International Gramsci Society Online Article
January 2005

Antonio Gramsci on Surrealism and the Avantgarde

E. San Juan, Jr.

Surrealism provided me with what I had been confusedly searching for. I have accepted it joyfully because in it I have found more of a confirmation than a revelation. It was a weapon that exploded the French language. It shook up absolutely everything. ...A process of disalienation, that’s how I interpreted surrealism. --AIME CESAIRE [1]

In the spring of 1919, Andre Breton and Phillipe Soupault conducted various experiments in automatic writing. They converted themselves into machines to record the whispers of the unconscious, inspired by Rimbaud’s urge for adventure in quest of cosmic knowledge and Lautreamont’s conviction of art as a communal enterprise. To destroy bourgeois morality and class inequality, uphold the freedom of the imagination, and release the libidinal energies dammed up in the psyche, surrealism--Guillaume Appolinaire’s term [2]--was invented from the nihilistic ruins of Dada to lay the groundwork for building a society founded on liberty and justice. In the same year the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci founded the innovative journal L'Ordine Nuovo and advocated the factory council (modeled after the Russian soviets) as the germ of an emergent communist society. Both initiatives were pathbreaking in challenging the orthodoxies of modernist bourgeois culture, politics, and philosophy.

When Breton published his 1924 "First Manifesto of Surrealism" privileging dreams, the unconscious, the fantastic and marvellous, Gramsci was the principal leader of the Communist Party of Italy spearheading the opposition to Mussolini’s fascist takeover. Two years after, Gramsci was arrested and imprisoned until his death in 1937. In the Prison Notebooks that occupied him while in jail, Gramsci does not--as far as I am aware--refer to Breton or to surrealism directly. But in his scattered reflections on modern art and culture in general, and in his particular observations on Italian futurism (in particular, on Marinetti) and on Pirandello, we can extrapolate the general approach Gramsci would take toward surrealism and avantgarde art as oppositional cultural practices. This exercise may clarify what a revolutionary Marxist position should be toward aesthetics within the field of cultural production especially in the postCold War epoch of realignments and reconfigurations.

All commentators agree that Gramsci viewed the aesthetic as a category within the terrain of historical materialism. Artistic values are rooted in the social and material practices of a specific society which defines the limits of conventional artistic forms and the subject matter available to the artist. Vision or intuition and diverse raw materials (language, sounds, dance movements, filmic images) are indissociable. Contrary to Croce’s emphasis on transcendental intuition, Gramsci valorizes the materialization of this intuition into perceptible, sensory structure, an architectonic whole produced by intellectual discipline and shaped by an integral worldview. In short, for Gramsci, the work of art is the historicization and objectification of vision.

Gramsci’s conception of Marxism stresses its intrinsic dialectical method, its emphasis on processes and relations within a social formation comprised of multilayered modes of production, given the necessarily uneven development of capitalism. This mode of historicizing life not only to interpret but to change it is a guide for collective action, not a dogmatic party line. "Man is "precisely the process of his actions," Gramsci writes, and "relative to what we have thought and seen, we seek to know what we are and what we can become, whether it is true and within what limits that we do 'make ourselves,' create our own lives and our own destinies."[3] Here, knowledge and action are oriented toward linking the past with the present in order to fashion the future.

While Gramsci did not endorse Freudian theory completely except by noting (in Prison Notebooks) that psychoanalysis is "a kind of criticism of the regulation of sexual instincts," he did entertain a tripartite organization of the psyche when he states: "'One’s real nature' can be taken to be the sum of one’s animal impulses and instincts, and what one tries to appear as is the social-cultural 'model' of a certain historical epoch that one seeks to become..It seems to me that 'one’s real nature' is determined by the struggle to become what one wants to become."[4] Cognizant of both the realms of the id and the ego, Gramsci stresses the will as the chief determining element of the human personality.

