Franklin Rosemont: Herbert Marcuse and Surrealism

Here we link an important essay that explores Marcuse’s engagement with Surrealism. It was written by a prominent American left activist and scholar, co-founder of the Chicago Surrealist Group, Franklin Rosemont, who died last April (12 April, 2009). The essay also contains letters between Rosemont and Marcuse.

During the last twenty-five years of his life, Herbert Marcuse repeatedly affirmed a lively and sympathetic interest in surrealism. His many references to the subject, in Eros and Civilization and in nearly all his subsequent books, as well as in scattered articles and interviews, reveal that this interest was continually expanding and deepening. At least from May ’68 on, as his commentators have conceded, surrealism was central to his vision of revolutionary social transformation.

Marcuse’s letters to the Chicago surrealist in the early 1970s – published here for the first time – constitute his only sustained discussion of the aims and principles, theory and practice, past and future of surrealism. Adding appreciably to our knowledge of the great critical theorist’s mature thought, these letters should also help stimulate a broader discussion not only of surrealism as such, but of the whole complex interplay of poetry, imagination, revolt and revolution – today and tomorrow.

From one of Marcuse’s letters included in the essay:

“The gap which separates art and the people could be reduced to the degree to which the people cease to be “the people” (=those who are ruled) and become freely associated individuals. The real socialist revolution of the 20th and 21st centuries would be catastrophic transformation not only of the material and cultural institutions but also of the sensibility, imagination and reason of the men and women engaged in this transformation. In this transformation, the esthetic qualities would play a decisive part – not as decoration, ritual, and surface but as the expression of the vital needs of the individuals.”

The complete text

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