The Eroticized Universe

The Bucharest Surrealist Group1939-1947* […] Madness, black humor, dreams, eroticism, revolt: if one cannot speak of Unu (One) and Alge (Algae) as surrealist magazines in the strict sense, these themes indicate however the increasing attraction of a number of Romanian artists for surrealism. At the same time, a series of round trips between Bucharest and Paris reinforces this kinship of ideas. Herold settles in the French capital in 1930, and Brauner lives there from 1930 to 1934. Having acquired a deep understanding of surrealism, the latter exerts, in his turn, a decisive influence on Luca, Gellu Naum and Paun, upon his return to Romania. Finally, after their own 1938-1939 sojourn in Paris, Luca and Naum consider themselves surrealists in their own right and decide to form a group with Paun, Virgil Teodorescu and Dolfi Trost (the five of them were in their thirties then). However, because of the war, the new group will soon find themselves cut apart from Paris and, by a customary trick of History, this enforced isolation will cause, similarly to the greenhouse effect, still more powerful germination, on a theoretical as well as practical level.Doomed, during the war, to do their research clandestinely, the Romanian surrealists come into the open beginning with 1944. Taking advantage of the interval of political "confusion" in the wake of the hostilities, they set up several exhibitions and publish numerous texts (frequently written in French). Recalling that period, Paul Paun wrote in 1983, "Horror and terror, isolation and slavery, in short the holocaust as the daily backdrop of that epoch […], the efforts of the group were focused on the search for off-beat ways of liberation and immediate poetic triumphs. Collective poems, secret performances, paintings and objects invented and offered, dramatic loves, that "mysterious" activity was revealed, in part, during the brief after-years, vaguely pluralistic from the political point of view." (Mele, XVIII/62)In 1947, at last Stalinists seize total power, and the surrealists are little by little reduced to silence. In February, in the face of the totalitarian menace that becomes ever so obvious, Paun rejects all compromise with Stalinist "revolutionary" politics: "I do not believe that we should, complementarily, search for politics other than those of objective hazard." (Les Esprits animaux – Animal Spirits) Later, in April, as formerly, during the fascist dictatorship, he appeals for a "conspiracy of silence": "If there are any artists left who have nothing to deny to the ambition of their works by the (sole) criterion of the force of opposition against oppression, I cannot forbid myself to suggest to their ardent genius the concretizing expression of this criterion through that of advancing the objective language towards universal silence." (The Conspiracy of Silence) Finally, to Naum, who, despite all, tries to publish The White of the Bone, the regime replies by banning the writing – and this instance of censorship marks the very end of surrealist activity in Romania. In December, having liquidated the last remnants of political opposition, the "communists" proclaim the Popular Republic of Romania.The seizure of power by the "communists" would be the occasion for the Romanian surrealists to know their Eluard and their Aragon. If Luca and Trost went into exile to France in 1951, and Paun to Israel ten years later, after having published nothing for fifteen years, Naum, turned orthodox, lived and published his poetry in Romania, and his trips abroad were all return, with whatever that implied for a consenting hostage; as for Virgil Teodorescu, the most "angelic" of the Romanian surrealist poets, he simply put himself in the service of the new regime, acclaiming the first forced-labor camp in Romania (the Danube-Black Sea canal), then the glory of the "Genius of the Carpathians", Nicolae Ceausescu. * From the French texts published in Bucharest, it results that the Romanian surrealists liberally modified the surrealist project as formulated by Breton. Wherever surrealism indeed aims at opening skylights looking to the miraculous (which is translated into poems and paintings that ultimately confer the movement the image of a mere artistic school), the Romanian surrealists will attempt to build the world of the miraculous. A surrealism that claims to bring bourgeois reason to ruin and redeem the right to the unconscious and the imaginary, but ends up in nothing but a revolution of the poetic and pictorial language, is followed by a surrealism looking to the irruption of dreams into daily life, definitely experimental, and naturally hostile to the artistic side of the movement: a surrealism so innovative that a look back would not prove vain.In his Surrealist Manifesto (1924), Breton had given surrealism the following definition: "Psychical automatism the aim of which is to express, either verbally or in writing, or in any other way, the real