Gramsci reiterates the Marxist principle of the individual essence as equivalent to the "totality of social relations" in the following remark: "Hence the artist does not write or paint--that is, he does not externalize his phantasms--just for his own recollection, to be able to relive the moment of creation. He is an artist only insofar as he externalizes, objectifies and historicizes his phantasms."[5] Unmistakably, Gramsci underscores the historicity of form: "'Content' and 'form' have an 'historical' as well as an 'aesthetic meaning. 'Historical' form signifies a given language, as 'content' indicates a given way of thinking which is not only historical, but ’sober,' expressive...."[6] The process of objectifying and historicizing the impulses and drives thus shifts the focus from the finished expression, the "reflection and recollection of interior fullness and perfection, to the materiality of the writing process," in short, to the "complex system of cultural relations."[7]

Surrealism parallels Gramsci’s radical return to the material process and its vicissitudes.[8] In Breton’s 1924 Manifesto, we encounter the concentration on process as surrealism is defined as:

pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express, either verbally or in writing, the real function of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by the reason and outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupations.

Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of associations neglected until now, in the omnipotence of the dream, and in the disinterested play of thought. It leads to the destruction of all other psychic mechanisms and substitutes itself for them in solving the principal problems of life.[9]
Maynard Solomon perceives the tragic flaw of surrealism in this theory of unconscious creativity, a pretext for quietism, but also the motivating force for a perpetual and creative disequilibrium.[10] However, free association, to my mind, signifies a mediation: the unconscious freely manifests its infinite possibilities when the censorship of the ego (the public self or persona) is evaded and the instinctive libido mobilized to express itself in strange, marvellous or fantastic forms vis-a-vis quotidian reality. This reality, one should note, is the reified and commodified reality of bourgeois everyday life, the domain of capitalism regulated and directed by the norms of the market and the iron law of exchange-value. The phantasms Gramsci refers to are Breton’s dreams, the play of thought via analogy and association, and all kinds of parapraxes--what Freud calls "the psychopathology of everyday life," symptoms of repression.

In this light, we can understand why Breton condemned the routine language of decadent bourgeois society as distorting and obstructive: "the logical mechanism of the sentence appears more and more incapable of releasing the emotional shock in man which actually gives some true value to his life." While stereotyped language blocks "true consciousness" or "the real functioning of thought," insofar as it can emancipate itself from conventional and received forms, it can also serve as "the medium of an idealized 'pure consciousness.'" Raymond Williams notes that from this perspective the purpose of writing becomes not communication but illumination, even self-illumination, with the emphasis on "the experience itself rather than on any of the forms of embodying or communicating it."[11] But Breton qualifies this by asserting that the poetic process is empirical and dynamic; it did not "presuppose an invisible universe beyond the network of the visible world."

We need at the outset to retrospectively distinguish the surrealist transvaluation of modernity from Dadaism with which it is often confused. Dada was born from the chaos of World War I. In a lecture in Zurich in 1922, Paul Valery spoke of the European mind "cruelly wounded by war."[12] In the works of Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, and others, Dadaism aims to randomly destroy all existing standards of morality and taste in public exhibitions of anarchic frenzy, burlesque, and scandal pour epater le bourgeois. Sporting diving helmets and outlandish gear in public urinals, Dadaists thematized dissolution, futility, meaningless and absurd routine, as a reaction to modern existence; in short, Dadaism exalted the phantasms in themselves as adequate antitheses to dehumanizing capitalist mandates and institutions. While surrealism also may be conceived as a revolt against bourgeois conventions, it diverges from Dadaism in several ways.

Called the "prehensile tail of Romanticism,"[13] surrealism claims to be a total revolution of the world. With changes in society being premised on changes in the character and consciousness of humans, surrealists criticized the "common sense" rules and practices of everyday life. It is not correct to say that the surrealists desired the liberation of the spirit before the abolition of bourgeois class society, as Cesar Vallejo accused them of doing;[14] rather, they believed that material conditions and the means of expression/communication are inseparable. Radically questioning the accepted modes of representation, they sought to express a coherent answer to nihilistic cant and the facile "progressivism" of business society witnessed in the cult of patriotism, family, religion, and material acquisitions.

