Monday, 2 December 2019


The following link takes you to the Platform of Prague which was a joint statement of the Paris and Prague surrealists in 1968. This is also available in "Surrealism Against The Current" edited by Richardson and Fijalkowski. It is often considered to be the last statement of the integrated surrealist movement before Jean Schuster's 'Quatrieme Chant'. The fallout ensuing from the latter document, announcing Schuster's 'auto-dissolution' of surrealism, meant that no such document was possible for surrealism as such, although several quite considerable texts have been written over the years, they typically represent the views of a particular group or individual.
Although not written by Breton, who had died two years previously, this text could be seen as the last of the manifestos of surrealism. It stands as a major restatement of surrealist principles, updating them, if you like to the age in which this text was written. However, that was over 50 years ago. What would be very interesting now would be a similar restatement for the 21st century, but while there will be texts from groups and individuals, I don't think we will ever see a text so central to surrealist endeavour in such an integrated and universal way. What is disturbing is how relevant it is today when we consider repressive systems.

Recently, I attended a lecture by Simon Sverak of the Czech and Slovak Surrealist Group and found we were in agreement that a similar rethinking and restatement of our priorities for surrealism in our time was necessary. Such a text could only arise out of discussion between both collectives and individuals, and I don't know how possible it is. Certainly such publications as Hydrolith and the last issue of Brumes Blondes have provided valuable snapshots of the surrealist movement in recent times, but seem to come to no unified conclusions.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019


I was very struck by a new post by Merl Fluin. You can read it here:

I don't always agree with Merl, although mostly on degrees of emphasis and nuance rather than principle, but I thought that, at least on first reading, as I travelled through the wastes of South East London, this resonated with me very strongly. I did think it worth throwing in a few extra, possibly stray, thoughts on the subject.

Worth reading, if you don't know it, Jean Ferry's "Kafka, Or The Secret Society" which I know from the book "Custom-House Of Desire" edited by J.H. Matthews, but you can find it online here:

Also, incidentally, nobody told me there was a book of Ferry's stories available in English:

Consider also the idea of the Egregore, found in esoteric traditions, but also in surrealism, through Pierre Mabille. Although this concept has been described in terms of a 'group mind', understandings of the idea are quite variable. Mabille's own understanding is expounded fully in his book "Egregores Ou la Vie Des Civilisations" which unfortunately has not been translated into English, but a brief explanation can be found in Michael Richardson's book on Bataille:

One of the most important points for me in Merl's post was the opposition of the mass and the collective. It seems to me that this is often not understood and that many who would espouse individualism imagine that any collective effort must be opposed to individual freedom. But we are always, like it or not, social animals, and even our solitude is socially conditioned. In fact good social bonds can encourage individuality and personal freedom. Oddly enough, the very proponents of individualism are often the most conventional-minded, the most conformist and the least respectful of difference. Too often their doctrine is "you have a perfect right to be just like me!" Better to be like Thelonious Monk.

Image result for thelonius monk underground

Wednesday, 6 November 2019


I want to try something a little bit different, to make a blog post that is additive over  a period of time, to post the bare bones, a few suggestions, invite dialogue and add and edit the text accordingly. If I am interested in my own thought, it is more than mere narcissism, it is the thought that immediately presents itself to me, but it is far from being the entirety of surrealist thought on the notion of community. So I'd like to suggest that this post could become a communal thought of what the surrealist community might be. Also that having shaped this, I leave it open enough for others to take up the idea and either make their own thoughts or collections of thoughts available to each other and to 'the world' - which will no doubt be duly grateful...

Therefore I would like to ask my fellow surrealists to post in the comments section here, ideas, practices, references, on community, collective action, utopian thought, experiments in intersubjectivity, reflections on the concept of a "surrealist civilisation". If this can become a part of a dialogue, a new document might be built up from it, or maybe we'll find a lot of more or less interesting, but very disparate thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Annie le Brun: Never Boring.

I have just found a series of articles by Annie Le Brun online, they are on Not Bored here:

A wonderful little cache of her writings in English which I have to share. More later.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Toni del Renzio

I'm posting here a link to an essay by Toni del Renzio, prefaced by a short memoir by me. This was in the 3rd and final issue of Arcturus. With the growing interest in Ithell Colquhoun, there are increasing mentions of Toni, but little context. The preface gives links in turn to, among other things, an essay by Silvano Levy.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

From Fragments of a Unified Field: Text for the 16th International Surrealist Exhibition 'Sacrilege'

The following text was written, I think, in early 1999. It was written in response to an enquiry sent out by the Czech and Slovak surrealists in preparation for the 16th International Surrealist Exhibition SVATOKRADEZ (Sacrilege: The Magical Against The Sacred) held in Prague later that year and travelling to Plzen. I didn't get to the Prague opening, although just about every surrealist I knew did seem to manage it, and have a fine old time of it, but I did manage to attend the Plzen opening, which I think was held at the town hall, and much of the exhibition, including my drawings, was shown in the cellars - surrealism in the catacombs!

I was once told that my text was rather 'Bataillean' and I was not sure if I should be pleased or not at that, I certainly wasn't seeking to be Bataillean in the least, but I was trying to articulate what a surrealist/magical philosophy might be for me, really for the first time. The title was one I gave to a number of fragmentary, maybe failed, but still interesting - at least to me - texts that tried, maybe too hard, to tie things together in some kind of unity, or find a version of non-duality that fitted my perception of surrealism and of reality. I first published some of these fragments in EXTRANCE, if I can find my copies I'll copy them here. They were written when I was barely computer literate and I have no computer file of them.

