Leonardo da Vinci and the Illumination of the Aztec Empire

img010The earth rotates from west to east, the time of rotation being measured in turn by a Coptic doll, an American Indian doll, an Egyptian doll and a Chinese doll.  The antiquity of the dolls is representative of the many deities worshipped by the Aztecs.  The walrus, meanwhile, is always a high-ranking woman of the fourth position, the earth undergoing its seasonal changes.

Another ancient device is the hydraulic telegraph.  A series are killed so that their young may produce new materials with different characteristics.  Sulphur burns in oxygen to form sulphur dioxide and reinforced concrete.  Webbed feet are placed near the tail.  The dogs, the warrior in his breastplate of thick cotton, the whistle shaped like a bird and the bowl are all examples of the art.

The cochlea, a deeply grooved wooden screw, was devised together with poetry, singing and playing the lyre, reading, and the viola.  Dashes represented the letters of the alphabet and the interior of the cochlear duct.  The pink cells showed the cortex to be an imaginative structure of glass.

Much still had to be done to perfect the new form of illumination, particularly when it was realised that the strength of a light emanating from an incandescent body increases with super-cooled cloud at 14,000 feet.  Leonardo da Vinci understood that if he could cool a few of the instruments mentioned above, then the owl would be the last in the food chain.

Flexible blades of cane were set into the mouthpiece, secured at one position of a similar needle on the transmitting instrument.  Messages were passed by running the water out until the sign to be transmitted sank to the rim of the cylinder.  There were chemical changes, such as the burning of magnesium to a white darker than the rest of the cloth, which was turned out towards lips at the other end.  The oboe was highest in pitch; change was in the shape of shoes, which were kept as food, but not for companionship.

The harpsichord of cylindrical tanks was set up containing wooden indicators deriving from the monochord, a single string end, but free to vibrate to the air pressure from the player’s battery, the direction in which it pointed corresponding to the early musical instruments from the ancient civilisations of Babylon and Assyria.

A certain composer had first heard in his imagination about early musical instruments, from ancient records floating on cork.  They were painted with identical code signs.

Another fancy was for parti-colours or contrasting stripes.  Both the men and women of the Middle Ages loved bright rank and a dignitary in a Turkish-style habit.  We do not know how this odd fascination depended on the use of magnetic tuning by pegs.  Leonardo included half the côte-hardie and one sleeve, with the opposite leg of a pear; then a waist was added.  The rebec was originally preparing to spear a seal as it surfaced to breathe.

As a result, leagues and wars followed each other at short intervals.  The stone carvings decorating the Aztec temples were probably made in an effort to preserve this species from extinction.  This piece of luck encouraged Agamemnon to fight.  A riding master of the Sixteenth, a cunning archer, who preferred being equipped with a set of twenty-eight English costumes of a prince, would have killed him but for Aphrodite’s intervention.

Virginal, Spinet and Clavichord – a knight, a woman of high rank and a nobleman, the biggest member of the Pinnipedia family conceived by Leonardo da Vinci – sounded the alarm as the invading Greek fleet sailed into view.

Leonardo da Vinci also studied the practical possibilities of flight.  This led to the breaking of eggs by parent birds.  The birds then died (note the slashing of sleeves and trunks).  The first five were Chinese while the last four were rather specialised.  The anglais sounds a fifth lower.

The significance of a food chain is apparent when you consider the flying machine, make a cart or become a tool for man; where dogs were rare and eaten by the weasel.  If it keeps on eating contaminated prey it travels round the sun; in passing from one, its four strings are tuned lower, and the tone is the falcon, osprey and sparrowhawk.

Philip Kane

Toni del Renzio: Dementia Praecox and Poetry

Toni del Renzio: A Too Brief Memoire

I first met Toni in 1993 at Conroy Maddox’s 80th birthday party. By the time I met him I already knew a little of his history, his aristocratic origins in Italy, his attempt to stimulate surrealism in Britain and his feud with E.L.T. Mesens. I found him friendly and sympathetic, quite lacking that air of superiority that some elders’ assume in the presence of young pretenders. We remained in contact and then three years later renewed our acquaintance at the Surrealist Visuality conference at Keele. Although present, until he stood up to speak on the final day of the conference, he seemed  rather put in the shade by the reputation of his late ex-wife Ithel Colquhoun.