In challenging this status quo internalized in the psyche (the Freudian ego commanded by the reality principle), surrealists regarded the unconscious glimpsed in dreams, fantasies, and irrational behavior as the repository of utopian possibilities. Such possibilities need to be articulated through a new grammar and syntax of art (one can cite bluffs, slogans, forgeries, gratuitous demonstrations, watchwords), new stylistic breakthroughs that would subvert the corrupting control of the rational logocentric mind. The public self or ego needs to be dissolved by the operations of the subliminal drives, operations either governed by chance and or influenced by certain patterns of the unconscious (condensation, displacement, figures of dream-work). Automatic texts and paintings would express alogical dream visions and dissonant images that violate monological, uniform, and mechanical standards in a way that would synthesize conscious and unconscious materials--a synthesis by negation. The contradictions between action and dream, reason and madness, sensation and representation, psychic trace and primal myth, would all be resolved in the surrealist experience. In the region of the unconscious, Breton writes, there is not only "a total absence of contradiction" but also "a lack of temporality" and the absolute reign of the pleasure principle. The moments of creation and destruction coalesce in the surrealist technique of creating the marvellous and precipitating a new altered understanding of reality.

Like Gramsci, the surrealists then endeavored to transform the system of cultural relations and artistic practices by forging a new conception of the artist. To carry out the wide-ranging changes in personality and in the conduct of everyday life, the surrealist needs self-discipline, a personal asepsie so as to preserve a condition of open accessibility or availability to the solicitations of the unconscious. The constitution of the surrealist subject springs from the problematization of the authority of the author and of the academies, the arbiters of Establishment taste. While profoundly libertarian in stressing the moral exigency of desire, the surrealist ethos instigates a phase of cosmic passivity--the "wise passiveness" of Wordsworth open to pantheist visitations--but not permanently. Since its mission is to change life (Rimbaud) and transform the world (Marx), surrealism eventually demands an evangelical program of action (hence, many surrealists joined the Communist Party of France, or the Trotskyist opposition in the thirties and forties).

With the activist stance ascendant in the period 1925-30, the mode of pure automatism--writing under hypnosis--evolved and was assimilated into a "paranoiac method" in which "estrangement" (forms of insanity) was simulated in the poem or painting. Two other strategies to objectify desire and its virtual metamorphosis were discovered: first, the notion of "objective hazard," a "a fortuitous conjunction in the world or mind the significance of which is greater than its apparent lack of causes would indicate."[15] Second, the foregrounding of "black bile," a form of ironic or grotesque humor whose resonance recalls Dada but also the Rabelaisian comic satire on official monologic prejudices (as, for example, in Thornton Wilder’s 1942 play The Skin of Our Teeth ).

One may register the objection that surrealism, inspired by the examples of Novalis, Coleridge, Nerval and Baudelaire (apart from Rimbaud and Lautreamont already mentioned), favored moments of madness, trance, and hallucination more than moments of control. This is true insofar as the marvellous can be released only in the gratuitous instants or privileged moments of rupture when rational awareness is suspended, neutralized, or cancelled altogether.

Ever suspicious of bourgeois rationality, Apollinaire speculated that the artist can reproduce these instants of rupture without esthetic arrangement or mediation. If so, apprehended objective reality is not the creation of beauty through language or other media but simply a manifestation of pure force, power, energy. It approximates Spinoza’s conception of conatus as the virtue behind the unity of form and substance.[16] Surrealism, however, requires paradoxically a will or intention to effect defamiliarization and estrangement of reified circumstances, hence the need for organic artist-intellectuals (such as Gramsci envisaged) that would serve the subaltern classes by interpellating them as revolutionary subjects. Surrealism claims to be one such ideological apparatus of interpellation in civil society.

