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The Spirit/s of Surrealism between Hegel and Schreber

Lecturer: Thomas Mical

Originally Taught: Summer School 2023

This unique course cross-examines the emergence of the psychoanalytic subject to articulate a nuanced theory of the spirit/s of surrealism for life. In this course we begin by questioning, connecting, and aligning the circuits of subjectivity and the spirit medium of surrealism between those 2 mad systems (Hegel mirroring Schreber mirroring Hegel), drawing our obscure knowledge the productive tensions created in their reciprocating proximities and intellectual interference patterns. The first source is the unique and influential psyche-soul-theology of Judge Schreber detailed in his modern Anatomy of my Nervous Illness (c. 1900) as well as the recent secondary literature that sketches a trajectory of media-philosophy of the ethereal drawn from Schreber’s panoramic textual psychosis. We pursue the markers of the channel for the  modern subject emerging as a process, a questioning, tending towards a non-standard dualist worldview, where the subject is the construction site of other immaterial modern process formations (psychology, theology). In this manner, placing Schreber’s bifurcated soul under glass, we will also see the subtle influence of precedent in Hegel, detailed in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) which also strongly influenced modern Psychology and the Surrealists, Freud to Kojeve to Lacan. Hegel’s exegesis of Spirit in this cross-examination acts as a curious book-end to Schreber’s world-view. The world for Schreber was twofold, the world of the mechanical everyday and a second secret world of arcane permutations and communications, with the bifurcated subject ensnared in both.

Turning to surrealism, we will discover how surrealism founder Andre Breton's focus upon inner workings of thought (the psychic realism in the first surrealist manifesto) untethers the conscious processes elaborated in the Phenomenology of Spirit, reconsidered as a proto-surrealist work. Surrealism deviates from the valences of Geist (spirit, ….) in Hegel’s system in turning to psychoanalytic processes, obscure dialectics, supernatural forays, and creative practices including the search for trace surrealism in everyday spaces. The spirit of surrealism includes all the spirits in the world, the phantom limbs of urban life, representations of hauntings and indexical shadows in surrealist art and cinema. The exposure of the hidden unconscious through creative processes (such as automatism) arise from the prior spirits of German Romanticism, and the Romantic Science emphasis upon invisible forces of nature and the birth of the unconscious. While the strong influence of Hegel upon surrealism is well established, the difficult Hegelian principles are layered within surrealism arise from the French return of Hegel. We can follow Surrealism’s abductive logic and reality-shifting capacities, and the derangement of the dialectic for other effects.

We will parallel trace Schreber’s minor hauntology in some works of first and second-generation surrealism. We will seek intellectual pathways from Hegel and Schreber’s influence on 21stC occult surrealism of the present, valences of the uncanny, and hysterical realism when it approximates global surrealism. There will be some attention to theories of the ether, telepathy/clairvoyance, and all sorts of mad machinery… twittering-machines, paranoiac-machines, miraculating-machines, and influencing-machines. We note the contemporary re/turn to haunted media, forms of ethereal dwelling, the return of global surrealism and strange gothics, perhaps the dematerializing of the world order as the emergence of something more supernatural.

Course Content & Readings

The title for each weekly session draws together some of the primary categories of thought and analysis we will explore. The recommended reading lists are non-hierarchical, so posses or be possessed by these as you prefer. All readings will be housed in the course Box folder; many can also be found online. We will also include select visual works in the presentations.

Week 1: Tracking the Spirits of Phenomenology

The extension of thought from mind to world and back establishes a reciprocating mechanism requiring great precision of analysis to work through mimesis into a psychic realism, a self-consciousness within regimes of sprits. Here we begin with Hegel’s “Introduction” to the Phenomenology of Spirit taken as a proto-surrealist tale. This resonates, as we shall see, in tandem with Breton’s later search for the true operations of the psyche in the “Manifesto.” Between these two texts stretches an emergent circuitry we must discern for apprehending Spirit and spirits, actively surrealist.

Key Readings:

  • Hegel, “Introduction” in Hegel, G.W.F., A.V. Miller, and J.N. Findlay. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Glenn Alexander Magee. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001. Chapter 4, “Hegel’s Initiation Rite: The Phenomenology of Spirit” pp. 127-149.
  • Stephen Houlgate. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Bloomsbury. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Chapter 3, “Spirit” pp. 143-172.