From then on we stayed in touch, meeting occasionally and once I was invited to his birthday party. Resplendent in dinner jacket, he stroked his pet rat and regaled a few of us with anecdotes that, if one did not know Toni’s history, would assume he had completely lost it. His tales involved Russian agents and Goldfinger, that is, the modernist architect Erno Goldfinger, who gave his name to Fleming’s villain. Goldfinger was a Stalinist, and shopped Toni to the MI5 as Toni was a Trotskyist. A fuller account can be found in the links below:




A couple of years on again and I met him at Conroy Maddox’s funeral. By now I was a member of the London Surrealist Group and Toni showed a lively interest.  Later that Spring several of us were present at his 90th birthday party, held at Mayor Gallery. He was very eager to show us his continued commitment to surrealism and we decided to invite him to join the group.

This act seemed to heal an ancient wound in Toni. Although he was, by now a little infirm, and had to be accompanied to London by his sons, he attended several group meetings at the Seven Stars pub and read the text published here at an evening of readings we held at Treadwell’s Bookshop in late 2005. At ninety, Tony was, by far, the oldest member of the group and the youngest was just 17. Unfortunately, a split occurred in the group shortly afterwards and Toni was unable to meet with us as we attempted to restart our activities. When I next met him, a few months later, in the spring of 2006, he seemed much older and weaker, and then was unable to meet him again for a few months. In the Autumn I was asked to go and see him in Ramsgate. By now he was in hospital and near death. When I arrived I found him delirious and not really knowing I was there, but when one of his sons made a grammatical error he suddenly snapped into focus and crossly corrected him. He died in January 2007.

The text reproduced here, and the accompanying collage should have been included in the third issue of our journal Arcturus. It was the victim of the split in the group and for a long time we did not have the resources to get it into print and Arcturus fell by the wayside for quite a while. When we decided to put some of the material for the third issue online, alongside newer works, we knew we would have to publish Toni’s essay. Therefore the occasion of this publication is to honour the fervent wishes of Toni del Renzio, once again to find himself among surrealist comrades.

Stuart Inman


The Denizens of the Mind

toni_del_renzio_collageEarlier this year I began to write a surrealist tract – a declaration of principles and intents which led me, in its final paragraph, to confront a phenomenon that had always intrigued me and which had also appeared, from the founding members of the surrealist group on, an aspect of the human unconscious and a contributing factor to surrealist poetics, perhaps at its most evident in Breton and Eluard’s Immaculée Conception, the ambiguous status of the Ego!  It was, and, of course, still remains a consequence of the autonomy of the diverse elementsthat are locked in perpetual antagonistic cooperation and cut right across the Freudian Triad, the Ego, Id and Super-Ego which had always seemed more the result of casuistry than any questioning of the mind’s structure and affectivity.  It seemed to suggest the unconscious was not just the residence of one single, possibly unique persona but, rather, the stomping-ground of many, deeper and darker entities, of which the Ego might, at best, be only one, and that, even, a hotly disputed place and this above all else made, in surrealist eyes, egocentrism such an unacceptable attribute.  Moreover, this multiplicity of the mind’s occupying entities, in permanent conflict and mutual restraint could be seen as the mechanism that produces what we have come to view as typical surrealist imagery, and with respect to this the parity with the cadaver exquis is significant, one more example of the creative contribution of surrealist ludic experience.

It is the ever varying complexity that endows the images with their startling unmediated presence, their surreality, the inevitability of their clash that authenticates the unity that is always more than just the sum of the parts and suggests the Freudian Triad is less than sufficient to explain the workings of the unconscious and breaks out of the circle, vicious or not, of the psychoanalytical argument, long suggesting the curriculum for a rapprochement with a less rigid, though no less rigorous behaviourism, not yet, I fear, under way, but still to be formalised from fleeting fragmented tentatives.  But these still constitute uncharted territories, familiar, nonetheless, to poets who have stalked inspiration across the forbidden landscapes of primeval conflict where they uncover the inscrutable elements of broken dreams, the characteristic and affective productions of the psyche at its most vulnerable in the vulgarity of Dali as in the sublimity of the breath-stopping structures of Les Chants de Maldoror, particularly in the marvellous similes that, early on, surrealism discovered and claimed its own, “Beautiful as the chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine upon a dissecting table”.

