1940-1947. The Romanian Surrealist Group

The message addressed to international surrealism. Theoretical contributions and techniques proposed by the Romanian surrealists Between 1938-1940, two young Romanian poets, Gellu Naum and Gherasim Luca, were in Paris – Naum to study philosophy, and Luca as the precarious envoy of a Bucharest newspaper. They joined with J. Herold and Victor Brauner, both definitively settled in France. When World War II broke out, Naum and Luca found themselves alone, deserted by their surrealist friends. In June 1940, they decided to return to Romania:In Italy, Naum and Luca make a stopover in Venice, where they remain for two weeks, spending whatever money they had left, among the bridges and palaces, in the final lights of the West between the two wars. The Orient Express takes them to Bucharest. The idea of a Romanian surrealism is born after Trieste.[1]In Bucharest, they teamed up with the poet Virgil Teodorescu and with Paul Paun – an old contributor to Alge (Algae), Unu (One), participator in the manifesto The Poetry We Want to Do (Viata ImediataImmediate Life), and author of the collection Plamanul salbatec (The Wild Lung), 1933. Paul Paun was a physician. He brought along two other participants: Nadine Krainic, his friend, a Syrian of French origin who would sow discord among the members of the group, and Dolfi Trost, a Doctor of Law, who proved to be a powerful theorist. The founders had refused other postulants, among which the poet Paul Celan or the future inventor of lettrism, Isidor Isou.[2] The Romanian Surrealist Group was established. Its members were determined to break with the predecessors' "dilettantism" and lay the foundation of a genuine surrealist movement. The project of a literary review titled Gradiva was abandoned because of the war. Nevertheless, they would found the Surrealist Collection, the Infra-Black annals, the Editions de l'Oubli. Their publications related to surrealism in general, as both a theory and a practice of writing.Theory is very often comprised in the literary text; meta-literature and literature proper mingle in a distinctively poetical texture. The sui generis "didacticism" of avant-garde texts is pared down to its total disappearance in a type of writing that acknowledges nothing but its own code. The Romanian surrealists were equally concerned with the language of the visual arts, and organized exhibitions of paintings and surrealist objects.During the war years, the Romanian surrealists were reduced to clandestine activity. Within the group, cohesion was often put to the test by the feuds opposing the two leaders, Naum and Luca. In the aftermath of the war, the country fell to the rule of the all-powerful Soviet advisers. Despite that, until the instatement of the new structures and institutions, the pre-war cultural milieu got its head above again, and survived for a few more years. Between 1945 and 1947, surrealist publications, individual and collective, blossomed; they had been authored mostly during the group's clandestine period.Two manifestos must be brought to attention for the present. Critica mizeriei (Critique of Squalor), signed by Gellu Naum, Paul Paun and Virgil Teodorescu, is a settlement of accounts directed at Gherasim Luca (!), the avant-garde of the thirties, and the literary critics unsympathetic to the three cited authors. The other manifesto, written in French – The Dialectic of Dialectic. A Message to the International Surrealist Movement, by Gherasim Luca and D. Trost – is much more important to the history of Romanian surrealism. It encapsulates both their theoretical options and their own experience in the domain. THE SUBLIME THEORETICAL CONQUESTS OF SURREALISM The Message is addressed to the international surrealist movement, in particular to André Breton. Though isolated because of World War II, the signatories of the Message keep intact their hope "that on this planet, where our existence seems to become more precarious every day, the real functioning of thought has never ceased to guide the group that holds in its hands the highest ideological freedom that has ever existed – the international surrealist movement." The aim of the Romanian surrealists' action is to impart some of the theoretical results they have obtained during their indefatigable pursuit of new dialectic solutions that help surmount the conflict between man and the world. They claim to see the resolution of confrontations between internal and external realities in their adhesion to dialectic materialism, in the "historic destiny of the international proletariat", and in the "sublime theoretical conquests of surrealism". Subsequently, mentioning that their latest information dates back to before 1939, they point to a few deviations and errors that have sneaked "inside surrealism itself" (i.e. French surrealism). These "artistic deviations" are grouped under the following general headings:1. "the gradual transformation of objective discoveries into means of artistic production", and 2. "the attempt to propagate, in a cultural manner, a certain phase in the evolvement of surrealist thought".The first artistic deviation concerns the use of techniques discovered by surrealism, such as automatic writing, collage, or delirium of interpretation, to which they attach an objective value, by authors and in works that are in no way justified by "objective necessity", i.e. "a mania or a state of hysteric suggestion". This would lead to a "surrealist mannerism", which could turn surrealism into an artistic trend accepted by "our class enemies", confer it an innocuous historical past, "in brief, take away from it the bite that has inspired, despite all the contradictions of the outer world, those who have made revolution their raison d'être."A mimetic use of surrealist discoveries, and their transformation into artistic techniques may be related to the second mistake signaled by the Message of the Romanian surrealists:"This tendency only amplifies the former, inasmuch as it introduces surrealism into a kind of cultural policy. 