In addition, one encounters also the surrealist method of cadavre exquis--the composition of poetry via word games requiring collective participation. Such poems are fashioned anonymously by many authors (suggested by Comte de Lautreamont who envisioned everyone as a potential poet). So "the exquisite corpse will drink the new wine"--one memorable line of this collective word-game--becomes a product of a communal seance, the direct route to the unconscious. Still, given the ineluctable sociality of language and its semantic parameter, communication of the surrealist vision transpires through material objectification. For example, in Breton’s Nadja, the framework of everyday life serves as the point of entry for mapping the topography of Paris in a sequence of constant estrangement performed by the narrator through changes of perspective and unlikely but heuristic juxtapositions.[17]

Like the psychologist Pierre Janet, the surrealists regarded the products of the mind as sensory material or substance, evidenced in the recognizable referents juxtaposed in the famous signature logo of surrealism: "The chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table." The fact that poetic analogy is a deliberate act of revealing the affinities and identities (catalyzed by chance, automatism, erotic experience) between the mind and the exterior universe testifies to the intervention of a will that seeks to resolve the antinomies of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. "One is like the other"--to say this is itself, for the surrealists, a revolutionary act.

Gramsci would, I am sure, appreciate this intervention of the synthesizing will of the surrealist imagination in the artist’s attempt to represent sociohistorical reality. But Gramsci is not just obsessed with mimetic reproduction or the photographic capture of surfaces. He is more concerned with the cultural and ideological struggle centering on the key concept of hegemony, hegemony conceived as the moral-intellectual leadership of a historic bloc of forces that combines consent and force in instituting a whole ethico-political order in a given epoch. Gramsci is primarily engaged with the political criticism of art, "the criticism of social life, involving the struggle to destroy and overcome certain feelings and beliefs, certain attitudes toward life and the world."[18] This is evidenced in his judgment of the Italian futurist Marinetti, an evaluation which can be applied also to surrealism insofar as surrealism calls for new aesthetic forms and values as a symptom of the need to reorganize the whole society dominated by modern capitalism.

Echoing Anatoly Lunacharsky (then commissar of education of the Soviet Union), Gramsci praises futurism’s political-aesthetic attack on bourgeois norms and values. Futurism’s iconoclasm threatens bourgeois cultural hegemony and thus coincides with the proletariat’s need for political power. Marinetti’s positive role within the framework of the socialist program to forge an alliance between the working masses and the radical bourgeois intelligentsia is similar to the surrealist position of democratizing poetic expression and repudiating elite culture.

In the context of the rise of fascism as the cult of the irrational, Gramsci subsumed the libidinal within a collective organizing intention. He outlines the hypothesis for this united front or coalition of forces to usher a "proletarian civilization" which can include heterogeneous and even contradictory tendencies: "To destroy bourgeois culture meant simply breaking down bourgeois spiritual hierarchies, rejecting biases, idols and stultified traditions; it meant not fearing innovation, nor thinking that the world will collapse if a worker makes grammatical mistakes, if a poem limps, if a picture resembles a hoarding or if young men sneer at academic and feeble-minded senility."[19] The last gesture felicitously evokes the surrealist (and Dadaist) lambasting of reified academic art and commodified spectacles that now characterize the transnational consumerist vogue of mainstream postmodernism.

Gramsci’s praise of futurism can be extended to surrealism and its experimental and systematic drive for innovations. Futurism’s demand for new forms of culture was, for Gramsci, "distinctively revolutionary" and "absolutely Marxist" and in this field of culture "it is likely to be a long time before the working classes will manage to do anything more creative than the Futurists have done."[20] Written in January 1921, Gramsci’s appraisal of futurism is extraordinary and is the complete opposite of the sectarian dogmatism of the bureaucratic "socialist realism" code of Stalinism and its bureaucratic adherents. It springs from a cardinal tenet of his Marxism:

Once the principle has been established that all we are looking for in the work is its artistic character, this in no way prevents us from inquiring into what mass of feelings, what attitude towards life, circulates within the work itself.... What is not admissible is that a work should be beautiful because of its moral and political content to the exclusion of the form with which the abstract content has fused and become one."[21]
Despite the reminder of the desideratum of organic form, Gramsci does not subsume ideological/political critique into the doctrine of orthodox formalist aestheticism. Rather, he maintains a flexible strategic option by insisting that the form is always the form of a specific sociohistorical content, as I've shown above.

