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6. Now

Today Surrealism is all around us in its co-opted forms – as consumer goods, art works, advertising techniques, alienating images, cult objects, religious paraphernalia and what have you. As much at odds as some of these multifarious forms may seem to be with the spirit of Surrealism, what I have been seeking to.convey is that Surrealism indeed "contained" them all from the beginning, just as Bolshevism was "fated" to generate the Stalinist state. Surrealism's curse was its ideological nature, and it was forever condemned to try and exorcise this curse, even going so far as to replay it on the private and mystical stage of the myth of old, duly exhumed from the depths of history.

Surrealism had the lucidity of its passions, but it never conceived a passion for lucidity. Somewhere between the artificial paradises of capitalism and socialism's pie in the sky, it created a space-time of uncomfortable detachment and blunted aggressiveness which the commodity system and its spectacle, spanning as they do both these aspects of the old world, have swiftly gnawed to the bone. All we can do now, therefore, is to search in Surrealism, as we might in any culture, for the radioactive radical nucleus that it contains.

The occupations movement of 1968 did precisely that, reinvoking the violence of Surrealism's profoundest impulses. This applies even to the anachronistic and longwinded diatribes of the Surrealist review L'Archibras, which, in June 1968, could still write:

Let us continue to profane the war memorials and turn them into monuments of ingratitude. (it must be said that only a nation of pigs could have had the idea of honouring the unknown soldier – let us hope that he was a German deserter! – by placing his tomb beneath a grotesque triumphal arch, which, with its four legs spread, seems for all the world to be shitting on that poor devil sent one snowy day to shed his red blood for the blue line of the Vosges.)

It also applies to the incendiary rant, fully worthy of Péret, issued by a"Surrealist Liberation Group":

If you are in despair, if you are suicidal from boredom, it is time to stop acting against yourselves. Time to turn your anger against those who are really to blame for your predicament. Burn down the churches, the barracks, the police stations! Loot the department stores! Blow up the stock exchange! Shoot all judges, bosses, trade-union potentates, cops, and slave-drivers! Wreak vengeance at last on those who take their revenge on you for their own impotence and servility!

But it was no doubt outside Surrealism, and in large measure thanks to those who defined themselves in contradistinction to it, that that irreducible kernel of freedom which Surrealism had so faithfully yet so maladroitly championed was most effectively reaffirmed. Returning for the first time to the movement's roots, and viewing it clearly in the context of today's historical conditions, these opponents of Surrealism readdressed a problem that had been alternately lost and found in the ebb and flow of the Surrealist tide: the problem of the total human being's self-realization under the sign of freedom. Seen from the standpoint of this aspiration, the Surrealists may surely be said to have been what Breton wanted them to be, namely, that minority whom he described, in "Prolegomena to a Third Manifesto of Surrealism Or Not", as "those who rise with every new program which promotes the greater emancipation of mankind but which has not yet been put to the test of reality". To these Breton granted the grace of a perpetual ability to start afresh:

In view of the historical process, where as we well know truth manifests itself only as a knowing chuckle, and is never really grasped, I must at least declare my allegiance to this minority, who are endlessly renewable and who always act as a lever: my greatest ambition would be fulfilled if I could somehow ensure the never-ending transmissibility of their theoretical contribution after I am gone.

Translator's Acknowledgements