Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Our Sacred Monsters or Why The English Hate Surrealism

the standards of virtue now prevalent are incompatible with the production of good poetry

 – Bertrand Russell

Britain has spawned several sacred monsters: acknowledged precursors of Surrealism – from the mysterious, disputed author of The Revenger’s Tragedy to the dream-works of Lewis Carroll (by way of Swift, Sterne, Blake, Coleridge, the Gothic novel, Emily Bronte, and the 'mirth and marvels' of Tom Ingoldsby) – but – paradoxically, Britain has engendered very few self-defined Surrealists, in the contemporary sense.

Notwithstanding an indigenous ‘tendency to irrationality’ and a trend of anarchic fantasy in English art, literature and popular culture (Lottie ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay!’ Collins,  Fred Karno's Army, The Crazy Gang, The Whitehall Follies, Take it From Here, The Goons, Carry On films, St Trinian’s, Screaming Lord Sutch, Basil Brush, Gurney Slade, farcical sex scandals, Union Jack knickers, Madam Cyn) it is clearly the case that, if transposed to these shores, a movement such as Surrealism is quickly regarded as ‘foreign’ or out-of-place.

‘You know, it's just not cricket', says your true-born Englishman in his 'modern rustic' kitchen, his chintzy drawing room or eco-friendly conservatory somewhere in Middle England.

Victorian critics regarded artists or poets who found inspiration in Continental trends – like Swinburne, Wilde, Whistler or Beardsley, for example – as very dubious influences indeed: ‘cuckoos in the nest’ or, even, a dire threat to the moral order. This stance was exemplified by Robert Buchanan in his polemical pamphlet The Fleshly School of Poetry and Other Phenomena of the Day (1872) where, in the course of a vitriolic attack on Baudelaire, he refers to Paris as 'the most debauched city of the world'.  

Like Baudelaire and the Cancan, Surrealism was always going to be seen as just another ‘un-British’ import perhaps reluctantly tolerated but actually seen as a sinister aberration. Most would prefer to deport it back to the sin cities of Europe, where such louche, ‘decadent’ or subversive japes rightfully belong – although all classes often displayed an ambivalent, even prurient, attraction to Le Cancan, ‘Gay Paree’ and bawdy European ‘naughtiness’ in general. Hence the popularity of Variety Show or Music Hall acts like the Tiller Girls (originally named Les Jolies Petites), or the Colonna Troupe of Amelia Newham from St John’s Wood (aka Mlle Colonna) whose high-kicking performances at The Alhambra, Leicester Square, could be relied upon to attract the attention of militant campaigners from the National Vigilance Association.

Likewise, when exhibited at the Grafton Gallery in London in 1893, Degas’ painting In the Café (L’Absinthe) (1875) was found to be a morally repulsive example of the flippant and vulgar artistic ideals of ‘new painters’, sparking a lengthy controversy in the Westminster Gazette; the same picture was loudly hissed by disgusted bidders when put up for auction at Christie’s. Numerous other examples could be mentioned. All of which tends to corroborate the opinion of Bertrand Russell when he said moral indignation ‘is one of the most harmful forces in the modern world’.

One thinks of the 'mad Frenchmen' gently parodied by Arthur Machen through the character of the worried father in his semi-autobiographical novel The Hill of Dreams (1907): 'The parson began to fear that his son was like some of those mad Frenchmen of whom he had read, young fellows who had a sort of fury of literature, and gave their whole lives to it, spending days over a page, and years over a book, pursuing art as Englishmen pursue money...'. Indeed, a regressive and venal Victorianism is still the dominant attitude today in most respectable circles which, even in the twenty-first century, remain resolutely insular in a supercilious, fog-in-the-Channel kind of way. One thinks of that moment in Through the Looking-Glass (1871) when passengers in a railway carriage utter a telepathic chorus of thoughts for Alice’s benefit. “Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!”