Historicizing cultural practice is fundamental for Gramsci. In a letter to Trotsky in September 1922, Gramsci recorded his disillusionment at the fate of Futurism after the war. The young intelligentsia of Futurism had turned reactionary, with Marinetti extolling the "aristocracy of the spirit": "The workers, who had seen in Futurism the elements of a struggle against academic culture, fossilized and remote from the popular masses, had to fight for their freedom with weapons in their hands and had little interest in the old arguments."[22] Pursuing the principle of historicizing cultural practice, Gramsci arrives at a calculated judgment by inscribing aesthetics within the balance of contending lines of force in the overall struggle for hegemony. Incidentally, in 1938 Breton collaborated with Trotsky in founding the Federation internationale de l'art revolutionnaire independant (FIARI) whose manifesto ended with the slogans: "Our aims: the independence of art--for the revolution. The revolution--for the complete liberation of art!"[23] .

Gramsci’s attitude to Pirandello’s relativist or perspectival theater can also be extended to the ultimately emancipatory praxis of surrealism. For Gramsci, Pirandello’s plays were valuable for their cultural rather than purely aesthetic function. Like Futurism, they "deprovincialized" the Italians and stimulated a modern critical attitude that displaced the traditional "melodramatic" attitude.[24] While Gramsci measured Pirandello’s drama according to a cognitive, realistic criterion and censured the allegorical cast of Pirandello’s characters, he did not ignore the cultural project informing the intellectualist epistemology of Pirandello’s experiments. He called Pirandello a "stormtrooper of the theater" throwing grenades that destroyed banalities and traditional schemes, in particular "the 'humanitarian' and positivistic conception of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois verismo.[25] The playwright’s relativist epistemology sent shock waves to the established hierarchies of power/knowledge, undermining all forms of closure. In brief, Pirandello’s significance resided in the usefulness of his "bourgeois subversivism" for attaining proletarian hegemony--the final test of moral worth. What is imperative for Gramsci is the formation of a historic bloc of forces that would lead the masses in the socialist reconstruction of society.[26]

Surrealism exceeded the limits of "bourgeois subversivism" by predicating "the liberation of man upon the proletarian Revolution."[27] Deploying Marx’s "logic of totality" within a historical-materialist orientation, the surrealists sought the transmutation of "two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality, a super-reality, so to speak." While Gramsci posed the relative autonomy of the spheres of politics and ideology from economic determinants, he conceived also of a transmutation of the "base" and "superstructure" via a catharsis. By "catharsis," Gramsci means "the passage from the purely economic (or egoistic-passional) to the ethico-political moment," the decisive passage from the objective to the subjective, from necessity to freedom.[28] Objective structure then ceases to be an external constraining force and becomes an instrument of freedom and the source of new initiatives.

We have reached the dialectics of reason and the unconscious, of thought and the sublime object that resists conceptualization. This central doctrine of "catharsis"--Gramsci’s linkage of what is traditionally thought of as the antithesis of the economic base and the ideological superstructure--is what Breton, I think, is trying to enunciate in formulating the paramount motivation of surrealism:

a desire to deepen the foundations of the real, to bring about an ever clearer and at the same time ever more passionate consciousness of the world perceived by the senses... We have attempted to present interior reality and exterior reality as two elements in process of unification, of finally becoming one. This final unification is the supreme aim of surrealism: interior reality and exterior reality being, in the present form of society, in contradiction (and in this contradiction we see the very cause of man’s unhappiness, but also the source of his movement) we have assigned to ourselves the task of confronting these two realities...[in] their reciprocal attraction and interpenetration.[29]

In Herbert Read’s paraphrase, for surrealism, "art is not merely irrationality; it is rather the interpenetration of reason and unreason, a dialectical counterplay, a logical progression whose end is a transformed world." [30] This is the thrust of Breton’s "Second Surrealist Manifesto" (1930) and also Les Vases Communicants (1932) oriented to healing the split between action and dream.

