Valery Oisteanu, king/queen/jack of all dada/east village “Absurdistan” – gallops on the hobbyhorse of our blasted times; and the poems here echo the blasts. Poems point to and mock the “Unending killing cycles,” while surreal images abound and become visual realities
However, let’s return to Bey and his even more savage complaint against this artistic movement. “Surrealism was made for advertising, for commodification. Surrealism is in fact a betrayal of desire.” Why? Because “all projects for the ‘liberation of desire’ (Surrealism) which remain enmeshed in the matrix of work can only lead to the commodification of desire.” To rephrase that, Surrealism, for all its radicalism, did not defend alienated labor. This, Bey argues, can be seen not only in the focus of the movement’s creative attacks but in its affinity for ‘the Communist Party and its Work-ist ideology.”
Certainly, Bey’s assertions are open to challenge, but let’s set aside the question of the validity of his attacks on the earlier figures and take this as a second challenge to the new generation. The demand is that the newer Surrealists once and for all break their ties to contemporary work culture. Has Oisteanu been able to do this? Speaking frankly, I would have to say that in some ways Oisteanu falls short here. As was the case with Breton, Aragon and others, his unrelenting, fiery attacks on the state’s war-mongering, imperialism and environmental degradation are not matched by equally passionate attacks on the slavery of work.
Yet, if one reads with a less literal-minded search for denunciations of the world of labor, one can see in Oisteanu an important transmutation of Surrealist forms that has a bearing on this issue. One characteristic of early French Surrealist poetry (though not of all their novels) was a tendency to abstraction. It was a curious abstraction, of course, that of common nouns doing odd, discontinuous things like the characters in Magnetic Fields, who appear only to be joined to other abstractions: “A man standing in front of a perfume shop was listening to the rolling of a distant drum. The night that was gliding over his head came to rest on his shoulders.”
This type of writing is one reason for Bey’s criticism, his feeling that Surrealism is delinked from the life of ordinary people.