In our cultural climate sensitized to economic crisis and political instability we can identify with the formative period between two global wars of the 20th century that too faced challenges, but, ‘resolved’ them in completely different ways. But for the purposes of this blog I’m going to concerntrate on mileage in the similarities that might have been overlooked. The artistic venture of Surrealism opened up the pandora’s box of the untapped extremes of the unconscious mind, corralled into political turbulence of the era. We too face extremism in the form of radical Islamist terrorism, a distant but nevertheless connected cousin of fascism, and whilst we try to rebuild our almost broken global economy, societies and cultural life, we too have to fight terror. Today we’re trying to unbreak and mend bridges by promising a more secure and healthy world in the wake of the credit crunch. We undertake this necessity in the knowledge of the sensitive relations between public perception and the health of the public psyche now intertwined. This reinvents Surrealist’s emphasis on the unlocking and freeing of the mind to renew society- perhaps the ‘Big society’ has especial cultural resonance here too.
Indeed, there are further parallels to the 20’s and30’s today with the artistic and political bragging of Surrealism and its ‘liberational’ adrenalin and libidinized testosterone fuelled cultural ‘currency’, fixated with its own overblown self-importance and its own political hype. Indeed, the similarities with today seem more evident by the naivety of total belief in an untried and unproven unorthodox system of Surrealism being able to shoulder everyone and everything. Perhaps today we are reminding ourselves of the ‘all in one basket’ no questions asked( concerning an over-reliance on the banking system) in a time of political and military uncertainty in the world, whilst fighting foreign wars but unable to defend ourselves against economic collapse’ back home’. Moreover, Surrealism was as nascent an ideology as Thatcherism and Reaganomics, and was untried and untested yet dominant and aspirational (aside from the wide chasm between them politically)*. It too was not ready to take-on or hurdle the obstacles in its way without the adaptations it needed to weather the storms it would encounter. Likewise it too has been largely forgotten in the public consciousness and consigned to the proverbial dust-bin of man’s ignorance.
Indeed, today’s war on terror is also like the Surrealist’s war of words but no action( a bit like those politicians of today) against the terrifying violence of Stalin who summarily ordered their cultural assassination whilst he followed Andre Breton’s(the leader of the Surrealist faction) movements to Mexico where Stalin had a Surrealist supporter and avowed anti-Stalinist, Leon Trotsky, murdered in 1936. Despite such Surrealist’s shady friends, there is no doubt that the Surrealist’s would join forces with the allies to militarily defeat western European fascism in WW2. We also have to give credence and recognize that there were mitigating circumstances in the Surrealist’s politically radical left-wing output to the fact that they’d been infiltrated by unsympathetic powers to the extreme left and right(Dali was expelled from the Surrealists because of his pro-fascist sympathies). Being undermined from within would explain the gullible hitching-up with political fanatics, leaving them exposed to the accusation of ‘free-loaders and artistic manipulators’ waiting to engineer an opportunity to be ‘politically subversive’. Primarily an anti-mainstream western agenda united the Surrealists because it didn’t expose Stalin’s 2-faced betrayal and attack ’against Surrealism. But this political cowardice paradoxically actually highlights the Surrealist political legacy today, and we should welcome the fact that Surrealism accidentally revealed Stalin’s dictatorial menace and political terror campaign even against would be supporters.
A world and a lifetime away, but some British Muslims have been radicalised (if not exactly the same political agenda as the Surrealists) and have betrayed the country of their birth to fight against Britain. Furthermore, in Britain’s war against Islamist extremism, there have been incidents of our forces being turned-upon too (I think it’s called ‘friendly fire’) from supposedly loyal Afghan pro-allied soldiers. ‘Friendly fire’ was Stalin’s legacy to the Left, ironically it was the erstwhile Surrealist supporters of Stalin who had the last word. ..... to be cont-d
*Ironically in 1938 a certain Ronald Reagan applied to become a member of the American Communist Party. But he turned out alright, but what about surrealism?