surrealism’s beating heart by reed mcconnell

an excerpt from Surrealism’s Beating Heart

“ABOUT HALFWAY INTO Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 novella The Crying of Lot 49, unhappy housewife and accidental private eye Oedipa Maas begins seeing horns. She spends a sleepless night stumbling through San Francisco in the feverish grip of some mad combination of revelation and nightmare, horns everywhere, drawn on the sidewalk in chalk, gracing a man’s jacket in the form of a lapel pin, traced with a finger in the fog of a nighttime bus window, tattooed on a man’s hand. The more horns she sees, the more she becomes convinced of the existence of a vast conspiracy related to the postal system, and the more aggressively she questions her sanity.

But in a quest for truth, isn’t the horn an ideal guide? With its tapered shape, one end wide, one end narrow, the horn manages to unlock an entire universe of transmission, to allow for the pronouncement of the most glorious truths and the reception of the tiniest whispers. This most neglected of simple machines, this magnificent prosthetic can magnify the meager sonic and acoustic capabilities of our bodies and render us ur-cyborgs.

Paranoia, too, can serve as method. Like Oedipa Maas, the artist Salvador Dalí was frequently gripped by bouts of paranoia, but for him they were both a choice and a mode of production. For Dalí, what was important was not reaching paranoid conclusions but the process of paranoid thinking itself. If the frenzied meaning-production of paranoid thinking is, as famously theorized by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, problematic in the way that it produces knowledge, Dalí’s paranoid thinking aimed not to produce knowledge but to produce art—art that drew from the subconscious and operated entirely on the basis of intuition. When painting or writing, he would work himself up into a paranoid state and then set loose his powers of association, aiming to circumvent the realm of sense entirely. Down with Western logic, cried the Surrealists, and long live paranoia!

surrealism’s beating heart‘ by reed Mcconnell, article from The Baffler
Detail from Leonora Carrington’s The Kitchen Garden on the Eyot (1946). | SFMOMA

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