I have included the original questionnaire and exhibition proposal at the foot of this text.


It is a question of whether we can accept the splitting of being, its fraying and freezing, the petrifaction of the mind and the body as separate entities.

I have developed a growing dislike for static views of being, supposing us to be ontologically stable, even eternal entities. Describe what it is that makes you what you are. Are you the person you were when you were born? Or the person you were yesterday? Sometimes it seems that we spend our lives in a hall of mirrors, admiring our image, oblivious that the mirrors are unsilvered and we gaze through empty glass, layer upon layer - at what?

Every phoney ideology, religious, political or cultural, either freezes the experience of being or obscures it. Religion either denies the body or relegates it to second place in relation to the soul. Consumerism, vampire of materialism, drags us in directions that deny the inner life. Body and soul, false oppositions. I say that we are not two!

I am not too concerned with other people's personal beliefs, this is their business. It would be too much of a contradiction to accept a radical notion of freedom and then dictate what form that freedom should take. I do not belong to the thought police. However, I am concerned with the social form their beliefs may take; churches, sects, political parties, all alike attempt to consolidate within themselves power both over their members and over society. That is my business.

There is the problem of language. Words like "miraculous" or "sacred" have meanings generally accepted within our culture that do not retain their validity in another context. We can claim that there is a surrealist sacred or a surrealist miraculous, but are we not being deliberately contentious, opposing our sacred to that of religion? That which we find marvellous, that which retains what Walter Benjamin called "aura", is indeed both miraculous and sacred, but this notion is contingent, not on otherworldly power, but immanently, on the power of human subjectivity and its interaction with the world from which it is inseparable.

This sacred - and what makes it miraculous - is twinned with a notion of sacrilege which completes it. I mean that the aura generated by a place, object or experience is simply not to be venerated, but is the subject of a process of enquiry that inevitably violates the temenos, the sacred space. One tears aside the veil of the temple to reach the holy of holies, as it were, not content to worship outside.

Our "profane illumination" is a deeply irreligious experience of the sacred, a sacred within this world and that seeks no other. I reject specifically notions of heaven and hell, higher and lower planes of existence, other worlds, except in as much as the can be understood as representations of subjectivity. Otherworld becomes other (hidden face of this) world.

This privileges subjectivity, the realm of imagination, which needs to be understood as an inseparable component of the totality of reality, and without which there is no reality. Thus imagination is not a flight from reality, but a half of reality and what makes reality real.

But the subjectivity of the individual is not enough. It should not divide us, even if it does not precisely unite us. Between your subjectivity and mine, and that old man in the corner and that woman walking down the street, is a system of accords and discords, attractions and repulsions, that constitute the intersubjective dimension. It is possible to find here, not, certainly, that we are reduced to the mystic fluff of "we are all one", but rather a point at which our individuality is reconciled with the collective without the loss that individuality, which is, however, transformed in the light of intersubjective experience.

To recapitulate, I am asking for a mode of exploration, of ourselves and the world, where our grail is an immanent mundane-miraculous in which self and world are understood, neither as endlessly separate, nor as a reductive unity, but as the poles of a unified field in which the particular and individual are not lost in the context of the general and the collective.

From this perspective, I will readily admit that various occult, hermetic and mystical ideas and practices offer an inspiration to me, not towards belief, but for a different register of critical thought and of experience. They offer a route into the world of analogy which in turn allows access to an "open totality". (By this term I mean something quite opposed to other notions of totality which seems to lend themselves too readily to the word "totalitarian".)

This attitude exists in direct refutation of the new-agers, Stepford wives of the spiritual supermarket, with their "shamanic tai-chi tarot" or "Celtic Voodoo crystal and aromatherapy made easy kit". So much of new-ageism appropriates from different cultures without consideration of the specific context of that practice or belief. Is there not a certain absurdity in British people living in tipis in Wales, preparing to do a Sioux Sundance?

Not belief then, no bowing to gods and self-proclaimed gurus, but what one occultist (Robert Cochrane) called the "driving thirst for knowledge, the forerunner of wisdom". The quest is for poetry as lived experience, in whatever form that it should present itself. If, at times, it should lead to the alchemist's laboratory, we should not be surprised, but we should not be too eager to assume that what we are presented with is always gold.

Prague, December 1998

Dear friends,

in 1998 we have put together an enquiry as part of the propositions for a new exhibition we are preparing now. We hope that the exhibition (Prague – Pilsen, July/September 1999) acquires an international character with the help of your participation. Below is the enquiry (you can answer it briefly individually as well as collectively) and the résumé of our own responses.

An enquiry on sacrilege

1. How would you define "the sacred"? Is there something what you consider sacred? What is, in your opinion, the relation between the sacred and the miraculous?

2. In what sense is (or is not) the word sacrilege pertinent for you?

3. Can you define the contemporary possibilities of subversion - in comparison with the hitherto existing forms of this phenomenon?

Variants of the collective thematic activity (exhibition):

From the enquiry and the previous discussion it emerged that we are still interested in
1. aspects of surrealist interpretation of the miraculous
2. the subversive nature of surrealist activity

In between these two poles - the positive (1) and the negative (2) – an essential, conceptual and also mental tension develops to become the carrier and catalyst of a common activity. At first sight it seems as if we have only copied the basic range of surrealist dialectics and resigned to the concretization and specification of the theme. But that is arguable. Surely the surrealist miraculous has been changing in time: Effenberger´s criticism of Nezval-esque enchantment - that "surrealism with a beardband" has for a long time required further revision. What does "the surrealist miraculous" look like nowadays? Let’s try to find or rediscover it. And what about the second, negative pole? Martin Stejskal describes it in a general yet concrete enough way: "Subversion... is a liberating doubting (of orders and disorders) of the world..., of certainties of which we are often full...,  but always with a humorous subtext." Whoever wants, let him put his sacred cows out to graze or let someone else put them to the slaughter. Anyhow: "without  revolt there is no poetry, without poetry there is no revolt."