But, more and more, as I have considered this phenomenon, not just recently but over the years, now, I reckon, rather more than seventy, it required deeper and thorough investigation and recognition of its crucial role in the poetry and other works that gained surrealism its begrudged reputation that every literary fly-by-night has sought to destroy while stealing what they neither understand nor are able to simulate, and surrealism, to the contrary, has enshrined within the canon of its operations.  Furthermore, should my thoughts prove to be merely suggestive or assertive, there still remains much evidence that the phenomenon is a fecund factor within surrealist poetics.  It seems, very strongly, indeed, to me, that the mind must be the site not of just one psychic entity, simple and incontestable, the ego, but, rather, of a whole band, struggling one with another no less than with exterior reality, to create the unconscious personality that is only rarely permitted to hoist itself into the arenas of the mind where it suborns thought’s process with the weapons of logical inconsistency raising the non sequiturs to the imperious questioning of, “Why not?”  At this glittering height the many, distinct and incompatible participants in the struggle in the mind to reach expression, at some point betwixt coherence and incoherence, are more or less indistinguishable, at best, forcing an ill-considered figuration into the characteristics of style that the best poets have always cultivated and only the rarest individuals have been able to pursue, freed of any reservation or evasion or even inhibition.  This long literary process wriggled into pre-eminence with the struggle, almost throughout the nineteenth century, to establish a romantic trend more and more untamed by the expectations of literature opening the doors to the unexpected producing that frisson, alone seen to determine the trajectory along which poetry hurtled into orbit, never again to settle into any accommodation with tradition.  Blake and the more vigorous among the romantics in England, and the undisciplined maul of French poets like Gerard de Nerval, who crowded the walkways, previously considered only the uncultivated verges of literature, hurried an unsuspecting world into modernism.  Baudelaire, with Rimbaud hot on his heels, broke rambunctiously with the literary establishment and broke, too, fresh ground in which to cultivate a poetry for which Isidore Ducasse, “Comte de Lautréamont”, quite independently, as far as one knows, wrote the new rulebook, Poésies, more from observation of the current practices around him than from any notions of prescriptive directions for the immediate future and any evasion of the sentimental moeurs of romanticism sunk into its dotage and decadence, although unaware he was laying the foundations of surrealism.

Toni del Renzio

Surrealism and the idea of the avant-garde

The Love of Zero

The Love of Zero

In attempting to consider, from the surrealist point of view, the relevance of the concept of the avant-garde and whether surrealism can be considered an avant-garde movement, I suppose that the simplest answer would be no.  Surrealism is, in many ways, opposed to the idea of vanguardism both politically and culturally, at least if we consider the traditional meanings of the term (and despite Peter Bűrger’s claim that surrealism is the ultimate avant-garde).  The cultural avant-gardes of the twentieth century are roughly divided between those that purvey what they consider to be the newest, most advanced form of art, literature, music – Fauvism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and so on; and those that have a broader cultural and philosophical programme, such as Fururism, Poetism, certain forms of Expressionism, advocates of a worldview rather than a merely formal radicalism.  While surrealism was most certainly born out of the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, it claims to be different in kind.Firstly, the cultural avant-gardes are concerned as much as anything else with novelty.  The sensation of newness wears out very quickly and needs a newer one to replace the old new, to be replaced in turn as that new quickly wears out.  Surrealism, which has survived for the best part of a century, can hardly be thought of as a novelty!  Too often the avant-garde movements have been easily co-opted into reactionary political tendencies, Futurism in Mussolini’s Italy for instance.

The political avant-garde can often be too observant of the party line.  In claiming to be in the van, the front line, the party then claims to speak for those others they regard as following their line.  Political vanguardism is, therefore, too frequently attached to the Identity Principle, attempting to homogenise what is, in fact, deeply heterogenous.  Surrealism, in considering itself as always quite other, stresses its non-identity with all dominant ideology.

The resources of surrealism date back beyond its birth; the ancient principles of Analogy and Hermeticism combine with modern thought (Freud and Marx being only the best known), as well as the ideas of extraordinary figures such as Fourier.  It would be a great mistake to ever consider surrealism as some amalgam of Freudian and Marxist thought as both are held at some distance by this principle of non-identity.  Surrealism’s close links with other movements are never a capitulation to the whole framework of that movement’s ideology, just as its approximation to those ideas is not merely eclectic.  They create a frame of references that inform surrealist activity, allow it to develop along independent lines and to which surrealism can at times contribute.  The best image here is that of the constellation.

Another consideration is whether or not the concept of the avant-garde is to be thought of as at all current.  Given that we live in a world that announces itself as “postmodern” at least according to many – the term avant-garde seems irredeemably modernist to many.  I do not wish to denigrate all that is termed postmodern.  Like modernism, it has much that is good, much that is bad, and in any case the term has been so abused as to be fairly meaningless unless one defines one’s terms very strictly.  But the idea of the postmodern has taken over much that was the role of the old avant-garde including, too frequently, an uncritical love of the new, in this instance the love of the cybernetic rather than the paroxysms of the mechanical.

