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Profane Illumination: Rick Poynor on Surrealism and the Visual Unconscious

Slicing Open the Eyeball.

Alfred Hitchcock, Salvador Dali, dream sequence, Spellbound.

Live, now, on Thought Catalog:

My interview with the visual-culture critic Rick Poynor. And I quote:

“More than just the preeminent commentator on the social role and cultural politics of graphic design in contemporary culture, the English cultural critic Rick Poynor is our most reliable dashboard navigator through the visual landscape, a politically astute, historically literate GPS plotting our course through the forest of signs.

Time-conservation keywords: “Pure psychic automatism,” the book Permanent Revelation, the Baudelairean flâneur, the Surrealist wanderer in Paris in the 1920s, the Situationist on a dérive in the 1950s, hasard objectif, Slavic Surrealism, Poetism, Richard M. Powers, Yves Tanguy, Ed Emshwiller, Jan Svankmajer, SF and Surrealism.


In fact, in the decades since I found Surrealism as a teenager…there was never a time when I gave up on it. […] That youthful encounter blasted open a mental door and what was on the other side—there is so much on the other side—has never ceased to be meaningful to me.

…When I look at Surrealist art, it still delivers its mysterious psychic shocks. Surrealism codified a poetic principle that has always existed as a possibility and still exists in life and art “after Surrealism.” “There is another world,” said Paul Éluard, “but it is in this one.” This, for me, is a guiding principle—the illuminating essence of the Surrealist revelation. I’m deeply attracted to the fantastic, the strange, the marvelous, the nameless, the uncanny, but not in the flimsy, escapist sense of fantasy otherworlds remote from our own. I’m searching for the fantastic, the unaccountable, in the tangible world, in ordinary experience and everyday life, the moments when something unexpected but deeply thrilling is suddenly manifest. The mystery is here if we would but see it. We are bound to try to talk about this, but it eludes final explanation and that’s the measure of its power.

More, at Thought Catalog, HERE.

Alfred Hitchcock and Salvador Dali, dream sequence, Spellbound.

The Eyes Have It: Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen on the “Science of First Impressions”


Stuart Ewen and Elizabeth Ewen at home, NYC, 2006. Photo: Yoko Inoue. © Yoko Inoue. From my December 2006 ID magazine Q&A with the authors.

(In its December 2006 issue, ID magazine ran my interview with Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, two of our most incisive thinkers about the politics of images and the social history of consumer culture. But that wasn’t the half of it. ID didn’t have room for my intro, and had to truncate the interview for reasons of space. Here’s the director’s cut, with all of the insights that ended up on the cutting-room floor restored.)

Amid the cultural crossfire over illegal immigration, at a moment when 60 percent of the respondents to a Quinnipiac poll applauded the racial profiling of people who look “Middle Eastern,” the visual-culture critics and social historians Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen are pulling our stereotypes up by the roots.

Their new book, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality (Seven Stories Press), is a history of stereotyping in racist science and popular culture. (Poke your browser into the Ewens’ spirited, intellectually omnivorous blog, “Stereotype and Society.”)

Revealing the origins of the pictures in our heads—the powerful images that shape our attitudes toward “enemy aliens,” the lower class, or anyone in a different skin—the Ewens make sense of our most pernicious myths by restoring their lost historical context: the eugenics of Francis Galton, the criminal anthropology of Cesare Lombroso, and other systems of scientific racism that molded the visual imagination of the modern age.

If that sounds like 497 pages of sternly self-flagellating political correctness, it isn’t. Profusely illustrated with period images, the book is an intellectual thrill ride, rollercoastering from the sad tale of the Hottentot Venus to hidden agendas in Roget’s Thesaurus; from the cannibal stereotype in King Kong to the deeper meanings of the minstrel show. In Typecasting, the Ewens open our minds by opening our eyes.


The Leisure of the Theory Class: Academy Hacking with McKenzie Wark

In another life, the Australian media theorist and cultural critic McKenzie Wark was (in his words) a “lapsed Marxist in the pay of Rupert Murdoch”; his provocative column, which ran for nine years in The Australian newspaper, was an Improvised Exploding Device in the salons of the Australian intelligentsia, inflicting collateral damage on—and inspiring fiery blowback from—some of the country’s more reactionary intellectuals. Now he’s an accidental theorist in New York, where he teaches cultural and media studies in Lang College, at the New School University. A critic of uncommon gifts, he views American empire from a parallax angle that is at once Australian, post-Marxian, and ineffably Wark-ian.


Photo courtesy V2, an an interdisciplinary center for art and media technology in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.


Read Zeppelin: Davis Does Zoso

Erik Davis: hermenaut; bearded Led Zep exegete.
Photo: Mindstates II website.

In Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3/ Continuum International Publishing Group), Erik Davis manages the neat trick of making Robert Plant’s cosmic-dirthead lyrics sound like outtakes from The Mabinogion. (This, remember, is the man whose idea of rock poesy is “I got my flower/ I got my power/ I got a woman who knows” (“Dancing Days,” Houses of the Holy).)