Let a title which has to be of course concrete be the outcome of further development. (“Sacrilege”? “Spitting on Stars”? Etc.)

A. Sacrilege and Desecration of sacrilege

Next resistance as a desire for the impossible. Worthless/worshipped. Surrealist targets. Spitting on stars. (Does a poet hold stars in contempt or is he so close to them?). While men of law are composing poetry the poet is on the beat instead of them "to hit the stars with a truncheon" (Karel Šebek). To get hold of fire under the post-modern cauldron... Between taboo and objective chance. Promethean theft... Autovivisection: iconoclasm of surrealism.

B. Surrealist millennium

The “New Old Testament”. Modern chiliasm: computer end of the world = the predicted disaster of computer systems. Imaginary definitions. Analogy: to the Parisian Surrealist almanac from the middle of the century Surrealist civilisation (the shift and  contemporary reflections). As if beyond vision? One thousand years a vision.

C. Symbols of monstrosity II.
Surrealist found objects, confrontation of the development of civilisation’s monstrosity: "How have the monsters grown up so far". From advertising to motoring, music etc. Base - and fundamental - displays of society. Displays of an objective imbecility. Ready-mades. Language like a monster.

The range is undoubtedly heterogeneous in concept (A + C evaluate and project meaning, B more or less defines itself by genre and at first sight is indifferent in value). At the same time, for instance, the group C can contain "sacrilegious" points, the millennium can be "monstrous" etc. This, in our opinion, can hardly be an obstacle, because the outlined proposal is more or less  preliminary and hopefully also a tentative one. Is it also initiatory?

František Dryje, Bruno Solařík

An old game of Latent News

Breaking news, broken news

A man has been jailed for a year after rolling back the Reformation when his mum went to this meeting. Die, you bitch screamed architect my husband and I run a business blasting out easy listening music. A flying dagger saw some drawings that looked like a bag of sweets. There was a strange circus atmosphere, always excruciating, with the Pied Piper near Borough Market. A delightfully perky Mr Griffin smeared homosexuals with roasted beetroot and raspberry, probably the weirdest and most creepy experience of my life.

(Evening Standard Friday 23 October 2009)

The game works best with a physical newspaper and a few players. Phrases are chosen at random from a news story (or more than one in order to get some interesting dissonance.) The resulting text is the latent content of the news story. It may reveal logical, political or psychological oddities. Using newspapers tends to ensure that the most grotesque hidden underside of public life is revealed. I may post more once I have played some new games.

Monday, 2 September 2019

The second annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Surrealism, Exeter.

