Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

In praise of surre(gion)alism

Max Cafard's Surre(gion)alist Manifest first appeared in Exquisite Corpse in 1990 and was afterwards republished with a preface by New Orleans poet Andrei Codrescu. Arguing for the eminence of the local as a point of view, the manifesto urged readers to consider their own perspective, political and culture, as the outcome of their existence at a certain place and time. It argued that only in radical utopian moments such as May 1968 do individuals become able to envision life beyond the bounds of their own history.

I had the great joy of getting to meet Max and hang out back in May while passing through New Orleans. We met for coffee in the afternoon and talked about landscapes till late at night. He told me about his ancestors, how they'd come to New Orleans trying to save the family farm back in France. I got to hear about Max's travels through anarchist experiments around Europe in the 60s. I got to hear about New Orleans' travelers who tack between racial neighborhoods, till the invisible boundaries break down and new worlds become visible. I got to hear about living in New Orleans in the breakdown around Katrina, when Max's son, intimate with the ghettos and slums of many races, ended up naked in prison for days, then housed in solitary for months, unbeknownst to his relatives.

Max's major opus, the Surre(gion)alist Manifesto, excavates radical European and Chinese philosophy for a new political philosophy appropriate to twenty-first century America. It looks back to the radical individual Taoism of Lao Tse, the utopian experiments of nineteenth-century Europe, the anarchist/individualist critique of Dada, and the radical Situationist Internationale of 1960s Paris, searching for a utopian logic that respects the radical difference of place and individual will. The intellectual roots here are serious: the analysis of psychogeography pioneered by Bachelard, Dubord, and De Certeau, combined with the Henri Lefebvre's critique of capitalism. Cafard reduces, engineering a new dialectic of liberation, a landscapey recipe, the navigation between the "utopian nowhere of meaning and the topian density of earth."

In the Manifesto, attention to local landscape offers a movement towards political and economic liberation. Cafard urges, Strive to reject the people who would manage you from another place far away, whether they are capitalists or teachers. Try not to be like them: try to live instead in the landscape of your journey, taking lessons from the cities and seasons where you find yourself.

This injunction to inhabit the local first, as a beginning of a radical politics, is explained more fully in another fine essay, "Deep Play in the City." Here Cafard applies radical psychogeography as an instruction set for looking at urban landscapes. Landscapeyness becomes the beginning of radical political freedom.

Back over on Landsploitation, the experimental film channel for all things landscapey, Max has let me put up the video version of the Manifesto, presented by Cafard's student Andrew Goodrich. If you'd prefer the text version, you can find it here.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind readers that I curate two videocasts about everyday landscape. Landsploitation presents experimental videos and sound. Dilettantes and film geeks both welcome. The Landscape Studies Podcast presents work by my colleagues, typically papers that have been read already at conferences, excerpts of talks, or summaries of scholarly articles. Itunes listeners, subscribe to Landsploitation and Landscape Studies. Both are accepting submissions.

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