The world is dying, darling. Humanity as we know it has existed for nearly three hundred thousand years. In that time, only the last 150 years of capitalism has managed to destroy the planet. Clearly there must be a way out of this mess and a way through to a more harmonious world. I am interested in finding the intellectual gaps in rational thought and empirical methodology that can provide solutions to climate change. These gaps can then be added to a Surrealist methodology. This methodology does not claim totality, it is fragmented. This fragmentation allows it flexibility to join many conversations and to add richness, creativity, and a different kind of depth.
There is a profound failure of rational thought. We need to place rational thought historically inside of modernity and capitalism. This is a system of thought rooted in Christian Enlightenment that created rational forms of what is right and what should be common sense. Rationalism, like Christianity, places humans and humanity at the center of its understanding. It does not seek communion with animals and plants as it sees them as something to quantify and to methodologize. It is not concerned with art knowledge unless it is something that can be quantified or justified. Empirical thought posits itself as the most valid knowledge. While of course we need and utilize empirical rational thought, to take it as a truth that exists in a historical vacuum is foolish. Like any form of thought it has its own history of justifying such heinous ideas such as Manifest Destiny, eugenics, trickle-down economics, along with mass production and growth being seen as the measure of health in economics. Rational empirical knowledge strives to lack bias. Hard facts – mathematics and numbers, the scientific method, and the like – have their own political histories and their own social past, present, and futures. Rational methodologies exist in society that shapes them. It is unacceptable to focus solely on rationalism as being the way out of this mess or the best way to understand this mess.
A Surrealist methodology requires a look first at Surrealisms past, the potentiality of the present, and the creative conjecture of the future. Climate change is truly a surreal process in itself. Rational solutions for it often revert back to liberal individualism instead of the collective: electric cars, reusable straws, veganism, etc. While these things are very important and we shouldn’t discount the responsibility that the Global North has in changing its lifestyle, this simply is not enough.
The imagination of a better world needs to come to the surface. One that decenters humanity and places it in communion with animal knowledges, plant wisdom, mineral language. An interesting experiment is to attempt to get from human centered knowledges to Earth knowledges. Poetry and poetic concepts can serve as a one bridge to non-human and non-cognitive knowledges.
Surrealist methodology must be counter to capitalist logic. Surrealism as an artistic and global phenomena should be approached from an anarchist analysis of this artistic movement. There are plenty of underlying concepts of political Surrealism and a history of Surrealism in combating white supremacy and imperialism. A foundation of a Surrealist methodology must understand race as a political category that seeks to destabilize and decenter whiteness.
The limits of political Surrealism lie in Western European Continental thinking. Continental thinking sees thoughts and strategies as total, whole, and applicable everywhere. Continental thinking should be replaced with island and archipelago thinking. Caribbean philosopher and Surrealist Eduard Glissant looks at the potential of seeing the archipelago as a connection to many disparate tendencies and potentialities. Continental becomes imperialism while the islands become ripe with multiple connections. Glissant posits replacing rational concepts with poetic concepts also known as poecepts. Thus Surrealism becomes not just a way of drawing poetic parallels but a way of looking at poetic formation of new knowledges.
The use of the exquisite corpse is one approach in a Surrealist methodology. An exquisite corpse is an intuitive collective drawing done in pieces. One person will draw a picture, fold it over and the next person creates the next image, and the process repeats. I want to abstract an understanding of the exquisite corpse to seeing parts of a picture where the creation before and after is not known. To look at how creating such a collective form of art can also be used to look at nature and animals. The exquisite corpse becomes a piece of codevelopment. We are in an evolutionary codevelopment with other animals and plants. Our destinies are linked, which is a true challenge to liberal individualism and capitalism.
Donna Haraway speaks of the power of “SF:” science fiction, speculative feminism. We should add a new SF: Surrealist Fantasies. How can we use the exquisite corpse as a method of critique? We can use plant knowledge to connect the interstellar with the terrestrial. The dream states of plants in their connection to the universe is an interesting departure of what can be learned from dark matter and parallel realities. The dream states that exist within all of us have this potentiality to imagine new improvisational solutions.
Many cities across the globe are using improvisation to deal with the ravages of capital. In Lagos, Nigeria people are able to reconstitute their cities’ landscapes with little planning and the movement of garbage into essential structures of living. The lessons of improvisation from the Global South must be heard and understood by the Global North. The best way to do this and exchange this knowledge is with open borders. Improvisation and intuitive automatic writings are a foundation of a Surrealist practice. To put that into action requires destabilizing Western knowledge and the hubris of neoliberalism.
Finally, Surrealist mysticisms can unleash non-narrative knowledges, extinct knowledges, and native/non-white knowledges by using symbol and myth. There are plenty of pitfalls with this, one being that a Surrealist methodology has the ability to whiten and appropriate oppressed peoples’ knowledges to make them more palatable to the Global North. However, mysticism can allow us to be connected to so many modes of being. Plant medicines have their own poetry. Totem animals have their powers. The mysticism, extinct knowledges, and the occult can connect us with the non-rational and provide even more solutions to healing a wrecked world.
Seeing an approach of Surrealism using poetry, the exquisite corpse, automatic and intuitive writing, improvisation, and mysticism can lead us not only to creative solutions but provide us with the tools of decentering whiteness and liberal rational thought. I can only hope and pray for collective solutions for all of us to stay with the trouble we have gotten ourselves into.
Catherine Marr (Vera Rubin) lives in California. She is a visual artist, DJ, autodidact, life-long revolutionary, and writer. She is working on her masters at European Graduate School in Valletta, Malta working on topics of surrealism, climate change, revolution, and animal communion. Her musical selections of post punk, left field, and techno can be found at Sound Cloud/Verarubin and on Instagram at Surrealist Fantasies.
(art: “Death Futures I,” by Vera Rubin)
“The World is Dying, Darling” appears in the current “Power” issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available from the IAS here!