You may not be surprised to learn that, over the years, I have been more than a little wary of conferences on surrealism. This has not been the result of simple prejudice against academic events, I am, in any case, an academic among other things (albeit one near the bottom of the academic food chain) but my own experience has led to the conclusion that, while conferences of papers by scholars of surrealism are usually poles apart from surrealism itself, far worse in some cases is both an ignorance of current surrealism and an irrelevance contained in the papers to any meaningful relation to surrealism, current or historical. Sometimes even a strange hostility towards the supposed subject of study can manifest.
I had not given a paper at  a major academic conference for many years. I think the last one was Prague Platform, dedicated to the Czech surrealists, in 2004, although I had done postgrad conferences at my main employer, University of Greenwich, since then, but even so, not for a decade. So my decision to give a paper at the 2nd conference of the ISSS (International Society for the Study of Surrealism) held at University of Exeter 29th August to 1st September, surprised even me. I had no financial support for this, and financed myself, so not a scholarly jolly, I really wanted to get my subject properly on the map with a paper titled "The Accursed Science: Surrealism's Analogical Turn". I was greatly encouraged, initially by the knowledge that Penelope Rosemont would be attending, as she had the previous year at the inaugural conference of the Society, but also, when I approached the conference's organisers, a very enthusiastic reception from Felicity Gee.
In short, I registered for the conference and set to writing the paper. Initially it involved a bit of cutting and pasting from existing drafts and also a bit of help from Google Translate for passages in French (you try translating a discussion of Hegel in French - you try translating an English translation of Hegel into English!) but I laboured at it, cut a page or two, rewrote the translated bits the best I could and arrived at a twentyish minutes of material that had at least some flow and quite a lot of substance.
As I arrived in Exeter I foolishly decided to brave the slight drizzle (what they'd call a 'dinge' in parts of East Anglia) and just when it was too late, it turned into a downpour. I saw a woman coming the opposite way down the hill, equally ill-prepared for the Englsh Summer, and she turned out to be Karla Huebner, who has written on Toyen, who, if she's not my favourite surrealist painter is cerrtainly in my top three. (the exact hierarchy changes according to mood, but Toyen is always there). So we had a good conversation while standing under a tree, waiting for the rain to subside a little.
Cutting to the next day, a happily warmer, drier day and registration, followed by lunch, getting to meet people. It was a very, very large conference. Great to meet many people, some old friends along the way, but new people too, some known by reputation, others really quite new. It was really interesting to see how many of these scholars were women, and often young women, a new generation of scholars was quite evident.
What struck me throughout was, despite the endless bustle of rushing from one paper to another, and many conversations were consequently of extreme brevity, there was a warmth to the whole conference, a sense of community rather than of large egos on parade. People were genuinely interested in each other and happily making new friends while reconnecting with old ones. More remarkable in some ways was the willingness to connect with the actual surrealists, whether, active in academia or not, and without the condescension that I have sometimes noticed. (Oh...a surrealist, how quaint...especially as the movement ended in 19...fill in the blank...) It seems that this was always a part of the programme of the ISSS, both to examine more recent expressions of surrealism (and not merely supposed 'legacies') and to seek to involve actual surrealists in discussions of their history and ideas. The only weird thing about this openness is that it seems to be a radical move!
It's fair to say that many surrealists have treated overtures from the academic community with varying degrees of suspicion, not only because of the sort of attitudes I have mentioned, but for fear of co-opting surrealism to the academy. My own feeling on this has always been that it is better to engage, find allies and collaborators, but simultaneously to emphasise the distance between actual surrealist activity and the study of it, however scholarly, responsible and engaged. I'd say of conferences like this one that this necessary distance is respected, while unnecessary distance can then dissolve.
I don't want to paint the conference as some kind of well-informed surrealist paradise, there were papers that seemed less well informed or less relevant to the central matter, and some that were not delivered effectively, at least one where I may or may not have slept briefly...but a good number that were interesting, well informed and relevant to my own interests - unfortunately many seemed to be running at the same time and I missed many that I'd have loved to have seen. But highlights for me were papers on Czech surrealism by Kristen Watterott, speaking on the samizdat albums of the 80s and David Vichnar who had a lot of interest to say on among other things Skupina RA. I missed Karla Huebner's paper, regretfully, but she was a delightful person to meet and I was also very taken with her purse, which was a whole toad. Why don't I have one of those? My life is incomplete!!!
In no particular order then, some of the encounters with friends old and new included: Karla Huebner, Darren Thomas, Catherine Hansen, Donna Roberts, Vittoria Lion, Silvano Levy, Stephen Harris, Abigail Susik, David Greenslade, David Vichnar, Krzysztof Fijalkowski, Dawn Ades, Kristen Watterott, Laurent Douce, Robert and Aisha Shehu-Ansell. There were others, but that will do for now.
I haven't mentioned Penelope Rosemont there, but I did meet her during the conference, but had too little chance to speak until the last day. Penelope was running a bookstall with Irene Plazewska, on the final day they were joined by Sarah Metcalf and Kenneth Cox of the Leeds Surrealist Group, also running a stall for their publications, including their journal Phosphor. I hadn't seen them in ages and it was an especial joy to meet up and spend some time talking (missing a couple of papers along the way). The chance to just be with fellow-surrealists and catching up and getting to know both Penelope and Irene a little better was valuable, and even better, the poetry reading afterwards. We took turns to read our, or another's poems. The undoubted star of the session for me, and I think for others, was Claire Dean, with her House-book which generated poems, tiny books of perverse recipes and other wonders, very much in the spirit of Leonora Carrington. After that, I had to catch a train, made hasty goodbyes and dashed off.
So, setting aside my warm, fluffy feelings and enthusiasm for the event, was it all worthwhile from a surrealist point of view? Yes, I think it was. I realise all my previous comments point in that direction, but weighing it up, it does give us a forum that can be used for surrealist purposes in good faith, not quite a way out of the echo chamber I wrote of another time, but at least a step in the right direction. It is worth reiterating the necessary distance between actual surrealist activity on its many levels and scholarly debate of the same, but in observing that, we simply maintain good faith on both sides and sometimes find welcome crossings from the two realms.

Image may contain: 9 people, people smiling, indoor

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

"Surrealist time" part 2.

I followed my paper The Gold of Time with another, similarly in an advanced draft stage and in need of rewriting, although I felt, and think I still do feel, happier with the actual writing here. The essential point is that time is only free when we break with the circuit of endless production and consumption, not an entirely original point I know, but I think an important one to make.
In these essays I try to show a surrealist time that is inextricably mixed with space, so, in an experiential and practical, rather than Einsteinian sense, a space-time that is surrealist. But being lodged both in the real and the imaginary, it doesn't exclude the space-time of physics either.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

"Surrealist time" part 1

A recent post by Merl Fluin reminded me of a couple of old essays of mine. Merl posted on her Gorgon In Furs blog here: and what especially struck my attention was this: "Granularity: Nothing in nature is continuous. There is no infinity and no eternity. Everything is granular, and there is always a minimum “grain” size beneath which things cannot shrink. This state of affairs includes gravity, which in turn means that spacetime is not the stretchy, rubbery sheet of continuous stuff familiar from pop science imagery. Instead, spacetime is a network of grains of gravity, all looped together like a kind of mesh or chainmail."
and this:
"Spacetime Origami
Rovelli shatters time’s arrow. Nevertheless, he is careful not to dismiss time as an illusion. He mourns friends he has lost, and he considers his own mortality. He is acutely sensitive to what it means for us humans to be creatures of time, even as he takes time out of the equation (so to speak) of reality."
Merl's point seems not especially about time, but  the nature of reality of which time is a necessary part, and my essays were specifically concerned with the nature of "surrealist time" but it was an interesting juncture. When I wrote the first of these essays The Gold Of Time around 2007 I was fumbling towards a basic concept of time because I was trying to write about the surrealist experience of space and place and sooner or later that means you have to deal with time as well. I decided that, given the apparent surrealist aversion to Bergson, and Bachelard's critique of Bergson in his Dialectic of Duration, I had a starting point. Bachelard proposes that Bergson's notion of 'elan vital' is flawed, because he sees time as a constant flow of durations. Bachelard claims that time is rather composed of 'instants' and the appearance of flow is rather like that of water, which is composed of molecules of water, which in turn, as eny fule no, is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. So, if we can break time down to instants that too can be seen as 'granular' and discontinuous.
From that point we can see the breaks and discontinuities as possibilities of freedom. Anybody iintererested enough can read my essay, which I shall attach as an appendix to this post. It's very imperfect, but it was  a first attempt to think 'surrealist time'. It grasps something of "the gold of time". It is also most certainly aiming at a state of 'profane illumination' in which to experience this time.
The Gold of Time: Surrealism, History and Time

