1.2 The Sound & The Fury


Translated by Ian Thompson, March 2015. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H.

There is a lot of talk these days about angry, raging youth. The reason people are so fond of talking about them is that from the aimless riots of Swedish adolescents to the proclamations of the “Angry Young Men” (England’s would-be literary movement) there is the same utter innocuousness, the same reassuring inadequacy [1]. They are the products of a period of decomposition in the dominant ideas and modes of life, a period of tremendous victories over nature without a [corresponding] increase in the real possibilities of everyday life. Reacting, sometimes savagely, to the conditions that ensnare them, these youth outbursts are roughly aligned [2] with the spirit of Surrealism. However they lack Surrealism’s cultural leverage [3] and revolutionary hope. Hence the tone of resignation underlying the spontaneous negativity of American, Scandinavian and Japanese youth. In the first years after World War II, Saint-Germain-des-Prés had already served as a laboratory for this kind of behaviour (misleadingly termed “existentialist” by the press); which explains why the present intellectual representatives of that generation in France (Françoise Sagan-Drouet, Robbe-Grillet, Vadim, the atrocious Buffet) are all such caricatures, such traditional depictions [4] of resignation.

  If, outside France, this intellectual generation demonstrates a greater aggressiveness, its consciousness [still] ranges between simple imbecility and premature contentment with a very inadequate rebellion. The mystical cretins of America’s “Beat Generation” are enveloped by the rotten-egg smell exuded by the idea of God, something which is not absent from the declarations of the Angry Young Men (e.g. Colin Wilson). These people have discovered, thirty years late, a subversive moral atmosphere that England had managed to completely hide from them all this time; believing it scandalous to declare themselves republicans. “We keep on staging [5] plays,” writes Kenneth Tynan, “that are based on the ridiculous idea that people still fear and respect the Crown, the Empire, the Church, the University and Polite Society.” These words (”we keep on staging plays”) reveal how abjectly literary the perspective of this team of “Angry Young Men” is. They have simply come to change their opinions about a few social conventions, without noticing the change of terrain of all cultural activity, so clearly seen in every avant-garde tendency of this century. The Angry Young Men are particularly reactionary in attributing a privileged, redemptive value to the practice of literature, making themselves today’s champions [6] of a mystification denounced in Europe during the 1920s, and whose survival is of far greater counterrevolutionary significance than that of the British Crown.

All of these rumblings, these echoes [7] of revolutionary expression, display a common ignorance of the meaning and scope of Surrealism (which is, of course, distorted by its bourgeois artistic success). A continuation of Surrealism would in fact be the most consistent attitude to take if nothing new arose to replace it. However, the young people who rally to Surrealism, because they are aware of its profound demands and because they are incapable of overcoming the contradiction between those demands and the paralysis of its pseudo-success, take refuge in the reactionary aspects present within Surrealism from its formation (magic, belief in a golden age existing outside of history [8]). Some of them even take pride in still being under Surrealism’s arc de triomphe, so long after the battle. There they will remain, says Gérard Legrand proudly (“Surréalisme Même”, No. 2), “a small core of youth obstinately bound to keep the true flame of Surrealism alive.”

A movement more liberating than the Surrealism of 1924 — which Breton vowed to join if it were to appear — cannot be established easily as its liberating character now depends on its dominance over the more advanced material means of the modern world. However the Surrealists of 1958 have not only become incapable of joining such a movement, they are even determined to fight it. A revolutionary movement is still needed [9] in culture to more effectively reclaim the freedom of spirit and the concrete freedom of behaviour which were demanded by Surrealism.

For us, Surrealism has been only the beginning of revolutionary experimentation in culture, experimentation which almost immediately ground to a practical and theoretical halt. We have to go further. Why can we no longer be Surrealists? Not in response to the summons constantly made to the “avant-garde” to differentiate ourselves from the Surrealist scandal. (Not out of a concern to see us always adopt originality. What new direction is offered to us? On the contrary, the bourgeoisie is ready to applaud every one of the regressions it asks us to choose.) If we are not Surrealists, it is because we don’t want to be bored.

Boredom is the shared reality of outmoded Surrealism, raging and ill-informed youth, and of the rebellion of comfortable teenagers without prospects (though far from being without a cause). The Situationists will carry out the judgement that today’s leisure delivers against itself.

As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Ken Knabb available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Ken Knabb, and the real assistance his translation provided to me. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone.

[1] “faiblesse” – can also be translated as “weakness”/”feebleness”/”insufficiency”

[2] “grossièrement contemporains’ – literally “approximately contemporary”

[3] “points d’application” – literally “points of application”

[4] “images d’Epinal” – “Épinal prints were prints on popular subjects rendered in bright sharp colours, sold in France in the 19th Century. The expression ‘image d’Épinal’ has become proverbial in French and refers to an emphatically traditionalist and naïve depiction of something, showing only its good aspects.” (From Wikipedia)

[5] “jouer” – literally “to act” or “to perform”, but in the context of a play can be “to put on”

[6] “défenseurs” – can also be translated “defenders” or “partisans”

[7] “onomatopées” – literally “onomatopoeias”

[8] “un âge d’or qui pourrait être ailleurs qu’en avant dans l’histoire” – a complex phrase which is difficult to translate, in his translation Knabb renders it as “a golden age elsewhere than in history to come”

[9] “n’enlève rien à la nécessité” – literally “takes nothing from the need”

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