One can illustrate further the concrete translation of this theme in Breton’s novel Nadja, its articulation of the "principle of total subversion" which also underlies the poems of Eluard, Desnos, and Aragon.[31] But I would rather point to the Caribbean Marxist poet Aime Cesaire’s simultaneous appropriation and abrogation of surrealism in Notebook of a Return to The Native Land and other poems. Meeting Breton in Fort-de-France, Martinique, in 1941, Cesaire acknowledged Breton’s "boldness" and the solutions offered by surrealism to problems tackled by Cesaire’s Negritude movement.[32] Cesaire’s poetic themes and motifs encompassed the surrealist exploration of childhood, madness and neurosis, anticlericalism, eroticism, free association and the occult to expand the boundaries of consciousness, to attain wholeness of being. What Cesaire contributes is the uninhibited and calculated violence (reminiscent of Rimbaud’s "disordering of all senses") inflicted on French syntax and prosody to create a hybrid but original intertextual rhythm that merges the kaleidoscopic milieus of the "Third World" and European civilization.

Surrealism remains a vital aesthetic-political project today. It is fully consistent with the Marxist project insofar as the "surreal" is an immanent beyond, its goal (in the words of Michel Beaujour) "a humanized nature and a naturalized man" conversing together in exalting clarity.[33] The leading American Marxist critic Fredric Jameson assesses surrealism within the postmodern regime: "The Utopian vocation of surrealism lies in its attempt to endow the object world of a damaged and broken industrial society with the mystery and depth, the 'magical' qualities (to speak like either Weber or the Latin Americans), of an Unconscious that seems to speak and vibrate through those things."[34] Robert Short celebrates the surrealist sensibility of the here and now, consonant with Gramsci’s realism and the imperative of counterhegemonic praxis: "they have sponsored the revolutionary idea of the artist as everyman and of every man as potentially and as of right un homme complet."[35]

Complementing the Gramscian accent on practical realism is the utopian dimension whose most acute observer is Walter Benjamin. In his essay "Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia," Benjamin located surrealism’s enduring achievement in the method of "profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration" that loosened the self and its "moralizing dilettantism" by intoxication. Such intoxication allowed the surrealists to transform urban social and architectonic "destitution" into "revolutionary experience, if not action."[36]

Surrealism exemplified the avantgarde view that wrestling with language generates the experience of illumination--the matrix of revolutionary art itself. According to Raymond Williams, the surrealist converts the function of language as distorting public communication into a medium of "idealized 'pure consciousness'"[37] which captures the distance between what is imagined and what exists in culture and society. It was not, as Christopher Caudwell believed, an escape from the "social ego."[38] Here is a recent re-affirmation of the classic surrealist philosophy by the leading American exponent, Franklin Rosement, a re-statement of what Gramsci calls the hegemonic drive of emancipatory politics:

In our view, the surest way to find viable solutions [to the problems of capitalism today] is to pursue an approach rooted in the free-wheeling utopia of universal analogy, absolute divergence, eroticism, potlatch and play, Happily liberated from work and the work-ethic, war and religion, production and profit, and other repressive values; an approach that fetishizes neither conscious nor unconscious, but seeks their dialectical resolution; an approach that rejects the depreciation of reality and all varieties of cynical accomodation to misery, and demands instead freedom now, more reality, expanded awareness, and ready access to the Marvelous at all times.[39]

The surrealist experiments with language and the unconscious generated a dialectical apprehension in which "we penetrate the mystery only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optic that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday."[40] Surrealist political action mediated through the negativity of critical experiments that incorporate the very dynamic of history may be said to induce the profane illumination in which "all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge"[41] --exactly the "catharsis" that Gramsci considered the answer to the problem of hegemony and the socialist revolution.


[1] "An Interview with Aime Cesaire," in Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 67-68.