functioning of thought." To this technique of exploring the unconscious, Breton would add another path of research in the Second Manifesto (1930). By writing that "everything leads to the belief that there is a certain vantage point of the spirit whence life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable cease to be perceived contradictorily," he thenceforth extends the goal of surrealism to the "hope of determining that point."Yet, starting from this step that challenges the partition of thought into reason and imagination, the Romanian surrealists cross over to an additional stage and claim, quite specifically, to "oneirize life", merge dream and reality. This is what Trost writes in Vision in the Crystal (1945): "Since we only admit of a unique functioning of thought, there can be no question of proximity between nighttime life, daytime life and dementia. One can only speak of their systematic confusion in order to reject the confining aspects that give these modes an apparently distinct form, for these modes are nothing but the result of the resistance of the outer world to our desires," (and underline, en passant, the connivance that exists between repression of desire and work: "The awakening, which we delay as much as we can, is nothing but the mark of man's return to production.")This is a far cry from Breton, who had been careful to specify that surrealism only aimed to "make visible" the point where contradictions were abolished. Commenting in 1937 the definition he had given in 1930, in order to dispel all doubt, Breton indeed had to declare, "I spoke of a certain point on the mountain. Never did I mean to settle down in that point. As a matter of fact, it would have ceased being sublime thenceforth, and I would have ceased being a man. Though unable to fit there reasonably, at least I have never distanced myself from it as far as to lose sight of it, as far as to become unable to point to it any more." (L'Amour fouMad Love)Of course, the Romanian surrealists insist that their set of activities is a continuation of surrealism, but at the same time, aware of the originality of their act, they claim for the movement "a continuous opposition to the whole world and itself" – that is, the need to go beyond current knowledge – and do not refrain from emphasizing that "the transformation of surrealism into a trend of artistic revolt would put an end to its theoretical development, and following its progress through the inevitable stages of rejection and opprobrium, it would run the risk of sharing the fate of all movements of revolt, which always wind up being exploited, one way or another, by the class enemy." (The Dialectic of Dialectic, 1945)Despite the appeals for advancement and the interest shown by Breton to the Romanian surrealists – he wrote to them, "You are the center of the world" –, the transformation of daily life through "the complete confusion of nighttime existence" had no effect on the surrealist movement. * Logically, a particular conception of the unconscious corresponds to the revisited surrealist project. Elaborated by Trost, who had a psychoanalytic education, the new theory of dreams shows a complete departure from Freud, and radicalizes the dissension between Breton and psychoanalysis. In contrast with Freud, who postulates an abyss between the conscious and the unconscious, Trost asserts the unity of the spirit, and if he admits the scission between conscious and unconscious, he is equally convinced that the two modes of a one and only reality can recover the unity lost during a process in which dreams amend the wakeful state of the psyche, and the other way round. Trost expounded his concepts in Vision in the Crystal (1945), then in The Same of the Same (1947). Here is a summary of his main theses, based on the latter work.Censure does not reside in an intermediate mental instance (preconscious or ego), but in the conscious, and it prevents the latter from perceiving the erotic character of all the images of dreams. To the conscious, therefore, the only erotic images are those in daytime mode; whereas in a dream, the vision of a moonbeam is no less directly erotic than that of genitalia.In order to uncover an amorous sense for the oneiric images that seem deprived of it, psychoanalysis invented notions such as latent content, symbolization and displacement, but we are dealing with useless hypotheses, and the Freudian method of association is an ingenious, but complicated procedure, "wherein repression enjoys favorable ground." (Trost had specified in Vision in the Crystal: "All existing analyses of the latent content are mere summaries – more or less simplified – of the Oedipus complex: it seems futile to bring this fundamental complex up to date by a detailed operation, as its existence may be theoretically affirmed in all the cases.") In reality, latent dreams do not exist; there are only manifest dreams.Since in dreams everything is eroticized, the oneiric image is