Saturday, December 5, 2009
SUFISM AND SURREALISM by Adonis
Adonis has asked us to dinner, with no less a promise than Truth itself to be served up once and for all. The mystery is solved, all veils have been forever rent and it is time for the Old Garde to step back and allow the latest phalanx of Young Turks who have it all figured out to sweep into town and establish a New Eden upon the Earth for all. The problem at the outset with Adonis’ formula is that the social catharsis, the collective loss of virginity that he would have us believe it wholly unique, now, is carried in on the back of all groundbreaking antinomian movements, it appears frequently, and with cataclysmic effect, in fifty to seventy-five year cycles and can be mapped out in this way over the last five hundred years.At first it can be initially agreed that Adonis’ premise that Sufism and Surrealism bear striking resemblances is intriguing and warrants consideration. However, his invitation to dinner begins with a highly cursory comparison of the high water marks of Sufi mystical experience and Surrealist aesthetic methodology, but instead of structurally detailing his hypotheses, i.e. doing the math, he suffices by restating his premises with little clarifying elaboration. We sit down to this dinner, starving for the delicacies Adonis has described, but are fed with nothing more than the reiterative descriptions of the food all over again.Adonis leaves us starved for the touch and taste, the feel of the truth he keeps alluding to, almost with a snide wink and a nod. Presumably we either get what he is saying, no matter how superficial the ascent, or we are beyond the pale of understanding. In this way, Sufism & Surrealism reads like Adonis’s manifesto, but an almost pornographic manifesto pamphlet for inexperienced insiders. Much like the cults he refers to, there is the communal “company chant” the mere mention of which is presumably designed to get us “off” like Pavlov’s dogs.A second problem with Adonis’ manifesto is that it speaks to those caught inextricably within the moment of time in which the manifesto, his, Breton’s, or any other antinomian manifesto appears. This does not diminish the beauty, the critical importance, and the seminal experiences attendant upon these movements and the milieus in which they appeared, but not every generation of 15-year-olds has invented sex, though they are quite certain they have done so. Critical to this phenomenon is the assumption that the world is forever on the verge of a unilateral and collective Edenesque enlightenment, and the hubris of each generation of young pioneers to believe that they are ushering it in.But let us begin. On page 35-37 Adonis discusses psychophysical experiences that allowed various Surrealist artists and writers to transcend the commonly held and clung to belief that the observable and material world is the totality of existence. This is a good step towards brushing away any dismissal of such experiences as mere hallucinations without substance. Adonis refers to and mentions briefly if numerous times, the inner and subjective personal transformation that takes hold of the lives of those who have enjoyed such experiences. Hereby he tepidly establishes that the value of such experiences and pioneering into the unseen is not mere entertainment, and that as such, perhaps these experiences are a necessary function of our Being. But on page 37 for example (and elsewhere frequently) he states:“”Thus the Surrealists reveal the significance of magicastrology, and the esoteric – the mystical legacy, whichincludes Buddhism.”This, as throughout the whole work, is vague in the extreme. What is this significance, other than the knowledge that it exists? Are Surrealism and Sufism describing the same desires, longings, and discoveries but in different languages? Magic, “the esoteric” astrology, mystical “legacy” and Buddhism. What have these things in common? How are they dissimilar, what are their individual and specific uses and limitations, and the differentiating characteristics between this array of states and belief modalities?The writings of the Surrealists seem to illustrate radically enhanced states of Human Beingness and remain utterly homocentric in the capacity of these human beings to apprehend radical states of physical awareness, while aggrandizing the individual essence. Sufism unilaterally strives to transcend that Beingness, and to embrace what is beyond the Human, the source of Humanness, and that which comprises all that is not Human. This is a major and defining difference, a difference impossible to brush aside. But Adonis never ventures into those waters but seems rather satisfied with a collective sense of almost “yeah man, that stuff is REAL!”Okay, it’s all real, what next? Scorpions, housecats, cattle, manta rays and elephants are all real too. What use and relevance, beyond mere proved existence, do these things hold for us? This type of language is the very reason that Adonis’ text reads more like a vanity screed designed to puff up the self importance of those who have just discovered these mysteries, and thereby do nothing more than facilitate that same self importance and ill-founded elitism. The true elites are those who have delved deeply enough into the many, many layers of these realms to know their