[2] To register the physical misery of the landscape of war, Apollinaire’s term "surrealist" was actually invented for the program notes for the Diaghilev production of Parade in 1917, in which Stravinsky, Satie, Picasso, and Cocteau collaborated. Cf. Scott Bates, Guillaume Apollinaire (New York: Twayne, 1967) and William Fleming, Arts and Ideas (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1974). The most ingenious exploration of the historical contexts of surrealism in its various permutations is Daniel Cottom, Abyss of Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[3] Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince and Other Writings, ed. Louis Marks (New York: International Publishers, 1957), 76.

[4] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Cultural Writings, tr. William Boelhower (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 145. See also Renate Holub, Antonio Gramsci: Beyond Marxism and Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1992).

[5] Ibid., 112.

[6] Quoted in Galvano della Volpe, "The Semantic Dialectic," in Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne, ed., Marxist Literary Theory: A Reader (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996), 175.

[7] Robert Dombroski, Antonio Gramsci (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989), 17.

[8] For samples of surrealist poetry by Aragon, Eluard, and others, see the collections Willis Barnstone, ed., Modern European Poetry (New York: Bantam Books, 1966) and Alan Bold, ed., The Penguin Book of Socialist Verse (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1970).

[9] Helena Lewis, The Politics of Surrealism (New York: Paragon House, 1988), 21-22. On the debate concerning the politics of surrealism between Renato Poggioli and Peter Burger, see the enlightening commentary of Ann Gibson, "Avant-garde," in Critical Terms for Art History, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 156-69.

[10]Maynard Solomon, ed., Marxism and Art (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1973), 507-06.

[11]Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism (New York: Verso, 1989), 73. For a negative critique, see Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Volume 4 (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 235-36. In contrast to Hauser, the philosopher Ernst Bloch comments on the montage/collage methods of De Chirico and Max Ernst: "Montage-far from being merely arbitrarily objective-reflects the becoming-visible of experimental properties within the objects themselves," symbolizing therein the principle of emancipation; see Bloch, Literary Essays (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), 408-09.

[12]Quoted in James D. Wilkinson, The Intellectual Resistance in Europe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1981), 9.

[13]C.W.E. Bigsby, "Surrealism," in Roger Fowler, ed., A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 187.

[14]Jean Franco, Cesar Vallejo: The Dialectics of Poetry and Silence (London: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 150.

[15]Joseph T. Shipley, Dictionary of World Literature (Paterson, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1962), 403.

[16]See Louis Althusser, "Part I:Spinoza," in The New Spinoza, ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 3-20 .

[17]The painters Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, Jan Miro, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, and others, have explored the unconscious region of the psyche through erotic symbols, motifs from myths, chance associations, hallucinatory tropes, dream fantasies, memory images, automatic drawing, visual paradoxes and all kinds of incongruities. See Edmund Swinglehurst, The Art of the Surrealists (Bristol, UK: Parragon Book, 1995). For Pablo Picasso's surrealist phase, see Max Raphael, Proudhon Marx Picasso, ed. John Tagg (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979; John Berger, The Success and Failure of Picasso (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965). We also find Renaissance illusionism mixed with abstract figurations, as in Chirico's The Disquieting Muses (1917). One critic describes surrealism as a return to "content," unfolding a reality saturated in dreams, reverie, and nightmarish aura; see Paul Zucker, Styles in Painting (New York: Dover, 1963), 328-329. Surrealism in music can be exemplified in Erik Satie's three piano pieces of 1913 entitled Dessicated Embryos; Serge Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges (1921) and Bela Bartok's opera The Child and the Sorceries (1925).

[18]Gramsci, Cultural Writings, 93.

[19]Ibid., 50-51.

[20]Ibid., 51.

[21]Quoted in Della Volpe, "The Semantic Dialectic," 175.

[22]Gramsci, Cultural Writings, 54.

[23]Lewis, The Politics of Surrealism, 148.

[24]Gramsci, Cultural Writings, 139.

[25]Ibid., 141.

