Exquisite Corpses

The return of surrealism

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Surrealism, an always-stormy alliance of poets, writers, artists, and filmmakers that, beginning in the early 1920s, sought to release the powers of the unconscious mind in service of astonishing new art and political revolution, didn't actually topple any governments (although vintage surrealist slogans were scrawled on many a Paris wall during the May, 1968 upheavals). Instead, it burrowed into the European and Latin American literary traditions -- and American mass culture. Boston publisher Damon Krukowski, who has brought translations of several surrealist classics back into print, points out that, in its dreamlike flow and incongruous fusing of images, 'MTV is debased surrealism.'

The 31-year-old Krukowski and his partner, designer Naomi Yang, saw plenty of debased surrealism in the Boston music scene to which they belonged as performers. Meanwhile, in their Harvard undergrad classes, they read genuine surrealist books in Xeroxes of hard-to-find translations. By 1991 they had decided that the real stuff needed to become more available, and they founded Exact Change Publishers in order to issue, among other works, Philippe Soupault's beautiful and somnambulistic novel Last Nights of Paris (in a translation by poet William Carlos Williams) and Louis Aragon's witty and complex Paris Peasant.

Krukowski admits that there's not a huge rush to the bookstores for these splendid oddities. He also says he's never been in touch with Chicago poet Franklin Rosemont, who claims to represent the official surrealist movement in the United States, and whose Black Swan Press also reissues surrealist works. Interestingly enough, Surrealism Central at the moment seems to be located neither in Boston nor Chicago, but on the Internet, where Lynn Bry's Surrealism Server (note: Link disabled 1999) offers a cornucopia of information about the movement and links to a surprising number of sites, including The Surrealist Compliment Generator (example: 'Your teeth are like the reflection of a skyline bathed in quinine.'). Bry, who somehow combines surreal life with medical studies at Washington University in St. Louis, is more interested in the visual than the literary side of the movement, and participates in a number of collaborative graphic projects with other artists on the Net, in the spirit of surrealist collective composition.

Meanwhile, Carl Merchant's Pyramid Project also attempts to revive the surrealist spirit online. In his manifesto, 'The Heroic Epoch of the Virtual Surrealists,' Merchant claims that 'both mystical and marvelous spaces inhabit the same regions of the mind as cyberspace,' and urges other cyber-surrealists to join him in a celebration of 'the holographic infinity of the human mind.

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