WOID #XIII-47. Left, Lefter, Leftist

As Freud told Salvador Dali (who as usual was angling for a compliment), "What interests me in your art is not the unconscious, but the conscious." That's one version of the anecdote, and a nice piece of Viennese wit. Dali presumably expected to be told how well he understood the unconscious and Freud was pointing out all that was deliberate and manipulative about Dali's enterprise and the Surrealist enterprise as a whole.

Nothing wrong about manipulative, it all depends who you're manipulating, and for what purpose. Which is to say the Freud-Dali exchange raises questions about Surrealism as a political tool.

As a political tool Surrealism never shed its parasitical dependency on Freudian thought. This was made clear again and again by the father and pope of Surrealism, André Breton. Freudian theory was to be used to liberate the unconscious - or was it liberate the individual, or the class, or gender or social group? There's a batch of old progressive syllogisms here that Surrealism feeds on: that by liberating myself I liberate the World; that Reality is revolutionary, that the unconscious is a proletarian, or woman, or black.

Just because they're syllogisms doesn't mean they're false. If, as Adorno suggested, in Psychoanalysis the only truths are the exaggerations, then Psychoanalysis becomes, like politics, an ethical undertaking based on what one wishes for, not what one has.

And that's where the third syllogism is problematic: can any of us claim to have a proletarian, black, or female core? To be fundamentally, essentially female, or working-class, or Jewish, or black? To have answered that for once and for all? Freud thought not, and the Surrealist temptation (political and artistic at once), was to think the opposite. Its been the temptation of numerous artistic/political groups in America, from the woman who defines her phallic power grabs as feminism to the rapper who hides his sexism or bullying under claims of blackness. Considering the temptations it's a marvel so many Surrealists turned out to be relatively decent people.

In the end the difference between Freudian thought and Surrealism is very like the difference between Freudianism and Jungian thought, a theory which, too, never shed its parasitical dependency on Freud. Thomas Mann understood this well, who began by hating Freudian thought as an irrational rejection of all that was valuable in German culture and ended up understanding that, on the contrary, Freud's insistence on the logical workings of unconscious processes was a bulwark against the conscious manipulation of a spurious spontaneity. In 1938, after the Nazis had cleansed the German Psychoanalytic Association and installed Matthias Göring as president and Jung as vice-president, Göring wrote to the membership:

"Whoever reads the Führer's book and speeches and studies his essential nature will observe that he has something which most of us lack: Jung calls it intuition. Heil Hitler!"