Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Beyond Writing

Notes from the Neo-Underground

I realised that insouciance is the one thing that can provide inspiration for our lives and yet have no argument to offer in its own defence – Francoise Sagan

Anti-Gravitas
Gravitas is always the problem, never the solution. ‘… the principle result of existential psychoanalysis must be to make us repudiate the spirit of seriousness.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre
Automatism
‘An ‘automatic’ scribble of twisting and interlacing lines permits the germ of idea in the subconscious mind to express, or at least suggest itself to the consciousness.’ – Spare & Carter. It was this principle that Leonardo advocated in his use of that semi-legendary ‘old wall covered with dirt’ or the odd appearance of certain streaked stones, and which Max Ernst later incorporated into his decalcomania idea of ‘inspiration to order’.
British Values
It is a paradox that Britain has engendered many precursors of Surrealism, from Cyril Tourneur to Lewis Carroll (by way of Swift, Blake, Coleridge, The Bronte Sisters, the Gothic novel and the 'mirth and marvels' of the Ingoldsby Legends) and yet very few self-defined Surrealists in the contemporary sense. Despite a dimension of subversive fantasy, a ‘tendency to irrationality’ in English art and literature, and in popular culture generally (Fred Karno's Army, The Whitehall Follies, Round The Horne, Carry On films, Union Jack knickers, farcical sex scandals) it is clearly the case that movements such as Surrealism remain ‘foreign’, indeed maladjusted, when transposed to the British context. ‘You know, it's just not cricket', as they say in the 'modern rustic' kitchens of Middle England.
Convulsion
Please try to forget, if you can, those heretical convulsionnaires, dismissed by Diderot as ‘a sect of fools’, defined by experts of the day as an unfortunate by-product of dysfunctional gynecology or of the 'moral inferiority' of women. A line of argument continued in 1853 by Matthew Arnold when he described Charlotte Bronte's Villette as 'hideous, undelightful, convulsed'. More profitably, consider Baudelaire's view when he said inspiration ‘has something in common with a convulsion’ and noted further that all sublime thought is ‘accompanied by a more or less violent nervous shock which has its repercussions at the very core of the brain.’ The constitutive qualities of ‘convulsion’ may be detected in the oneiric aura of Paquita Valdes, as described by Balzac in La Fille aux Yeux d’Or (1835). He wrote: ‘there was something sombre, mysterious, sweet, tender, constrained and expansive, an intermingling of the awful and the celestial, of paradise and hell…’ Again can there be a more convulsive moment than those lines written in 1845 by the 'titanic' Emily Bronte at the age of 27? 'Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire/ And visions rise and change, that kill me with desire.' Further, consider this landscape from Flaubert's Salammbo: 'An immense mass of shadow lay spread out before them, containing vague crests that looked like the gigantic waves of a petrified black ocean.'  A more recent example, ladies and gentlemen, may be the uptempo classy yet anarchic 1960 mambo-cha interpretation of Artie Shaw's popular wartime hit Frenesi by the Edmundo Ros Orchestra with vocals by Caterina Valente; perhaps the ideal soundtrack of convulsive beauty on account of a predominant sense of ‘apparent gratuitousness’ (Breton). It was Garcia Lorca who reminded us that it is not a matter of theatrical intonation, dynamic vocal flourishes, skill or virtuosity (without question in this case), 'but of a style that's truly alive.' Just like a little girl the poet saw in Puerto de Santa Maria singing and dancing a 'corny Italian song... with such rhythms. silences and intention...' that 'she turned the Neopolitan gewgaw into something new and totally unprecedented...' She has duende! Convulsive Beauty is paradise deranged.  
Culture
Culture is tyranny.
Cultural Seismology
Beneath the outer ideological layer lies a subsurface region called the ‘mantle’ or cultural interior: a complex yet unstable force field of primal values imposed through structural violence. This structural violence is the immediate cause of surface instability leading to shifts and displacements of the cultural landscape.
Cyber-Junk Style (Cyber-trash)
Subtopian Materialism meets classic B-Movie Sci-Fi in cyberspace littered with cosmic debris. Like techno-eschatology. Well, sort of.
Doubt
Doubt is freedom.
Exi Style
Black, always black. Like Niccolo Paganini, the original Man in Black.
