Poetry for Southern California

 

Chicago Surrealist Group Guest Editorial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Anti-Miserabilism

by The Chicago Surrealist Group

The critique of what Andre Breton called miserabilism—"the depreciation of reality in place of its exaltation"—became a central theme of Chicago surrealism in the 1970s, and remains so to this day. Historically Breton identified it as "the offspring of the perfect coupling of those two vermin, Hitlerite fascism and Stalinism." Encompassing all the ideological excrescences of the "accumulation of misery" which, according to Marx, always accompanies the accumulation of capital, miserabilism relies chiefly on the brutal debasement of language (and all signs), especially via television, advertising and other vehicles of state-approved disinformation and degradation. As a product of declining capitalism, this "plague," as Breton termed it, "permits as many variations as there are categories of misery." Whatever accommodates and justifies the existing squalor belongs to the miserabilist New World Order: not only the many neo-Stalinisms and fascisms, but also such very different phenomena as Warholism, religious revivals, the so-called men's movement and the plethora of ultra-commercialized pop therapies.

Undermining such rationalizations of the unlivable is one of the most urgent emancipatory tasks of our time. Indeed, the degree to which any activity today can be called truly revolutionary is precisely the degree to which it contributes to the struggle against miserabilist mystification.

The first step is to discredit and demolish the toxic ideologies that immobilize and stifle the poetic imagination—for example: the work-ethic, dependence on the institutions of power, religious faith, reactionary racial mythologies and ossified notions of gender.

The Exaltation of Play, Gateless Gate to Objective Chance

Human freedom cannot be won by miserabilist means. Unlike the tradition-bound "Marxist" admirers of "business as usual" who want "Jobs for All," surrealists demand "All Play and No Work!" To stimulate surrealist collective creation is the principal reason for the creation of surrealist collectives, and we have found play to be the modus operandi that works best. As in "Time-Travelers' Potlatch," play questions conventional relationships, overturns definitions, puts pleasure before duty, frees the imagination, reinforces desire. Alchemically, play could be considered the open entrance to the shut palace of objective chance—a free-for-all approach to the infinite variety of unexpected self-revelation, and the basis for a new, revolutionary poetic morality. What at first may appear to be only a moment's "time out" from the Old Order becomes an "Open Sesame" to the revolutionary life—a concrete prefiguration of the life of poetry made by all.


The Chicago Surrealist Group was founded in July, 1966 by Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, after their 1965 trip to Paris where they attended meetings of the Paris Surrealist Group and met André Breton. Its initial members came from radical backgrounds such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and indeed the Chicago Surrealist Group edited an issue of Radical America, the SDS journal.