Seeing the Unseen: The Occult and Surrealism

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Surrealism is not a poetry but a poetics and even more, in the most decisive fashion, a vision of the world.

– Octavio Paz

The surrealists know that the surreal is in the real, just as the mage knows that the invisible is in the visible and the alchemist knows that the infinite is in the finite – and the Great Work consists of its extraction.

– Bernard Roger

every principle for going beyond the level of current consciousness…resides and can only reside in magic, in the sense of the traditional science of the secrets of nature.

– Gérard Legrand

1.

In pursuit of the merging of dream and reality in the ‘disinterested play’ of thought, Breton’s Surrealism projected (the ‘invisible ray’ of) its existence in the ‘elsewhere’:

transformative exchange loops            current between

the articulation of experience and the experience of articulation

both of which are navigated and generated by the encountering

of, and between, interiority (esoteric) and the world (exoteric).

That strange and unthinkable breach –

between a posited noumenal world and the phenomena of our experience –

is the unreachable source and destination of Surrealism.

Travellers of mad hope in the chiasmic passage

between LANGUAGE & PERCEPTION

that is, in turn, what constitutes LANGUAGE and PERCEPTION.

Steps that make and remake the ground from which they take their possibility.

To be a passage across; a bridge that reimagines the possibilities of what defines – and joins –

the territory on either side and to swim together each opposing side in the rolling landscape

one in the other.

Nightside traversal of unseen what manifests in day as seen, a motoring stir

of unconscious and invisible; that which is drawn from & that circles a mediation of

INTERNAL    &/AS     EXTERNAL.

But also, sweet fleet of soluble fish, beyond that, to dissolve in wheels

whatever distinguishes any state as separate, to leap amphibious

in mutation      from either/or    to and/both  

 imminence and perennial return

*

O bumbling minotaur, spruce your neck-stump

with a garnish of a red thread, a maze in the belly –

a cyclops chewing a mirror might say, excepting

 

a few blind subterranean and endoparasitic species,

most insects have some sight, and many possess

highly developed visual systems. The basic components

 

needed for vision are a lens to focus light onto,

photoreceptors, and a nervous system complex

enough to process visual information.

The cyclops finished his reflection, looking

to move on – O bumbling minotaur, stitch me

a kite from this mess, cover the hole with a hat.

It is now a hundred years since André Breton’s infamous ‘Manifesto of Surrealism’ (1924) was published, a text that overshadowed the French-German poet Yvan Goll’s  earlier (by two weeks) manifesto – published in the first (and only) issue of Surréalisme. Both men were spearheading separate factions of Parisian Surrealism and were, in the age-old familiarity of hypocrisy and territorial pissing, muscling to define something that both acknowledged exists in spite of, before, or beyond any definition. Whilst Goll’s emphasis was on the artist’s central reliance on ‘reality’ and a foundational relationship with ‘nature’ (in logical extension of his connections to expressionism), he also discerned an important shift in poetry: from the ear to the eye; embodying the early modernist preference (in a new age of Film) for IMAGE and SPEED over sound and cadence. There was also, in Goll’s manifesto, more of a reconciliation between old and new that allowed for greater continuity with the word ‘Surrealism’ in its alleged first usage, by Apollinaire.

Meanwhile, Breton’s more famous (and ultimately far more influential) manifesto emphasised Surrealism with a more bombastic sense of its own revolutionary spirit. For Breton, Surrealism was to be: a return to the romanticised vision of childhood via the exercise of automatic writing; an idealistic celebration of imagination as a force awaiting its freedom; an acerbic disdain for the dull fashions and presiding complacency of writing that defers to a ‘realistic attitude’ (characterised as ‘clarity bordering on stupidity’), and that measures literary merit in relation to the slavish description of whatever conservative perpetuation of familiarity is deemed ‘realistic’ (‘so many superimposed images from a stock catalogue’); and the ardent belief that at some point dream and reality converge in ‘absolute reality’ free from the ‘reign of logic’.

