Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fake Surrealism

I was reading the Montevidayo blog the other day

when I came across the term “fake surrealism” and it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t remember what, and then a quick google reminded me: Theater of the Absurd.

I used to really love absurd theater, ever since Ian Hunter sang about it on Short back ‘n Sides in the early 80s. It was mostly a forgettable album, unfortunately, as his album just before it, You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic, though not an accurate use of the term, was his strongest work. How quickly things fall apart.

ANDRÉ BRETON (all in caps!), in 1924, from


(all in caps!):

“Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.”

Unspare me, then. I googled “Fake Surrealism” and the first hit was Montevidayo, but after I waded through a band, Infinity’s Fake Surrealism (!), and the picture (below) from a blog posted back in 09, I came across Eugene Ionesco. I was thinking of Edward Albee, but this will do.

Here’s a bit on Ionesco (just in case).'s+Imperatives%3A+The+Politics+of+Culture.-a016314580

Eugene Ionesco, the late denouncer of rhinoceritis, “the malady of conformity,” and the father of absurdist theater, has, for almost three decades, been sitting in the Pantheon of contemporary classics. In the 1950s, when his plays were largely misinterpreted or ridiculed by established critics and intellectuals for their cacophony, ineptitude, pseudometaphysics, or fake surrealism, Rosette Lamont appropriately coined the phrase “Metaphysical Farce” to define a dramatic genre in which philosophical thought and political criticism were hidden under the wit and laughter of comedy. This dramatic mode was born out of the inadequacy of the traditional genres of tragedy and comedy to represent a contemporary world of mass killings, reification• of human life, tyrannical powers, and “police encampments.” The farce, the grotesque, the irrational, theatrical illusion, caricatures, and parodies contained a power of derision and a critique of language well adapted to “the humiliated physicality and ontological awareness of the post-Holocaust-Gulag world.”

Lamont, a loyal admirer and an insightful decoder of Ionesco's theater, demonstrates how parodies, caricatures, and the use of clichés function as the artist's irreverent debunking of the manipulating discourses of the world while intertextuality reactivates the most visionary texts of Western culture. The encounter of Shakespeare's Macbeth with the French comic strip Les Pieds Nickeles, for instance, results in a corrosive attack on political tyranny.


Not Surrealism, then, but Fake Surrealism. And then what? Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” springs to mind. Because that's what happens next. History is formal in that way.

Breton: It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled.

The point of this post (because points are necessary, the voices keep saying) is just to say my new favorite phrase is “fake surrealism.” It will take all the time one doesn’t spend to decode it. To construct a curriculum for it, and to call it Fear Studies.

Breton: Not so fast, there; I’m getting into the area of psychology, a subject about which I shall be careful not to joke.

Because whatever is, is as a form of action. It shows one how to use a hammer, even though a bronzed videotape of 2001: A Space Odyssey would be more fitting.

And who might the poets of Fake Surrealism be? Indeed. In my mind it’s not a derogatory term, the way American Fake Realism, in my mind, would be. It’s celebratory. Necessary, as position one of dance four.

Breton: What I cannot bear are those wretched discussions relative to such and such a move, since winning or losing is not in question. And if the game is not worth the candle, if objective reason does a frightful job -- as indeed it does -- of serving him who calls upon it, is it not fitting and proper to avoid all contact with these categories?

Such things are time-bound, of course. And later the ones at whom stones were thrown will collect stones from the piles around them to throw at some new interloper. “Because these things have meaning,” they say, “and that meaning is me.” Fake Surrealism celebrates the stones in the air.

I wanted to post Albee’s The Sandbox, and found this version (below) featuring the Übermensch and some pals, patting things down. No worries here. (I have my shovel and my pail.) Turns out it’s a whole genre of YouTube videos. Who knew?

3 mins 33 sec ( as title, the video is 3:34 )

There’s no telling where Fake Surrealism might lead us. I’m all for it. I welcome it.

