Political Surrealism, Surreal Politics


Carl Freedman in the LA Review of Books:

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP between radical aesthetic practices and actual political radicalism? There are many — and various — answers to this question. One of the most interesting is suggested by a famous exchange between Lenin and the Romanian-Jewish writer Valeriu Marcu. During his exile in Zurich, Lenin took many of his meals at a restaurant frequented by radically avant-garde painters, poets, and other such bohemian types, Marcu among them. In conversation one day, Lenin said to Marcu, “I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” Marcu was so sufficiently impressed by the great Russian revolutionary that he went on to write his first biography.

To try to be as radical as reality itself is a good motto for anyone wishing to accomplish anything of value in art or in politics. Brecht, who was unswervingly radical in both spheres, however, maintained that the artistic comprehension of reality in all its “radicality” is not necessarily best achieved through traditional literary realism. China Miéville would certainly agree. All of his numerous works are animated by revolutionary Marxism, and all diverge in one way or another — or in many ways — from classical realism. His recent volume, The Last Days of New Paris(2016), is set in France, mainly in Paris, during Nazi occupation; but this occupation is quite different from the one you can read about in the history books. The text can be classified as an alternative-history novel (or novella, as Miéville labels it). Yet a knowledge of the canonical achievements of this genre — like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), or any of a number of works by Kim Stanley Robinson — will suggest only a very partial idea of what is to be found here.

More here.