The Scream of Aime Cesaire, Amiri Baraka, SURREALISTS AGAINST RACISM!


The murder of Trayvon Martin and the release of his murderer is cause for every surrealist, and every person of conscience, to take a good look at the
putrid conventions of the society they live in. In the screams of this helpless young man as he was shot, we hear the screams of all our oppressed.

I am proud that two members of my group, Adam Francis Cornford and Lee Ballentine, both of whom I have interviewed here previously, have decided to speak about this.

“Even if the prosecution’s version of events was true–and there is good reason to believe it wasn’t the whole truth–Zimmerman was unjustified in killing Trayvon Martin. So he was getting punched and getting his head banged on the sidewalk after he chased down an unarmed teenager who had every right to be there and confronted him physically. The worst that would have happened to him is a concussion. The problem here is not only that Zimmerman had demonstrated hostility to young black men–it’s that he was allowed to carry a gun.There is a madness in America about guns. The fact that there are so many of them and that they are being used in more and more conflicts–as well as being discharged accidentally and killing that way–is a death spiral in a country whose rulers have determined to beggar 99% of the population. They’re pushing us into smaller and smaller spaces and watching us turn on each other.”

Adam Francis Cornford


It is clear that this moment can’t be blamed on six Florida women. The jury’s mission is to apply narrow rules of responsibility while protecting the rights of the defendant from the great power of the state. They seem to have done that. 

Once you allow a fearful, angry racist to represent society in the “Neighborhood Watch,” arm himself with deadly force, and tell him he should “stand his ground,” it’s no great leap for him to pursue a black stranger, provoke a confrontation, and kill him when he fights back. Society was not on trial, but it needs to be.

Let’s be clear. Zimmerman is not an anomaly; he is society. Economic hard times for everyone but the wealthiest have lured the most racist into the open and given them platforms (like the internet) to spit their poison. African Americans were the most recent arrivals at the pre-recession table of plenty, and the rule is “last hired first fired.” It’s hard times in America for all but a few.

The far right was racist all along. The near right distrusts government anyway, and having a black president has legitimated their more or less unconscious and unexamined racism too. 

More than anything, as artists we need to show our black friends and colleagues and neighbors that we are paying attention. That we know this society is sick. That we stand with them for change. As Martin Luther King wrote: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Lee Ballentine


Sanctus Alienus: Purring Missals and Soft Black Stars


The relation between the decadent movement of the 19th century–figures like Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, Aubrey Beardsley, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, James Thomson and all of those who of whom one could simply say (“They were all Yelllooww..” NOT A COLDPLAY REFERENCE) has a semi well defined place in “the canon” of English literature, although we often fashionably leave out the most extreme–and therefore the most revelatory of these figures: David Park Barnitz:


(Barnitz, the son of a preacher and classmate of Wallace Stevens, was probably the last American decadent and the entirety of his work has been relegated to a website)

Or Emile Nelligan, the unfortunate young man who toppled over into psychosis early in life after writing a collection comparable to Rimbaud or Mallarme:


and the Surrealist movement of the 20 and 21st century is ill defined, indeed.  There are a few books on the subject, but most of them skirt over the actual “literary” connection by focusing on the occult interests of all involved, which is now kind of a moot and obvious point.

We know that Andre Breton was interested in the occult in all forms, of course.  His thirst for transcendence could not be sated by poetic marvels alone: it required corresponding external symbols that rang with what swelled within.



The sense of “the marvelous”, the concept of “objective chance” are indeed all manifestations of ideas by decadent poets, though significantly altered for what was then modernity: objective chance is, really, nothing more than Baudelaire’s idea of “correspondences” given a new name.
Coincidence multiplies when we pay attention, above all when we are charged with certain energies and moving outside the grooves of familiar routines and mindsets. André Breton, the French Surrealist, called coincidence “objective chance”. In his amazing narrative L’Amour fou (“Mad Love”) Breton shows us the state of mind, and the pattern of behavior, that turns us into walking synchronicity magnets.
What required is the kind of openness to the unexpected the French call disponibilité and, beyond this the choice of “lyric behavior”: the willingness to give oneself to the “dazzling revenge” of the imagination on a world of stubborn facts.

Baudelaire, the decadent par excellence, was perhaps more clear:


Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.
Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphantThat have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.. . .

The obsession with dreams, reverie, the ideal–that puffy burst of white ivory leaving dimples that grow, in the suffocating silence of everyday life (which is to say the music made by words separated in the cadences of space) and then stop speaking as a necessity of another puffy burst–began more with figures like Alfred Jarry, Jacques Vache, indeed, more with figures like Hopkins and Novalis than it did with Breton.

The difference between the decadents embrace of death and Surrealism is simple but not, and in that respect is a pretty good confirmation of what The New Surrealist Group is really about.

A Huysmans would have been content–an early Huysmans, probably–to let the buck stop at his idle reveries, at his attempts to escape into the pure state, whatever that really is–and while Huysmans is listed in the Surrealist Manifesto as one of our progenitors, Surrealism has never supported resignation or death worship of any kind.  (Or has it?)  Some of the greatest figures of the surrealist group, as with the decadents, came to early or bad ends: Artaud, Crevel, Unica Zurn?

There is a paradox here which is cheap because of the simplicity: it is a duende struggling with itself, indeed, clawing itself to death in and effort to live.  How does a surrealist find balance when his very existence is predicated upon the constant and vehement rejection of any security at all?  How does he not either burn his psychic energies in extremity and lament in old age or just die an early death?

The answer, this Neo Surrealist believes, is given shape in the form of poems by figures like Will Alexander, Lee Ballentine, Andrew Joron, Jayne Cortez, SHalha ROsa, Adam Cornford, Julian Semilian, or John Olson.  These men are not mad, at least not that i know of, and are also still alive, still living the dream even when they aren’t awake.  Perhaps this is the best development we’ve seen in the 21st century–men and women who may be torn and frayed by the quest of the wanderer along the highway but still walking.

A note from the extreme secular arm:

“Comrade Breton, your interest in phenomena of objective chance does not appear clear to me. Yes, I know well that Engels referred to this notion, but I ask myself if, in your case, it isn’t something else. I am not sure you aren’t interested in keeping open [his hands described a little space in the air] a little window on the beyond.” Leon Trotsky