The Monstrosity of Dreams: Beauty after Surrealism

comments 6
aesthetics / beauty / birth / decay / learning / leonardo da vinci / light / noise / parasite / psychology / semiotics / surrealism / truth


If narcissism could in any sense be said to be the basis for a proto-aesthetics, a necessary condition for the production of any aesthetic intervention whatsoever — if not the outer eclipse of the primordial movement of creativity itself… Then this is because beauty captures, absorbs, exhumes. It fascinates. It opens up new distances, illuminates novel depths, original styles. It pierces a depth whose distance is infinite, the absolutely other. Beauty, what else? –but null futurity, the brutal light of the ultimate apocalypse.

Beauty is extinction.

Both a pure white emptiness and a heterogeneous black abyss: beauty, always a grotesque transfiguration. Without Da Vinci this uglier aspect of narcissism would have gone unnoticed even longer. The history of the theory of art has been about drawing this glittering, distracting line, ultimately proving it not indeed to be a line at all, certainly leading nowhere and anyways, not a thin line.

Nor a no-man’s-land.

But rather a discontinuous movement, a gesture: a non-linear, free, undetermined, anonymous gesture, a suffering and powerful movement of expressivity. (Perhaps even a foundational motion, genesis…?) This creation of an uninterruptible channel for the distribution and division of energies –Is beauty but the tool-building hominid’s dream of infinite celerity, of pure mobilities, that is, a total category of absolute transport?

A transcendence born from distance which already converges obscenely upon terror, stasis and death: the frozen beauty of absolute immobility, rapturous passivity, absolute domesticity, pure receptivity and com-placency. Again and again, the resurgence of the hidden narrative, the overstory of the understory: rupture and transcendence and return. but: exhumation, or resurrection?

Yes, transcendence is always a secret, because immanence is the pure singular truth. There’s nothing here that doesn’t belong. Yet the secret one, the secret line has no home, it unfolds and decomposes. It criminalizes itself. Style is not the secret but the edge of the abyss, the sharpened point, the “critical” distance which allows the flourish and spectacle.

In short, beauty is approached in style only through the distances produced by varieties of interconnectivity. Through becoming other, through becoming a machine, the sharpened point opens onto a new order, a new genre of possibilities. The smoothness of the proto-narrative space is an unground, a native battleground for all varietes of possible forms of expression, an auto-transcendentalizing matrix which is open to countless potential assemblages.

Within it things learn to dream.

Beauty is beyond harmony and chaos, underneath horror and grace. To speak like a psychologist: without our hearts, beauty would still be real, for insofar as it attains towards transcendence of the human, it names the real, the discontinuous event, the line which cannot be obscured, the disintegration of organizations…

Surrealism is pure unconscious violence, a naive violence we’re still not sophisticated enough to understand. Which is also to say, to unleash! And yet, it is strange to think — without hearts, beauty would have never even been contemplated. We would shield ourselves from beauty just as surely if we did not feel it as strongly we do now. Beauty feeds upon itself: it is an autoparasite.

The real behind appearances is always suffering and power, tragic, sublime and transfigured: for even the heartless can fall victim to pity, to the dazzling lure of beauty within ugliness. The real is ungrounded when it encounters the beautiful: beauty is the abominable unground, horror beyond horror, the unlife beyond life, the inert decaying matter feeding swarms of parasites. Not the abyss but concoursing flies, vectors of disorganization, dense congregations of insects pressing in the gaps, eternally unearthing. Pullulating herds of larval awareness.

Digging. Into the ground. (Do we not all remember digging? Are we not digging still?) Unearth, unground: this structured or ethical suspension of reason, this dis-engagement of feelings, is in fact the classical basis of philosophy — in it, not only images but our very feelings are rejected as nothing but sick animals feeding upon our brokenness, upon our finitude, upon our imperfection, guilt and suffering. But, one might rejoin, are they not learning? Learning thereby from our pain, as it were, from our mistakes? Even from our terror? From our moments of distraction and weakness and despair? From our recurring convalescence?

It is in this manner that association becomes a true rival for abstraction. Learning and regeneration: in this way repetition becomes creativity and association becomes intuition. Learning is organic, cosmic, libidinal: but always a parasitic organization. Knowledge infests. It is a noise. The intervention, noise, comes first, before the channel, before the signal. The sign arrives only much later, an instrument of the one, the one which instructs the reorganizers. There is a whole geography of knowledge beyond signs.

