in Chicago has been even more than usually lively in recent weeks.
On February 22, we enjoyed an animated afternoon discussion with
Robin D. G. Kelley, largely focused on the Black Surrealism project,
now nearing completion. At a later gathering, Kelley discussed
another major work-in-progress, his biography of Thelonious Monk.
And in the evening he gave a superb talk and slide-show on "Another
Reconstruction? Debating Reparations and Race in Post-Katrina
America" to a large crowd at nearby Loyola University.
On March 1, Michael Löwy from the Surrealist Group in Paris
also visited us for a few hours. We discussed ways and means of
bringing the Chicago and Paris groups closer together, despite
the language barrier. Much attention was given to the international
"Swan Constellation" game, proposed by the Paris friends,
and in which several members of the Chicago group participated.
Two "sequels" to the game were also remarked: one an
incident of "objective chance" from Chicago, and the
other an elaborate contribution of "Analogical Recognitions"
by our good friend Jan Hathaway in Hawaii. We also discussed,
albeit briefly, Michael Löwy's teacher (from many years ago),
Lucien Goldmann, and a related topic: the interest shown by André
Breton, Benjamin Péret and other surrealists in the seventeenth-century
Following these fruitful and invigorating meetings, the Chicago
Surrealist Group hosted a week-long international surrealist mini-conference,
starting in the evening of March 6th and continuing through the
late evening on Friday the 10th. A leading figure in the Paris
Surrealist Group, Guy Girard (painter, poet, theorist; a regular
contributor to the journal SURR), and Jill Fenton of the London
Surrealist groups (yes, there are two groups at the moment; see
below) joined fourteen participants in Chicago Surrealism for
many and wide-ranging discussions on the situation of the surrealist
movement today, surrealist games (old and new) and numerous other
Taking part in one or more of these discussions were: Gale Ahrens,
Jen Besemer, Dennis Cooper, Amy England, Jill Fenton, Beth Garon,
Paul Garon, Guy Girard, David London, Eugenie Morin, Ruth Oppenheim-Rothschild,
Theresa Phare, Franklin Rosemont, Penelope Rosemont, Tamara L.
Smith, and Joel Williams.
Unfortunately unable to attend were Matt Christensen (traveling
in Europe), Miriam Hansen, Ayana Karanja, David Roediger (out
of town), Don LaCoss (ill, but since recovered), and Louise Simons.
* * *
The meetings were informal. Most were held at restaurants, cafes,
or the homes of members of the Chicago Surrealist Group; at least
one took place in the lobby of the Palmer House Hotel. No minutes
were taken. Discussions were often interspersed with surrealist
games. What follows are a few hurried notes and jottings contributed
pell-mell by various participants, touching on at least some of
the many matters which, at one point or another, came up for discussion.
Jill Fenton summarized the current and complex situation of surrealism
in England: the recent split into two small London groups, and
her hopes of bringing them back together. It was noted by others
that surrealist activity in London has lacked stability for many
years, as a succession of short-lived grouplets produced a broadsheet
or two and then dissolved.
Guy Girard in turn summarized the current situation of the Paris
group, which includesas has always been the casea
number of "satellite" members who live elsewhere in
France. The Paris group too suffered a split some years ago, when
some younger participants withdrew over political issues. The
current group continues to be very active, however, as evidenced
by its recent tracts and the diversity of material in the new
(fifth) issue of SURR.
Specific problems of various groups were also touched on. In France,
for example, a number of aging ex-surrealists, having convinced
themselves that surrealism could not survive their own defection
from it, regularly clutter the media with the tired old falsehood
that surrealism as a movement no longer exists. In the U.S., a
plethora of moronic pseudo-surrealist websites perform a similar
Guy Girard pointed out that, despite problems in one or another
groupand despite the cynical ex-surrealists and pseudo-surrealiststhe
surrealist movement internationally has been steadily growing
in recent years. Active Surrealist groups now exist in Chicago,
Paris, London, Leeds, Prague, Amsterdam, Madrid, Athens, Ioannina,
Sao Paulo, and Santiago (Chile). Smaller groups exist in Portland
and St. Louis in the U.S.; and active individualsand/or
reports of groups-in-formationin Dublin, Ireland; Dusseldorf
and Koln (Germany); Buenos Aires, Brussels, Lisbon, Montreal and
None of those present had had any word in a long time from the
groups that formerly existed in Sweden, Serbia or Australia: The
question arose: Are these groups still active?
In regard to politics, we all shared a basic revolutionary view:
no affiliation with any parties, but friendly relations with anarchists
and a few Marxists.