Alongside this persuasive salvo of ideas and ambitions was the veneration of the ‘marvelous’ which, in the first manifesto, is briefly referred to as a kind of aesthetic encounter or stimulus that ‘is not the same in every period of history: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation only the fragments of which come down to us : they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin, or any other symbol capable of affecting the human sensibility for a period of time’. As the art critic Hal Foster (in his incredibly valuable study of Surrealism through its darker drives and neuroses, Compulsive Beauty, 1993) points out, this brief evaluation of the ‘marvelous’ sounds interchangeable with the Freudian uncanny in which the inanimate is disturbed by or confused with the animate, consequently evoking the imminence of death in life. Foster then develops this by noting if, as the manifesto suggests, ‘the marvellous is always beautiful’ and, according to the last line of Breton’s  Nadja (1928), beauty ‘will be CONVULSIVE or not be at all’, then consequently convulsive beauty may also be the ‘compulsive’ return of the repressed – a process or experience that Foster remarks, ‘partakes of the uncanny’.

Foster follows this thread to find in Breton’s optimistic enchantment of the ‘marvelous’ the repression and sublimation of a darker psychoanalysis. He reasons that Breton’s ‘marvelous’ exists in ‘convulsive beauty’ and ‘objective chance’, two key themes that are recurrently elaborated throughout Breton’s main novel-esque explorations: Nadja, Les Vases communicants (1932), and L’Amour fou (1937). In L’Amour fou (‘Mad Love’), convulsive beauty is extended from the abrupt declaration of Nadja in the statement: ‘[c]onvulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial, or it will not be’. Foster goes on to read these phrases in relation to Breton’s exemplary images which, he suggests, all point toward the uncanny: the ‘veiled erotic’ becomes uncanny in its ‘in/animation’ whereby death within life is a dominating and primordial presence; the ‘fixed explosive’ is uncanny in its ‘im/mobility’ whereby the photographic shock of frozen motion (as Foster puts it, ‘vital activity violently arrested’) once again asserts the death drive; and ‘magic-circumstantial’ reveals the uncanny workings of ‘objective chance’ whereby the significance of a poetic encounter or the trouvaille (of a found object etc) are transformed from Breton’s sense of the ‘fortuitous’ and ‘foreordained’ (from L’Amour Fou) into a sublimated misrecognition of a compulsive return – a dynamic that masks the repressed in an event or object of chance that feels at once entirely new and yet somehow ‘foreordained’.

Whilst Foster’s argument is incredibly convincing and beautifully articulated, it does persistently situate Surrealism – through the psychosexual traumas of Freudian analysis – within its own ‘fixed-explosive’ framework of arrested interpretation. This feels entirely credible for the origins of Surrealism, given its membership was populated by the survivors of war and those who (like Breton) had first-hand experience of the medical applications of dream interpretation and free-association in the treatment of trauma patients. However, the sense of what Surrealism is and could be, within Breton’s lifetime and far beyond, continues to mutate. Consequently, for thinking through its contemporary relationship with, or expression through, poetry, as part of my own ongoing and active practice, I feel it essential to embrace the initiatory spirit of its existence as an ‘elsewhere’ of restless and evolving possibility.

*

In insect eyes, the photoreceptive structure

is the rhabdom ~ comprising several adjacent

retinula cells and closely packed microvilli

 

containing the unholy pigment so sacred

to light falling ~ and so the cyclops continued

speaking in confidence to a bandaged weevil.

The weevil was calling himself Dionysus

and hurling his tiny body into the vast mulch

of an unattended catfood-bowl, full, it seemed,

of catfood.

Understanding the origins of Surrealism and the presiding influence of its historical antecedents is, and should be, entirely necessary to any imaginings of its continuing significance to poetry. Equally, understanding it as something that should not be bound to that consideration is just as important; understanding Surrealism is to acknowledge that it actively and mutably breathes with far more detail, diversity and scope than any group of individuals and their relation to political, philosophical, and artistic documentation. It is both the evolving body of thought and what is bodily possible to be thought, and, beyond that, the sensation, vision, and experience of what lies outside of thought. That which evades language and thought but makes possible their machinations; the non-being of what enchants, confounds and roots all that is perceived to be.

This (non-) definition, that takes its departure from more academically rigorous frameworks, as partly exemplified by Foster’s psychanalytic art criticism route, is a celebratory (& CENTENARY!) call to embrace and pursue the momentum of Surrealism in all its contradictory and syncretic nature. I’m therefore keen to underline its initiatory creativity as inextricable from its messy plurality. A more intellectually analytical slant would defend its history, present activity, and potential from the woolly coinage of casual conversation – “that is so surreal” as shorthand for anything vaguely surprising or odd – and yet, it is such colloquial meanderings that also provide part of its continuing relevance …the flattened out, popular and mercurial shimmying of its usage as a weird magnetism returning aspects of its more specific aims to the source of much of its inspiration: in the pulp scree of banality, of slapstick mystery and the accidental or overlooked sorcery of the mundane.

