Funny how history has thrown up so many variations of looking at the world. Human kind has never had a shortage of what to think or make of the world. The Surrealists of the early 20th century are a case in mind.
Surrealism was a movement born out of the remains of madness and terror. After the Great War, the writings of an obscure psychologist in Vienna, Sigmund Freud suddenly seemed relevant. Soldiers had experienced what was called “shell shock” in the early twentieth century to a degree never experienced in the warfare of previous generations. The Great War produced such numbers of afflicted soldiers that no excuses of cowardice or treason, no amount of executions could make vanish the effects of war on the mind. The madness of war lingered and altered the rules of public engagement for so many individuals. It also set the tone for a movement that rejected outright the institutions of a society that allowed so many to die horrible deaths and with apparently little to show for but piles of dead bodies, rubble and wounded spirits. As a wartime nurse, André Breton had observed the power of the wounded mind over the helpless body and in 1921, he visited Freud to learn more of what the doctor called the “unconscious mind.”
For Freud, dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious,” meaning the mind was capable of communicating at various levels, and perhaps the least of which was the conscious level. The deeper buried layer of the mind “spoke” in codes, whether linguistic or visual, and these clues had to be decoded by the psychologist who could translate the obscured messages. What he learned from Freud gestated in the mind of Breton and so began a movement of artists from every discipline to shake the shackles off a hypocritical, uncaring and morally bankrupt society whose rigid conventions of social behaviours carved the road to so many senseless deaths. Contemporary society holds on to a delusion that this war and others that follow evoke noble and commendable acts of self -sacrifice which are still commemorated as some kind of testament to the courageous spirit of our species, but the Surrealists cut through this social facade and dismantled the propaganda of the Great Hoax and saw the power games of the rich which lured so many unsuspecting young men into illusory notions of King and Country to kill their fellow comrades across the vast trenches of Europe. The Surrealists rejected everything that society and civilisation deemed to be normal and scoffed at the hypocrisies of institutionalised society by looking into their subconscious and releasing a primordial instinct based on emotional relevance.
Salvadore Dali was one among many artists, including writers, sculptors, playwrights, poets who absorbed this new freedom to explore, express and to test the limits of the human imagination in direct defiance of social codes of conduct and attitudes and created some of the most wonderful Surrealist Paintings of this era. The Surrealist works of art remind us that the unconscious imagination is another window to another reality.
The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí
Dalí described his meticulously rendered works as “hand-painted dream photographs,” and certainly, the melted watches that make their appearance in this Surrealist masterpiece have become familiar symbols of that moment when reverie seems to uncannily invade the everyday. The coast of the artist’s native Catalonia serves as the backdrop for this landscape of time, in which infinity and decay are held in equipoise. As for the odd, rubbery creature in the center of the composition, it’s the artist himself, or rather his profile, stretched and flattened like Silly Putty
Whenever I happen to perchance walking past or into a cemetery there is a timeless feeling of relief and tranquility washes over me like a cleansing agent for my emotional stresses. Walking past all of the rich and varied epitaphs on the grave sites offers a beautiful tapestry of singular moments caught in the memories of the deceased. I sometimes feel humbled at these precise moments of contemplation questioning, what is more important than celebrating communal life in all of its glory and transient wonder? I have never been obsessed with the thought of dying and I am not into living my life waiting for death but the absolute and final exit from this stage holds an unbelievable fascination for me. The idea that a close friend or relative or even a personal role model was with me in flesh and blood and we communicated once upon a time, undergoes a hard process to accept that this physical encounter will never happen again. I do not feel morbid or emotionally anxious about this inevitability that befalls everyone but at times I ponder the various platitudes surrounding the thought of death and also scan the mental images of this thought as perceived through the passageways of history. The conceptual reality that we walk into this room of life through the front door and then exit through the back door into a land unknown and from where no-one has returned leaves me stunned, in a sense like being stung with a strong dose of medicinal reality. I reflect on all of the trials and tribulations, all the hopes and the aspirations of so many; in fact all of humanity who have preceded me. In this realisation there is a comforting thought that emanates from a socialist perspective. All the riches, all the powers, imagined or real vanish once we pass that threshold. I empathise with my ancestors and imagine the sensual mysteries that life would have held for our progenitors; I witness the soothing theories of after-life and trace their natural demise with the ongoing rationale of contemporary science. And still as I meditate the discoveries of the modern world, the legacy leaves me with stunned silence and reverential respect for all that have passed by and for all who will enter into the beyond.
I use these ponderous thoughts to whip up a mock epitaph using an image to bounce off……
Welcome stranger to my final rest
I come to you from the other side
A faceless person emerging from this nest
With a passion to guide
In life as in death the sad truth
Is captured in this prism I hold
The wonders of eternal youth
Of celebrations foretold
Do not deny me the dignity
Of your reflective thought
Strike a light on my memory
Immortalise what I sought !
In this thing we call life I would like to document the ways I see the world and how I experience contemporary news. I understand that I do change and that my perceptions are products of my context. The winds of change will affect my context over time and it will be an interesting experiment to see how my voice transforms itself into a vocal instrument for responding to the world I inhabit.
Creating an online depository of these reflections might offer an interesting read and insights into the purpose and grand scheme of a life I would like to think is unwasted.
I look into the mirror of my memory and I see stardust. A vortex of imagery encircles my imagination and I begin to fall under the pressure of gravity. In the midst of the corner of my eye – I descend – and witness a sea of humanity. In an instant echoes of time explode into a myriad of colours. The tapestry of history is draped before me… Oh, how I long to suspend self – righteousness, to disengage logic and pierce the barriers shackling my existence. I need to disentangle the crusts of calcified social conditioning and open the door to reality and view a world that is less inhibited, less influenced by the musings of wise but staid old men we are taught to esteem from ages past.
The science of conscience seeps through the cracks of reasoning and I am catapulted to a lonely summit overlooking a moral landscape struck and blinded by the thunderings of unconscionable nature. It is a cold, hard power of a frightening epiphany that ironically soothes me whilst waiting for the signatures of mortality. I live to participate in this thing we call life and I breathe to extricate this thing we call sanity….
Photons of endlessness float rhythmically in and out of the pores of flesh and a mind glimpses radiance in unison…My thoughts are incomplete – there is no other way- unable and incapable to articulate the systemic harmony experienced in this pulsating certainty we call time… a reflection and a direction mesmerised by the sun’s setting once again over and over….painting the kaleidoscope of humanity’s crimson horizon.