hitler’s jackbooted legions strutted their way into Paris in May 1940 high on their political agenda was the extermination of the Surrealist art movement, which was centered in that city. Over the ensuing months, employing the epithet “decadent art,” the Nazis completely suppressed the vibrant cultural movement known as French Surrealism. Why were the German Fascists so determined to annihilate a school of French artists? Surrealism itself reveals the answer.

Surrealism is an artistic movement characterized by its emphasis upon the opening to the psychological unconscious. In Surrealism the artist is inviting the unconscious to take over the artistic process. The colorful vibrancy and creativity of the unconscious is glorified, to the point where the unconscious tends to become the subject of the art itself. This is most famously exemplified in the works of Salvador Dali. Surrealists saw their movement as a cultural vanguard, its task being to communicate the social importance of the collective opening to the psychological unconscious. But Surrealism was more than merely a collection of talented individual artists. It was a living cultural movement in the best European tradition, a continuation of the spirit of the French Revolution.

Here was a talented intelligentsia who understood the importance of consciously integrating their innovative artistic styles into the variegated dimensions of European progressive life. They saw themselves as a “school” in the real sense of the word. The genius of the inspired individual that marked the cultural life of Paris was being employed to delve into the hidden depths of the modern psyche, and to relate that exploration to all aspects of progressive culture. Their ambition was to cultivate the living spirit of Europe by using art to foster a conception of organic unity that satisfied the modern psyche. And they regarded the psychological unconscious as an actual participatory agent in that endeavor.

Accordingly, it was both natural and unavoidable that Surrealists would recognize the living force of the unconscious inside early 20th century Socialist political struggles. The logic of Surrealism itself obliged them to fold the Socialist vision into the general outlook of that artistic movement. Inspired, individual subjectivity and the political cause of the progressive masses began to converge via the unifying medium of Surrealism. The psychology of the unconscious and Marxism were beginning to coalesce into a unified cultural stream.

The leading Surrealists were openly Socialist. And their willingness to be informed from outside the orthodoxies of Marxism, and to bring that psychologically enriching content into their red politics attracted many to the unique vitality of that movement. It is no surprise that Surrealists were some of the very first to advance a Socialist criticism of Stalinism. In essence, pre World War II Surrealism was a cultural bridge between the politics of liberation and the new humanist psychology of the unconscious. It was in Surrealist circles that creative people could walk from one end of that bridge to the other.

PSYCHOLOGICAL POLITICS

The integration of the Marxist political outlook and the psychology of the unconscious comes to us in the brilliant insight of Surrealism’s most well known spokesman, Andre Breton; “bourgeois culture erects a fortress against the unconscious.” This point of view is at once Marxist and Jungian. Here Surrealism is offering us a psychological understanding of class struggle. Class conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat is a political metaphor for the collective relations between the ego and the contents of the unconscious. This is esoteric Marxism. The collective egoism of Western man crystallizes its antagonistic relationship with the collective unconscious in political form as bourgeois class war against the working masses. “Masses” being a mythic code word for the collective unconscious. Here is the cosmic axis around which the great conflicts of the 20th century orbit; the Euro-American ego’s reactive hostility to the planetary culture of wholeness which seeks to emerge from within the collective unconscious and supersede the world outlook of egoism.

Code words for bourgeois political reaction, directed against the working class, women and people of color, can be read, psychologically, as mythic projections of the western ego’s hostility towards the unconscious. Carl Jung specified exactly this. In his alchemical dream interpretations Jung wrote; “The political left stands for the unconscious and all that lurks within it.” Any competent Jungian knows that liberation from oppression requires turning away from the ego bound perspective and embracing the salvatory movement that is to be found in the unconscious. So the logic is clear. Right wing reactionary politics is the ego’s war against humanity’s living spirit. Conversely, it is the task of the political left to embrace the life giving vibrancy of the unconscious, and to embody the healing function of the Self as it emerges from the collective unconscious. Red culture must breach the bourgeois fortress on behalf of the insurgent unconscious. This was the perspective that was beginning to take form in the Surrealist school just prior to World War II.

