Surrealist dreams

To be or not to be? I think, therefore I am? I am nothing but I have in me all the dreams of the world. These are the words of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rene Descartes and Fernando Pessoa, all of whom have pondered existence, an idea elaborately conceived by sentient humans who, in realisation of the strangeness of it all, have sought both escape and answers in dreams.
Is it any wonder we delve into the surreal, reality being as it is a most peculiar thing, where even the most lucid explanation is still short of making sense of it all. As Sigmund Freud said of life through our eyes: “The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.”
The surrealist art movement grew out of dadaism, which was perhaps the only real legitimate way artists could respond critically to the horrors of the first world war. While the latter was more caustic of the shortcomings of the age in a literal sense, the former, while equally critical of real life, was keen on solving these ills by freeing the subconscious from its shackles.
It was about more than just art and culture, it was to be a complete revolution of man and society. Civilisation and the progress that is associated with it was still favourable to the elite echelons, while everyone else made do as best as they could, largely contributing to ideological nonsense. Government responsibility was yet to be properly realised and thus was hardly for the people: it was still an age of great empires their raison d’être was conquest.
Surrealists perceived the waking state to be anomalous, pointing to the facts of history. Whatever side you had been on, the victor or the defeated, you had experienced or seen so-called intelligent beings destroy one another. There has always been an underlying tension.
“Surrealism is the ‘invisible ray’ which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents,” wrote the movement’s founding father Andre Breton in his 1924 manifesto. “You are no longer trembling, carcass. This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live which are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.”
Alas, no grand transformation occurred. While you certainly be a king or queen of a magical kingdom, you are always destined to wake up to the cold hard reality of life. The problem with this is that all around you is a reminder of democracy’s antidote for apathy and unease – money, materials and the feverish and intoxicating philosophy of consumerism.
While this is of course an illusion, an empty want, a quick-fix and distracting solution to the disquiet you feel, it is nevertheless something to wish for, or else, what is left? Dreams? For surrealists, yes, but the infinite wonders of this are quite something else. You must forget everything you know and leap into the unknown.
For a taste of this movement at its best, check out Le Surréalisme et l’objet (Surrealism and the object) at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, which runs until March 3rd 2014.
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