Most people, even if they've never heard of the Surrealist movement, will have seen Salvadore Dali's picture of melting watches, or the Man Ray photograph of a woman's back that has been cleverly painted to resemble a cello. Surrealism began in the 1920s in Paris and was part of a Europe-wide avant-garde that founded modern art as we know it, and whose legacy can still be felt today. Surrealism was instrumental in questioning exactly what made a work of art, and it was highly experimental in the way it cast aside traditional kinds of form (the novel or representational art) and challenged orthodox ways of production (they were fascinated for instance in 'automatic writing', or just writing down without constraint whatever came into your head – it's actually very hard to do). The 'classic' founding image of Surrealism was that of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table. So in other words they were out to shock, and to offend, and to challenge. And they were obsessed with what looked extraordinary; it was a very visual movement, no matter whether the media was film or painting, or poetry and narrative.
When I was thinking about Surrealism I realised how much blogging owes to it. Blogging is an art of fragments, joined together in an ongoing process. So it's quite an unusual form of writing, which depends on a sense of immediacy for its effect. The blogger is still a shadowy figure, but someone much closer to their artwork than your average novelist or journalist. Furthermore, proper blogs (unlike mine which is technologically challenged) work on a 'montage' principle of including pictures and images and links to other sites amongst the writing. This kind of creative juxtaposition is very dear to the Surrealists who were fascinated by mixing media. I think they would have been in absolute ecstacies over the concept of hypertext.
The book I'm about to write on fantasy and dream in twentieth century French art will undoubtedly include the Surrealists, as they were deeply engaged in exploring all the nooks and crannies of the self, regularly stocking up on booze and drugs to liberate their unconscious and access the hidden parts of their minds. But what's really interesting to me is that whilst this may look like a self-regarding, pointless kind of movement, it was actually deeply political in its intentions. Surrealism grew out of the unrest and despair that followed the First World War. The artists believed that it proved the failure of rationalist, bourgeois culture. What was the point in people being polite and controlled and uptight if the carnage of the trenches was the result? The Surrealists were all about liberating the dark forces that lurked inside, mostly bound up in violence and the erotic, and putting them on display. And the point is that when the fantastic is involved in works of art, inevitably they're about battling against constraints of law and order that have become too restrictive. When art is interested in what's implausible or impossible, then it's clearly interested in the limits of the plausible and the possible, with a view to shaking them up a bit, and loosening the bonds.
All of which brings me back to blogging again. My own experience of it, is that it's very experimental. I can't do this as a direct transmission of knowledge; I have to play about with what I'm trying to say, focus on a little detail and then explore it in different ways. It's also a liberation of my self – I can say things here that I wouldn't have a chance to say anywhere else. The whole internet began as something experimental and subversive. It's relatively unpoliced even now. And there's an extraordinary fluidity about it, from the space it inhabits, which defies imagination, to the potential for every individual to develop their site in unpredictable and unusual ways. Cyber space is itself surreal, in that it exists outside the palpable, visual world of reality. So I fondly think of us, busily blogging away, as carrying on the Surrealist legacy to challenge the laws, to do something experimental and unorthodox, and to plunder the deepest resources of our minds.