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Surrealpolitik: Arab Revolt and the Dream of 'Palestine'

By       Message Steve Breyman     Permalink
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By this time, like one who had set out on his way by night, and travelled through a region of smooth or idle dreams, our history now arrives on the confines, where daylight and truth meet us with a clear dawn, representing to our view, though at a far distance, true colours and shapes.

                                                                                    -John Milton



Could anything be weirder for Palestinians than that the current intifadas , today's uprisings against illegitimate rulers, are taking place in Tunisia and Egypt? That Arabs in Tunis and Cairo are closer to democratic self-rule than they are? Is this a dream? Whose dream? Will we wake up from it?

 

Where is Andre' Breton when we need him? Breton, author of The Surrealist Manifesto , thought Surrealism--the creative expression of dreams--revolutionary. Most of the painters, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, poets, and musicians who went in for one form or another of the post-War-to-End-All-Wars movement were indeed leftist troublemakers. The movement split when the Dadaists opted for anarchism, and the Surrealists joined the new Communist Party. The rare exception was the great Salvador Dali who sided with General Franco. Before long, of course, Breton and company ran afoul of the proletarian strictures of Socialist Realism and were booted from the Party by Stalin.

 

Nearly a century later, the handle on Surrealism remains slippery. The movement was partly a reaction against the "rationalism" that allegedly underlay European art and culture, and that had culminated in the Great War. And yet unlike Dadaism, Surrealism was not simply a negation (anti-art) but a positive expression of the human subconscious. Breton was much influenced by Freud; the unconscious was to be the conscious source for imagination and inspiration. There were some silly experiments with "automatic" painting and writing that produced no one's best work (but perhaps stimulated what came to be called stream of consciousness in fiction writing). There were also the extraordinary early films of Luis Buñuel and Jean Cocteau, the photography and art of Man Ray, the plays of Garcia Lorca, the paintings of Max Ernst (later banned by the Nazis as "decadent"). Breton's dream was for the conscious and unconscious to fuse; fantasy would join the quotidian in "an absolute reality, a surreality."  

 

Surrealism, now and forever. Just as Palestinian authorities began another drive to declare independence, and another drive to get the United Nations Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal, the "Palestine Papers" appear (thanks to Al Jazeera and some unnamed leaker). Just as efforts to wade through the nearly 1700 documents of the Papers get going, young, educated, and desperate Arabs set themselves on fire in a surreal politics of frustration.    

 

At the same time, we have the exciting and unsettling news that arrived just prior to the human bonfires. Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador formally recognized Palestine as an independent state within its 1967 borders in December. Chile and Venezuela followed suit in January with Uruguay and Paraguay said to be next. Mexico, Peru, and Nicaragua are reported to have recognition under consideration.   Brazil went to so far as to have Mahmoud Abbas lay the cornerstone in Brasilia for the first Palestinian embassy in the New World.

 

Israel denounced the diplomatic moves as "seriously harmful" to the peace process, and the US called them "premature" and "not helpful." With the disappearance of generals from Latin American politics, it's become harder for the US and Israel (which had close relations with the American-backed terror regimes) to keep the campesinos in line. And that of course is the source of horror in Tel Aviv and Washington as Arab despots appear on their too long in coming, thieving and murderous ways out.

 

But wait a Ramallah minute--haven't we been here before? As Ramzy Baroud recently wrote:

 

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Steve Breyman teaches peace, environmental and media studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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