Surrealism and Philosophy

With the Tate Galleries showcasing a pair of exhibitions dedicated to two of its most cherished exponents this summer, Surrealism is back. The truth is, it never went anywhere. Ever since it was unleashed by the influential French poet Guillaume Apollinaire – perhaps from somewhere deep in our collective unconscious – the term Surreal has paradoxically become a common part of our everyday language.

The wild geometries and rural Catalonian landscapes of the painter Joan Miró hang currently on the walls at the Tate Modern in London, and Tate Liverpool are expecting an abundance of bowler hats, blue skies and pipes imminently for their René Magritte exhibition in June. Ahead of these events, however, one blogger reminds us that far from originating with figures like Miró and Magritte, or even André Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto and self-styled leader of the Surrealist group, the ethos of the surreal had been in the air of the art world from as early as 1860. The French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau is highlighted as a particularly strong precursory example. (In fact, something of the surreal aesthetic occurs as far back as the mid-1500s, in the unique work of the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo). Continue reading “Surrealism and Philosophy”

Advertisements

Xbox: The Guardian of Sleep

This soldier is clearly a regular gamer...

Violent computer games desensitise people to violence. This is normally considered a bad thing, but perhaps this is not necessarily so. Soldiers in a warzone face a situation in which they must encounter extreme violence routinely, and a survey has revealed that playing violent computer games might well help soldiers cope with this prolonged exposure to the extreme violence of war. To be more precise, the survey revealed that soldiers who frequently played computer games that involved war and combat experienced fewer violent dreams, and when these dreams did occur they reported feeling lower levels of fear and aggression compared to their non-gaming colleagues. The gaming soldiers reported feeling more able to “fight back against whatever forces were threatening them” in their nightmares.

It’s not difficult to formulate a plausible theory that would go some way towards explaining this data. Certainly, it seems clear that the desensitising effect of playing computer games could be a contributory factor. It’s quite unremarkable that soldiers who frequently encounter war as a game – albeit in the artificial context of a computer game – subsequently find the actual reality of war less threatening when they encounter it in their dreams. They learn to associate war with a game, perhaps as a game, and as a result their natural inclinations of fear and abhorrence are suppressed. But as a philosopher who possesses a passing, though not-insignificant, level of interest in psychoanalysis and the work of Sigmund Freud, I wonder if a more interesting explanation and investigation might be available to us… Continue reading “Xbox: The Guardian of Sleep”

A Ticklish Subject

In a recent interview for the Guardian, Slavoj Zizek rubbished a large part of his own oeuvre, declaring, “All the talk and the writing about politics, this is not where my heart is. No. I have been sidetracked. I really mean this.”

Zizek also admitted to not having watched James Cameron’s blockbuster film Avatar when he wrote his interpretation of it: “I had not even seen the film, but I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget about the reality.” Continue reading “A Ticklish Subject”

The ethics of beating up on Slavoj Zizek

People who are not too familiar with contemporary philosophy sometimes get the impression that Slavoj Zizek is widely respected among philosophers.  This isn’t the case.  The comments underneath this Crooked Timber post contain some of the reasons why not.  Zizek’s style of philosophy — if “philosophy” is the right name for what Zizek does — is pretty far from the mainstream, and I believe that even those who like the kind of thing Zizek does will admit that Zizek is mainly known as a provocateur, not a particularly careful or serious thinker.  Which isn’t to say that he can’t be entertaining and thought-provoking.  His Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is fun.

Anyway, what I really want to do in this post is nitpick something John Holbo says in the comments to that CT post: Continue reading “The ethics of beating up on Slavoj Zizek”