ROMANTICISM OUTCAST

This approach offers us a clear psychological analysis of the terribly destructive political tensions and violence that have wracked Euro-American civilization for the better part of the last two centuries. It also explains the Capitalist establishment’s need to suppress, distort and control art and culture. It being the role of artists, and culture, to convey the life-giving creativity of the unconscious to the mass mind. Prior to 1850 the Romantic Movement was fashionable and received bourgeois patronage. But the revolutions of 1848 pushed the Romantic artists to openly side with the proletariat in their street battles with the bourgeoisie that broke out simultaneously in cities throughout Europe. From that time onwards Europe’s ruling bourgeoisie saw clearly that Romanticism, art and culture posed a potentially mortal threat to their class rule, and hence had to be carefully controlled and, if necessary, destroyed. The Bourgeoisie can only feel truly secure when they sit atop a cultural wasteland, which has been washed clean of any threatening vitality from the banished unconscious. Accordingly Romanticism quickly became “unfashionable” and was replaced by the 19th Century version of Fascism; i.e., Victorianism. Fascism simply being the naked face of ego driven, reactionary, bourgeois class power, exemplified by the Nazi Herman Goering’s infamous dictum; “whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my pistol.”

The Nazi occupation of Paris paid the Surrealists the ultimate compliment. By targeting that school for immediate annihilation the Nazi’s were fortifying bourgeois reaction in Europe against any possibility of progressive cultural insurgency on the part of the unconscious. In so doing they demonstrated the incisive accuracy of the Surrealist critique. But there is more. Germans are deservedly famous for combining depth of instinctive insight with highly focused intelligence. The Nazis were no exception. Recall that the Nazi’s hated Communism with an existential passion. The German bourgeois ego was terrified of being drowned in a tidal wave of Red feeling. It saw itself to be in a war to the death with its own worst nightmare, i.e., an overwhelming resurgence of the primitive feminine from the “subhuman” Slavic east.

The Nazi’s expected to be lauded for defending Europe against Red barbarism. For them this was a truly spiritual war. And they knew successful spiritual warfare requires winning cultural battles. In their spiritual battle against Communism the thing the Nazi’s most feared was a cultural movement that was in the process of placing Marxist Socialism upon sound spiritual and cultural foundations. This was the terrible danger they instinctively recognized if the Surrealists were to be left to continue their cultural experimentation. They knew they had to preempt it at all costs.

For by initiating a convergence of Marxism and the psychology of the unconscious the Parisian Surrealists were actually laying cultural foundations for a humanist, spiritual definition of Marxist Socialism. Recall that Marxism is a political/economic extension of the philosophy of Hegel. And that Marx wrote that the proletariat must find its spiritual and intellectual weapons in that philosophy. By exploring the psychology of the unconscious, from a socialist perspective, the French Surrealists were preparing the ground for a culturally viable interpretation of the Hegelian spiritual foundations of Marxism. They were building a Socialist culture animated by a numinous humanism. In the late 1930’s this was still inchoate, only partially formed, and more intuitive art than scientific theory. But enough of a beginning had been made to set alarm bells ringing within the instinctual intelligence of the Nazis.

NAZI VICTORY

When it comes to the all-important dimension of culture, it has to be admitted that the Nazis actually won World War II. The all consuming demands placed upon the Soviet Union by military confrontation with Nazism, from 1933 until 1945, precluded any possibility of the Soviet state developing authentic Socialist culture. This was the fascist goal all along. In Nazi occupied Europe, Socialist and Jewish cultural luminaries were annihilated in their hundreds of thousands. The general devastation of Nazi occupation, and the war itself, caused enormous destruction to the living fabric of European progressive culture. But the decisive Nazi victory lay in the complete destruction of the French Surrealist movement. Its heart was cut out, and what was left was scattered to the four winds. Individuals may have survived but the cultural integrity of the collective movement was effectively destroyed. After the war French culture never regained its former luster and progressive vitality. From 1945 on Europe was dominated by an aggressive American Capitalism that imposed its own brand of reactionary cultural suppression. The military defeat of Nazi Germany simply shifted the fascist responsibility from Berlin to the United States.