concrete; it is at the same time anchored in the deepest reality, for the desire it expresses is subject to the determinations of both the dreamer and the outer world.Contrary to what is currently imagined, desire does not create a dream. A dream creates desire by creating itself, desire creates a dream by expressing itself; dream and desire become one. From reality, the dream proposes an image that captures at the same time the eroticized world, the desirous subject, and their mutual exchanges.Since a dream is this abysmal form of reality, and is not submitted to historical time, Trost affirms the ever prophetic character of dreams (another point that separates him from Freud, who claims that dreams can only reveal the past). Consequently, a dream is neither a narrative form, nor even a second life; it is the real image of life, but "concentrated and bent on itself." Dreams would be indeed an image of daytime life, but for the conscious dominated by repression.If a dream is an expression of life, reciprocally life and repression express themselves in dreams. The echoes of life that penetrate a dream do so in an absurd manner: the dream's humor disintegrates them; but a dream also deals with the socially regressive character of life submitted to alienation. Thus Trost, who declares that dreams are always revolutionary in their mechanisms, chooses to reject the oneiric fragments in which the sense of History (Trost employs the expression "historical causality") is reversed.As far as interpretation is concerned, since "the manifest content of dreams is erotic in itself", the method of association practiced by Freudians proves useless, or even deceptive. The only valid procedure is "auto-analysis" – a specific kind of auto-analysis that only relays a dream to itself: because it cannot reflect itself in the actual conscious, infested by repression, the dream must be looked upon in a "dialectically tautological" manner, as a permanent return on itself which entails successive, increasingly vaster layers of reality. This "poetical" approach is the only one possible, and it is only thanks to it that nowadays "dreams" may affirm that the "image" is "the direct expression of the unconscious, or rather of the unconscious that tends to become conscious, running into the conscious that, unburdened from repression, tends to become unconscious."To conclude, Trost appeals to "conscious somnambulism", in which he sees an anticipation of the end of the contingent opposition between life and dream, the anticipation of what he calls "perfect madness".Besides these reflections that give a theoretical ground to the unity of wakeful consciousness and dreams, Vision in the Crystal presents several practical innovations for rendering the dream back to its fundamental, irrational nature.* In order to eliminate the reactionary daytime traces in dreams, Trost suggests conditioning the latter by means of a sensation with erotic connotations. According to the author, the experiments were conclusive: donning a glove, a silk stocking, etc. provokes dreams released from any regressive trace, dreams that express pure desires.* In order to give dreams an interpretation in harmony with the "absurd" specific to oneiric images, Trost invents the so-called "obsessional oneiromancy" method, grounded in "objective hazard": "As in analysis, I would resume each symptomatic sentence, but instead of putting it in a mnesic association of ideas, I would open a handbook of erotic pathology at random, with a knife, considering the text I chanced upon to be the interpretation of the sentence read earlier. I saw in this oneiromancy a means of linking the dream to the outer world, and in its obsessively erotic aspect a palpable way to find its latent sexual content, thus assigning a cryptesthetic value, both subjective and objective, to hazard."* Finally, Trost advances the idea of a "dream with oneiric functioning", which consists of the elimination of "cliché-recollections" (parents' or street and city names, sums of money, identity papers) and other "crippling social details" from the dream narrative: "[…] in this way," he writes, "we are no longer compelled to see repetitions of scenes or names that we avoid consciously and which only highlight the obstacles on the oneiric course," and the dream is thus rendered back to the "complete absurdity" which is its own. Whether of a theoretical or practical nature, all these considerations about dreams evince a perspective which collides with psychoanalysis. To psychoanalysis as therapy, to psychoanalysis that seeks adaptation of the individual to an oppressive society, Trost opposes a theory of liberation of desire, with all the subversive consequences it entails. Better still, by asserting the fundamental unity of the spirit and its possible reconquest, the new theory confirms the loftiest ambitions of poetry: "conscious somnambulism" – that is the definition of "real life", at last attained. * In order to make the