Faith
Faith is slavery.
Fear of the Dark
A Modernist tendency to reject subjectivist forms and movements such as Confessional Poetry, the workings of the Lyric Ego and Romantic Individualism more generally.  Fear of the Dark is a phobic fear of apparent introversion sometimes disguised as a moral argument, of ascetic origin, against ‘self indulgence’, 'egotism' the 'worship of false gods' or ‘ivory tower’ aestheticism. Fear of the Dark is a fear of the psychic depths, fear of the uncanny, fear of the Shadow and the shadow world, fear of the dark-side, Critics who suffer from Fear of the Dark tend to privilege the Apollonian over the Dionysian, the abstract over the figurative and the Classic over the Romantic. At the same time they promote high-brow ideas of elevated taste, great traditions and cultural superiority. This fear can be projected onto the products of consumer society, mass entertainment and mass production, often treated with disdain, derided as Kitsch or denigrated as decadence or even idolatry. Radical nonconformists may well feel they are on an iconoclastic mission to cleanse the world of distracting images and the seductive products of the imagination. However, as Jung says, the Shadow 'cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness'. Furthermore, this fear can be transformed into hatred because it reminds us of our 'helplessness and ineffectuality' in the face of the unknown and the indifference of Nature, an existential theme portrayed by Byron in his poem 'Darkness' (1817). Hence the zealotry of puritans, driven by the 'horror of great darkness' that afflicted Abraham, the prototypical 'God Fearing Man', in Genesis 12 - Fear of the Dark inflated by apocalyptic amplification.
Forbidden Territory
‘…let us not lose sight of the fact that the idea of Surrealism aims quite simply at the total recovery of our psychic force by a means which is nothing other than the dizzying descent into ourselves, the systematic illumination of hidden places and the progressive darkening of other places, the perpetual excursion into the midst of forbidden territory…’ – Second Manifesto of Surrealism.
Freedom
'The mere word 'freedom' is the only one that still excites me' - Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924. But what is freedom? Freedom is the absence of tyranny. Simple.
Hyper-Culture
After the ‘modern breakthrough’ of the period between 1850 and 1870 the idea of Modernity denoted a permanent transfiguration of the human condition. Yet, in retrospect it seems that this ‘modern’ culture was but a short transition phase between the speedy evaporation of traditional culture and the emergence of another globalised cultural formation. The looming ontological hyper-real collapse of the distinction between ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’ has given rise to a new trans-national culture – hyper-culture. By the end of the last century the US had been defined as a hyper-power with full spectrum dominance, while the features of mass hyper-culture (emerging in the 1960s and 1970s) were becoming increasingly apparent: on the street the difference between fashionable and unfashionable was becoming more and more difficult to distinguish; ‘authenticity’ was becoming an obsolete concept; gender differences were getting hazy; so-called  post-modernism became an obsessive academic fad with multiple meanings both progressive and reactionary at the same time; Dada opposition to the ‘official’ avant garde became an all-pervasive trend; the elements of technoculture (post-biological-cyborg-biotech-virtuality-cyberdelia-fractal transmutationism) started to mutate with increasing speed of pace in a post-Future Shock landscape where Communist graphics fused with Space Invaders and gave birth to a new divinity: a super secular, Art Deco-gone-Pop-Flapper-Girl-Dolly-Bird waving a Sistine Chapel umbrella. 
Inner Space
We might note various use of the term ‘inner space’, ranging from the theology of the soul (Augustine) to the assertion (by Rorty) that the mind as ‘inner space’ is a misleading invention of Descartes. Novalis famously said in his Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia that ‘Time is inner space – Space is external time’, while Hegel claimed that ‘inner space and inner time’ comprise the psychic environment of poetry. It has been observed that the protagonists in the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe inhabit a godless anti-world which is an internalisation of the physical space of the entire American Continent, a space where the borderline between sanity and madness is a new frontier. In 1914, in a letter to Lou Andreas Salome, the poet Rilke claimed that the flight of a bird ‘turns the whole world into inner space’, an experience transmuted into a poem known as the Weltinnenraum Poem. Heidegger said that inner space is ‘the interior of uncustomary consciousness…beyond the arithmetic of calculation…’. In popular culture the term was first introduced at Worldcon 6 in July 1948 by Robert Bloch who said that in Science Fiction the ‘exploration of outer space must eventually give way to an exploration of inner space’, a challenge reiterated by J B Priestly in 1953 and J G Ballard in 1962. Talking about the future of the novel William Burroughs defined himself as a ‘cosmonaut of inner space’, attributing the phrase to Alexander Trocchi.  