This (im)balance between understanding the depth and detail of its project and experience (Surrealism as study and practice alongside Surrealism as precondition for, and integral to, perception) in conjunction with how it resonates in popular discourse (the bastardised dilution and betrayal of any definition)  creates a relationship with, and as, meaning that is both in excess and in emptying; a relational transitivity between language and perception that re-situates, or disorientates, connections between consciousness and cosmos.  In this (mis)understanding, Surrealism draws anything and everything into its possibility whilst retaining its paradoxical root in the realms of the impossible. For me, as I do believe it is worth validating the subjective multiplicity of Surrealism, poetry becomes the metaphoric enactment of Breton’s ‘communicating vessels’, a ludic medium in which everything connects and is made present through all that fails to connect and is absent.

I see the surrealist spirit in a phenomenological model of poetics, where experience and the modes of perception that facilitate experience only ever exist in the play and passage of their realisation. Any being is only ever present in its coming-into-being, for which presence is contingent on a restless play of relation, described and experienced through correspondence with Surrealism. This meaning-as-movement is registered both as a  condition of language and existentially as a human and embodied experience, though the two are entwined and often analogous. It is important to note the significance of Mary Ann Caws’ study The Metapoetics of Passage as a way of clarifying this analogous slippage that characterises both Surrealism and poetry. Caws identifies the ‘passage’ as a restless and ambiguous space of Surrealism, in which she discerns a ‘determinedly mobile architexture, and not an unchangeable, monumental architecture’.

It is Caws’ notion of the passage that, like ideas of movement and play, lend an approximation of structure to this dialogue between Surrealism and poetry – structure being precisely that which both Surrealism and poetry seek to illuminate and challenge: a paradoxical sleight of the magician’s hand in which structure is finally revealed in its own act of disappearance; to be seen but only in the improvisatory movement of all that is unseen.

Surrealist traversals imagined through evocations of the labyrinth or the forest; in the saying as playing of language; between the seeing and what is seen; moving between subject and object, self and other, conscious and unconscious, adult and child; and ultimately in the ambiguity that expresses the experience of everyday waking reality in the rhythms and logic of dreaming.

2.

Yet art, in the true and vital sense, is an instrument, a magical machine, a means of occult exploration which can project the seer into the realm of the Unseen, and launch the waking mind into the realm of the subconsciousness. The power of seeing the unseen, the unnoticed, of knowing the unknown, is the supreme gift of art

– Kenneth Grant

Surreality, the relation in which the mind brings notions together, is the shared horizon of religions, magic, poetry, dream, madness, intoxications, and of stunted life, that trembling honeysuckle you think is enough to populate reality for us.

– Louis Aragon

In its galvanizing pursuit of a point of convergence between two seemingly opposing forces or states of being, Surrealism has within its drive an affinity with much of what sustains and characterises the occult. The occult much like Surrealism, is a term that encompasses a multitude of histories, teachings, arts and experiences. From Shamanism to Spiritualism and arguably spanning most of human history, the occult is not a linear progression of thought and practice but closer to the claims of perennial philosophy; a returning, circular continuity that connects a vast range of traditions and beliefs across the evolution of consciousness.

Most commonly associated (since the 16th Century) with the ‘occult sciences’ of Alchemy, Astrology, and Magic, it is a convoluted, expansive and multifarious set of belief-systems that value irrational and invisible unknowability as a source and destination of great power. An area of study, practice, and discovery that could be characterised as a form of exploratory and embodied poetics that exists between science and religion (though often in defiant resistance to both). That said, as the term can often be a designation of temporal context and contingency, what was once ‘occult’ may pass into the socially legitimized visibility of ‘science’ (for example both magnetism and gravity were at one point considered occult forces).

Often traced back to Ancient Egyptian rites and mythology, the Ancient Greek Mysteries (with Orphism, Pythagoreanism and Bacchic cults), Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Mysticism, Gnosticism, Spiritualism, Theosophy and a proliferation of esoteric groups, the occult can be seen as an iteration – like Surrealism –  of human consciousness searching for understanding and expression that lies outside of any rational explanation; a radical alternative to received or conventional notions of meaning and knowledge. Derived from the Latin occultus meaning ‘hidden’, ‘concealed’ or ‘secret’. The occult finds its allure and strength in the paradox of seeing the unseen.

