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Surrealism and science
"thought is one and indivisable" (Péret)
Occasionally some people have referred to some kind of contradiction between scientophilia and scientophobia within surrealism. To say that, for example, Breton, Césaire, Colquhoun, Baskine, Seligmann, Artaud, Miró, Péret, Legrand, Jouffroy, Brauner, Chazal, Tarnaud, Jouffroy, Dax, Carrington, Mabille, the majority of the french, czech and latin american surrealists, were against science and Paalen, Mabille, Matta, Rybak, Brunius, Jennings, Davies, Pailthorpe, Hérold, Caillois, Leiris, Nougé, Senecaut, Masson, Ernst, Onslow-Ford, Seligmann, Jorn, Breton, perhaps the majority of english, belgian and scandinavian surrealists plus the whole groups of Dyn and La Main à Plume, were for science is extremely superficial. The function of the thematisation of science in the works of individuals may be predominantly polemical or predominantly curious, but this is only about where individuals like to put the stress. (And any such sorting, such as this one here, will be extremely dubious as it necessarily extrapolates from mere hints in their works, from anecdotal evidence and from the most stupid denial of ambivalence and conflicting data.) The surrealist viewpoint in itself in its historic continuity is fairly unproblematic as long as the questions asked are made more specific.
1. Surrealism is passionately in favor of reality, truth, and the the natural world, and has a distinct taste for empirical data, documentation, objectivity.
2. This taste for documentation and objectivity is often expressed in a pseudoscientific style and pseudoscientific attitudes.
3. Surrealism has no longing to reach inside academic or other institutional structures.
4. Surrealism has no particular love for instrumental rationality or simple logic, but uses them in its quest for knowledge and for everyday purposes just like everybody else.
5. But it also challenges them and remain interested of whatever seems to counter them, get missed by them, be hidden behind them, get unleashed by abandoning them.
6. Surrealism is very often elaborate in its praxis of designing experimental methods, but usually in a more or less improvised way. Methodological concerns do come in, but are only occasionally an important focus.
7. Just like real science itself (but unlike the education system, mass media, and all the other pillars of ideology production) surrealism is very sceptic towards large generalisations based on scientific results and arbitrary applications of detached scientific results on other aspects life, and towards identifying one’s own world view with truth.
8. Surrealism is suspicious, critic and vengeful against all systematic ideology production, where the one carried out under the banner of science is but one, but a fatal one.
9. Surrealism is curious about all unusual thinking. Not for its own sake but for the possibilities of new poetic and epistemological revelations, and secondarily for the disturbance of habit in general as a method of triggering unknown dynamics.
10. Even though its own methodology is usually not that systematically developed, surrealism tends to agree with its “house-philosopher-of-science” Gaston Bachelard that new knowledge is produced foremostly by abandoning prejudice and making epistemological leaps. In one sphere, this is one of poetry’s functionings. In another, this is where the specialised natural sciences investigating our world work.
11. In that sense, surrealism has many reasons to appreciate and make usage of the marvellous worlds of for example particle dynamics, spacetime theory and the whole of quantum physics, scientific cosmology and astronomy in general, meteorology, systems ecology and microbiology, evolutionary theory and genetics, plate tectonics and geomorphology, quaternary geology and palaeoecology, cladistics and probability theory, cybernetics and general linguistics (just because these are the examples mentioned in “Hellchoir”). Such disciplines are creating coherent mythologies animating natural forces in a sense which is counterintuitive but makes poetic sense to our sensory and imaginational experience.
12. Some frameworks making sense of the world are called myths. Their poetic substance do not reside in some purely aesthetic perception beside truth, nor in any profound traditional truth which is fundamentally opposed to autonomous critical examination. They are in themselves not superior to the scientific framework, nor are they inferior. In mythology as well as in science, some domains are revelatory, liberating and poetic, while some are mainly dull or oppressive. Many surrealists are personally more interested in either myth or science, and may from that viewpoint also investigate scientific aspects of myth or the mythical aspect of science. The classic surrealist method is to snatch poetical elements from both, integrating them in a framework ordered by purely imaginational imperatives. But some surrealists keep warning about the ideological and social implications of many such thefts, potentially reproducing various available exotistic ideology or even create a new system of hostile liberal integration into an aesthetic framework; which are valid points even though the specific cases of surrealist appropriation may possibly well elude them. Some surrealists here insist on the need of deep knowledge of the framework in selected other worldviews, or of the principles of science – often surrealism may benefit from epistemological or methodological or comparative points made that way, just as much as from the poetical elements.
13. Thus, surrealism loathes and opposes all ideology and especially narrowminded instrumental reductive confinedly rationalist ideology, but loves the systematic and poetic study of the natural world.
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