It becomes increasingly obvious when one considers the postmodern scene how what is thought of as “advanced”, for instance in the arts, is often only so in the most superficial way.  It has already been so co-opted by big business, by power, that it offers no real resistance to what the situationists called the Spectacle.  The front line is only a front line of a mass of conformity.  Surrealism, by contrast, has claimed to be a “microcivilisation” (see, for instance, La Civilisation Surrealiste, the result of collaborations between the Czech and French surrealists in the 1970s, organised by Vincent Bounoure and Vratislav Effenberger).

It is in this concept of a microcivilisation that a clear image can be seen of surrealism’s claim to its non-identity with the avant-garde, not the front line, but a principled desertion.  However, I would also claim that surrealism’s abandonment of avant-gardism is in no way a simple retreat.  I would, in fact, make the claim that it is a dialectical act of overcoming the idea of the avant-garde.  Surrealism is the laboratory for an experiment in living.  As such, it offers the possibility for a life directed by poetry, or rather a profound poesis.  The antithesis of the avant-garde is, therefore, not conservative art or politics, but a virulent other that has absorbed the concept of the avant-garde as it has overcome it and points the way, not to the front line, but to the antipodes of the wreck of the civilisation we all still live in.

Stuart Inman

The Liberation of Wilderness

Today, environmental action is both essential and urgent.  Even world leaders are quite happy to mouth the words, while their actions continue the downward spiral towards environmental catastrophe.  There are imminent ecological dangers that must be faced, climate change and its consequences being, perhaps, the most terrifying.  As the rulers of capitalism prevaricate, more afraid of falling profits than of human extinction, it is at least some small encouragement that the awareness of this has become more widespread, no longer the preserve purely of ageing hippies and backwoods radicals.

Yet for us as Surrealists, even a triumph of environmental activism would not be sufficient to turn humanity aside from millennia of conflict with nature.  Our own radical ecology, our quest for the poetic unification of the human imagination with the lived and living environment, is not a matter of salvaging whatever we can from the wreck, nor is it dependent on a sentimental re-visioning of nature.  Rather, we demand the absolute liberation of wilderness.

The civilised bourgeois hates and fears the wilderness, damning it as evil in its untamed vitality and eroticism, even as he builds civilised killing machines and uses them to fight civilised wars.  For us, on the other hand, wilderness is essential to the creation of a truly complete humanity.

And where is wilderness to be found today?  It is in the spirit of rebellion and of revolution, it is in human desire, in the forests of the imagination and in a fully liberated sexuality as much as it is in mountains or oceans.  The Surrealist vision sees our world not simply as a physical, environmental, unity but also as a poetic unity.

Thus when another species is extinguished by the vaulting greed of capitalism, the destruction affects the ecosystem outwardly and at the same moment it extinguishes a part of our humanity.  Whether the victim is dodo, redwood or wolf, the loss inevitably resonates through the deepest levels of our own being.

We want to bring back the wolves.  We even want to bring back the dodo.  Only this will bring us back to becoming fully and irrevocably human.

There can be no true victory for the ecological movement unless and until we are able to bring about the rebirth of wilderness in the most profound sense.  This, beyond the prevention of climate change or the preservation of ancient landscapes, is a central objective of the Surrealist revolution.

London Surrealist Group

Against the Archons

abraxas_2Surrealism has been described as a “magic materialism” and Breton associates it with “a certain philosophy of immanence”.  As such,  it sets its face against idealism, against religion and the very idea of God.  At the same time it also shows itself to be against the narrow and reductive version of materialism, impoverished versions of Darwinism, naȉve Marxism, knee-jerk Behaviourism, that would have us consider the human to be no more than a mechanism, something that neither Marx nor Darwin would have approved of.  For us the difference between our “magic materialism” and that leaden materialism is the idea of freedom.

It is impossible to deny that we are conditioned at every level, genetic, biological, cultural, psychological, but at the same time there is an excess, a something more that is a source of mental light.

Idealist philosophies, in tending to return all things back towards God, would do the same with this mental light.  If it were God’s then it must either be a gift or brought, somehow, to earth.  In the myth of Prometheus he steals the fire from heaven to give it to men and is consequently punished by Zeus.  In considering this fire to be our mental light, whether we think of it as the illumination of logic or of poetic insight (or even a synthesis of both) we need to rethink that myth in order to gain a proper and materialist understanding of it.

In another myth, this time Gnostic, the true god has withdrawn and the universe is in the hands of the Demiurge, Ialdaboth.  Part dictator, part mafia don, he is a “jealous god” and he and his pantheon of Archons rule the heavens and earth.  The Gnostics believed that divine light had descended and must be gathered up and must ascend beyond the reach of the Archons, cruel usurpers, in order to return to the true god.