In an essay on ‘The Visual Poetics of British Surrealism’ (1996), Michel Remy (‘that most unlikely creature, a French enthusiast for English Surrealism’ to quote George Melly) probed this terrain and explained how the initial progress of Surrealism in England was impeded by an existing, well-established counter-movement defined as the ‘Bloomsbury Spirit’ and exemplified by the theories of Roger Fry and Clive Bell. The dominant character of ‘Bloomsburyism’ (and its subsequent ramifications in the work of Ben Nicholson and Duncan Grant, among others), emphasised the ‘visual centrality’ of clearly delineated conceptions of order, structure, integration and unification. This aesthetic was developed into a doctrine of ‘pure art’ characterised by a militant ‘exclusion of representation’, the pursuit of a metaphysical, ‘spiritual’, ideal of hyper-abstraction; a kind of ethereal, visual music. This viewpoint was later reinforced by other writers, such as critic Clement Greenberg, who – promoting Abstract Expressionism as the epitome of ‘superior culture’ and a counterforce against both Socialist Realism and commercial (capitalist) Kitsch – took a similar approach in the late 1930s. And, of course, the toleration of art only if it has a ‘spiritual purpose’ (i.e. devotional parables, theological propaganda or cautionary tales and righteous fables of renunciation and self-denial) is a typical Puritan strategy. Ideally – like Plato, the Church Fathers and the Iconoclasts– the out-and-out Puritan would banish idolatrous ‘graven images’ (art is idolatry) altogether, but social-cultural pressures are such that a ‘spiritual’ aesthetic of ‘pure art’ provides an expedient, opportunistic alternative to outright abolition. However, to cite Russell again, this ‘generally means that it is bad art.’ 

As recently as 1978, in ‘Alchemy of the Word’, an article on Surrealism for Harpers and Queen, novelist Angela Carter stated bluntly ‘the movement never travelled across the Channel, not even in the Thirties…’ The Dadas are more fashionable now she said, and claimed explicitly that:

‘Surrealist romanticism is at the opposite pole from classical modernism, but then, the Surrealists would never have given Pound or Eliot house room on strictly moral grounds. A Mussolini fan? A high Tory? They’d have moved noisily, but with dignity, to another café’

Consolidated just after the First World War, the stranglehold of moralistic Victorianism (‘The Bloomsbury Spirit’ in the visual arts, Anglo-American Classical Modernism, in the literary sphere) was/is almost total. Despite the limited success of the famous 1936 London exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, where Sheila Legge performed in an event entitled The Phantom of Sex Appeal, Surrealists will always be Outsiders, relegated to the cultural margins – perhaps no bad thing, it might be said.

A Surrealist Declaration of 1947 offered a diagnosis of the English anti-Surrealist ‘paradox’. Aside from immediate factional issues the Declaration identified wider concerns. These included the need to combat reactionary, jingoistic conformist attitudes and ‘diehard militarism’, which may be typical of other (apparently) democratic European societies. Scorning the notion that Surrealist revolt may be dismissed as a ‘sin of youth’ the authors identified the ‘decentralised structure of English society’ as a major problem and, further, highlighted an all-pervasive ‘moral pressure’ from Protestant Christianity as the real enemy. ‘An enemy which attacks Man from the inside… an enemy which is itself infinitely divided and superficially liberal.’

Here, Remy’s analysis of mainstream English abstractionists advancing a ‘teleological’ agenda, inherently reactionary and anti-Surreal in its concern with the moral-spiritual function of art, is telling. He detects a specifically English tendency at work. A ‘disembodied functioning of the spirit’, the legacy of Plato and Aristotle, an exclusive formalism, an ‘optical totalitarianism’, the ‘subordination of the emotion’, a puritanical mode of ‘aesthetic Quakerism’.

    This arises from the innate tendency of the English (in particular) to regard themselves as ‘more radical than the radicals’. Our Anglo-Saxons suffer from a deep conviction that ‘true’ radicalism is embodied in a home-grown tradition of religious non-conformity. This tendency is a political ethos; a pervasive subculture of anti-establishment, reformist dissent that dates back to the Civil War era, or, even earlier, to the Peasant’s Revolt. George Orwell, in his essay 'The Prevention of Literature' (1946) is among those who have defined the basis of English radicalism as the tradition of Milton's Areopagitica and Dissenter Protestantism, quoting a Revivalist hymn ('Dare to be Daniel...') to sum up his notion of the 'heretic' or ‘dissenter’ who 'refused to outrage his own conscience'.

It is undeniable that this heroic-dissident, semi-Calvinist tendency – derived from a Biblical 'we-are-all-sinners' mode of ersatz egalitarianism, is central to an indigenous, iconoclastic cultural formation, closer to Methodism than to Marx, owing allegiance to Geneva rather than to Rome. It is obviously hostile to pure or absolute Surrealism.