Stuart Inman

On André Breton’s tomb is the inscription “Je cherche l’or du temp” – I seek the gold of time. This phrase dates from early in Breton’s career and reappears at its very end. It seems, therefore, a fitting phrase to open this discussion of the surrealist experience of time. In the course of this paper I want, by way of a lengthy detour, to tackle the question: what, for a surrealist, is the “gold of time”?

My research is fundamentally concerned with the surrealist experience of space and place, the subjective and intersubjective experiences engendered by wandering, drifting, the notion of objective chance, the atmospheres of real places and the evocation of imaginary geographies. I hope that it will be clear to you that such a discussion is incomplete without taking account of time, All experience, of place or anything else, can only be experienced in time, it has some kind of duration, it extends through time and it belongs, in another sense, to a time, an epoch or period.. Space without time is static, time is the movement of space and we can not move in space without time. On the other hand, time without space would be a static duration. While we are not really discussing, except for very brief references, the Einsteinian view of space and time, we cannot avoid the notion of space/time, there is no point at which they do not go together.

Don’t read...Bergson

A fairly early surrealist text consisted of two lists, “read” and “don’t read”. In the former we find Heraclitus, Hegel etc. Among the latter is included Henri Bergson. Given that this paper is concerned with some of the same issues as Bergson it is important to understand why he should be rejected by the surrealists. An obvious reason is that he was a symbol of the establishment to a very anti-establishment group, Bergson was probably the foremost academic philosopher of France in the first part of the twentieth century, consequently his actual status, regardless of the content of his philosophy, would be challenged by the surrealists, but it is the content of Bergsonism that must be examined to understand real objections and the surrealists never bothered with such an effort, he was dismissed in a phrase. In order come to an understanding of what is really at stake here I am going to refer to the work of a philosopher who does indeed have sympathies with surrealism as well as parallels in his later thought, and that is Gaston Bachelard.

Bachelard’s critique of Bergsonism is contained in two books, only one of which is available in English and it is this work I wish to refer to, “The Dialectic of Duration”[1] Bachelard presents Bergson’s philosophy as
 “...a philosophy of fullness and his psychology is a psychology of plenitude. This psychology is so rich, so multifarious and mobile that it cannot be contradicted; it makes repose active and functions permanent; it can always draw on so many things that the psychological scene will never be empty and success also will be ensured. In these conditions, life cannot go in fear of some total failure.”[2]
He seems to present Bergsonian philosophy as an idealism:
“Thus, the soul is seen to be a thing behind the flux of its phenomena; it is not really contemporary with its own fluidity. And the Bergsonism that has been accused of a predilection for mobility has not set itself within duration’s very fluidity. It has maintained the solidarity of past and future and also the viscosity of duration, with the result that the past remains the substance of the present or to put it another way, that the present instant is never anything other than the phenomenon of the past.”[3]
If he is correct, then the present moment, the now, is robbed of its own fullness, it must have a secondary nature to that of the past and yet that past, being, as it were, a previous present, must also be similarly diminished except it be seen as an origin, but within a philosophy of endless flow, where can one inscribe a beginning? Bergson’s philosophy would seem to be riddled with contradictions that remain unresolved because they remain unacknowledged.

While Bachelard is giving an anti-Bergsonian view of time, it isn’t merely, shall we say, un-Bergsonian, it is rather that he accepts much of Bergson’s thinking on duration, but disagrees with his central thesis:
“...let us ay straightaway that of Bergsonism we accept everything but continuity. Indeed, to be even more precise, let us say that from our point of view also continuity – or continuities – can be presented as characteristics of the psyche, characteristics that cannot be regarded as complete, solid, or constant. They have to be constructed. They have to be maintained. Consequently, we do not in the end see the continuity of duration as an immediate datum but as a problem. We wish therefore to develop a discontinuous Bergsonism, showing the need to arithmetise Bergsonian duration so as to give it more fluidity, more numbers, and also more accuracy in the correspondence the phenomena of thought exhibit between themselves and the quantum characteristics of reality.”[4]

In a paper of this kind it isn’t possible to go into much detail as to how Bachelard develops his critique of Bergson. It must be sufficient to understand that Bachelard can propose an idea of discontinuous time in which duration is composed of instants, that such a notion is true in both the scientific view of time, that of physics as well as the psychological view in which our subjective and intersubjective experiences of time are also discontinuous, showing gaps, rhythms and lacunae.