Recommended Readings:

  • Baugh, B. French Hegel: From Surrealism to Postmodernism. Routledge, 2003. (reading selection TBD)
  • Butler, J. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. Columbia University Press, 2012. (reading selection TBD)
  • Kojeve, A. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969. (reading selection TBD)

Week 2: Conjuring the Spirit/s of SurrealismV (Everyday Marvellous)

The consciousness of spirits, informed by the Hegel-Schreber Enlightenment, is transformed this week into an investigation of surrealism and the occult, a hybrid world of dreams fused with reality, pulsing with spirits. In surrealism psychic realism situates us as “modest recording devices” and theories of desire that are written in luminous letters, and surrealist theories of the everyday as marvellous. In these protocols the sensorium in the mind becomes open to derangement and re-arrangement in the radiant world, which we will illustrate with a range of occult works from surrealist visual culture, past and present. We can follow Surrealism’s abductive logic and reality-shifting capacities, and the derangement of the dialectic for other effects.

Key Readings:

Recommended Readings:

  • Bauduin, T.M., V. Ferentinou, and D. Zamani. Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvellous. Taylor & Francis, 2017. (reading selection TBD)
  • Choucha, N. Surrealism and the Occult: Shamanism, Magic, Alchemy, and the Birth of the Artistic Movement. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1991. Chapter 4, “The Surrealist Manifestoes, Automatism, and Austin Oman Spare” pp. 51-74.
  • Conley, K. Surrealist Ghostliness. Nebraska, 2013. (reading selection TBD)
  • Lepetit, P. The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies. Rochester, VT & Toronto, ON: Inner Traditions, 2012. Chapter 3 “Surrealism and the Labyrinth of the Mind”, pp. 84-115.
  • Masschelien, A. The Unconcept: The Freudian Uncanny in Late Twentieth Century Theory. SUNY Press, 2012. (reading selection TBD)
  • Mundy, J., V. Gille, D. Ades, Tate Modern, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Surrealism: Desire Unbound. Princeton University Press, 2001. (reading selection TBD)

Week 3. Schreber’s Media Occult Theology

In this case we attend to the precise and peculiar dualist cosmology of Judge Schreber in his self- diagnosis of his psychosis. Soul voluptuousness, miraculating machines, unmanning rays, fleeting improvised men, divine bird communication, and many other curiosities all circulate in this apparent media occult theology. This document exposes a diversifying hysterical realism of intricate lines of thought and a hypersensitive sensation system to rival Hegel’s Phenomenology, and we will use the intense body of works on Schreber to tease out more of these hidden correlations.

Key Readings:

  • Santner, E.L. My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of Modernity. Princeton University Press, 1997. (reading selection TBD)
  • Schreber, D.P., and R. Dinnage. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. New York Review Books, 2000. (reading selection TBD)

Recommended Readings:

  • Labbie, E. and Uebel, M, “We Have Never Been Schreber: Paranoia Medieval and Modern” in Cole, A. and Smith, D.V. (eds). The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010. pp. 127-158
  • Lothane, Z. In Defense of Schreber: Soul Murder and Psychiatry. Hillsdale, NJ, and London: The Analytic Press, 1992. (reading selection TBD)
  • Sconce, J. The Technical Delusion. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019. Chapter 4, “The Will to (Invisible) Power” pp. 157-167

Week 4. Automatism, “Modest Recording Devices,” and other Mad Machines

The question of automatic writing, automatic processes, and the wild proliferation of forms of automatism in the present time deserves a close-up look, here informed by the surrealist practices of automatism to signal-jam reflective consciousness so as to unlock mysteries. We will investigate how Surrealist artists functioned as experimental automatons and performed as modest recording devices to their own subconscious flows, and in so doing how they established a future realm of mad artistic machines, influencing machines, and widening nets of subliminal machinic thought.

Key Readings:

Recommended Readings:

Week 5. From Ethereal Dwelling to Haunted Media

In the final week we turn to the practical applications of our dual origins of modernity, specifically the challenge of a dual model of interiority. Here we can appreciate the mental structures of the psyche in tension with the base materialism of the interior world, encased in the architectural object, but adrift in the city. The ambient spaces of contemporary dwellings recall the deluge of signals in Schreber’s world. Here we amplify the construct of the surrealist house, locating automatism even in the subtle equipment of doorknobs and light switches. The interior of the self and of the house is bathed in media, and is haunted by media.

Key Readings:

  • Hollier, D., and B. Wing. Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille. MIT Press, 1992. (reading selection TBD)
  • Levy, S. “Menace: Surrealist Interference of Space” in Mical, T. Surrealism and Architecture. Routledge, 2005.
  • Milutis, J. Ether: The Nothing that Connects Everything. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. (reading selection TBD)

Recommended Readings:

  • Alison, J., M.A. Caws, and Barbican Art Gallery. The Surreal House. Yale University Press, 2010. (reading selection TBD)
  • Matheson, N. Surrealism and the Gothic: Castles of the Interior. Taylor & Francis Group, 2020. (reading selection TBD)