For, while the objectives of Surrealism may include, ‘the total liberation of the mind and of all that it resembles’ (Declaration of 27 January, 1925), or ‘the infinite expansion of reality’ (Balakian), or a return to ‘the sources of poetic imagination’ (Breton), it is also necessary to bear in mind that, as a doctrine of ‘absolute non-conformism’ (notre non-conformisme absolu), ‘total revolt’ or ‘complete insubordination’, Surrealism  maintained an implacable stance of opposition to the ideology of family-country-religion, a complex seen as an ‘apparatus of social conservation’, or as a ‘mechanism of oppression’; in fact the Three Fs of ‘traditional’ or ‘cornerstone’ conservatism: Faith, Flag and Family.

Furthermore, it is necessary to recognise that Surrealism was not some form of mysticism, or spiritual ‘heresy’ but, as Maurice Nadeau has said, is a state of mind understood as a tendency ‘not to transcend but to penetrate reality’.

It is still the case that, even in these wacky, Post-PoMo times, self-styled ‘innovative’ poets from these damp and misty isles are obsessed by language in a completely useless manner (academic-philosophical cult of Wittgenstein); they flirt with fake notions of ‘radical’ avant garde modernism and, furthermore, are crippled by a form of ‘ethical’ neo-Puritanism known as ‘political correctness’, or, more rarely, its mirror image; a cult of inverted virtue signalling, known nowadays as Anti-Woke. They may often affect a ‘progressive’ worldview, incorporating derivative, tokenistic, anti-establishment attitudes mixed up with pacifism and anti-capitalism into what is, in effect, a reactionary, conformist sweetness-and-light agenda that consciously or not works in collusion with fundamentalists and reactionaries everywhere.  Just as the hippie was an inverted bourgeois, so todays ‘radical’ is an inverted conservative – an inverted conservative camouflaged by inverted snobbery. This posture is justified by notions of ‘respect’, distorted by the Cultural Cringe, filtered through State Multiculturalism and energised by lip-service to no-nonsense Working Class Heroes, the North-South Divide and Family Values: a classic example of ‘repressive tolerance’ to use a phrase borrowed from Herbert Marcuse, or 'trahsion des clercs', as our French friends would say.

        In his pivotal text An Essay on Liberation (1969) Herbert Marcuse provided an incisive outline of the radical 'new sensibility' which, in pursuit of a primal form of freedom as biological necessity, must pass 'from Marx to Fourier... from realism to Surrealism'. In the aesthetic realm, Marcuse hailed the emergence of 'desublimated "lower" and destructive forms...  mixing the barricade and the dance floor.' This 'new sensibility', he claimed, was not only opposed to the traditional 'establishment' but also attacked the deadly esprit de serieux of the socialist camp: 'miniskirts against the apparatchiks, rock 'n' roll against Soviet Realism'. Perhaps this new, hedonistic, ‘permissive’ idolatrous, unholy zeitgeist, from Desmond Morris’s ICA exhibition Paintings by Chimpanzees (1957) to Kenneth Tynan’s ‘nudest show on Earth’, Oh! Calcutta! (Off Broadway, 1969, The Roundhouse, 1970) marked the final end of Victorianism and of the Bloomsbury Spirit. For a brief moment it looked as though Surrealism had finally found a home or some acceptance at least.

 Yet the force of this argument is somewhat diminished in the light of social facts underlying the so-called Permissive Society of the ‘Sixties, the ‘rebellious’ cultural backdrop to Marcuse’s text (which was as popular in the UK as it was in the USA).

To quote rock critic Robert Christgau: 'There was a sense of rebelliousness... but one of the ways it was rebellious was it wanted to enjoy having more pleasure than it was told it could have. This was much more important than the political element, numerically speaking.' These remarks apply to the US but the same principle applies to Britain, where hedonistic impulses were boosted by the affluence of 'You've Never Had It So Good' consumer boom affluence, greater social mobility, the availability of The Pill and the abolition of National Service. By 1967 this new hedonism had become a fully-fledged, jet-set, high-life of conspicuous consumption, as exemplified by the popular advertising slogan 'When you got it – flaunt it!'

Alan Parker later remarked: 'Images of Ursula Andress coming out of the water in Dr No were more appealing than a monk self-immolating in Saigon'.  Or as Andrew Loog Oldham succinctly put it: 'I didn't have any goals; it was all just a lark'.