[26]To some extent, the surrealists may be guilty of ultraleftism when they (Breton, Eluart, Peret) criticized the united front of intellectuals against fascism as a political strategy directly opposed to the pursuit of the class struggle. This united front was organized by Henri Barbusse and Romain Rolland in 1932. Accusing the Communist Party of France of humanism in defense of bourgeois culture, they were expelled from the Association of Revolutionary Artists and Writers which included their former colleague Louis Aragon (Franco 225). In this they diverge with the Gramscian notion that what is essential is to attack the hegemonic culture by mobilizing a broad coalition of forces in multiple fronts and sectors.

[27]See Andre Breton, "Surrealism and Historical Materialism," in Maynard Solomon, ed., Marxism and Art, 508-10. According to J.T. Fraser, Breton "mistakenly equated the manifest content of dreams with the content of the unconscious and also mistakenly equated dreams with 'the disinterested play of thought," so that surrealism should aptly be called "subrealism"; in Time, Conflict, and Human Values (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 220.

[28]Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 366-67. See also Chantal Mouffe, "Hegemony and Ideology in Gramsci," Gramsci and Marxist Theory, ed. Chantal Mouffe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), 168-204.

[29]Andre Breton, What is Surrealism? Tr. David Gascoyne (London: Faber and Faber, 1936). On the dialectic of chance and necessity, the Marxist aesthetician Stefan Morawski provides a brilliant insight: "Automatic writing (much like action painting and jazz improvisation) is at bottom an expression of the stream of consciousness; it relies on accident, and permits the untrammeled personality of an artist (more precisely, the immediate creative process) to issue forth; in short, we witness the "composition of structures whose basic materials are expressive qualities," in Inquiries into the Fundamentals of Aesthetics (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1974), 111. On the syntax of intention and effect in artistic creation, see Rudolf Arnheim, "Accident and the Necessity of Art," in Art History: An Anthology of Modern Criticism, ed. Wylie Sypher (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), 410-28.

[30]Herbert Read, Art and Society (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 123. A contemporary re-statement of the surrealist credo may be found in the 1970 introduction by the American poet Franklin Rosemont to his 1971 volume The Apple of the Automatic Zebra's Eye (Chicago: Surrealist Research and Development Monograph Series, 1971) of which the following is an excerpt: "In thus stepping aside from the absurd notion of a conscious 'means of expression' chained to the past, in favor of revealing a certain activity of the mind rooted in desire and oriented toward the future, toward the realization of man's greatest potentiality, it is our hope to assist in the elaboration of a general crisis of consciousness. It is precisely the provocation of such a crisis, in fact, which seems to us, as surrealists, to offer not only on the specifically poetic plane but on the plane of thought in general the most dynamic, fertile and prehensile means of serving the cause of human emancipation."

[31]Andre Breton, Nadja, tr. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press, 1960), 152. Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 17.

[32]Michel Beaujour, "Flight out of time: Poetic Language and the Revolution," Yale French Studies 39 (1967): 48.

[33]Michel Beaujour, "Flight out of time: Poetic Language and the Revolution," Yale French Studies 39 (1967): 48.

[34]Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 173.

[35]Robert Short, "Dada and Surrealism," in Modernism 1890-1930, ed. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 308. On the affinities between surrealism and abstract expressionism, see John I.H. Baur, "Painting and Sculpture," in An Outline of Man's Knowledge of the Modern World, ed. Lyman Bryson (New York: Nelson Doubleday Inc., 1960), 619-31.

[36]Walter Benjamin, Reflections, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), 182.

[37]Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism (New York: Verso, 1989), 73.

[38]Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (New York: International Publishers, 1937), 285-86.

[39]Franklin Rosemont, Andre Breton and the First Principles of Surrealism (London: Pluto Press, 1978), 62-63.

[40]Benjamin, Reflections, 190.

[41]Ibid., 192.

E. SAN JUAN is co-director of Philippine Forum, New York City, and heads the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA. He is at present visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at the National Tsing Hua University and Academia Sinica fellow in Taiwan. He was 2003 professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Among his recent books are Racism And Cultural Studies (Duke University Press) and Working Through The Contradictions (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino were launched last July: Himagsik (De La Salle University Press) and Tinik Sa Kaluluwa (Anvil).
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