'Surrealist' anthologies visibly display this second deviation, and the attempt they make to mechanically propagate the extant discoveries and, through them, beam around the results thus obtained, can only be considered a sorry attempt at imposing the acceptance of surrealism by pinning it down to one moment of its perpetual movement."In a declaration made in Prague on March 29th, 1935, André Breton hinted at the danger that the word surrealism might win out before the idea. At the time, he already remarked, "-all sorts of productions, more or less questionable, have the tendency to apply this label."[3] Nevertheless, he judged as inapplicable Man Ray's suggestion to mark the authentic surrealist productions with some sort of cachet. A few years later, in Prolegomena to a Third Surrealist Manifesto or Not, 1942, Breton would expose more alterations, false witnesses (Aragon), and frauds (Dali) inside the movement itself, and more or less common manifestations such as the Tokyo "teas" or the shop windows on Fifth Avenue that also claim a surrealist lineage. Consequently, he was compelled to pronounce himself against the use of surrealist techniques, especially in painting, by imitators of Chirico, Picasso, Ernst, Masson, Miro, Tanguy, "tomorrow it will be Matta", which prompted his remarks on conformism, "surrealist conformism" included:"So here I am, twenty years later, compelled, as in my green years, to pronounce myself against all conformism and, while saying it, have in mind a too obvious surrealist conformism as well."[4]In their concern about the inner integrity of international surrealism, the Romanian poets add to the aforementioned aspects arguments that reveal a dialectical spirit. They demand that surrealism remain in a perpetually revolutionary state, and to do so it must adopt a dialectic position of permanent negation and negation of negation: "In our eyes, surrealism cannot be just the most advanced historical movement. Without sinking into a hackneyed Romantic philosophical idealism, we believe that surrealism can only exist in continuous opposition to the whole world and to itself, in that negation of negation guided by the most inexpressible delirium; all this, of course, without losing one aspect or other of its immediate revolutionary power." Taking themselves the consequences of such a stand, such as the negations that link up with one another "in a concrete, absurd and dialectic way", they proclaim the rejection of mankind's past as a whole and of its mnesic support, memory, "seeing that no historical moment was able to satisfy the relative-absolute of all our desires."They attach great importance to the possibility of coming up with new desires, and any limitation of this freedom would raise their "demoniac" zest for negation and negation of negation. The Surrealist "Marks". Objective Hazard. In its middle and final section, the Message presents, always in a frenzy that has not eluded the historians of the phenomenon[5], the theoretical developments of the Romanian surrealists relating to the main "marks" of surrealism: objective hazard, love, dreams, the conscious and the unconscious, nature, the poetic image and artistic techniques, sciences, as many themes to be found in literary creation proper.Constantly concerned to put in tune internal reality and external reality, the authors of the Message consider "the materialist (Leninist) stance on the relative-absolute" and objective hazard to be fully satisfactory. Objective hazard was a constant preoccupation of surrealists, and it is precisely through it that they created a panoply of literary and graphic techniques – moreover, a way to knowledge that does not exhaust the mysterious and the miraculous of the world. The concept, formulated by Hegel, was adopted by surrealists via Engels' writings, and the prestige of the latter was so great that they most often forgot the primary source. Breton defines objective hazard by explicitly referring to Hegel, in terms of an opposition between natural necessity and human (or logical) necessity: "Objective hazard is that type of hazard through which, in as yet most mysterious ways to man, a necessity manifests itself that eludes him, although he vitally senses it as necessity."[6]The Romanian surrealists consider the same objective hazard "defined as the encounter of human finality and universal causality." Objective hazard is the principle of the poetic image too and, in a general sense, of surrealist writing. It is evoked in theoretical studies and even in verse with a similar theorizing air: "Love forces hazardhazard opens loveand your locks lead meto qualitative catastrophes."[7] Quite often, objective hazard is behind the casual encounters specific to surrealist texts: "Tell me how much you can hateso that I knowif the volcanoes still haveeruptionsThe fever of your earringsheralds the nightYour little smilelike a crab in an Attic combatsleeps in my eyelike in a mold."