If a man becomes ill he will consult a doctor, and being confider of the efficiency of the doctor, he will then place himself under hi. direction, in the hope of finding his health again.
When mankind becomes ill, it will go on pretending to be in perfect health until the malady so presumes upon the body of society that the rot must be hewn resolutely away, by revolution against the ostrich-like will of the patient.
Our civilisation is a man dangerously close to death; and such is his illness that if he is to be restored to vigour, he must abandon forever many of his oldest habits and set himself to acquiring new ones.
Now what are these dangerous habits that have led us to this morass? The chief one, and that with which we are immediately concerned, is the habit of thinking.
It is obvious that man came to exist in nature, not merely because he had the power to think, but because he had the power to organise his thought into a form that would be propitious to his existence and development. In the light of present circumstances then, we must be led to conclude that this selective organisation has had but little success.
But let us go back to the beginning.
Reason is a habit of thinking; the habit of selective thinking, with the object of procuring a state of sensory satisfaction which involves self-preservation as its primary factor. It is that part of thought that is in the strictest sense a biological necessity in the existence of the specie. In the crude commencement of life, immediate needs proclaimed a strict censorship of our thoughts; only the immediately useful were admitted into the utilitarian sanctum of Reason. It permitted only thought used in the solution of problems. From all the vast sum of experience that flowed to the brain through the senses, man selected only that part which he judged to be propitious. Nor was his judgment based upon an omniscient vision; but rather was it the result of an individualistic myopia against which reformers have unsuccessfully battered their heads ever since the first man died for having broken a rule.
Reason was the weapon with which man defended himself against those who would do him harm, it was the servant that would provide his food and tend his needs and desires. And as such, it served its purpose. It became a habit. It was the correct, the only way to think.
Those who revolted were called criminals, madmen, anarchists or occasionally, after they had been murdered, saviours, prophets, reformers.
To crush the breaking up of the tradition, physically enforced laws were made, each one presuming to be the illumination of some reasonable ideal.
Today reason rules almost as much by force as by habit. At this moment, while we are at war against the totalitarian ideologies, we yet permit the more repressive dictatorship of Reason over our minds. It is a tribute to the efficiency of this policeman-ship that we may look upon this planet and see how utterly Christ has failed.
Yet within his shell of convenient habit, man has realised the necessity of another system of thought. It is that which we call by the name "imagination," and it has resulted in the arts and in philosophy and religion. It satisfies a more subtle and less immediate need in mankind. Art began, it has been said, when man created the firs useless thing, whether it be a few lines scratched into a spear-head, or c mark cut on the wall of a cave in some idle moment. Yet they were symbols of an inner moment. Yet they were the symbols of an inner striving, of a dissatisfaction, with the too heavy material of Reason. I' was an open declaration that man could not live completely in logic alone.
Yet imagination has even been held suspect and in chains.
However, by far the greater amount of material with which the mind is stored is never woven into the fabric of Reason or imagination, and its existence is only noticed when it breaks temporarily from its prison to be embodied in our dreams and phantasies. This indicative material flung up out of our subconscious is the store house of surrealism.
The dream and the fantasy are positive attempts to solve the problems that the conscious mind has been unable or unwilling to solve. Yet because there is in them little of apparent reality, their attempts are ignored and circumvented by the logical mind. Their warning is dismissed, nor even recognised as such. In the dream lies the illness and the need of an individual mind, and in the illness and need of the individual mind lies the destiny of mankind upon the face of the earth.
We see then that from the beginning an attempt was made to limit the thought process to Reason. This repression has resulted in immense social and mental illness. Civilisation is a hugely complex dwelling designed upon a prescribed theme and within a precise mood. Though the mood has changed and though the theme now is recognised as spurious, unhappy man must still live within his house; for the house is now his master, and he, the maker, is ground into mortar for its constant repair and extension.
But whatever else may be governed, the mind of man is truly anarchical. He is an instrument that responds to the control of the whole of the mind, and not merely to a logically-arranged sequence within the whole. Were it not so, man would exist in perfect reason and it would be difficult to identify him as a specie disassociated from the pure reason of machinery or the logic of the purely mechanical. However, that is not the case, for the dreams of our uncensored sleep and the phantasies of our unguarded waking are symptomatic of the real anarchy of thought.
There is less need now for the daily rising up of barriers against the fullness of the mind. The same intense biological urgency of reason is no longer a prerequisite to the function of existence. An enormous number of primary functions such as the manufacturing of our own food, our own house, our clothes, our personal bodily protection, etc. have been taken out of our hands in varying degrees by invention and institution. It is time now that new methods were tried in the solution of the infinite problems that surround us. The old methods are no longer as essential as they were in the beginning, and indeed the redundant tradition of the habit-system has become increasingly dangerous to the fuller development of our faculties. A child, after he has developed a concept of numbers, finds a persistent abacus a drag on his progression. Reason similarly has forced our minds into a dangerous malnutrition.
Surrealism, then, is an attempt, not to abandon reason, but to make reason reasonable, to rejuvenate the concept of reason. It is the fantastic, used as a method of elucidation. It aims at the re-orientation of values through a broadening of the concept of reality.
"Do not commit suicide, for surrealism has been born," might well be the phrase cried in the night to a desperate civilisation.
Art has taken science into holy wedlock. Wait a little. I believe something good will come of it yet. I believe Surrealism may yet be that prodigious child that shall lead them.
James Gleeson, A Comment, May 1941.