Tag Archives: Housing Works

Surrealist Film at Pravda: Thoughts on Breton’s Automatism and Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

17 Feb

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Pravda ran a Surrealist and Experimental film night series over the summer, and although I’m terribly late in posting about it, my friend and I had such a great time that I figured better late than never. One night of Surrealism can lead to many more!

Pravda is a subterranean Russian speakeasy in Soho, near two of my favorite bookstores, Housing Works and McNally Jackson. They serve delicious food and have a fantastic vodka selection. I cannot recommend the horseradish-infused vodka enough.

Occasionally they host special events, such as Salon Dinners, Roaring Twenties Parties, and Surrealist & Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 30s. The film nights are such a treat! The films are actually silent, and they hire a musician to play live piano music!! I was enthralled. Inspired. They showed films by Man Ray, whom I’d studied at Scripps College, as well as other artists.

A little background::: Surrealism developed out of Dada during World War I in Paris. André Breton is the key player here. Using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic methods on soldiers, the French poet worked at a neurological hospital. In 1924, he wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, a work that defined the cultural revolution:

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”

While Surrealism affected all the arts, I want to pause right here to focus on the connections between Surrealist literature and the Beat Generation. The idea of Surrealist automatism is key here. Automatism is the practice of writing without self-censorship. The Oxford University Press defines it as:

Term appropriated by the Surrealists from physiology and psychiatry and later applied to techniques of spontaneous writing, drawing and painting.

“Spontaneous writing.” Sound familiar? Jack Kerouac wrote a writing manifesto called “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” In it, Kerouac wrote, for example:

Not “selectivity” of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought….

I haven’t yet done any extensive research into this to see if the connections are accurate, but there is a cultural connection to Kerouac and automatism. On Wikipedia (obviously not a true source to go by, but one that can be a launching pad for actual informed research) I read:

The notion of Automatism is also rooted in the artistic movement of the same name founded by Montreal artist Paul-Emile Borduas in 1942; himself influenced by the Dadaist movement as well as André Breton. He, as well as a dozen other artists from Quebec’s artistic scene, very much under restrictive and authoritarian rule in that period, signed the Global Refusal manifesto, in which the artists called upon North American society (specifically in the culturally unique environment of Quebec), to take notice and act upon the societal evolution projected by these new cultural paradigms opened by the Automatist movement as well as other influences in the 1940s.

Remember that Kerouac’s parents were from Quebec, and he and his family used to travel back and forth to visit relatives. The Automatism of Quebec happened in 1942, when Kerouac was already an adult, having graduated from high school and moved to New York by that time. Still, it’s possible that the seeds were planted in both Kerouac and Borduas around the same time and place, in at least the small point that they spoke French, the language of Surrealism.

In “Earwitness Testimony: Sound and Sense, Word and Void in Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight” for Empty Mirror, Gregory Stephenson makes the claim:

Indeed, in method and intention, Old Angel Midnight could be said to be closer to the sound poetry of the dadaists, Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, and to the automatic writing practiced by the surrealists, André Breton and Philippe Soupault, in their book-length exercise in textual autogenesis, The Magnetic Fields, originally published in 1919.

There’s much more to be said about Surrealism, Automatic Writing, Spontaneous Prose, and Surrealist Film, and the evening at Pravda whet my appetite.

 

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Lou Reed, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones, and Others Celebrate Allen Ginsberg’s FIRST BLUES

16 Jan

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Image via Housing Works

If you’ve never heard Allen Ginsberg read “Howl,” you can’t grasp its full intensity. Ginsberg has one of those voices you can’t shake out of your head, a voice you could hear once and then ten years later still recognize. It’s even but possessive, sucking you into the inner crevices of the poet’s mind and locking you in.

This evening at 7, Housing Works is hosting a musical soiree for the reissue of Ginsberg’s First Blues: Rags, Ballads, Harmonium Songs, Chanteys & Come-All-Ye’s. Ginsberg was a connector, a person who liked to introduce people and make things happen for them. As such, he had many friends and collaborators. Among those who will be celebrating this night of poetry and song include:

Here’s a bit about First Blues from Housing Works:

The work was originally released as a double LP back in 1983, and as a CD in 2006.  Produced by legend John Hammond Sr., this record of songs is a collection of studio sessions from 1971, 1976, and 1981 and included the likes of Bob Dylan, Arthur Russell, David Mansfield, Happy Traum, David Amram, Steven Taylor and Peter Orlovksy. To commemorate this reissue, a limited run of 500 seven track vinyl that mimics the original style down to the newspaper insert will be available that night and online.

Housing Works puts on nerdilcious events.  There was, for instance, the epic reading of Moby-Dick.
They’re also advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. They’re located at 126 Crosby Street  in Manhattan.

The event is also hosted by Ginsberg Recordings (a collaboration of Ginsberg’s Estate and Esther Creative Group), VitaCoco, and Warby Parker (after all, it’s hard to picture Ginsberg without picturing glasses).