Les présocratiques et la dialectique surréaliste : Dalí face à Breton


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Les présocratiques et la dialectique surréaliste : Dalí face à Breton
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Archaic Ontological Past. Pre-Socratic Philosophy and European Avant-Garde Art and Thought
Ruffa Astrid
Eurasia Publications
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Yatromanolakis Dimitrios
french english
In the early 1930s, Surrealists adopted a dialectical approach to denounce the common conception of « reality » and they inextricably linked objectivity and subjectivity to conceive Surrealist ethics. In this context, Heraclitus’s thought had been revisited and considered a source of inspiration: this Pre-socratic thinker became the precursor of Surrealist dialectic and was explicitly mentioned by Dalí and Breton in 1933 as the one who founded, at the philosophical level, the irrational understanding of the object promoted at that moment by Surrealists. More generally, the reinterpretations of his philosophical ideas drove new conceptions of Surrealism.
First, this paper aims to explore the role played by Heraclitus in the Surrealist movement, in particular in Breton’s and Dalí’s definition of Surrealism. Both referred to him but their use of Heraclitus’s thought was substantially different.
At the start, two apparent paradoxes are questioned and investigated. The Surrealists expressed interest for an ancient philosopher while at the same time they gave shape to an avant-garde movement which focused at first on literature and not on philosophy, and which radically rejected the tradition and the rational logic. In fact, the concepts of “ethical project” and “archaic thought” promoted by the Surrealists helps us to understand their fascination with Heraclitus’s approach of the nature. From the beginning, the movement considered himself as having not only a literary purpose, but, above all, an “ethical” mission. Moreover, the Surrealist passion for the “archaic thought” – intended as a native, original and irrational approach of the world – had led the group to look closely across disciplines, from the child's and primitive thinking studied by Anthropologists and Psychologist to the Pre-socratic thinkers promoted by Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger.
Then, the paper discusses, on one hand, the common fascination of Surrealists for three aspects of Heraclitus’s thought and, on the other and, the distinct visions developed by Breton and Dalí.
The Surrealist group focused attention to the dialectic approach that brings to light the harmony composed by opposites, to the immanent perspective which disclaims the distinction between physical and metaphysical world, and finally to poetical dimension of Heraclitus’s writings that have been seen as a “cadavre exquis”.
Beyond this common vision, Breton and Dalí elaborated a specific interpretation of Heraclitus’s thought, which nourished two different approaches of Surrealism. Breton was interested in Heraclitus’s conception of the “unity of opposites” and used it to redefine the notions of “Surrealism” and “Surrealist image”. His views were mainly inspired by the dialectic of Hegel, Engels, and Lenin, and allowed him to relegitimize the Surrealism as « pure automatism ».
By contrast, Dalí insisted on Heraclitus’s idea that « nature loves to hide ». He referred to Savinio’s use of Heraclitus in Valori plastici as well as the Nietzschean valorisation of Pre-socratic thinkers. In this way, he conceived Surrealism as a « psychological Physics » and the Surrealist image as a « simulacrum » having a cognitive value. In particular, following Nietzsche, he contrasted the metaphysics of Plato and the empirical thought of Heraclitus, and considered the appearance of the world as the unique reality that hides and, at the same time, reveals subconscious ideas.
Second, by focusing on Dalí’s essay « Honneur à l’objet » (1936), the paper seeks to point out that Dalí also conferred to Surrealism another philosophical tradition by establishing an original and unexpected link between Pre-socratics like Anaxagoras and Pythagoras on one hand and Plato and Socrates on the other hand. This singular affiliation had already been indicated by G. de Brito in La pensée philosophique à travers les âges and allowed Dalí to develop the notion of “materialization of ideas”. In fact, in Dalí’s essay, Plato’s thought is completely subverted and even if Heraclitus is not mentioned, we argue that his dialectical approach and his idea of a “nature” that “loves to hide” underlie Dalí’s conception of the Surrealist object.
Finally, we conclude that the reinterpretations of the Pre-socratics allowed Dalí, over the years, to position himself, in an ambiguous and original way within the group directed by Breton. Dalí drew up a singular and subversive theory on the dialectical relationship between object and subject by emphasizing new Surrealist missions: revealing the nature and materializing irrationality in the physical world, by automatically interpreting what is perceived. More generally, Dali’s approach deserves our attention, since it testifies the possibility to reinterpret each phenomenon not only of the present but also of the past, like the philosophical or the pictorial tradition. By conceiving a Surrealism which emerges throughout the ages (“à travers les âges”), Dali defies Breton’s idea of “avant-garde movement”, exclusively linked to the revolutionary vitality of the present.
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