Exquisite Corpses

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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