Surrealism and New Age

by Terence MacNamee

Surrealism, founded by André Breton in pre-war Paris, is largely forgotten as a movement. When Breton’s old apartment and contents in the Rue Fontaine were sold a few years ago, including his library and collection of artworks, the public authorities could not be induced to buy them, so they were dispersed by private auction.

Surrealism deserves to be better remembered. It was a bold attempt at harnessing the powers of the unconscious, as discovered by Freud, for literary and artistic creation. It dreamed of a marvellous and mysterious world in which le hasard objectif, later called synchronicity, would unfold itself and reign over human lives. This would be a reenchanted world, but a world in which science and technology themselves would be in the service of enchantment, expanding man’s horizons and exploring distant worlds, both literarily and metaphorically.

The Surrealist movement called for revolution, but a revolution within, much more radical than anything Marx or Lenin thought of. Yet it never caught on – except for a few flashy painters who managed to stay in the public eye. Breton’s indirect influence was great, but French thought, and thought in other countries, was going elsewhere, and after his death in 1966 the Surrealist movement dissolved itself.

The idea of revolution in society, of things getting better, has largely perished. The idea of revolution within the person has not quite. Today there is the New Age movement. Here the notions of harnessing powers within and synchronicity and reenchantment are alive and well, and being talked about. But the New Age movement has no hold on the intellectual world, nor is it really a mass movement, like a new religion. It can at best hope to have an indirect influence on the majority, which will never quite get the point, much less live by such a faith.