unconscious express itself, give it back its power in daily life, the Romanian surrealists developed various techniques. Here are the graphic ones:* the surautomatism of lines and surfaces – lines and surfaces drawn automatically and covered with color. In Presentation of Colored Graphies, Cubomanias, and Objects (1945), Trost adds that those graphies push automatism beyond automatic writing, "to the extreme limits of the unconscious, through a total lack of made-up elements" (words and phrases);* hypnagogic movements, consisting of coloring a cardboard surface and painting it over with eyes closed. "Coloring with a series of colors randomly picked seems to me one of the best means of avoiding the image of a humdrum landscape, especially an oneiric one," Trost writes. "The construction of an image that precedes execution is concretely denied by the final image, as strange to the doer as to the watcher. Thanks to this means, the relative limits of the unconscious are overstepped by the encounter with hazard, which participates in the operation itself, conferring it a double – inner and outer – causality." (Presentation);* indecipherable mancies, comprising fuming (a black trace left by the flame of a candle, later colored), stillamancy (trace left by an inkblot squeezed between the two halves of a folded sheet of paper), inkblots and fluids trickling down a vertical surface. "In all these methods, the image also comes after the operation, and no deliberate intervention is possible. The mystery of the traces is complete, and it is utterly impossible to insert them into a known image." (Presentation);* vaporization, whereby the automatism of the hand is replaced by that of breath: a ball of ink (barely fluid) or paint (very watered-down) is dispersed with a vaporizer activated by breath;* finally, entoptic graphomanias, obtained by automatically drawing lines between dots resulted from the irregularities of color all over a sheet of paper.The goal of all these techniques that reveal automatism and hazard combined is to determine "the first graphic equivalents of our most unutterable desires." These graphies are totally a-graphic, and their value resides in "the operation necessary to produce them", "the total accord between the automatism of the hand and unconscious thought". Non-artistic, they constitute the critique of surrealist imagery, which tends to substitute esthetic research for the research of the unity of dream and reality.A lot of experiments and liberating games may be added to these graphic techniques. Under the name of "nocturnal sable game" (or "objectanalysis"), the Romanian surrealists dedicated themselves to the "interpretation of objects in a self-induced, lightly somnambular state" (a psychical state with an oneiric quality). In that case, it is the manner itself that was submitted to the desire-dream. Objects are hidden in a room left in darkness (sable, in heraldic terms), and the participants describe those they discover in a state of surautomatism: then, "the tip of the palms, the edge of the eyelids of total vision, in a supremely hysteric manner, put together desire and its infinite possibilities of becoming […] the eruptive disintegration of the beloved matter, the act of snatching it passionately from its physical bonds and the shapes imposed by the unbearable actuality of all outer objects, its transient de-materialization in view of a surprising materialization – all this entirely changes the pernicious incorporation in the shapes that still smoke in the line vanished under the last transmissible point – bi-long, bathed in the inverted gazes in the water, when that inverted water itself reveals its secret double bottom, and beyond the bottom, only the secret, only it, that has the shape of the magnetic viscera of the woman upon which hands wield absorbing passes […] In perpetual search of the woman found, present. For the total de-congestion of the idea of encounter between man and woman […] For the most beautiful breasts are those brought to us by the wind of the night on the shoulders of thighs, the mouth of its eyes stilled by the finger of silence. And across them, down with the vision of the tired oppressor of our senses. The skin of the beloved one extends beyond her body, it covers the women and objects surrounding her or not, it tends to embark on the whole universe […]" (Nocturnal Sable, contribution of the Bucharest Group to the catalog of the 1947 International Exhibition of Surrealism).To counterpoise the hostility of the outer world, the Romanian surrealists practiced the "mutual decoration game". According to Luca, the activity has a "pronounced megalomaniac character" and is destined to fight against a "general persecution mania". Luca mentions that the game offers both "the pleasure to decorate and to be decorated", and it was inspired by an inmate of the Central Mental Hospital who practiced autodecoration (cf. The Passive Vampire, 1945). In the same book, Luca proposes