March 2010 Archives

The Unconscious (and Surrealism), Part Two

In his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, André Breton writes:

We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience... Experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense.
... It was, apparently, by pure chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer - and, in my opinion by far the most important part - has been brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud... The imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights (9-10).

What reason, I ask, a reason so much vaster than the other, makes dreams seem so natural and allows me to welcome unreservedly a welter of episodes so strange that they would confound me now as I write? And yet I can believe my eyes, my ears; this great day has arrived, this beast has spoken (13).

With this, Breton hearkens the coming of the surreal. But is his "beast" the same as Anzaldua's "Shadow Beast"? Is his rejection of the rational as liberating as he believes?

Tackling the Unconscious

One of the threads that I would like to pick up in this post (and perhaps future posts) is the problem of the unconscious - or, backing up yet again, the question: Is the unconscious a problem?

We need to back up in order to move forward. It seems as though many of the writers I've tackled so far could be said to have called upon a certain access to the unconscious as a way around rationality - whether that unconscious aspect lies in non-syntactical constellations of meaning, as in Stein, or in a more spiritual realm of dreams, as in AnzaldĂșa. Personally, I am not really sure if I agree with this: there is much to be said for these meanings to be created completely consciously, just along networks or webs that could not be said to be "rational" in the "systematic and orderly" sense.

However, my illustrious psychoanalyst father keeps dropping hints about how Freud makes a strong argument for non-rational systems of thought in his theories of the unconscious (for instance, in The Interpretation of Dreams), so it may be time for me to look down over the great abyss of psychoanalytic criticism and come down on one side or the other.

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