*

The minotaur tried calling after the cyclops

but, in the absence of a head, nothing was heard.

A loudly thread-spat vibration of nothing

reached the cyclops as he stared into the bowl

of catfood in which the weevil asserted, between

gelatinous chunks, the divine right of weevil

and how, drunk on velvet cubes of feline cuisine,

he had become illustriously possessed, it seemed

Dionysus & Thoth & Set & Louis Feuillade

all lived in the base of his snout. MY ROSTRUM

yowls the bandaged weevil with glee. Growing tired

the cyclops muttered, compound eyes are the most obvious

In Breton’s First Manifesto he announced, ‘Surrealism will introduce you into death, which is a secret society’, an implication that Georges Bataille (lending darker investment to Breton’s rhetorical flourish) advanced with the formation of Acéphale – a secret society founded around concepts of sacrifice, ritual and the sacred. In Breton’s Second Manifesto (1930) he declared, ‘I demand the profound, veritable occultation of surrealism.’ In Patrick Lipetit’s fascinating and important work, The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism (Inner Traditions, 2014), the expansive extent of this relationship, both as influence and active contingent, is mapped with great detail – noting that Breton owned several copies of Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophical (1533) from as early as 1924.

Most of the Parisian surrealists had, in some way, an awareness or deeper interest in occult philosophy from the period of the First Manifesto onwards. Even two of the main literary influences (valorised retroactively as primary predecessors) of Surrealism, Lautréamont and Rimbaud, can also be seen as visionary writers in the occult tradition : the Typhonian monstrosities of Lautréamont in which amphibious vampirism becomes a transgressive quest;  Rimbaud’s inner/esoteric searching through his infamous ‘derangement of the senses’ to emerge reborn in ‘the poet as seer’, entrusting revelation to ‘alchemy of the word’. Antonin Artaud, perhaps the most tortured mystic to pass through the orbit of Surrealism, in writing on the sculptor Ortiz Monasterio, further elucidates these connections:

Surrealism seeks a higher reality and, to attain it, destroys temporary forms in quest of what in language of the ancient Vedas is called the Non-Manifested …. Imbeciles have called the surrealist movement destructive. It is undoubtedly destructive of transitory and imperfect forms, but this is because it is looking beyond forms for the occult and magical presence of a fascinating unreality.

This ‘unreality’ as the unseen Surrealism of reality in all that is hidden.  Not only is our ‘reality’ occluded by the mediacy of our language and perception in phenomenological suspension  – passages of the in-betweenness that, when encountered as such, give rise to the marvellous (as an intimation of all that lies beyond, behind or before) – but also, as a result, that hidden world (of which we most likely only ever encounter through the textures of its hiding) is itself occult. There is a doubling whereby to perceive we necessarily occlude and, in realising this occlusion, we are able to entertain what is truly occult: the ‘Non-Manifested’ which, to draw on the apocryphal Hermes Trismegistus, ‘as above, so below’, can be understood in the inner or psychological sense as the unconscious or in the outer or cosmic sense of that in this world which is beyond our comprehension.

*

These conjunctive vibrations, overlaps and parallels between Surrealism and the occult are perhaps most easily traced in its visual art: in the mystic colour, fluid sexualities, Tarot and Celticism of Ithel Colquhoun (1906-1988, deemed too occult for the surrealists and too surreal for the occultists!); the arcane geometry and haunted vistas of Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Kay Sage (1898-1963) and Yves Tanguy (1900-1955); the proto-feminist creatures and chimeric morphologies of Leonor Fini (1907-1966), Ramedios Varo (1908-1963), Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) and Leonora Carrington (1917-2011); the paranoiac critical methodologies of Dalí (1904 -1989) with their similarities to speculative thinking in numerology and occult cosmogonies, let alone their luminous optical illusions and transgressive use of religious iconography; the defiant provocations of gender neutrality and eroticism in the work of Toyen (1902-1980); the list is huge and ongoing, and would of course also include the alchemical metamorphosis, hybridity and magic in the visions of André Masson (1896 -1987), Max Ernst (1891-1976), Kurt Seligmann (1900-1962),Victor Braun (1903-1966), and Roberto Matta (1911 – 2002).