way around. These would never refer collectively to these states as a unified and homogenous field. The very element of the prophetic identity of the Chosen Generation to make these discoveries and usher them into the world reveals the very limited vantage on this horizon they have. Surrealists, (the Beat Generation, hippies, et el) all make the same profound claims of having transcended the final veil. Yet the world remains the same. And they all conveniently forget and overlook this, while maintaining it is the remainder of humanity who has failed by not embracing their program.A second point of the Adonis text that seems questionable is the frequency with which he unclearly cites other sources, earlier texts, paraphrases Breton, makes brief quotations and often resorts to mere name-dropping to illustrate his statements while drawing highly tenuous connections at rapid fire speed. It sounds like raving. (perhaps like this paper itself does.) Adonis is fired up, and he is preaching to his choir, but they don’t see it because they are too flattered by what he is telling them about themselves. Similarly his tossing around quotes and ideas from disparate voices and sources with no offer of the interfacing math to show the validity of the quote or comparisons. George Bataille as a case in point. This is flimsy. One could just as easily quote Martha Stewart to “prove” similarities between Sufism and Surrealism.On page 45 of the text, Adonis states:“Henri Michaux repeats William James’ words in his ownpeculiar fashion. Through using drugs, this poet attainedThe same state as that attained by the Sufis throughphysical exertion ……”This is an old hackneyed claim that has been made repeatedly regarding a whole plethora of spiritual and ethno-religious states of consciousness with the implication that such experiences can be easily obtained by anyone for a few bucks on the street. This is similarly played out in the purely physical arena with steroids and other physical enhancements attempting to make create the Übermensch in the laboratory. The last two generations have given ample proof of the concept of “God on tap” in the pharmacy. Adonis closes this passage with a reference to “mysterious places.” This is poetry; this is a travel brochure for those who will never leave their homesWhat is ultimately so enraging about Adonis is that he takes up some very provocative topics not often thrown into the same blender: a cross cultural, cross paradigm examination of altered states of being. He claims these equations can work, and perhaps in some contexts and individual cases they can But he never turns on the voltage and really digs in below the veneer of catchy allusions and provocative correlations. The only thing he doesn’t mention is Smoke & Mirrors. A pity, because that is the substance of Adonis’ work. But I sense, given the unlikely yet highly plausible connectivity between many of his models, that Adonis could have given us so much more.Adonis several times makes references and allusions to magic and the western occult. Yet he never mentions the Golden Dawn, Fraternitas Saturni, or Aleister Crowley’s highly developed system whose secondary motto is “The Aim of Religion, and the Method of Science.” Crowley was not a laboratory man, but his sexual and drug fueled ritual techniques were notorious, with limited, but highly documented and catastrophic results. Adonis could not but know of Crowley and his works. Mention of these related schools would of course have diluted the mystique of Adonis’ catchy title, even while proving some of his more controversial claims. There were known connections and cross pollinations between these groups. References to the specific methods of these schools would have provided solid material to demonstrate possible interfaces between Sufism and Surrealist methodology. Instead, Adonis merely makes the claims and hopes his readers will be sufficiently impressed with the “mysterious” references.In the end, Adonis’ work is ultimately neither sufficiently titillating or evocative enough to be the work of mystical eroticism he seems to be striving to create. His prose is too repetitive, but not repetitive and lyrical enough to become hypnotic. He is not writing in magical realism. Had he chosen to do so he may have produced a work that could have seduced yet another generation to venture down the forest path toward the enchanted cottage, the hungry ogre, or the sleeping princess waiting for us all. Instead I see Adonis as Piper intentionally leading Children towards a precipice. But unlike fairy tales, real life children will need to see a great deal more before they leap.This makes Adonis, to my mind, a cheat of the worst sort: A lazy cheat who is relying on his readers having a very limited personal experience of the states, across comparative paradigms, to which he is referring. But he does his readers a great disservice, because as soon as they step off the material path of mundane consciousness and begin to explore for themselves those worlds, they will recognize the “view from 20,000 feet” that Adonis has provided of the connection between Surrealism and Sufism. For the connection is most certainly there, as it is between all systems which provide authentic access to other, deeper, lower, higher, and stranger and more alien states of Being.