I have made reference to Bachelard for several reasons. The first is, as I have said, he shows it is possible to understand time as something discontinuous on many levels, secondly, he uses the notion of dialectics in order to show both the contradictions in Bergson’s thought and the discontinuous nature of time. This is not, I would say, the all-embracing Dialectic, with a very capital “D” of a possibly misunderstood Hegelianism, but something like dialectics in a minor key, a series of dialectics that are particular to the problem. It is also of interest that he suggests that “Surrealist poetry would give good examples of this temporal dialectic, this purely psychic rhythm.” I have to say that he seems to reveal a very limited understanding of what surrealism is, but this comment of his does seem to indicate the growth of his sympathy with surrealist thought as he moves slowly towards his later concept of Surrationalism.

Breaking the Wheel of Time: Agamben’s Discontinuous History

According to Giorgio Agamben, a contemporary Italian philosopher:
“Every conception of history is invariably accompanied by a certain experience of time which is implicit in it, conditions it, and therefore has to be elucidated. Similarly, every culture is first and foremost a particular experience of time, and no new culture is possible without an alteration in this experience. The original task of a genuine revolution is never merely to ‘change the world’, but also – and above all – to ‘change time’. Modern political thought has concentrated its attention on history, and has not elaborated a corresponding concept of time. Even historical materialism has until now neglected to elaborate a concept of time that compares with its concept of history. Because of this omission it has been unwittingly compelled to have recourse to a concept of time dominant in Western culture for centuries, and so to harbour, side by side, a revolutionary concept of history and a traditional experience of time. The vulgar representation of time as a precise and homogeneous continuum has thus diluted the Marxist concept of history: it has become the hidden breach through which ideology has crept into the citadel of historical materialism. Benjamin had already warned of this danger in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. We now need to elucidate the concept of time implicit in the Marxist conception of history.”[5]

Agamben shows how, for instance, the ancient Greek idea of time was circular, thus Aristotle could say “Do those who lived at the time of the Trojan War come before us, and before them those who lived in an even more ancient time…if it is true, on the other hand, that the things that are closest to the beginning come before, what then prevents us from being closer to the beginning than those who lived at the time of the Trojan War?...if the sequence of events forms a circle, since the circle has indeed neither beginning nor end, we cannot, by being closer to the beginning, come before them any more than they can be said to come before us.”[6]

The Christian concept of time, on the other hand, is linear and runs from Genesis to Revelations and it is this notion of time that Agamben challenges in his critique of the Marxist idea of time. He proposes instead a broken or discontinuous model in which revolution can erupt as a moment rather than all time and history being geared to the revolution as an end-state. The rectilinear model of time dominates not only the Marxist concept of history, but the Hegelian which went before it and the idea of the end of history, after which nothing new can ever happen, is not without problems.

Agamben says: “Whether it is conceived as linear or circular, in Western thought time invariably has the point as its dominating feature. Lived time is represented through a metaphysical-geometric concept (the discrete point or instant) and it is then taken as if this concept were itself the real time of experience.  Vico’s words on the geometric point could also be applied to the instant as a ‘point’ in time. This is the opening through which the eternity of metaphysics insinuates itself into the human experience of time, and irreparably splits it. Any attempt to conceive of time differently must inevitably come into conflict with this concept, and a critique of the instant is the logical condition for a new experience of time.”[7]

He finds that “The elements for a different concept of time lie scattered among the folds and shadows of the Western cultural tradition…It is in Gnosticism, that failed religion of the West, that there appears an experience of time in radical opposition to both the Greek and the Christian versions. In opposition to the Greek circle of experience and the straight line of Christianity, it posits a concept whose spatial model can be represented by a broken line. In this way it strikes directly at what remains unaltered in classical Antiquity and Christianity alike: duration, precise and continuous time.”[8]

This “time of Gnosticism” is: “…an incoherent and unhomogeneous time, whose truth is in the moment of abrupt interruption, when man, in a sudden act of consciousness, takes possession of his own condition of being resurrected…in keeping with this experience of interrupted time, the Gnostic attitude is resolutely revolutionary: it refuses the past while valuing in it, through an exemplary sense of the present, precisely what was condemned as negative (Cain, Esau, the inhabitants of Sodom), and expecting nothing from the future.”[9]

From this point Agamben finds it is “…certainly no accident that every time modern thought has come to reconceptualise time, it has inevitably had to begin with a critique of continuous, quantified time. Such a critique underlies both Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ and Heidegger’s incomplete analysis of temporality in Being and Time.” [10] he points out how, with Benjamin, “Against the empty, quantified instant, he sets a ‘time of now’, Jetzt-Zeit, construed as a messianic cessation of happening, which ‘comprises the entire history of mankind in an enormous abridgement.’’[11]

Benjamin’s critique seems especially relevant in section XIV of the Theses – ‘Origin is the Goal’.
“History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now [Jetztzeit]. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate.”[12]

Thus, the French Revolution is not merely a re-enactment of the Roman Republic, but is it reborn in a new form, thus breaking through the single rectilinear line of history and inscribing itself on the now. Perhaps, though, the subsequent Napoleonic Empire was precisely a re-enactment of the Roman Empire?  No doubt Benjamin was thinking also of the Russian Revolution as having the same relationship to the French revolution as it had done to the Roman Republic.

Once time has been conceived in these terms, as something other than continuous, rectilinear and homogeneous, it becomes possible to start to think more concretely as to what the gold of time might be. Agamben finishes his essay by suggesting that there is “an immediate and available experience on which a new concept of time could be founded”[13] and this experience is pleasure. The “…true site of pleasure, as man’s primary dimension, is neither precise, continuous time nor eternity, but history.”[14]  “Just as the full, discontinuous, finite and complete time of pleasure must be set against the empty, continuous and infinite time of vulgar historicism, so the chronological time of pseudo-history must be opposed by the cairological time of authentic history.”[15]

L’Age D’Or: Surrealist revolutionary play against utilitarian time

Agamben’s conclusion is that “True historical materialism does not pursue an empty mirage of continuous progress along infinite linear time, but is ready at any moment to stop time, because it holds the memory that man’s original home is pleasure.”[16] It is here that his thinking seems especially relevant to the surrealist conceptualization of play.