*

The cyclops is in the meadow, minotaur naked in the forest

                                    all the weevils gather in druidic braille

worship

         bandaged Bacchus in the IAMS

*

In the language of the occult, best demonstrated in the transmutations of alchemy, metaphor is everything. We are in the realm of the microcosm and the macrocosm, the constant currents of understanding through analogy. Purification of metals and the chemistry of change becomes the refinement of the soul and the turbulence of growth…this is its inherently poetic model. The play of correspondence as fluid and syncretic meaning, for which poetry is the perfect medium. As Breton’s close friend and collaborator, the poet and essayist Gérard Legrand, states in Le Libertaire:

But that which in magic and occultism, stripped of its metaphysical backdrop, cannot fail to interest us, seems to me to come down to these two major fields of investigation that complement each other: 1. The elaboration of a DYNAMIC concept of language, based on ANALOGY and appealing to the inexhaustible forces of the unconscious and the imagination. 2. The desire for a universal knowledge.

A poetics that emphasises the infinite mobility of language alongside its metaphoric substitutions of signification (the deferral and difference encapsulated by Derrida’s coinage, différance, and the ‘SPEED’ and ‘IMAGE’ of Goll’s manifesto) can embrace and enact a restless energy of meaning that, paired with the unknown of the unconscious (and its cosmic analogies) and a visionary emphasis on imagination, brings poetry ‘into a kind of absolute reality’ where the occult and Surrealism meet.

*

In insects able to detect light through their body surface, there are sensory receptors below the body cuticle but no optical system with focusing structures. Some blind cave insects, with no recognizable visual organs, respond to light, as do decapitated cockroaches.

3.

Surrealism is occult in the ‘fixed explosive’ of a syncretic dynamism housed beneath the contradictory definition of what cannot be defined, in the ‘veiled eroticism’ of experience and/as understanding that turns, like desire, around absence –  that titillates initiation as unveiling (suggested by the title of Blavatsky’s occult cornerstone: Isis Unveiled, 1877), and in the ‘magic-circumstantial’ significance of chance and synchronicity that suggests temporal and spatial forces and dimensions beyond our understanding. I see poetry, as I see the occult and Surrealism, as a kind of revolving bridge that illuminates the in-between and offers ecstatic opportunities for crossing: a way to remember in confabulation, to reach futurity through the past, and to approach reality through the scaffolding of its illusion, noting the blur and rubble as it falls.

I would hope to see poetry that embodies the occult in Surrealism as a generative and protean force of unknowability; to be analogous to, and encompassing of, evolution – understood not in the misnomer of progress but in the chaos of mutation and adaptation.

It is a poetry that thrives in the resistance to, and revolution of,

art that drops imagination in favour of didactic fixity.

An embodied turning away from the politics of advertising a singular position

as though poetry had no relationship with mystery

in favour of a politicised refusal of poem-as-position that instead emboldens moving,

inclusive and incomplete collaborations of thought; to be a way in turning.

This is, for me at least (and it is worth stressing the subjectivity as, too often, poetry is made out to be an arena of competing definitions as opposed to, like music is more frequently understood, a vast field with different practitioners in different traditions), a conception of poetry that is embedded in, and itself an extension of, a way of living. It is not a crafted separation or distilled extraction from life (as a literal-minded alchemy might suggest) but the bridge from and into the confusions of living. This ambiguous joining moves, O roving tentacular fog, like Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the chiasmic ‘flesh’, Breton’s ‘capillary tissue’ or in so many occult visions between worlds, as the invocation of circling tunnels found within worlds…to be less an over-reliance on an under-questioned self and more an aspirational divorce from self towards whatever might guide or disturb our impressions of self, and through these intimations, moving intuitively towards the world and beyond its appearances. It is, shimmying sprawl and weird glint, full of irrational ambition and  ambitious irrationality.

 

*

No one will know exactly how it came about / but we are permitted to wonder

H.D.

Dermal detection of the windows, how it begins

                                                                                              with trees

corresponding                                  ‘this is’

                            the pineal why                                        a few dipteran fungal gnats

we might         dig lanterns                                                                   a trail for

   new myth, speaking of worms   ‘is

this’            headless minotaur           man

*

It is amateur. It is silly. It is not the latest thing.

I choose these words (‘amateur’ and ‘silly’) because of their often obscured, or occluded, origins. Etymologically ‘amateur’ is derived from the Latin ‘amare’ – to love

One of the most significant, influential and restlessly prolific avant-garde filmmakers of the 20th Century, Stan Brakhage (1933-2003), wrote a wonderful essay, entitled ‘in defense of amateur’:

An amateur works according to his own necessity […] and is, in that sense, “at home” anywhere he works: and if he takes pictures, he photographs what he loves or needs in some such sense – surely a more real, and thus honourable, activity than work which is performed for some gain or other than what the work itself gives…surely more personally meaningful than work only accomplished for money, or fame, power etc…and most assuredly more individually meaningful than commercial employment – for the true amateur, even when in consort with other amateurs, is always working alone, gauging his success according to the accomplishments or recognitions of others.