There is yet an intervening milieu (which is not organized, not itself semiotic) which deserves investigation. The abyss, the interface, the field of intensity: names for structures the modality of intervention. Philosophy cannot escape the twin problems of distance and style. They relate intimately to speaking, to knowing, to writing, to thinking. We can touch the noise before we hear the sound.

We can feel the terror of decay before we feel its squirming multiple births. We cannot listen to noise. But we have to be able to learn. It is a perhaps a bit like dying: transubstantiation, depersonalization, molecular disorganization. Dispersal, becoming pure intensity, pure sound, pure light. God, the ocean of light, no more than a romantic fantasy: a lantern to guide us through the abyss. Just bright enough to illuminate the depth of our horror, the misery of our position. But, and yet… somehow, impossibly, the brilliant positivity of the world, of the earth and what is beneath the earth… of the fractured lines of light, cracks of awareness opening onto the future…

The Author

mostly noise and glare


  1. I like this a lot. Some questions…

    Narcissism and creativity, tool building – is this Marx’s definitive quality of humans, making and re-making themselves externally, the world in the image of their inner landscapes, with consciousness truly starting in language?

    Is surreality so powerful because it smudges the old, bright line between reason and unreason, beauty and ugliness, into something that casts shadows? It tries to paint the reality more faithfully than even photorealism – the way any scream is realer than the silence of a suburb? Beauty is the unground because it collapses earth into sky, and that eternal, frozen beauty (rationality, pure reason, many periods of classical art) into the death it would defy – Kali’s lesson, the vulgar, ecstatic life that death forces into relevance? If beauty is either ephemeral (acknowledging decay) or death by preservation, is the inseparability what surrealism’s laughing about, too real for signs?

    If there is a geography of knowledge beyond signs, how do we fill in the areas still marked, “Here be dragons?” Beyond signs, how do we communicate it? Knowledge that organic doesn’t fit well into books; it’s more visceral, I think, more viral. Isn’t association essential to abstraction? To abstract is to create distance, but what is abstraction but associations, real or imagined, simpler or more complicated? Does repetition become creativity because we recognize the patterns to rebuild, that remake us? In that way, is the noise so much going before the signal, or is the noise simply what we hear before we have resolved itself to speech? Speech without the structure to interpret it is noise, and drowning in noise is as good as deafness.

    I love to listen to noise; what does that make me, now? Besides vocally superfluous, sorry…

  2. Thanks, and don’t be sorry, your comments and questions are wonderful! I think that my favorite thing you’re asking is how we communicate “beyond signs.” The easy answer is that we have to experiment with expressive media, to unearth the protogenetic fields of intensity which will allow new communicative boundaries. But it’s not, obviously, as simple as sailing off into infinite investments of desire. We haven’t even begun to deconstruct, to disassemble, to disassociate. In communication no less than critique (‘meta-language’), we have to constantly extrude meaning from beneath the surfaces of words and things, to find the transcendental field in which two kinds of events interpenetrate. And then, finally, we have the outside, the Other, the ‘inexpressible’ itself, that ethereal, luminous field in which transcendental events themselves communicate. We have access to these through both human and non-human modes of expressivity, which is hopefully some kind of way to begin to answer your question. The difficulty is that it’s cliche to speak only of the inexpressible when there’s so much we are capable of expressing, and to put a much finer point on it, we don’t yet even know the limits of expression, we still don’t know what expression is capable of…!


  3. Thank you! On pushing communicative media, I’m terribly curious what you’d think of the concept of “jacking straight across,” as presented in William Gibson’s “The Winter Market.” I’ve read most of Beyond Desire at this point, and the two clicked a little.

    Could we ever know the limits of expression, even if we thought we found them? I suppose we could, if the limits of conception/thought outrun the limits of expression, which they seem to, but I wonder what you think about it?

    Your discussion of (pardon) the undiscussable reminds me of Beyond Desire as well – we communicate a lot by what we deem inexpressible. Just ask H.P. Lovecraft (serious joke.) Leaving too much to the imagination communicates a lot more, enticing or horrifying, than leaving too little. With the edges clearly deliniated, clamped down and filled in with one set of meanings, signs, images, the area formerly tagged “inexpressible” seems smaller than it looked from outside… Pity, I do so like sailing…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.