Instead of a Preface 1
Instead of a Preface
One looks to a preface to find the "original face" (the pre-face) of a work. The author has presumably read the book to the end, and is seemingly in a fairly good position to fill the reader in on what to expect. The preface thus bears a slightly absurd relationship to the work. It claims to face what is to come, but inevitably looks back to what is already completed. So the book begins in bad faith, shamelessly tricking the reader. And perhaps also the writer. This is one reason why Laozi, the anti-foundationalist founder of Daoism plays such an important role in what "follows." He begins his own little book by saying that the words cannot really be written and the lines cannot be followed. The beginning is at the same time a non-beginning. There is no first word because there is no last word. If you follow the lines, or the lines of argument, they lead you off the page, into the cosmos and chaos that gave birth to these words, these lines, and the followers of this path. So there is no "original face." Or there is, and one cannot find it here.
As Laozi's successor Zhuangzi (who may well have preceded him) stated so succinctly: "Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think that you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all."1
If you follow the path of this book (some of which is actually in this book), you'll find that we inhabit many regions, and regions within regions. These regions form the background for our existence and also pervade our very being. In a sense, we discover ourselves as strangely self-conscious, strangely empty regionalities.
One background region for this small surre(gion)al undertaking is the Empire, and a certain branch of Empire that I call Vespucciland or the United States of Amnesia. It's the part of the Empire that happens to occupy the bioregion, the region of life, in which I live. Always implicit and sometimes explicit in surre(gion)alism is a critique of region as regime, of region as domination, possession and accumulation, and thus of Empire and its Vespuccian expression. In this, many will notice the ways in which surre(gion)alism carries on certain traditions that have confronted the two faces of Leviathan: the Megamachine and the Spectacle. Yet it carries on with a difference.
A half century ago, the Situationists imagined their most fantastical project of detournement: they would dye the Seine red, steal bodies from the Paris morgue, and float them in a river of blood. What a spectacular anti-spectacular event that would have been! But today the petrochemical industry dyes rivers, lakes and a multitude of other bodies of water red. And not only red, but an entire spectrum of unnatural hues, in addition to covering them with the most eerily theatrical of noxious vapors. Moreover, an ever-increasing number of bodies find their way into the waterways. The nightmares of the Situationists become business as usual. One might say that in the areas of both dyeing and dying, post-modern capitalist reality overflows (deborde).
May I indulge myself in one brief account of Vespuccian reality? From the daily newspaper. Dateline: Hauppauge, N.Y. "Woman who thought she was running down Mickey Mouse gets 5 to 15." The woman in question killed her husband by repeatedly running over him with her car. She explained that she thought, not that he was actually Mickey, but that he had been possessed by the legendary Mouse. The case raises important practical and metaphysical questions. One is why the court in its wisdom did not find her innocent by reason of insanity. Perhaps in our Vespuccian Fantasy Land the Spirit of Mickey is so powerful that the idea of someone being possessed by it seems not unreasonable, in fact quite sane.
Another intriguing question is why she would feel compelled to flatten her husband even if he had been possessed by Mickey. While there are news stories almost every day of crazed fundamentalists killing their children for allegedly being possessed by Satan, this case initially seems more perplexing. Nevertheless we may be able to discover a logic of psychosis here. Perhaps this particular demon-slayer stumbled on an apt new symbol of ultimate evil in our media-driven consumer society.
Though she may also have been Hell on Wheels, is she not also the Judge Schreber of post-modernity, the mad messenger of terrifying truths? Did she not during her psychotic death drive run into a profound truth? Mickey, as symbol of the consumptionist universe, is a Demon whose powers of possession, domination and destruction put poor old Satan to shame. It is this Demon that haunts the pages of this book.
But surre(gion)alism is much more than critique, and is ultimately more about restoring our experience of and rediscovering our rootedness in the regions of being and non-being that lie beyond the bounds of domination and possession. Frida Kahlo once said that she was not a surrealist because she didn't paint her dreams, but rather reality. Whether or not her reality was a surreality, she certainly did venture into surre(gion)ality, for her work explored the interplay of psychoregion, mythoregion, ethnoregion, socioregion, technoregion. In these regionalities "dream," "nightmare" and "reality" lose their fixed boundaries. Kahlo was perhaps indicating that some surrealisms place certain limits on the wandering of the imagination. Granted, it takes a considerable quantity of psychic energy to float one's favorite fruit or vegetable in thin air. But even a floating vegetable requires a certain minimum of roots. Surre(gion)alism goes to these roots, and is willing to follow them wherever they lead. The dominant tradition has never escaped from abstractionism, from disembodied reality, from the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (which leads in practice to the fallacy of misplaced concrete). Surre(gion)alism on the other hand is always embodied regionalism, and its body is ultimately the flesh of all being.
A friend suggested to me that this book's dedication is needlessly and perhaps willfully obscure. Mea culpa! Tara is the Buddhist goddess of compassion, and is also an earth goddess. "Tierra y Libertadf is an anarchist revolutionary slogan meaning "Land—or Earth—and Liberty!"
1The Complete Works of Chuang-Tzu [Zhuangzi], trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 97.