 Why then have critics, teachers, and other guardians of the public life come to use the term derogatorily? Why have they come to make “amateur” mean: “inexperienced,” “clumsy,” “dull,” or even “dangerous”? It is because an amateur is one who really lives his life – not one who simply “performs his duty” – and as such he experiences his work while he’s working – rather than going to school to learn his work so he can spend the rest of his life doing it dutifully – ; and the amateur, thus, is forever learning and growing thru his work into all his living in a “clumsiness” of continual discovery’

To be constantly surprised and f(l)ail generously, a sincere mess of botched magic and séance, leaping without the inhibitions of a professionalised imperative or the contorted postures and plaudits of careerism. This is not to say I dismiss the importance, at times, of professionalism, or that I want to be wilfully ignorant or over-confabulate thru being under-informed, but that I can write poetry into, and from, my areas of enthusiasm without fear or adherence to their corresponding codes of professional application. It is freeing, allowing in the instance of art for the integration of both types of thought: logical and intuitive…Just as Surrealism encourages the merging of contrary states…

And then, if I have been, or seem at risk of, being too leaden, tonally confused, or pedantic in my explaining of all this – I must then arrive at and embrace : SILLY.

‘Silly’ is another word which, via its own linguistic evolution, has mutated far from its earlier meanings. The poet Robert Duncan (1919-1988), a friend of Stan Brakhage and a writer deeply immersed in poetry’s connections to mysticism, gnostic traditions, theosophy and the occult, wrote in his wondrously intertextual and expansive opus, The H.D. Book:

Seely which had meant “spiritually blessed,” “pious, holy, good” was shortened to silly as the interests of the mercantile and capitalist class took over the direction of society and profitable works won out against grace as a measure of value. All traces of the earlier numinous meaning of seely-silly were replaced by the meaning of “lacking in judgement or common sense; foolish, senseless, empty headed” or “feeble-minded, imbecile.” The small town closed round its marketplace and customs, closed round its mind against silly things, and grew fearful of man’s inner nature as it grew fearful or grew from fear of the nature outside.

To be alive to the change (mutation / evolution) of the word and embrace both its origins and contemporary usage: a poetry for experiences and concepts of the ‘spiritual’ that transcend the utility and values of populist commerce, as well as poetry that is ‘foolish’, ‘senseless’…a route through nonsense to new sense.

The H.D. Book was written between 1959 and 1964 and yet never published in its completed form until 2011. What begins as an essayistic tribute to the modernist poet Hilda Doolittle morphs into a labyrinthine meditation on the poetics of modernism in relation to esoteric traditions, mythology and the occult, which then threads in and out of Duncan’s own memories, dreams and biographical tangents. A huge (646 page) exploration of reading, writing and living, Duncan’s HD Book is one of the unsung masterpieces of 20th Century literature…spinning its ambitious and idiosyncratic web from literary collage, esoteric texts and poetic analysis; it approaches poetics as, and in, forms of mystic philosophy – to be in becoming, that which glowingly knots a personal cosmology from the ancient within the modern.

In this next passage, Duncan is discussing the gloriously eccentric Russian mystic, and co-founder of Theosophy, Helena Blavatsky (also known as Madame Blavatsky):

In the mess of astrology, alchemy, numerology, magic orders and disorders, neo Platonic, Vedic, and Kabbalistic systems combined, confused, and explained, queered evolution and wishful geology, transposed heads – the fact of her charged fascination with it all remains genuine. It has the charge of a need, and her sense binds: that until man lives once more again in these awes and consecrations, these obediences to what he does not know but feels, until he takes new thought in what he has discarded from thought, he will not understand what he is.

 This ‘charged fascination’ followed in the ‘awes and consecrations’ of an omnivorous searching is what I love and pursue in poetry. Through the blundered enthusiasms of Visionary Doubt, Alchemy, Myth, Magic, Film, Zoology, Taoism, Phenomenology, and all promiscuous occultations of what escapes the arrogant jurisdiction of this or that; in the poetry of what ‘does not know but feels’, Surrealism is constantly resurrecting wonder.

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