Obviously this 'surprise-wave'  New Sensibility ‘Youthquake’ had little in common with any native British notion of alleged 'radicalism'; a tendency which cannot escape either its ascetic origin or the historical legacy of assorted puritanical Lollards, Diggers, Ranters, Levellers and troublesome, lefty clerics in the tradition of John Ball, 'the mad priest of Kent'. Although much diluted, this is a tradition still with us as exemplified by the ‘Anglican Priest and polemicist’ Giles ‘Loose Canon’ Fraser, whose radicalism means little more than attacking the superior attitudes of ‘metropolitan liberals in the media’.

  The New Sensibility was a cultural shift that helps to account for a wider resurgence of interest in Surrealism that surfaced in the ‘Sixties and early ‘Seventies.

In 1969, the University of Michigan published the Seaver & Lane first full length English translation of Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifestoes, (based on the definitive French edition of 1962) followed by the key anthology, Surrealists on Art (1970) from Prentice Hall, edited by activist and critic Lucy R. Lippard. Earlier translations from US sources included Breton’s 1924 semi-autobiographical quasi-novel Nadja (1960) and Maurice Nadeau’s 1964 overview The History of Surrealism (1965) both translated by Richard Howard.

In Britain at that time one might note a Surrealist influence (via Antonin Artaud) on experimental theatre, in, for example, the work of Lindsay Kemp with productions such as Flowers (1966), Salome (1974) and Cruel Garden (1977) that exemplified his unique dramatic style based on myth, ritual and trance states (‘we balance on a knife edge between the serious and the ridiculous’), radical feminist director and poet Jane Arden, Peter Brook and Charles Marowitz. It was Brook and Marowitz who staged a Theatre of Cruelty Season with the RSC Experimental Theatre Group at LAMDA in Jan-Feb 1964 while Brook directed the Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss at the Aldwych Theatre in August of the same year. Marowitz was the author the play Artaud at Rodez, and founded the Open Space Theatre (with Thelma Holt) in 1968.

It was J. G. Ballard who, in the ‘New Wave’ SF magazine New Worlds observed that ‘the images of Surrealism are the iconography of inner space’ (‘The Coming of the Unconscious’, New Worlds, July 1966) pointing to a general diffusion of Surrealism into wider popular culture. The term ‘surreal’ in various interpretations could be applied to social phenomena such as: the ‘underground scene’; to New Left politics and the Mass Media; to the ‘creative revolution’ of advertising and fashion, viewed through the lens of Pop Art, or to ‘cult’ TV shows like The Avengers (1961-1969) masterminded with inimitable panache for ABC Television by producer/story editor Brian Clemens. Discussing the Visual Pop design of record sleeves George Melly in his Revolt into Style: The Pop Arts 1966-1970 noted that ‘Surrealism has remained the most pervasive influence’.

Indeed it is tempting to see in the 1966 appointment of zoologist, socio-biologist and Surrealist , Desmond Morris, author of The Biology of Art (‘the picture-making behaviour of the Great Apes’) (1962) and controversial best-seller The Naked Ape (1967) , as director of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts), a telling sign of the times. Significantly the ICA had been founded by English surrealists Roland Penrose and Herbert Read (among others) in an Oxford Street cinema basement in 1947. Then, the City of Exeter hosted an influential exhibition The Enchanted Domain at the Exeter City Gallery in 1967 organised by John Lyle with the participation of various significant personalities including Penrose, ELT Mesens, George Melly, Conroy Maddox and Robert Benayoun among others.

Here one might also mention novels by Angela Carter such as Heroes and Villains (1969), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) or The Passion of New Eve (1977). Doctor Hoffman was known in the US as The War of Dreams a title that evokes Carter’s particular style of scary surreality – a psychic locale from where we embark on ‘a desperate expedition to a destination at the heart of the dark in a nameless zone, where we would find the key to an unimaginable secret.’  

Although a purist approach may regard many such tendencies especially those in the advertising and the mass media, as symptomatic of a general dilution and commodification not to be welcomed. It may, on the other hand, seem that the Surrealist spirit, in tune with the New Sensibility of counter-cultural desublimation (symbolised for many in post-imperial Britain by the Profumo scandal), did indeed have the last laugh; gleefully cocking a snook at the strictures of aesthetic Quakerism; giving Mrs Grundy, malcontents of post-imperial humiliation (Peregrine Worsthorne), The Festival of Light and high-minded Leavisite critics from the ‘grammar school ethos’, a run for their money. At least it looked that way for a short while – before the Sixties spirit of ‘anarcho-libertarianism’ (Durgnat, see below), with its ‘swinging’ lifestyle, its subversive art schools and electroluminescent dresses, its 'kinky' PVC boots and jet-age flight attendants in shocking miniskirts, softly and suddenly vanished away during the wasted years of the Thatcher era.

