This week, The Performa Institute presents Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port-au-Prince, 1932-2013, a two-day symposium focusing on international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora.
Get Ready for the Marvelous will take place at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development this Friday and Saturday, February 8–9. As we count down the days, we’ll be revealing glimpses of some of the fascinating material that will be shared at the conference. Join us! A full schedule of the symposium is available here.
Today, we have poet Aimé Césaire discussing Surrealism with Michel Fried, from September 2, 1994. The English translation is below:
Aimé Césaire: So, when I met the Surrealists, it was for me a great encounter. I did not become a Surrealist; it didn’t make sense.
Michel Field: Why?
But why were you not more involved then?
No, because I am not a man of movements. I am not a man of clan! It wasn’t at all my direction! What did I find in the Surrealists, that I love enormously? I admire André Breton a lot. And I admired and loved profoundly the man. Well, I was less with Aragon. I found him too urbane, pathetic actually, a bit of a socialite, which I could not bear, especially coming from a Communist comrade. Well, it shocked me. Whereas Breton posited himself on the same level, a Celt, a mystic, a love for the wonderful. It is extraordinary, a man who had an astonishing sense of poetry; it’s prodigious. He found it everywhere; in the street and in the landscape. In the ‘objet brut’. It’s wonderful, Breton. A detector of poetry! A fantastic man and with an extraordinary purity. But, pardon me, still the same issue, I love the Surrealists a lot. I love André Breton a lot but it is always the same for me: I never forgot I was a Martinican. Nicole, are you listening to me? And you don’t leave.
Here you go.
It’s very autocratic.
A bit. Yes, but it is ‘Enlightened despotism’. No, but she knows it is also a sign of affection and connivance with her. That is why she is listening actually. But she also knows well how to disobey…
You were telling me that you had never forgotten that you were Martinican.
No, I never forgot that, you understand? Never. So that in this respect I enter what I got from Surrealism. What is it? Well, it is not the wonderful; we Martinicans have this naturally. But it was the will to descend into oneself. It was in reality authenticity and sincerity. But one has to really do it; it is not that easy. You forget that we are prisoners of conventional forms, academic poetry, and even the most beautiful of this poetry … it wasn’t what we wanted. The Surrealist quest was something else; it was profoundly different. It was to descend to the deepest part of oneself. It was to liberate the repressed imaginary. We are in the lineage of psychoanalysis. Some automatic texts could even be psychoanalytic documents. That is what interested me. It interested me as a Martinican, Sorbonnard [graduate of the Sorbonne], Normalien [graduate L’École normale supérieure]. Just like that! What are we going to do? What will we find? Come on! Further! Even further! So what? Further, again further, but what I found in me when I was at the bottom. I found, laughingly actually, the nègre fondamental. This is it. I didn’t want to be another French Surrealist, although my admiration was big. I wanted to be surrealist but to put it to the service of my own ego and my own cause.
Get Ready for the Marvelous was organized by Performa’s Associate Curator, Performa Institute, Adrienne Edwards.