The Jet Age
An uncanny era when Comets mysteriously fell from the sky and the Jet Set flew Pan Am between NYC and Paris to a bossa nova soundtrack. The age of Populuxe Jet Age Moderne architecture, retro-futurism, supersonic research and Chuck Yaeger broke the sound barrier flying the Bel X-1 named Glamorous Glennis. 
The Kaleidoscope Principle
‘One instant leads me numbly to the next and the athematic theme unfurls without a plan but geometric like the successive shapes in a kaleidoscope.’ – Clarice Lispector
Neo-Underground
The Fourth Wave is sometimes termed the ‘Neo-underground’ – Where it’s at.
Non-conformism
For Surrealists non-conformism is total. Most ‘radicals’, however, are non-conformists in a very parochial sense: they are immersed in the protest culture and feel engaged in a high-minded struggle against ‘the establishment’. Our English dissenters like to think they are ‘more radical than the radicals’ even though in actuality they are merely acting-out a pre-determined role; a particularly entrenched mode of the spirit of seriousness, tolerated as a ‘safety valve’ by the very establishment they claim to oppose. The anti-establishmentarian Malcontent stance is usually an affectation of privileged, if disaffected, middle class youth: 'poor little rich kids' with low self-esteem, offspring of The Golden Age of Capitalism. These are the Radical Chic conformist non-conformists, the illiberal liberals, the belligerent pacifists, the authoritarian libertarians, the full time oppositionists, the anti-racist racists, the anti-elitist elitists, the Banbury Saints, the neo-phobic New Age counter-culturalists, the dystopian-utopian anarchists, the unfunny alternative comedians, the repressive multi-culturalists, the anti-feminine feminists (pro-natalist, anti-sexist puritans), the conspiratorial conspiracy theorists, Angry Young Men, refuseniks, iconoclasts (campaigners against 'graven images' and idolatry), dissenters, Levellers, Ranters, Diggers, subversives, hyper-active activists, right-thinking bien pensants and dissidents of all tribes, classes and types - they all aspire to sainthood in conformance with traditional, reactionary, ascetic ideals of goodness and 'virtue' or the received wisdom of heretics. As a character in Look Back in Anger said of that prototype political post-war era antihero Jimmy Porter: 'He doesn't know where he is, or where he's going. He'll never do anything, and he'll never amount to anything.' Sometimes the nonconformist can 'make a difference', but, more often than not, the 'difference' is an outcome of the law of unintended consequences.
Objective Chance
‘…in which natural necessity makes its way through the unconscious to coincide with the human necessity of desire’ – Gerard Legrand (in Ades et al). Objective chance is an occupational hazard.
Open Realism
Open Realism (realisme ouvert – Andre Breton) draws a line in the sand and, as they say these days, it ‘moves on’. From Kitchen Sink and Swinging Bonkbusters to Hammer Horror… nothing is sacred.
The Outland Country
‘He found himself, as he had hoped, afar and forlorn; he had strayed into outland and occult territory.’ – Arthur Machen. The Hill of Dreams, 1907
Paraxis
‘The paraxial area could be taken to represent the spectral region of the fantastic, whose imaginary world is neither entirely ‘real’…nor entirely ‘unreal’…but is located somewhere indeterminately between the two.’ – Rosemary Jackson.
