Ce Qui Sera, What Will Be, Lo Que Será: Almanac of the International Surrealist Movement
by Paul McRandle
This daunting little tome serves as striking evidence of the vitality and robust internationalism of those taking to the path André Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and others first took in 1924. That path has since branched out around the world, and Paris is now just one meeting place among many. So it is fitting that the editors have compiled a tri-lingual fête, with many texts written or translated into English, while the longer essays in French and Spanish are accompanied by English glosses (some poems and stories go untranslated). Images abound including drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and collages. Comprising the works of 173 contributors hailing from 25 countries, there is enough here to perplex, amuse, astound, and annoy to varying degrees. The overall effect, though, is one of profound energy flowing through these artists and writers.
For the last 50 years the editors, Her de Vries and Laurens Vancrevel, have published and produced surrealist works under the Brumes Blondes imprint in Amsterdam, and their command of the field has enabled them to produce a definitive collection. Drawing its title from the statement in a 1947 manifesto, “Surrealism is what will be,” the focus is determinedly on the present and future, on evoking new visions and highlighting new voices the vast majority of whom will be unknown to most American readers (for that alone, the editors have rendered a great service). The work is divided into three thematic areas interleaved throughout the book—“Magnetic fields,” “The Gold of time,” “Break of day”—and it also includes a collection of surrealist games, an inquiry into surrealist publishing houses and galleries, and an extremely useful overview of the last 50 years highlighting key publications, reviews, tracts, exhibits, films, and groups, which serves as a great bibliography.
From the movement’s earliest days, poetry has been its heart’s blood and included here are works by Will Alexander, Carmen Bruna, Allan Graubard, Beatriz Hausner, Jacques Lacomblez, Valery Oisteanu, Fernando Palenzuela, Pierre Peauchmaurd (whose writing is now available to English readers in The Nothing Bird), Eva Švankmajerová, and Ludwig Zeller, among many others. Švankmajerová’s “Walking” is a short work, with the misdirecting straightforwardness of a magician:
I carefully walk in the night alone.
I am nothing that I have already been
I am not the one I dread
I escape from faces that remind me of somebody
em>School mates, neighbours, brothers
I rattle dishes
Up, stairs, down
The kids shrieked at night
I avoid crude old women
I speak Czech
I look ridiculous and outrageous as well. Sometimes
Fevers, often, fevers
Insomnia for years.
Everyone’s sight gets weaker
Due to that I speak, eat or drink a lot
Once again I make up my mind
I can do many things. Everything better. Why?
I think fast
I’ve been happy too
Honza is not here today.
Among the Almanac’s many essays are tributes to writers and artists including the French essayist and poet Annie Le Brun, the Portuguese painter Mário Cesariny, the French-Canadian artist Jean Benoît, and the American poet Lawrence Weisberg, among others. Several essays, however, are concerned with the trajectory of surrealism and the role it might now play. Alain Joubert, who joined Breton’s Parisian group in 1955, argues that surrealism should be an open rather than closed society and that the priority should no longer be on forming groups, a point others in the collection have strongly disagreed with online. There are, in fact, active groups of surrealists in Athens, Coímbra (Portugal), Istanbul, Leeds, London, Madrid, Montevideo, Prague, and elsewhere.
Several writers focus on the effects of capitalism on our daily lives and environs, including Lourdes Martínez’s look at ways to combat the lockdown of contemporary cities and José Manuel Rojo discussion of anti-capitalist protests and surrealist contributions. The poet Manuel de Freitas skewers our world even more pithily: “All is well. The western sky / decays, the stock market remains / stable, catastrophically present / in each of our lives.”
There are far too many artists here to give them their proper due, but just to suggest the collection’s breadth, What Will Be includes drawings by Stephen Clark, Kathleen Fox, Bill Howe, Georges-Henri Morin, Seixas Peixoto, Raul Perez, and Michael Vandelaar; assemblages by Rikki Ducornet, Jan Švankmajer, and Laeticia Vera; collages by Jon Graham, Katerina Kubikova, Sasha Vlad, and Richard Waara; photographs by John Duda, Javier Galvez, and Raman Rao; and paintings by Karol Baron, Guy Girard, Rik Lina, Marta Peres, Kateřina Piňasová, and Martin Stejskal. Color reproduction most likely would have been prohibitive, but black and white is appropriate for an almanac and the images are crisp and clear.
No better survey of current surrealist artists and writers exists. What Will Be is a small marvel.
Paul McRandle is a New York-based writer whose fiction and articles have appeared in 3rd bed, Rain Taxi, Under/Current, New England Review, Black Ice, Huffington Post, and other publications. He edits the website SurrealistNYC.