Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Johannes Göransson Interview: Question 4

RK: A few places on line, including Action Books' website, have excerpts from Berg's essay "It's not acceptable to be a fatso" (first published in the journal 90Tal, number 3, 1999). Here she writes that she values the "aggressive, baroque and esoteric" and that she laments that "the fleshy, screamy and overdone...are so taboo in our culture." I remember, also, you using (in an email to me a long way back) the term "fat surrealism." Berg's surrealism seems to me to be the "fat" sort. Care to talk about Berg's particular sort of surrealism and surrealism in general? Where she stands, in this regard, to her contemporaries and predecessors? I wouldn't mind hearing you comparing her "fat" surrealism to Simic's "soft" (Silliman's term), but as you wish.

JG: To begin with, Aase joined the Surrealist Group of Stockholm when she was around 20, and she kind of grew up with that group as her major artistic influence. She was 30 when With Deer was published, so she spent many years engaged in activities with this group before publishing, or even writing, the book. The group is a quite notorious group in Surrealist circles: very extreme, very motivated, very dynamic at times. This isn't Surrealism as a few literary devices- the way someone like Simic has used it (if you ask Simic he'll tell you that he doesn't like Surrealism, though it was an important influence on his work) - and not avant-garde as a literary or artistic or
academic mode, but a group for whom art is not autonomous objects but a process of oppositionality. So Berg's artistic learning took the shape of vandalisms, trances, protest, happenings and the like. It's a really interesting group; not a mere re-creation of Breton's ideas from the 1920s, but also influenced by Situationism, Foucault and contemporary thinking. However, Berg left the group in the mid-90s at the time she started publishing her poems, in part I think because she didn't subscribe to their increasingly militant views.

In Berg's manifestos and essays there's a very interesting emphasis on the body - what Masson called "physical idea of the revolution" or what Bataille called "the bloody farce". There is more focus on the administered body than the unconscious/ego dynamic. In part it's important to view this in the context of the Swedish welfare state, which is a culture based in large part on an obsession with the healthy body. One of the first things the Social Democrats did when they were voted into charge was to make sure everybody got healthy -that everyone knew how to exercise, how to practice healthy sex, how to take virile camping trips etc. How to make them "hard" bodies – not surreal, strange, foreign, leaky, repulsive etc - in other words. But
it should also be seen as part of the obsession of our global capitalism culture - ideal body images, Vogue Magazine articles on the best sexual positions, dieting etc. These two often join in Aase's work: sex ed and tanning beds are on the same page in a lot of ways.

With your "Soft Surrealism" comment, you may be referring to Joyelle's and my manifesto "Find Us With the Lemurs," in which we espouse a "soft surrealism" in opposition to Ron Silliman's rationalist/macho "hardness". We took the central motto from a manifesto Aase wrote with Matthias Forshage (still one of the driving forces of the Surrealist Group) in the 1990s, a manifesto in which they suggested that they were not advocating the old heroic revolution that takes over the city, a revolution which will never come (and would be terrible if it did!), but a revolution of infestation, of submitting oneself to attacks by lemurs. I like that I idea of the artistic experience.

I think part of the statement "soft surrealism" that I don't like is the assumption that there is a true, "hard" surrealism. Surrealismstarted out as Dadaism, started out as shell-shocked soldiers babbling to Breton during WWI, started out in movie theaters, started out with trances and mediumistic exercises, started out with a fascination withcrime and pulp fiction, started out before it started out with Rimbaud, de Sade, Lautremont. A few years in, we might argue that Surrealism became "harder," as it sought to align itself with more traditional leftism. But even during the era of the second manifesto and WWII, I think Surrealism was rather soft, splitting off into other groups (such as the Documents group with Bataille) and translating into many languages and cultures.

Joyelle and I used the term "soft Surrealism" rather as a response to the macho rationalism of Ron's statements. And this goes back to my earlier statement about the naivete of the anti-alienation ideas. Ron is very much a rationalist. Distrusts the visceral and the confusing. His way of dealing with this is to split the world into hardness and softeness, the serious and the frivolous, the illusory and the true. A very binary, reductive worldview. And I would add, that this is no separate from his pervasive distrust of the foreign, the translated (even the British poetry!). I am in favor of the strange, the stranger, the foreigner, the homosexual, the wimp etc.

(to see the rest of the interview look in archives--dec 2008-- or, more easily, click on one of the labels, like Johannes Goransson, at the bottom of this post)

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