The time of play opposes utilitarian time. In the world of work all time is turned towards usefulness and productivity, even leisure is bent towards becoming part of a single and homogeneous duration as leisure is commodified and as such has to be serviced. Leisure becomes mediated by the market and is consequently another industry of production. Play ceases to be play and pleasure and play become other forms of work. A professional footballer does not play football, it is his job. To use a term coined by the Situationists play is recuperated into the totality that is the world of work.

Real play, in order to subvert this situation, needs to renounce usefulness. As Roger Caillois, an ex-surrealist, puts it, play is defined in part by being unproductive: creating neither goods nor wealth[17]. In his book “Man, Play and Games” Caillois theorizes on the nature of play, partly as a critique of Huizinga’s “Homo Ludens”. Both authors agree that play has its own time and is, in the ordinary sense, unproductive. Caillois develops four categories of games.

Agôn: competitive games
Alea: games of chance
Mimicry: games of imitation, illusion and make-believe[18]
Ilinx: games of vertigo.

In surrealism the competitive game is almost unknown and games of chance and vertigo predominate. For instance, in one of the earliest and best known surrealist games, Cadavre exquis, a game based on Consequences, each player draws or writes in ignorance of their fellow players contributions. Fragments of images or phrases make chance associations that defeat intentionality.

In games of place and wandering one might take chance or random directions, so, for instance, Marcel Mariën travelled around London using a Paris street map. In one game played by some colleagues and friends, we had a set of directions such as turn left, take the second right and so on, each player taking the same walk in a different place. Such abandonment of purpose and surrender to the dictates of chance is precisely in the hope of prompting the experience of vertigo, the promotion of objective chance in which uncanny, but meaningful coincidences can happen.

The ur-texts of this exemplary wandering are André Breton’s ‘Nadja’ and Louis Aragon’s ‘Paris Peasant’. In the former, Breton describes a series of uncanny encounters culminating in his meeting with the eponymous Nadja, a strange woman who seems possessed of prophetic powers but who succumbs to madness. Aragon’s text takes a minutely detailed tour of the Passage de l’Opera in which the realism of the description breaks down under the sheer weight of that detail.

On reading these texts it can be said that not all surrealist play is pleasurable, sometimes it seems to enter a strange realm of anxiety, even fear, more rarely of actual danger. But this is the price paid for the desired vertigo, the experience of convulsive beauty. Surrealist wandering is essentially an exploration of the commonplace in order to render it unfamiliar, terra incognita.

In this break with utilitarian time we can experience time as something other than capitalist, consumerist duration. Conceived as a break in the continuum, surrealist play allows Utopia to emerge, not as somebody’s projected perfect society – and it is always somebody else’s perfect society – but as a moment, a tiny fragment of a different order of time in which play and pleasure form their own duration.

While this can not be a self-sufficient revolutionary theory, it is the necessary corollary to revolution. For as long as workers remain only workers they remain within the realm of utilitarian time, they serve the duration of work. By creating a gap, a space in the utilitarian order one discovers the means of demolishing the misery of work. Thus conceived, the useless becomes the most useful thing of all. As Agamben puts it:

“But a revolution from which there springs not a new chronology, but a qualitative alteration of time (a cairology), would have the weightiest consequence and would alone be immune to absorption into the reflux of restoration. He who, in the epochē of pleasure, has remembered history as he would remember his original home, will bring this memory to everything, will exact this promise from each instant: he is the true revolutionary and the true seer, released from time not at the millennium, but now.”[19]

[1] Bachelard, Gaston: The Dialectic of Duration. Translated and annotated by Mary McAllester Jones, Clinamen Press, Manchester. 2000.
[2] Ibid. p.23.
[3] Ibid. p. 24.
[4] Ibid. pp. 28-9.
[5] Agamben, Giorgio: Time and History: critique of the instant and the continuum. In: Infancy and History, Essays on the Destruction of Experience. Translated by Liz Heron. Verso, London. 1993.
[6] Ibid. pp. 92-3.
[7] Ibid. p. 100.
[8] Ibid. pp.100-101.
[9] p. 101.
[10] Ibid.  p.102.
[11] Ibid. p.102.
[12] Benjamin, Walter: Theses on the Philosophy of History In: Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. Fontana Press, London. 1992.
[13] Op. cit. p. 104.
[14] Ibid. p.104.
[15] Ibid. p. 104-5.
[16] Ibid. p.105.
[17] Caillois, Roger: Man, play and games. Translated by Meyer Barash. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago. 2001. p.10.
[18] He uses the English word ‘mimicry’ rather than mimesis
[19] Op.cit. p.105.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019


If anybody says that the appointment of Boorish Piffle Johnson as pry mincer is 'surreal' - they are dead!

Friday, 19 July 2019

Babel Grafitti

Babel Grafitti:
Here's a link to my Flickr page, one of the latest additions there. It's a recurring theme, the destruction of sense in signs, posters, grafitti, I'm not sure if it was a self-conscious mark-making or something near accidental.