Postsurrealism
The idea of a 'typical post-Surrealist viewpoint' is mentioned by Lucy R Lippard in her discussion of the art of Valerio Adami, a body of work, focused on the principle of metamorphosis, that also draws upon the world of advertising. To quote Adami himself: advertising is 'a language that assails you wherever you go'. He said his aim was to realise a condition where 'time and space spread out into a new psychic action'. Writing about the later films of Luis Bunuel a filmmaker whose aesthetic was rooted in the classic or ‘heroic’ interwar era of Surrealist provocation, Michael Wood observes a certain character pertaining to Bunuel’s work of his later period (1967-1977) or to the social context depicted therein. He notes that this mode of modernity appears ‘thoroughly pleased with itself’ and capable of the ‘firmest suppression’ of any indications of trouble. Crucially, he says ‘This is a world beyond satire, and the old disruptions of Surrealism are not going to make any mark on it, because ordinary life, in this place, is already as arbitrary and erratic as anything a Surrealist could dream up.’ Are there fundamental problems with Surrealism? Taking into account Sartre's critique of a 'curious enterprise of achieving nothingness through an excess of being' one might also add that there are significant issues with Hegel, political idealism, music, homophobia, infantile regression, anti-consumerism, Postcolonialism and The Turn To The East which might situate Surrealism as a precursor to what is now known as the pseudo-radical Reactionary Left. From our present vantage point we should be able to formulate a 'post-surreal' perspective, countering, or, neutralizing such vexatious and problematic questions.
The Post-War Waves
The First Wave was The Angries, the Second Wave was The Satire Boom, and the Third Wave was The Underground. And after the Underground? The Fourth Wave.
The Psychonaut Paradigm
Research paradigm derived from the concept of the Psychoanauts (Psychonauten) first discussed by Ernst Junger in his collection of essays Annaherungen: Drogen und Rausch (1970). The term has subsequently been popularised in the occult world by Peter J Carroll in his book Liber Null and Psychonaut : An Introduction to Chaos Magic (1982). Immersive exploration of inner space and/or ‘altered states’ is, obviously, the foundational aesthetic experience; to quote Burroughs, ‘altered consciousness, of course, is a writer’s stock in trade. If my consciousness was just completely conventional, no one would be interested enough to read it, right?’      
Radar
Poetry is radar.
Subtopia
To the critical observer it was an anonymous tract of anomic space lacking in distinctive character or ‘spirit of place'; an interstitial ‘middle state neither town nor country’. In hindsight it seems that this ‘Subtopia’ ('inferior place') was an incitement for the imagination; although it might also have been that the bizarre strangeness was not a subjective projection but a discovery – Subtopia is bizarre in itself.
Subtopian Materialism
A debased form of anti-didactic English Pop associated with the ‘cultural desert’ of the urban fringe. A by-product of the post-war economic boom (The Golden Age of Capitalism) Subtopian Materialism finds inspiration in boring or brutalist architecture, electricity substations, deserted allotments, mass consumerism, retro-futurism, all forms of popular entertainment, and the indeterminate, sub-surreal no-place of featureless suburbia - a locale or terrain vague where ‘nothing really happens’. Like The Room described by Cocteau in Les Enfants Terribles, works of Subtopian Materialism
are 'devoid of intellectual content, devoid... of any worldly aim...' reflecting the commercialised, mass-consumerist aestheticism of the mid-twentieth century.
The Space Age
The atomic space age, the age of The Nuclear Dream and technocratic fantasy dressed by Courreges and Cardin.
‘Sometimes I have a feeling I’m an astronaut shot out into space.’ – Federico Fellini.
Tabloid Impressionism
(1) A Neo-Nonsense, absurdist anti-didactic trash aesthetic; a form of post-surreal Urban Alchemy. The principle of Objective Chance applied to the mass media, particularly in its most disreputable aspects where the Spirit of Seriousness is much diminished, or, with luck, completely absent: downmarket advertising, the tabloid press, junk mail, celebrity culture and scandals, tacky TV, mass production movies, porn mags, burlesque fashion and so forth. As Durgnat said, discussing ‘Mute Poetry in the Commercial Cinema’: ‘…academics often ignore or deprecate the popular mythology from which the mass media so often derive their intimacy of resonance with their audience.’
(2) A slangy literary style. A form of verbal slumming or nostalgie de la boue often incorporating found phrases and wacky neologisms from the mass media.
Veronica Lurk
Bonjour Maitresse!

Bibliography
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Balzac, Honore de, The Girl with the Golden Eyes, Sphere Books, 1970
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Burroughs, William S, Word Virus, Flamingo, 1999
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Miller, Lucasta. The Bronte Myth. Vintage, 2002
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Wood, Michael, Belle de Jour, BFI, 2005

illus: Beyond Writing, 1975