The Turin exhibition, Le Muse Inquietanti (The Disquieting Muses, 1967-1968), organised by Luigi Carluccio, was covered by English mainstream art magazines such as Studio International and Art & Artists and there was considerable interest in the work of Max Ernst, who was the subject of a large illustrated book by John Russell published in 1968 (The spirit of Ernst haunts Annabel, the central character in Angela Carter's surrealist 'collage novel' Love, 1971). That same year the BBC Third Programme broadcast a feature-length tribute to Andre Breton, A Link Between The Worlds (20 March 1968), compiled by Barbara Bray, produced by Douglas Cleverdon .This programme included contributions from David Gascoyne, Jacques B Brunius, Philippe Soupault, S W Hayter and Eugene Ionesco among others, as well as a bizarre radiophonic-dramatic piece by Fernando Arrabal.

Also in 1968, Methuen published the Absurdist, proto-Surrealist Ubu Plays of Alfred Jarry, jointly translated by Cyril Connolly and Simon Watson Taylor (who had previously translated Marcel Jean’s The History of Surrealist Painting, 1960), while Jonathan Cape published The Selected Works of Alfred Jarry (edited and translated by Simon Watson Taylor with Roger Shattuck) in 1969.  The then head of BBC Radio Drama, Martin Esslin, had published The Theatre of The Absurd in 1962. This landmark study assimilated Surrealism into a broader panorama of Absurdist heritage (‘an inscape of the mind’) stretching back over a thousand years or more. The BBC had also broadcast Esslin’s adaptation of the Ubu Plays between 1965 and 1968. Along with Beardsley and Mucha, Jarry was subject to something of a revival, in fact George Melly said about The Goons ‘They are our effective surrealists, our democratic Pere Ubus, our sacred monsters’.

In 1970 Lykiard's acclaimed translation of Les Chants de Maldoror was published, while in the following year, 1971, Simon Watson Taylor’s translation of Aragon’s Paris Peasant, a key surrealist text, also appeared. This was followed by the Harper & Row edition of Surrealism and Painting, a compilation of Andre Breton’s writing on visual art which included not only the titular essay but numerous uncollected pieces culled from pamphlets and catalogues. Covering the period 1928 to 1965 this extensive survey (translation by Watson Taylor, again) amounted to ‘not so much a reissue as an original event’ according to an introductory note.

For the generation growing up in the 1960s and interested in film, a key semi-Surrealist influence was the prolific and contrarian critic Raymond Durgnat, chairman of the London Film-maker’s Co-op and advocate of ‘underground cinema’. ‘Fiercely anti-puritan and anti-censorship’ (Rayns), Durgnat was a regular contributor to Films & Filming, and also to the no-frills Motion magazine which emerged from the radical LSE student culture of 1961.

Durgnat contributed to Motion from 1962 and was responsible for the scandalous ‘Companion to Violence and Sadism in the Cinema’ and the anti-establishment polemic ‘Standing Up For Jesus’ (Motion No 6 Autumn 1963) which attacked both the highbrow literary sweetness-and-light critics of the Oxbridge conservative consensus (i.e. Sight & Sound) but also the chic poseurs of what was known as the Free Cinema movement. In April 1963, the ‘watershed year’ of the Summer of Scandal, Durgnat presided over an ICA event on violent cinema called ‘The Art of Scaring You to Death’ based on his Motion ‘Companion’, itself partly inspired by The Romantic Agony by Mario Praz, a key source of transgressive, proto-Surrealist ideas.