The point is not merely that these events are reduced to nonsense, but that another meaning, more elusive and allusive, and more poetic, can arise from the decay of logical communication.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019


Whatever/New World of Love (From REMORA)

On the night of Wednesday 10th-11th March 2010 I had a dream in which I saw the following poem. The poem was in a glass case in the corridor of a museum and was attributed to Gherasim Luca and dated 15th May 1945. It was next to a boxed object showing what looked like a series of semi-precious stones and abstract enamels titled "New World of Love" (the title of a work by Toyen I seem to remember, in turn derived from Fourier?)

I'll say yes to whatever
Because you are what you are
And it is
It is

Having woken and written all this down I felt compelled to also write the following:
New World of Love

All the wolves' throats are flowers
And the flowers are birds
And the birds are gems
Set in a case in a corridor
Perpetually at the point of being lost forever





In order to retain it's integrity, Surrealism has set itself apart from the mainstream in various ways. Famously, Breton called for the 'occultation' of surrealism - occult' literally means to hide or conceal. In the 60s the surrealists announced the 'absolute departure' of the movement, the separation from the mainstream and from the avant-garde. This has worked in as much as one can, if reasonably alert, easily see the difference between actual surrealism, or at least an earnest attempt at it, and the imitation, the vacant, shallow, fake 'surreal'. The problem is that by being apart and hidden, Surrealism loses its public voice to denounce these flaccid impersonations.
The internet is littered with blogs like this one, group websites, Facebook groups, there's small magazines, there's journals, including the impressive Hydrolith a very few years ago, and the last issue of Brume Blondes. Sometimes there are tracts that quite properly denounce the state of the world, one does see some attempt to engage with that world, but does the world engage with surrealism? Sadly, the answer is, for the most part, no, it does not.
The voices of surrealism are too often only heard by other surrealists, we have entered an echo chamber in which we hear our own voices again and again, bouncing back the ideas and opinions of surrealism to those who know them very well and rarely are they heard in any more public debate. Who reads surrealist magazines? Other surrealists. Of course, this curious isolation of current surrealism is not total, but it is considerable, and, it seems to me, increasing.
I do not have an answer to the problem. Abandonment of surrealism's separation from political parties and from the artistic and literary scenes would come at  a considerable cost, most especially to that integrity I spoke of.  Retaining a separation that starves surrealism of connection to the outer world leaves that integrity meaningless if surrealism quietly vanishes. We need something else, but what?
Surrealism needs to somehow both engage and set itself apart at the same time, in being hidden do so in plain sight. It needs to be able to engage with the world and then withdraw, if we do not engage, we shall become truly obsolete. At the same time we need that ability to disengage and plunge back into the inner world, for if we do not do that our obsolescence becomes absolute.
Think of this as a non-dogmatic probing into how we might position ourselves today, feel free to comment. Maybe your comments will lead to a greatly edited version, I don't know.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019


Vagabonds of the Margins Part 1.

As we move across these great cities, people, mere people, are minimised and marginalised in relation to colossal buildings, huge roads, all built to an inhuman scale. We scamper along designated paths, alienated from everything to this side or that, alienated, very often, from each other. Those buildings may serve capitalism or the spectacle, but they do not serve people, or not many of them at any rate, we are kept at bay, or charged admission to them. The roads too, so many of them are designed to allow goods to travel, the arteries of commerce, not of communication. We live in a strange alienated world that regards us as an inconvenience, or worse, when we are not at our task of consuming whenever we are not producing.
So when I speak of "the space that remains" I mean precisely those margins, waste lands, the atopoi, the nowhere that is everywhere, scarcely noticed, the blind spots of capitalism, fugitive, fragile environments offering scant shelter, but nevertheless, it is shelter. These spaces are literal and actual, but are sometimes also figurative, safe spaces of the mind where we can dream and awaken rather than live the trance of the driven life within the bloated spectacle.
I forget which surrealist named his fellow surrealists 'vagabonds of the margins', I like that label a bit too much, it has something of romantic projection, but it does fit. Surrealism was always somewhat marginal, but with the increasing success of some surrealist artists and the development of 'surrealist studies' the surrealists have become increasingly marginal to the image of surrealism and that image increasingly divorced from actual surrealism.
Driven to the margins, we must inhabit those margins more fully, make them ours. Fugitive spaces, engulfed by Capital, only to re-emerge elsewhere. They always do appear again, as the utilitarian world endlessly tends towards it's own ruin. These are spaces where poetry is unshackled from the chains of usefulness, zones of freedom.

THE SPACE THAT REMAINS - my blog reborn

Or so I hope. I have been trying to find a good angle for renewing my old and mostly neglected blog and decided that I would make it more specifically and overtly surrealist. Anybody who knows me and anybody who has followed my posts on Facebook, among other places, will know I have been involved in surrealism for many years. My blog was a sort of bridge between my various interests, but some of the difficulties I had been through led me to stop writing much for a long time. I now feel a stronger itch towards both creative and polemical writing and I think that surrealism offers, not answers or solutions, but certainly perspectives upon the world that are of value to more than myself and few others.
The new title of the blog "The Space That Remains" is adapted from the title of a book by Giorgio Agamben "The Time That Remains" and is intended to reflect how space is dominated by - power, the spectacle, capitalism - and people are too often marginalised. But surrealists have embraced a marginal status, later I may remember who called the surrealists 'vagabonds of the margins' and the surrealist movement has become increasingly marginalised even as more of its image is recuperated. I hope to have more to say about this soon, but I want to write a great deal about both time and space alongside questions of poetry and revolution and, well, quite a few other things that occupy my mind most passionally.
Stuart Inman