[8] Objective hazard underlies all the other techniques to be discussed below. Love. The Eroticization of the Working Class. "The Non-Oedipal Stand" As a "general revolutionary method specific to surrealism", love makes understanding the world possible. All the known states of love are both accepted and left behind, given the dialectic spirit: libertinism, unique love, complex-bound love, , the psycho-pathology of love. Treading in the steps of Sade, Engels, Freud and Breton, accredited as authorities in the field, the Romanian surrealists proclaim "love freed from its social and individual, psychological and theoretical, religious or sentimental constraints," whose characteristic features are "methodical exasperation", "unlimited development", "breathtaking fascination".Taking as an example the verbal construction "objective hazard", they introduce a new phrase, as hazardous as can be: "objective love", "dialecticized and materialized". It goes without saying that such love would also have some social scope, which surrealists always try not to leave out:"Even in its most immediate aspects, we believe that the boundless eroticization of the proletariat is the most precious warrant that can be found to ensure them a real revolutionary development in the miserable era we are traversing."The opinions of the Romanian surrealists seem inspired by André Breton who, in his 1937 Mad Love, extolled this sentiment in pages both poetical and theoretical, and who had declared (in Crack of Dawn, 1934), "There is no solution without love."[9] As for the turns of phrase and fear of clichés, they rather remind of Salvador Dali's "critical paranoia". In this debate on love, apart from the ready-made ideas fashionable in surrealist milieus, Gherasim Luca and D. Trost equally contribute their original outlook. By reason of various constraints and taboos – customary, religious, moral, social and psychological – that encircle the traditional idea of love, they end up considering a "non-oedipal stand":"The existence of birth trauma and oedipal complexes, such as discovered by Freudianism, constitutes the natural and mnesic limits, the adverse unconscious creases that, without our knowing it, control our attitude towards the outer world. We have raised the issue of man's complete deliverance (Gherasim Luca, The Inventor of Love), conditioning this freedom by the destruction of our initial oedipal stand."Even if the father's position was shattered by the revolutionary movements, "the castrating relics of birth trauma" persist, backed by the favorable status bestowed upon the brother, a status encouraged by the present-day social order. Such a reality is examined not only at the level of individual psychology, but also on a general plane concerning social relations. As a consequence, the non-oedipal attitude would be destined to deliver the working class from the prison of its own unconscious, and from the slavery in which the capitalist economy keeps it. Gherasim Luca would use the new discovery in the title of his works – AMPHITRITE. Sur-Thaumaturgic and Non-Oedipal Movements (Bucharest, Surrealist Collection INFRA-BLACK, 1947) and Orgies of the Quanta. Thirty-three Non-Oedipal Cubomanias (Bucharest, Surrealism, 1946). Dreams; the Unconscious The rejection of "dialectic encircled by an oedipal nature, melancholic and tyrannical" (Gherasim Luca, AMPHITRITE) and its replacement by the non-oedipal stand would result in a new approach to dreams, hence to the conscious and the unconscious. The Romanian surrealists do not accept the "mechanical opposition" between the conscious and the unconscious, nor do they accept dreams as regressive phenomena, but favor a "complete confusion of daytime and nighttime existence, through the negation of their artificial separation, a negation whose first degrees we have been offered by somnambulism, automatism and a few other exceptional states."The second signatory of the Message, D. Trost, resumed the issue of dreams in much more developed fashion in The Same of the Same (Le même du même, Bucharest, Surrealist Collection INFRA-BLACK, 1947). The content of dreams, he writes, must be considered directly, not by analogy; dreams do not hide erotic subjects, they express them. An erotic subject does not reside in substitution, but in universal causality:"It follows that a (manifest) dream is an exclusively erotic mode of objective hazard, and that the encounter is no more than a considerable deliverance of this causality."He also rebukes the rapport established by Freud between desire and dream:"Only on the plane of historical evolution, with its maddening slowness made of causal averages, can one imagine that desire precedes a dream, that dreams are nothing but its consequence. A dream creates desire while creating itself, desire creates the dream while expressing itself. There is no relation of antecedence or simultaneity therein: dream and desire become one."He speaks of the "cryptesthetic" character of dreams that proceeds from a negation of historical time, in favor of "time devoid of chronology". D. Trost's perfectly coherent construction is bound to come to a poetic conclusion (to surrealists, "poetic" is sometimes synonymous with the superlative of "scientific"):"[Dreams] must be considered in a tautological manner – to be more exact, in a 'dialectically tautological' manner, as a permanent return to themselves which entails successive, increasingly vaster layers of reality. Such infinite identification, which begins with the crystal, being specific to the poetic mode, the poetic consideration of dreams alone is objective and scientific."A dream is, consequently, the real image of life, yet "concentrated and bent on itself." Desire shall be considered "an abysmal form of reality." The Real. Nature and the Sciences The authors of the Message then express their opposition to the passivity manifested about nature, and the "disguised