Chicago Surrealist Group

“How did it happen that the most important contingent of organized surrealist activity in the United States took off in Chicago in 1966, continuing up to the present day? The Chicago-based author Nelson Algren, a writer of naturalistic fiction and of a book called Chicago, City on the Make, reportedly told Franklin Rosemont, co-founder of the Chicago Surrealist Group, ‘Surrealism? In Chicago? You’re going to need a lot of luck.’ But surprisingly, Chicago proved to be a favorable site for the inception of a surrealist group in many ways. Chicago’s history of labor activism, especially as the headquarters of the Wobblies, the most unorthodox and freewheeling radical labor organization in the U.S., certainly has something to do with the surrealist take-off in Chicago. This is because surrealism aims not just at a revolution of the mind, but at a social revolution as well, a fact too frequently forgotten in the attempts to stick surrealism into the museum of obsolete art movements. Actually surrealism is not an art movement at all, but a movement for the liberation of not just human life but all life, even the life of nonliving things, at every level, including the pavement stones outside, and up through political economy and art, why not. So the question of ‘why Chicago?’ goes beyond just cultural history. Penelope Rosemont, another co-found of the Chicago group, in her memoir Dreams and Everyday Life, has cited the natural landscape around Chicago as a propaedeutic of the surrealist imagination: ‘The lakes,’ she wrote, ‘were formed during the last glaciers. The land and lakes tossed together in a way that defied reason and kept secrets.’ But the human landscape of Chicago, as is well known, also has been “tossed together,” starting in the mid nineteenth century, with the immigration of workers from the Catholic countries of Europe and the migration of emancipated slaves from the American South, producing mixtures that have disturbed the straight-line grids of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant culture. Chicago’s ethically and racially diverse working-class, caught up in the dark Satanic mills of the city’s booming factories and stockyards, gave rise to the most potent and most radical labor movements ever seen in the U.S. The date of May 1st, international workers’ day, celebrated everywhere except in the U.S., commemorates the Chicago general strike of 1886, which culminated in the bomb-throwing incident in Haymarket Square and the state execution of a number of anarchists. But it was above all the founding of the anarchistically inclined I.W.W. union, the Wobblies, in Chicago in 1905 that provides a direct line to the activism of the Chicago Surrealist Group today. …”
The Dreaming Machine
W – Chicago Surrealist Group, W – Franklin Rosemont, W – Penelope Rosemont
Dream Homes: Surrealism in Chicago
The Surrealist Movement USA
IWW Books: Dancin’ in the Streets!

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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