In destroying the Surrealist school, Fascism deprived Europe of any genuinely vibrant and authentic spirit capable of further enculturing the convergence of Socialist politics and the Humanist articulation of Marxism’s spiritual roots via the psychology of the unconscious. The destruction was simply too great to allow such delicate, plastic flowering. And that flowering was essential for the success of Socialism. For want of it Socialism was unable to enculture any understanding of its own psychological and spiritual dimensions. In surrendering its Humanist interiority to a vulgar mechanical materialism, Socialism lost its soul. From there Socialism (along with American civilization) devolved into a totalitarian Materialism of ego-based power. This is, in real cultural terms, Fascist victory.

EYES OF THE RAPTOR

Ever since the mid 19th century a hidden raptor force has guarded Capitalism. With focused predatory eyes it surveys the entire landscape of Euro-American civilization, always on the lookout for the emergence of any social movement that is free of distortion. Whenever numinous integral Humanism shows any signs of emerging the dark birds are given their moment. Blood flows, the threat is shredded and Humanism is once again fragmented into mutually alienated parts. The raptors have actually been released many times, the flight of the Nazis being simply the most demonic. In truth the Surrealists never stood a chance.

The cosmic meta-theme of the 20th century is the culture of emergent wholeness. This naturally inclines towards a convergence of external wholeness; i.e., Socialist political economy, with internal wholeness, articulated as the psychology of the unconscious. As Marx put it, the liberated wholeness of individual essence, is to harmonize with the liberated wholeness of external existence. We now call it the marriage of Heaven and Earth. This was the vision, encultured for a brief moment by the Surrealists, before it succumbed to the Nazi holocaust. And it has never been restored. Such a numinous Humanism is unbearable to the ego bound mind of the ruling bourgeois class. Consequently from 1940 until the present day, depth psychology and Socialist political consciousness have co-existed in a state of mutually hostile alienation. Psychology is held to be the exclusive property of the bourgeois mind, and for want of it, Socialist consciousness, denied a scientific vision of its own essence, flounders, trapped in a spiritual wasteland of one-sided Materialism, where it has steadily withered into impotence, for loss of its soul. The terrible fruits of the Fascist victory have lasted 80 years.

FRIDA’S GARDEN

However it is only the twisted ego bound delusion of the bourgeois mind that denies that the living force of cosmic intention is anything but invincible. Knowing that nothing real can be truly lost, we shall, in closing, revisit an actual moment in Surrealist history for a poetic taste of the coming marriage of Heaven and Earth. Recalling that the Islamic vision of Heaven is a walled garden, i.e., paradise, who better for us to turn to than that icon of the new world, the widely loved avant-garde artistic exponent of the feminine inner self, the Communist painter who would walk about town, whilst hiding under her dress, strapped to her thigh, a loaded pistol, Frida Kahlo.

At the height of her popularity, Frida held painting classes for her young art students. These were conducted in a large walled garden behind her home in Mexico City. Feel your way into this wonderfully verdant garden, where you are sitting at your easel, alongside other painters. In this soft early morning Mexican air, surrounded by trees and shrubs, flowers overflow in a riot of colors and sweet aromas. Monkeys chatter and leap amongst the trees, along with wildly colorful birds, including parrots. Here inspiration comes easily. Just as fresh paint is being applied to the canvas a presence is felt from behind. The young artist turns and casts his eyes upon a woman who is smiling appreciatively over his shoulder. It is Andre Breton’s wife. She is completely naked.



Categories: social and political commentary by Graeme Jones

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