Approaching film from a basically Surrealist-Freudian viewpoint (‘images of the mind’), Durgnat held that ‘photography was not essentially realistic, and film not essentially photographic’ (Miller). He watched movies for their ‘poetic’ qualities. He advocated a poetry with ‘no intellectual protocol’; a poetry derived from ‘obvious’ symbols. It was a poetic dimension of the mass media and the commercial cinema; an erotic force, energising popular entertainment at a subliminal level. This obvious symbolism (of carnivals, derelict houses, fairgrounds, mechanical music and mirrors, extended to include railway stations, shop windows, statues, tape-recorders and underwater spaces…) maintained atavistic links to primal myths and fables, links that highbrow critics tend to ignore. In ‘The Angel of Poetry Hovering’ section of his book Films and Feelings (1967) Durgnat wrote how the ‘mute poetry’ of the mainstream blends ‘fact, drama, the ‘Surreal’, dream, magic, and the supernatural powers at their play.’ This ‘oneiric’ definition of popular entertainment and middle-of-the-road cinema is a classic Surrealist position, exemplified by directors like Franju, Bunuel and Jean Rollin, presided over by sexy screen goddesses like Barbarella, Mrs Emma Peel, Modesty Blaise or Lavinia the Black Witch of Greymarsh – as played in Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) by ‘Scream Queen’ Barbara Steele, resplendent in green make-up.

Wider interest in Surrealism in Britain in the Sixties was further stimulated by independent publishers such as Calder & Boyars.

The Calder & Boyars ‘French Surrealism’ series included works by Breton (Nadja and Arcane 17), Picasso (Desire Caught by The Tail), Aragon (The Libertine), Arp (Collected French Writings) and Tristan Tzara’s Seven Dada Manifestos (translated by Barbara Wright) and in the eighties the Selected Poems of Paul Eluard. The Calder imprint remained for many years a catalytic force, publishing related authors like Burroughs, Beckett (veteran translator of Surrealist poets), Borges, Raymond Roussel, Fernando Arrabal, Georges Bataille (Eroticism, 1962, Literature And Evil, 1973) and Roger Vitrac. The diffusion of these texts in English translation – often for the first time – contributed to a climate in which Surrealism extended its appeal well beyond the sphere of literary and artistic cliques. That Calder regarded his publishing activities as conflicting with endemic anti-Surreal tendencies is evident from his criticism of British indifference to art history, hostility to both intellectual analysis and to any ‘investigation of the creative process.’ As explained in his ‘Introduction’ to A William Burroughs Reader (1982), he lays the blame squarely on British ‘insularity’ and the ‘pioneer Puritanism of the American psyche’, a stance basically the same as that of the Declaration of 1947 – and of Michel Remy in his 1996 essay.

The later history of Surrealism in the UK is limited to the vestigial activities of major figures from the early period and the Melmoth Group of 1979, which disbanded in 1981. One might make reference to the magazine Manticore/Surrealist Communication (1997-2006) published by the Leeds Surrealist Group founded with international links in 1994. He refers to various forms of ‘occultation’ maintaining a Surrealist presence at a subterranean cultural level, sharing a new spirit of gamesmanship infused with a semi-Situationist, semi-occult psycho-geography. This latter theme is also explored by the poet and novelist Iain Sinclair including his more recent work such as London Orbital: A Walk Round the M25 (2002).

In truth, the so-called ‘Permissive Society’, both here and elsewhere, was a minor skirmish in a wider culture war, a skirmish which has since passed into nostalgic obscurity. It was destined to become a faded, but hideous memory of ‘mass national debauch, the breakdown of all known moral standards, the collapse of Western civilization’, a sentiment attributed to Beverley Nichols when reporting on The Twist craze of 1962.

Looking back a decade or so later Christopher Booker echoed these sentiments, describing the ‘Swinging Sixties’ as a case of ‘general world-wide hysteria’.

Booker, a Christian convert and Thatcherite, saw the decade as an egregious example of the Golden Calf Syndrome; a nightmare time when ‘the rebellion of the early Romantics reached its peak’; when ‘the children of the Sixties sought to shake, deafen, blind and drug themselves into the ‘ultimate experience’ on a scale never before seen – until there was almost nowhere further to go.’  Of course, Mrs Whitehouse, Mrs Grundy and the mainstream moralists were victorious in this struggle for moral rectitude. Stigmatised by Tory politicians and their disciples in the media as ‘a time when it all went wrong’, the Sixties and the national debauch of the permissive New Hedonism, soon dwindled into the distance, fast fading in the rear-view mirror or mythologised as a cautionary tale, while Surrealism was seen as just another irresponsible fad.