the "Objectively Offered Object". Discovered during the mutual decoration game, the OOO's weave around their maker a mesh of "objective hazard". Whatever is fortuitous in the encounters is perceived as necessary, fetishes seeming laden with unconscious desire by their author and endowed with power over their recipient.Another way of liberating desire – "cubomania". Invented by Luca, who qualified it as "non-oedipal", cubomania is an original form of collage made from images cut up in small squares. It represents the destruction of reality by scissors and humor, and the construction of a new reality by the rules of hazard and whim. It is the "ocular complement", the visual rendition, of the rejection of a hostile external reality and a castrating oedipal reality. In Presentation of Colored Graphies…, Luca writes:"Cubomania denies. Cubomania makes the known unknowable. Cubomania is a real fossilization of our era.Practical cubomania lesson in daily life: choose three chairs, two hats, a few stones and umbrellas, several trees, three naked and five well dressed women, sixty men, a few houses, cars from all epochs, gloves, telescopes, etc.Cut up everything in little pieces (for example, 6 by 6 cm) and mix them up thoroughly in a large plaza of the city. Reconstruct by the rules of hazard or your whim, and you will get a landscape, object, or very beautiful woman, unknown or well-known, the woman and landscape of your desires."In his revolt against the oedipal condition and, generally speaking, against the natural human condition, Luca even turns despair and death into weapons. Pushing despair to the extreme, Luca arrives at a point where, dialectically, it is reversed into an urgency for total liberation (cf. The Inventor of Love, 1945). To death, he presents the challenge of five attempted suicides driven as far as possible; during this experience, and the humorous side it breeds, it is death which is put to death; the most outrageous ingredient of the human condition – man is born to die – is denied (cf. The Dead Death, 1945).At last, from their specific perspective of generalized eroticization, the Romanian surrealists do not ignore the social issue. Taking for granted that "the destruction of our initial oedipal stand" would allow "the qualitative transformation of love into a general method of revolution", they suggest the eroticization of the working class as an "insurrectionary support" of the "total revolution" they plan. Thus, in line with a Wilhelm Reich they probably know nothing about, Luca and Trost do not hesitate to proclaim, "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 Dialectic of Dialectic). In this connection, it must be noticed that Breton, who considered the Third International, then Trotskyist opposition, the sole proprietors of the revolutionary project, gave up the insurrectionary implications of surrealism, while the Romanians, having made of the main theme of surrealism the main theme of the proletarian revolution, embraced them altogether.No doubt, one is entitled to wonder whether, despite all the experimental practices, the Romanian surrealists really irrigated life with the flow of desire. The answer, however, has no importance at all, because – whatever the nature of their delirium – one cannot deny to the Romanian surrealists the creation of an individual and collective climate so strange that, around them, live reality became deeply altered and submitted to mental over-excitement, the proof of which lies in the theoretical and "poetical" texts of the group. * In conclusion to our analysis, we may say that, if this frenetic surrealism suggests any affinity, it is both with the lettrist International and the situationist International, but also with surrealism. Through its orientation proper, if not the forms it took, the experimental delirium of the Romanian surrealists is a reminder of Saint-Germain-des-Prés' deranged behavior evoked by Asgar Jorn in connection with lettrist internationalists (Pour la formeFor Form, 1958). Separated by a few years and, certainly, by dissimilar means, both groups were in quest of a behavioral poetry, and placed the lived experience and its possible poesy (eroticism in particular) at the center of the revolutionary platform. And if the lettrist International came upon "real life" while seeking to surpass art (cf. Guy Debord, Preface to the fourth Italian edition of "Show Society", in Commentaires, p. 100), it is not surprising that, conversely, the Bucharest Surrealist Group may have come upon the surpassing of art while seeking "real life" without rejecting the artistic aspect of surrealism, and without tying together the realization of art intended by surrealism and the suppression of art that it was keeping in store. January 1995* This text that we reproduce here only partially for lack of space was written for a project to reedit The Dialectic of Dialectic, Canada – CDL/La Sociale diffusion, SUCC, C Montreal Canada H2L 4K1.

by Luc Mercier