“One cannot speak of what was neither a system or a school, nor a movement of art or literature, but rather a pure practice of existence (a practice of the whole bearing of its own knowledge, a practical theory) in a determinate temporal modality. In the past tense, it would constitute a history, a fine story (the history of surrealism is only of scholarly interest, particularly if the conception of history is not modified by its subject, and nothing up to now has appeared to justify evoking such a possibility). And as for the present or the future, just as one cannot claim that surrealism has been realized (thus losing more than half of what names it: everything in it that goes out ahead of it), neither can one say that it is half real or on the way to realization, in becoming. What constitutes surrealism as an absolute summation, and a summons of such urgency that through it (be it in a most fortuitous manner) waiting opens itself to the unexpected, also prohibits us from trusting solely to the future for it to be accomplished or take form.” (Maurice Blanchot, “Tomorrow At Stake”)
Does surrealist writing have a history? More pointedly: does it have a past, present and future? There is surrealist writing, but what kind of shadow does it cast? What kind of shade has or has not been cast out?
A handful of recent publications (Lenk 2015, Arnold 2015, Golston 2016) have re-opened the dossier on the persistence of surrealism in our aesthetic and political present. “Machines” is a series of discussion with the ORR working through the most recent entry in this catalog, Michael Golston’s Poetic Machinations.
These discussions will center on the idea of a “long surrealism” — a surrealism as something more than the group or movement that identified with its name, a surrealism on the level of device, technique, and a regime of sensibility — via an exploration of Surrealist poetry and poetics. Golston’s book lays out a detailed theoretical and historical argument about the status of surrealist poetry, and then presents a series of case studies in American poetry and poetics from Zukofsky to the present, ending with studies of Susan Howe, Vanessa Place and Craig Dworkin.
These sessions will assess the validity of Golston’s arguments about the character of surreal sensibility as it manifests itself in poetic device, and the possibility of a transatlantic and unconscious adoption of its cardinal features.
The investigation of cases in surreal writing and poetry will be treated as itself a case study in the question of long surrealism — a practice of existence that “one cannot speak of… in a determinate temporal modality.”
The discussion of Poetic Machinations will be divided into three sessions between November and February, each devoted to roughly a third of the book.
Contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org for pdfs and information on how to join in the discussion if you would like to be involved.