admiration it has inspired to revolutionary movements." Total revolution, as first envisioned by surrealism, can no longer tolerate "nature's Darwinian leaps, the confusing influences of human biology, or the abstract indifference of cosmology."In his Secret of the Empty and of the Full (Le Secret du Vide et du Plein, Bucharest, Surrealist Collection INFRA-BLACK, 1947), Gherasim Luca resumed the issue, spread throughout an elliptic, altogether surrealistic text:"The extreme disruption of Thought and Desire annihilates Memory, Mechanics and Fatality. […] To denature Nature. Render it really desirous, surprising and eruptive. Society and Nature are accomplices. Their plots must be thwarted. Natural dialectic is the dialectic of death, dialectic and death."All this program, as in the case of dreams, had to result in a generally poetic, particularly surrealistic ideal: "To replace the Real by the Possible and anticipate their confusion."Also with regard to nature and the issue of knowledge, Gherasim Luca and D. Trost declare themselves in agreement with the latest scientific discoveries that, through their degree of hardiness, seem to be akin to surrealism: non-Euclidean geometry, the fourth dimension, Brownian movements, quanta and space-time, non-Pasteurian biology, represented by "the Heraclitean stand of homeopathy". Toward the end, the Message of the Romanian surrealists hits an almost pathetic accent, thoroughly matching the surrealist quest for the ultimate secret of the human condition:"Still separated from one another, we dream of the secret agreement that must exist between dreams and the fourth dimension, between lechery and Brownian movements, between the hypnotic gaze of love and space-time. In agreement with science in its attractive and cryptesthetic aspects, the surrealist movement at the same time overturns its mathematical rigidity, with the self-reliance that reminds of a sleepwalker's journey to the core of his own mystery, for one instant identified with the secret destiny of mankind." The Techniques Several paragraphs of the Message deal with techniques, to which the Romanian poets attach a special significance, because the artistic means are based on the specificity of surrealism, and supposed to be the ones that make the difference between surrealism and literary styles that, in their opinion, became outmoded. Luca and Trost avow their absolute faith in the surrealist image. They make a net distinction between the images produced "by artistic means" (this quite ambiguous label implies the image as it was practiced and handed down by an entire literature chronologically prior to surrealism) and the images due to strictly applied scientific procedures, such as acts of hazard and automatism.The main surrealist techniques were listed by André Breton in the first Manifesto: the image, automatic writing, the delectable corpse (le cadavre exquis). He concluded, "Anything goes to squeeze from certain associations the desirable suddenness."In 1938, in a series of conferences held in Mexico, Breton resumed the issue of surrealist techniques in a more descriptive fashion. Among the graphic techniques he mentions: Max Ernst's rubbing, decoupage, Dominguez' decalcomania, Paalen's fuming. Here are the literary techniques: "the delectable corpse", the first-rate productivity of which had already been proved as early as the first Manifesto; the game of definitions such as: someone asks, "What is a day?"; totally ignorant of this question, the partner replies, "It is a woman who bathes at nightfall"; the game of suppositions – "If such and such were-"; and the game of previsions – "If such and such is-", whatever ensued having the "desirable suddenness" quality required.[10] Bringing up surrealist procedures anew may seem a proof of inconsistency on André Breton's part, after his 1924 statement: "I haste to add that the future surrealist techniques do not interest me."[11] In fact, all these techniques bolster the idea of creation "outside all esthetic or moral concern" (see the definition of surrealism formulated by Breton in the first Manifesto) and hinge on the same principle of objective hazard that Breton had determined once and for all as crucial to surrealism.The "basic" surrealist techniques described by Breton in the first Manifesto had been familiar to the Romanian avant-garde milieus, and were applied especially in the Unu magazine, by poets such as Ilarie Voronca, St. Roll, Geo Bogza, and painters such as Victor Brauner and M. H. Maxy. The members of the Romanian Surrealist Group, among which Gherasim Luca and D. Trost, made their own discoveries. These were meant to objectify hazard in an uninterrupted manner, forcing it to relinquish its rarity attribute. The list contained "cubomania", "the objectively offered object", "hypnagogic movements" (canvases painted with eyes closed), "pantography". All these techniques were variations deducted from the well-known surrealist stock, and depended on the more or less aleatoric features stamped on writings or painters' canvases; likewise, the "surautomatism" mentioned by D. Trost in The Same of the Same, or Gherasim Luca's "surthaumaturgic and non-oedipal movements" from Amphitrite. The techniques (only enumerated by the two Romanian surrealists in the Message) were described and illustrated during the exhibition that opened in Bucharest in January 1945. In the catalog published on the occasion, Presentation of Colored Graphies, Cubomanias, and Objects, they gave the theoretical explanations.Here are the main discoveries and their definitions: Colored graphies. Surautomatism of the lines and surfaces (D. Trost)