Speaking for 'serious minded readers' in his Introduction (1979) to The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980, D J Enright exemplified mainstream attitudes when he parenthetically dismissed any interest in Surrealism as a 'regressive' mode of 'internationalism', one of those tendencies 'which reached their modest apex several decades ago'. Enright held the view that ‘internationalism’ was just one of the fads and fancies of contemporary poetry, among which he includes 'free' fantasy, aesthetic narcissism, 'difficult' verse, formalism, Noble Savagery, Concrete Poetry, 'Doing-Your-Own-Thing', Violent Verse, Protest Poetry, the 'Struggle With Words' (language) schools and Confessionalism. He described the latter as 'one of the saddest epidemics of recent years'.

For Enright all of these sad poetic fads were consolatory activities arising from either the eclipse of faith or from trendy education. They represented the antithesis of his anti-surreal ideal; 'the poetry of civility, passion and order'. This sort of 'no-nonsense' talk passes for hard-nosed, trenchant criticism in certain circles, even today. But then – deep down – the English hate Surrealism.

Select Bibliography

Balakian, Anna, Surrealism: Road to the Absolute, Dutton, 1970.

Ballard, J G, A User’s Guide to the Millennium, Flamingo, 1997.

Barthes, Roland, The Language of Fashion, Berg, 2006.

Beer, Gillian, Alice in Space. The Sideways Victorian World of Lewis Carroll, University of Chicago, 2018

Booker, Christopher, The Seventies. Portrait of a Decade, Penguin Books, 1980

Breton, Andre, Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan, 2007.

Breton, Andre, Surrealism and Painting, Harper & Row, 1972

Buchanan, Robert, The Fleshly School of Poetry, Strahan & Co, 1872.

Calder, John (ed.), A William Burroughs Reader, Picador, 1982.

Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Wordsworth Editions, 1993

Carter, Angela, Expletives Deleted: Selected Writings, Vintage, 1993.

Carter, Angela, The Passion of New Eve, Virago Press. 1982.

Clayton, Antony, Decadent London: Fin de Siecle City, Historical Publications, 2005

Cohn, Nick, Awopbobaloobop Alopbamboom, Pimlico/Vintage, 2004

Durgnat, Raymond, Films and Feelings, MIT Press, 1971.

Enright, D J (ed.) The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980, OUP, 1980.

Fiddy, Dick, Brian Clemens, Auteur of The Avengers, BFI South Bank Guide, Jul 2010.

Fraser, Giles, Religious Belief Isn’t Boring, Radio Times 27 Jan-2 Feb 2018.

Innes, Christopher, Avant Garde Theatre 1892-1992, Routledge, 1993.

Levy, Silvano (ed.) Surrealism: Surrealist Visuality, Keele University, 1997.

Machen, Arthur, The Hill of Dreams, Corgi Books, 1967.

Marcuse, Herbert, An Essay On Liberation, Beacon Press, 1969.

Melly, George, Revolt Into Style The Pop Arts 1966-1970, Faber & Faber, 2008.

Melly, George, Don’t Tell Sybil, Atlas Press, 2013.

Miller, Henry K, Poetry in Motion, Sight & Sound, Sept 2014.

Morgan, Robin & Leve, Ariel, 1963: The Year of the Revolution, Dey Street, 2014.

Nadeau, Maurice, The History of Surrealism, Penguin Books, 1973

Orwell, George, Essays, Penguin Books, 2000.

Pavitt, Jane, Fear and Fashion in the Cold War, V&A Publishing, 2008.

Rayns, Tony, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Sight & Sound, Dec 2014.

Remy, Michel, Surrealism in Britain, Ashgate/Lund Humphries, 1999.

Remy, Michel (ed.), On the Thirteenth Stroke Of Midnight, Carcanet Press, 2013.

Robins, Anna Gruetzner/Thomson, Richard, Degas, Sickert & Toulouse-Lautrec. London and Paris 1870-1910. Tate Publishing, 2005

Russell, Bertrand, Sceptical Essays, Routledge, 2004.

Sage, Lorna, Angela Carter, Northcote House, 1994.

Sage, Lorna (ed.), Flesh and the Mirror. Essays on the Art of Angela Carter, Virago Press, 2007.

Waldberg, Patrick, Surrealism (The Paths of Surrealism), Thames & Hudson, 1965.

Worsthorne, Peregrine, Price of Profumo: Tories Smeared, Life Magazine, 21 June, 1963.

illus: Nothing is Sacred, 1976

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