Breton: Existence is elsewhere.


At 11/05/2011 1:35 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

A clump of rice between chopsticks: surrealistic pillow on stilts

"my Andre Breton/ dream of cutting off your breasts with a trowel" (Tom Clark): surrealistic dirty pillows

In the intro to his Selected Surrealist Verse, Knott writes, "Whether these are truly surrealist poems or not, I don't know and I don't care. But they were influenced by authentic surrealist poetry, perhaps—" Evidently he distinguishes between authentic and fake surrealism.

At 11/05/2011 6:43 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


At 11/05/2011 7:03 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Huuuh? Whaaaaaaaaa? Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh???????????????????

At 11/05/2011 8:07 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Huh? What?
That was pretty mean.

My comment was directed towards John's post about "Fake Surrealism", not you.

Why don't you ever say anything nice or positive to your fellow posters, David? Is this a conversation or a boxing match?

At 11/06/2011 4:31 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Gary, you don't know me, and you can't see my face or demeanor when I post things. I didn't mean anything by the huh wha duh; I was just being silly.

You're okay in my book. I have nothing against you.

At 11/06/2011 1:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Absolutely: Authentic. Fake. These set up a wonderful little dance. I like Breton’s list of how it manifests:

“Swift is Surrealist in malice,

Hugo is Surrealist when he isn't stupid.

Bertrand is Surrealist in the past.

Poe is Surrealist in adventure.

Baudelaire is Surrealist in morality.

Rimbaud is Surrealist in the way he lived, and elsewhere.

Mallarmé is Surrealist when he is confiding.”

So, by extension:

Knott is Surrealist when he’s reading.

Ashbery is Surrealist in leisure.

And Fake Surrealism can be an authentic fake.

At 11/06/2011 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Surrealism is itself the authentic fake. "Fake Surrealism" would have to be the fake authentic fake. I like that too, when I think about it.

But mostly I don't think about it.


At 11/06/2011 6:30 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I like the fake authentic orgasms of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table. "I think a lot about it,/ Think quite a lot about it--"

At 11/07/2011 9:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

So how might the fake authentic be different from the authentic fake?

(Following the order of operations.)

At 11/07/2011 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So how might the fake authentic be different from the authentic fake?"


At 11/07/2011 10:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Indeed, and the Color-blind tests from before the 30s are simply hilarious now. But we shouldn't laugh, those were innocent times. We should be jealous.

At 11/07/2011 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The authentic fake functions in the capacity of the authentic, without partaking of the authentic's presumed pedigree (that which conveys "authenticity"). The fake authentic is posited as authentic but does not function as authentic, in the event.

Elizabeth Bishop put it in slightly different terms (real toads in fake gardens, fake toads in real gardens, etc.). Roberto Juarroz made a similar array of comparisons in "life draws a bird."

Of course, there are many shades. One does not always wish to know what is in one's juicy burger, or where its components have been prior to melting in one's mouth.


At 11/08/2011 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who's your Dada?


The pre-Surrealist anti-art movement of Duchamp, etc in the early 20th century fits right in with what Archambeau was talking about in his essay in your previous post. Is that where you got the idea for this post?

Tom Brady, Scarriet

At 11/08/2011 11:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It wasn’t directly because of the Archambeau piece, no, but there is a connection slightly. I went over to the Montevidayo blog after Kent Johnson said something about something perverse there or somesuch and stumbled across “Fake Surrealism.” The term charms me.

I like a lot of things I know you dislike quite forcefully, so I’m wanting to avoid the discussion, but the poetry I turn to most often has a strong French turn of the century (-ish) affinity. So I’m interested in Breton, et al, through that lens.

I like many versions of what cam e from Surrealism (The Beatles in their late phase, Bob Dylan in his late 60s phase through Talking Heads [etc] current bands like The National, as well as poetry and fiction and some theater and film [though I’m less inclined to theater and film]).


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