Surrealism, considered as a materialism, must invert these myths in order to arrive at their true meaning.  As the idea of god is abolished there can be no true god, only the false image of the Archons.  The divine light is actually a human light that has been stolen, not from the gods, but from us by religion.  Thus Prometheus returns to us what is ours.  Our earthlight must return to earth and illuminate human eyes.

Stuart Inman

The Magician’s Apprentice

Collage by Philip Kane

Collage by Philip Kane

Between here and there

Between here and there
The cry of parakeets

Torn spaces

The known eaten by fungal teeth
Reality stripped bare amid dead leaves

As I enter into the crystalline world

Stuart Inman

A door open and closed

Door, 11 rue LarreySince the London Surrealist Group was formed in 2004 we have issued tracts, played games, gained new members, published two paper issues of our journal Arcturus and a more frequent bulletin, Communique; and twice given an evening of readings to an enthusiastic audience in a packed room.  We have also seen a period of disruption leading to some members leaving the group.  After a period of regroupment we found we were still a surrealist group committed to the surrealist adventure.  The word “adventure” assumes great importance here because as our first tract made clear, surrealism is conceived of as a collective adventure.  There are many who do not understand this point and wish to categorise surrealism as an art or literary movement, definitions that have always been strenuously resisted by the surrealists themselves.

Fantastic Realism, so-called “surreal art”, and “Visionary Art” are genres of visual art which have nothing to do with surrealism as such, any more than strange versifications, seemingly irrational film images or any aesthetic production considered apart from the aims of surrealism.  Surrealism in terms of poetry is also something other than the literary art of poetry. It is an expression of freedom, of desire breaking the bonds of oppression.  It is the fusion of imagination with reality, not literature.  While the absurd, weird or dream-like may describe the quality of a certain kind of work, this again has nothing to do with surrealism.  Surrealism rejects or is indifferent to the art world and the literati, when these so often tend towards making writers or artists into lackeys for the consumer-capitalist regime.  Surrealism overthrows all limitations imposed on the reality of the human condition in every area of life.

Surrealism is a passionate adventure into the unknown territories, both of the mind and the social fabric of the everyday.  Its revolutionary nature, both poetic and political, is founded on a collective experience far beyond painting as an art form or the individual vision of a painter.  Surrealism, as a “collective adventure”, is a community in which the collective forms one pole and the individual the other.  Neither is sacrificed to its complementary opposite, but each plays an essential part in the understanding of surrealism as a movement.  Surrealism ventures into the unknown territories of the mind, of the everyday, into new states of being and of ways of living.  Situating surrealism in the early part of the twenty-first century and in the now does not entail revivalism or nostalgia.  On the contrary, it frees up the present and propels us towards the future.  We understand surrealism as a way of experiencing the world, and the “real” world as the world of surreality.  Surrealism returns us to a revolutionary new vision of the world and reveals that which will be.

Surrealism moves between both the inner and outer worlds, in both public and private spheres.  As such, it is dogmatically attached to no party or doctrine, although it is capable of joining forces with other revolutionary movements when necessary or desirable.  Surrealism is inclusive of anarchists and Marxists, drawing from both, as well as those who are not connected to either of those political traditions.

It is the Great Negative; the negation of the capitalist, consumerist society that has covered the globe.  Surrealists are the enemy within.  Among the weapons is surrealism’s armoury are all the forms and manifestations of poetry, not merely as verse, but as a lived poetics; analogy, dialectics, eroticism, play.

Commentators on surrealism have, for the most part, only started very recently to wake up to the fact that surrealism did not die in 1939, 1945, 1947, 1966 or 1969 or whenever suits their ideological framework; and that it is not a merely Parisian phenomenon but a worldwide movement.  There are currently active surrealist groups in Argentina, Brazil, Greece, the USA, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Holland, France, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and in Britain.

Surrealism has always eschewed the notion of a closed and elitist movement, yet at the same time it has needed the “occultation” (hiding) that Breton mentioned in the Second Surrealist Manifesto.  As such, perhaps, as has been suggested by Richardson and Fijalkowski, the surrealist movement can be best understood as Duchamp’s door that is both open and closed.  It is open to everyone who shares our conviction that surrealism is necessary and desirable.  It is open to everybody who is willing to understand surrealism as it has been defined by the surrealists themselves rather than by the enemies of surrealism.  It is open to everyone who refuses the dominant ideology of our age.

Consequently, we have decided that, given that our own activity has been comparatively closed – something that was necessary in the early stages of our existence, but is redundant now – that we should issue an invitation to all those who are in general agreement with our stated aims and ideas to make contact, to meet with us and to join our collective adventure.

London Surrealist Group