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American Surrealists, "Surrealism Is Not For Sale!"

Basil Valentine writes "The impending auction of surrealist Andre Breton's collection, featured recently in the New York Times, has provoked much controversy. A petition addressed to the French Minister of Culture, asking the State to acquire the collection and to establish an official Andre Breton Surrealist Museum(!) and/or Foundation, has garnered 1500 signatures. The following collective statement is the response by the Surrealist Movement in the U.S. to this malicious, statist hypocrisy. A French translation of this text has just appeared in Maurice Nadeau's Quinzaine litteraire."

"Surrealism Is Not for Sale!"

The Gold of Time in the Time of Gold

If you think wearing this season's shoes will make you more attractive, or that paying a stranger for sexual contact will gratify your passions, then you will probably agree with the clueless New York Times journalist who summed up the impending auction of the contents of Andre Breton's Paris apartment at 42 rue Fontaine as "Surrealism for Sale, Straight from the Source." In this snide, dishonest article from mid-December 2002, the New World Order's "newspaper of record" predictably distorted and slandered Breton and the entire international surrealist movement, reducing them to the 5,500 "lots" of objects, books, photographs, manuscripts, and artworks scheduled to be sold this April to wealthy dealers, investors, and museum acquisition officers.The usual pack of grave-robbers expects the sale to top $40 million, but the pathetic bankruptcy of this enterprise should be obvious to those who know that surrealism can no more be bought and sold than can love, imagination, or freedom. The breaking-up of Breton's collection is deplorable on all counts, and indeed, a tragedy, but first and foremost it is a shameful and hostile act on the part of the French authorities. Much more is involved than a blow to researchers: The sale is, in effect, a cowardly and criminal attempt to obliterate crucial and irreplaceable evidence of an exemplary subversive, liberating, and revolutionary current in history and culture, not only in France but throughout the world. The bewildered, reactionary, jingoistic cabal that currently dominates French political life has nothing but fear and loathing for the memory and living presence of Andre Breton -- who, by the way, was never even close to being wealthy himself. Were this a collection devoted to Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, or any other mere art or literary movement, the French state would doubtless intervene at once and seize it in its entirety as a national treasure.

Breton, however, remains the embodiment of the most scandalously anti-authoritarian virtues: insubordination, revolt, revolution, and freedom now! A vigorous opponent of French colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy and all forms of exploitation and racism, the author of the Surrealist Manifestoes is a symbolic "Enemy of the State" second to none.

As the New York Times typically failed to mention, it was the French government's exorbitant "inheritance tax" that forced Breton's daughter, our friend Aube Ellouet, to offer the collection for sale.

Andre Breton's life and work, of course, are by no means limited to his library and other possessions. Only in the warped view of the ruling-class media -- the prime function of which is to flatter commercial interests -- could the upcoming auction be considered surrealism's going-out-of-business sale. Those who are aware of the everyday atrocities of capitalist commodity exchange will recognize this sale to the highest bidder as yet another post-industrial effort to recuperate everything that is insurrectionary, free, and wild for use in the enslaving globalization of capital.

Thus the attempt to nullify surrealism by looting 42 Rue Fontaine serves to remind us of how increasingly toxic capitalism becomes every day. Late capitalism is, after all, an economic regime with all the stability of a house of cards, a Ponzi scheme of cooked books based on war profiteering, credit debt, the con-artistry of "consumer confidence," the legerdemain of corporate accountants, and the ethics of organized crime. The whole mess is exemplified in the U.S. by the largest military budget in the world, the largest prison system in the world, and the fabulous celebrity salaries of brain-dead carpetbagger executives in the ultra-spectacular hi-tech virtual-commodity economy.

In his 1930 essay on the relationship between capital and intellectual labor, Breton turned to Marx's Capital to warn of the marketplace's sick, dependent fetishization of commodities. Products of intellectual labor become commodities only if bourgeois society contrives to make them profitable. Breton himself said it best: "In the capitalist system, it is the same for certain very rare productions of the mind as for the extraction of certain precious materials such as diamonds, which, according to Marx, almost never 'completely pay their value' to those who seek them." Thirty-seven years after Breton's death, the elements and products of his own intellectual labor are on the verge of being hijacked by the manipulators of a monstrous commodity racket built around absurd "art market" values. Breton's epitaph reads "I seek the gold of time," but now this quest is obfuscated by those who reign supreme in the Time of Gold.

Meanwhile, with intentions that are far from clear, some U.S. "fans" of surrealism, along with several academic specialists in distorting Breton's thought, critics openly hostile to the movement, and a gaggle of false poets, have expressed their distaste for the auction via letters and petitions begging the governments of Paris and/or France to acquire the material and to establish an "Andre Breton Museum"!

For our part, we shudder at such a notion, utterly antithetical to all that Breton stood for. We confess that we have no confidence in the goodness of government, and no desire to see Breton's effects degraded in a state-operated shrine protected by armed guards and a state-of-the-art security system.

The fact that the signers of the aforementioned petition also include a few individuals whom we respect highlights the sad and hopeless state of today's "lesser-evil" politics. One more effort, comrades! We urge all those who truly oppose the legalized plunder of Breton's remains to rededicate themselves to combating the ugly system of exploitation, domination, ecocide, and war that continues to heap misery upon agonizing misery throughout the world.

"For each hour of labor," Breton concluded in his 1930 essay, "capitalism takes half without paying for it." Until this "crushing debt is paid in full," he argued, there is no reason to worry about the market-value of products of intellectual labor. Instead, he urged that our energies be turned toward helping "those suffering under the present social order to embrace, without reservation, the admirable cause of the proletariat," a cause whose specifics may have changed in the last seven decades but one for which an anti-capitalist goal remains as urgent and alive as ever.

All the auctions in the world would not be enough to obliterate a single drop of intellectual blood!

In the face of everything sniveling, miserable, repressive, boring, obscurantist, corrupt, and greedy, surrealism lives!


The Surrealist Movement in the United States, January 2003