immediate task...is the spiritual liberation of the proletariat
from the tutelage of the bourgeoisie."
- Rosa Luxemburg
(Lemur catta) (1/16)
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Free Territories of the Imagination
much of the New Left commenced what our friend Herbert Marcuse over-optimistically
called "the long march through the institutions"which
by and large turned out instead to be a retreat in which
the institutions gobbled up what little was left of the New Leftthe
Chicago Surrealists stepped up (and never quit) their "cultural
guerrilla warfare" against these institutions, and their efforts
to open "free territories" of thought and creativity outside
them. Hostile to the whole gamut of "official media"which,
no matter how "open" they may pretend to be, exist solely
to maintain the hegemony of the exploitative systemsurrealists
have initiated and supported a multitude of efforts to develop truly
oppositional counter-media and other counter-institutions. From
this angle surrealist groups could be regarded as highly mobile
utopian communities, sowing seedsutopian instantsof
what can be.
an unfree society, such spontaneous "free territories"
come and go. The fact that few last more than a moment does not,
however, make them any less momentous.
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The Marvelous Against Religion
the most insidious counter-revolutionary institutions are the churches,
merchants of the "mysterious" and perpetuators of all
forms of servility. In the U.S., where open criticism of religion
is a taboo rarely violated even by the orthodox Left, the Surrealist
Movement has never concealed its atheism or its antipathy for all
priesthoods. In part, surrealism's critique of religion parallels
that of other revolutionary currents. One need not be an anarchist
or a feminist to be aware of the inherently authoritarian and patriarchal
character of religion, or a student of Marx and Weber to know that
churches tend to be an integral part of the ruling class and the
state. And of course Freud laid bare the sexual roots of religious
belief as well as the neurotic, constricting role of religion in
emotional life. It was as poets, however, that we developed a specifically
surrealist critique of religious institutions, and a strategy to
The fundamental experience of poetry enabled us to recognize religionists
as the colonizers of the Marvelous: brutal exploiters whose means
and ends are explicitly anti-poetic. Before the rise of the advertising
industry, churches were in fact the most virulent institutionalized
expression of the hatred of poetry. Religious belief-systems, a
major obstacle to individual self-discovery, exemplify the imagination
as elsewhere, however, surrealists continue to insist on an open-ended
and dialectical approach. Our resolute antagonism to the prevailing
religious powers has never diminished our sympathetic interest in
a wide range of hermetic and gnostic heresies and heterodoxies,
or in the inspiring mythologies elaborated by the tribal peoples
of Polynesia, Melanesia, Africa and the Americas.
Superseding all approaches based on rationalism, surrealism's guerrilla
war on religious oppression advances on firmly poetic ground, emphasizing
the freedom of the Marvelous, eroticism and humor. Our aim is not
to win points in a debate, but to uproot paralyzing fears, to stimulate
emancipatory desire, to open the doors of poetry for all. The practice
of poetry is not only the best means of discovering the sacred (in
its secular sense, of course), but also the only means of preventing
its reification into religion or other forms of inhibition.
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most of the original members of the Chicago Surrealist Group were
descended from European immigrants, none of us ever identified with
"white" society. In the entire history of surrealism,
moreover, "whiteness" has never been a positive value.
The movement's founding poets, whose rejection of the culturally
vacuous Euro-American white power structures was absolute, made
no secret of the fact that they found a large share of their deepest
inspirations and brightest hopes in the nonwhite cultures of the
world, from Africa to Oceania, from Brazil to Zuni.
Surrealists in Chicago, even before the formation of the group,
were active in the more militant wing of the Black freedom movement,
and strongly influenced by such figures as Malcolm X, St. Clair
Drake, Patrice Lumumba, James Forman and C.L.R. James. We demanded
full equality for all racial minorities, but we agreed wholeheartedly
with those Black and Native American revolutionaries who rejected
the liberal program of "integration" (liquidation) into
the dominant white culture. Eventually we came to recognize that
combating what James Baldwin called "the lie of whiteness"
was, in itself, a revolutionary priority. Far from being a tangible
entity, much less a scientific category, the "white race"
is a historically constructed reactionary social ideologyin
other words, a deadly fictionand those who believe
in it, or accept its guidelines, are inevitably, however unwittingly,
part of the problem.
everything else that is revolutionarily good, beautiful and true,
surrealism is treason to the so-called "white race." The
realization of Lautréamont's "poetry made by all"
demands not only the affirmation of blackness but also the abolition
of the repressive, racist myth of whiteness.
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