* * *
Books, especially books written by surrealists, occupied much
of the discussion. Guy Girard's new and important collection of
short essays, L'Ombre et la demande (published by the
Atelier de création libertaire), arrived a couple of days
before he himself landed in Chicago, and aroused great interest.
We hope to translate at least some of it in the not-too-distant
Also recently received were the latest series of the always very
interesting pamphlets by Jean-Pierre Guillonon Sade, Karel
Teige, Arturo Ripstein, etc.
Chicago Surrealists have also published many books in the past
couple of years. It has been a long time since we have featured
new titles on our website, so here goes: a list of current and
new titles by participants in the Surrealist Movement in the U.S.:
What's the Use of Walking If There's a Freight Train Going
Your Way: Black Hoboes & Their Songs, with a 25-track
CD (Charles H. Kerr);
Lucy Parsons, Freedom, Equality & SolidarityWritings
& Speeches, 1878-1937 (Charles H. Kerr); David Roediger:
Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became
White (Basic Books), and History Against Misery
(Charles H. Kerr);
Rosemont: Revolution in the Service of the Marvelous: Surrealist
Contributions to the Critique of Miserabilism, and more recently,
with Charles Radcliffe: Dancin' in the Streets: Anarchists,
IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists & Provos in the 1960s, as
recorded in the pages of The Rebel Worker and Heatwave (Charles
Ron Sakolsky: Creating Anarchy (Fifth Estate).
And eagerly awaited, Guy Ducornet's book on surrealism and atheism.
During the discussion of these new titles, it was emphasized that
Robin D. G. Kelley's Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
(Beacon Press) has continued to exert a strong influence. According
to Jill Fenton, it is currently a key text among the surrealists
in England, and has stimulated much discussion there, as well
as in Paris. Noted, too, was the ongoing impact of Penelope Rosemont's
Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (University
of Texas Press), still selling well eight years after publication.
What Is Surrealism? and Surrealist Subversions
also remain popular.
Guy Girard delivered to us a series of books by our friend Ngo
Van, kindly sent by Hélène Fleury. (Ngo Van, who died
last year, was a major figure in Vietnamese revolutionary history;
an anti-Stalinist, he evolved from Trotskyism to a strong libertarian
Marxism, and was a longtime friend and co-worker of Benjamin Péret).
The books received included Utopie Antique et Guerre des paysans
en China (Ancient Utopia, and Peasant War in China, Editions
Le Chat que Pêche), and a French edition of Shelley's The
Mask of Anarchy, with a splendid introduction by Hélène
Fleury (Editions Paris Mediterranée).
* * *
At the Art Institute we showed our friends the curious paintings
of Giovanni di Paolo (d. 1482), in some respects a forerunner
of Giorgio de Chirico. Guy Girard called attention to the "Chinese"
quality of this artist's landscapes; and later, looking through
a book, we marveled at the authentically surrealist character
of some of his illustrations for Dante's Paradiso.
Our friends were curious about the history of Native American
culture in Chicago and Illinois (once known as Nouvelle France),
and about the couriers du bois. Are Francis Parkman's works available
in French translation?
Poetry was a major and recurring topic. Early on we discussed
the poetry of our now-deceased Romanian friends, Gherasim Luca,
Gellu Naum, and Paul Paun. The work of our early friend and mentor
Claude Tarnaud was repeatedly invoked. The critical work of Nicolas
Calas was also brought up. We hope to make the poetry of our very
close friend Philip Lamantia better known to our French comrades.
We also discussed two late 19th-century American poetsFrancis
Vielé-Griffin and Stuart Merrillwho lived in France and
wrote in French. Part of Mallarmé's circle, they were also
anarchists and highly regarded by André Breton. When one of
us mentioned that their works were scarcely known in the U.S.,
Guy Girard replied that they were no longer well know in France,
We talked about black music, past and present, from blues to the
free jazz of our friends in the Association for the Advancement
of Creative Musicians (AACM).
Friday the 10th was a frantic day. A discussion on the art and
literature of alchemy, and the works of Martinez Pasqualis, Fabre
d'Olivet, Hoene Wronski and Saint-Yves d'Alveydre was unfortunately
interrupted. Guy Girard and Jill Fenton were completing papers
to be read at a geographers' conference the following morning:
Jill's on "Geographies of Hope," and Guy's on Poetry
as an emancipatory social force in a more and more troubled world.
Several of us, including our visitors, took part in a large immigrants'
rights demonstration (100,000 strong) in downtown Chicago. All
day, we talked a lot about maps.
This activist conclusion to a week of lively discussion and games
set the tone for the next two weeks as well. A week later, a large
anti-war demonstration took place downtown; and the week after
that (according to the local news) some 250,000 students were
rioting in France.
Surrealism continues! Revolution Now and Forever!