The surreal (and Rimbaud's Une Saison en Enfer)

2024-01-09 @Literature

The other day I hallucinated an acquaintance of mine, arms outstretched, dancelike, waving through the throng of a food court. Frighteningly Lynchian. And shortly after, a Condomblé procession paraded through the entire food court perimeter before plunging into the mall recesses. This last vision actually took place.

Having recently read Arthur Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer (1873) a few times, I thought it fitting to briefly introspect the surreal movement.

Rimbaud’s poem in mostly prose reads like a manifesto - somebody’s manifesto - uncertain as to whose. Naturally, even after all the rereads of different sections in varying order - chronologically, backwards, randomly, left to right and vice-versa - I hardly understood anything. Never mind that it’s in French and abundant in obscure references. I’ve reasons to hold clarity suspect even among the French.

But I’ve managed to still make some connection with this work. The intro and the autobiographical elements amused me. The transition into hell I’ve conceived spotty at best. The Delires I, those diatribes, though entirely unaware who or what it symbolizes, I found particularly engaging. Delires II, once that verse commences, I’m lost. And I never quiet regain footing. Just grasping to crumbling bits of a gigantic mound I can’t see in virtual obscurity.

I’m a sucker for the surreal form of expression. But it demands much of me. Most of it holds this in common: utter incomprehensibility.

Take Leonora Carrington’s art. (Mexican naturalized, British born.) Yeah, I’ve the impression Mexico, for a time, made for a surrealist enclave. Carrington, Varo, Ernst, Juan Miro, Lee Miller … I don’t have a catalogue handy.

But browsing her art has been the most mentally exhausting experience outside of physically spending hours parading through Prado, for instance. That is, seated at a table and browsing a library book of her art severely drained me. Too much there for which I lack context: her encyclopedic exposure to the symbology and the disparate schools of the occult (ie alchemy, astrology, cabala, tarot), Celtic folklore, Buddhism, Mexican healing traditions, Egyptian artifacts … And the recurring animals, the androgynous women, mixed creatures, ever minuscule objects of obscure design, the crystal balls, the alien imagery … Hopeless. Too much discord. All sorts of minutiae.

With Remedios Varo it’s slightly more tractable.

And I guess surreal photography comes as a more digestible endeavor, being only so much one can squeeze, contrary to the limitless fine art canvas. I’m thinking of Cartier-Bresson and Alvarez-Bravo. And even there I perceive an all-consuming universe, give Impressionability slightly more opportunity to roam.

Alas, I never quiet understand any of it. And that’s what makes it so enthralling. The same dynamic holds for the cinema of David Lynch, my favourite surrealist director. Though my single favourite surreal picture is probably Tarkovsky’s Зеркало, if you can consider it such. And let me tell you: Georges Méliès shorts feel eerily surreal.

Maybe it’s because I’ve not exhausted my exposure to the medium that I hold it in such regard. In literature, beyond Rimbaud, I’ve not read much but for Cortazar (incredibly surrealist). Probably more that I’m forgetting. Joyce’s Ulysses: certainly, substantial surrealist fragments across that canvas of probably every literary technique known to mankind.

Questions, comments? Connect.