"The Nile of Surrealism: Surrealist Activities in Egypt"
Abdel Kader El-Janabi

[Part of this paper was read on the 26th September 1987 at the conference: The Triumph of Pessimism, held at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.]

I. In his first letter to Georges Henein, sent on April 8 1936, André Breton had this to say: The imp of the perverse, as he deigns to appear to me, seems to have one wing here, the other in Egypt (1). Here André Breton foretold in a sense the course the surrealist intention would take in Egypt from 1936 to 1952. The purpose of this paper is to present a critical survey of surrealism in Egypt, in which we will see that, in spite of the protagonists’ original aim to allow surrealism to break through Egyptian reality in the hope of making it respond to the needs of a society undergoing what some historians have aptly phrased the crisis of orientation (2), their efforts finally turned out, ephemeral, to be, though very resounding, flappings of Breton’s wing. What seems to have happened was a settling of accounts in favour of surrealist creation as part of the French presence in Egypt, rather than a communication with the native that would take account of the emancipatory message of surrealism. On the contrary, what was communicated to the Egyptian public was rather the narrative of progress under the sign of Reason than the liberating sign of the Irrational. We will see in due course that the blame for such a paradox should not be placed entirely on the proponents of surrealism in Egypt, but rather on the inherently closed character of Arabic society in the face of occidental innovation, the fact being that this society would dismiss any such form of innovation. Our concluding remarks will address the question of the inherent failure of Occidental modernity in so far as it dreams of playing a significant role in an alien context. For though it may play such a role, it is on condition that it renounces, both in theory and practice, its fundamental given.

"Egyptian Surrealism and 'Degenerate Art' in 1939"
Don LaCoss

“A group of artists that has been formed in Egypt which calls itself the ‘Degenerate Art Group’ is now in the process of breaking up,” began a report by ‘Aziz Ahmad Fahmi in Cairo’s al-Risala in early July 1939. “It has failed to find the support it had hoped for among artists, the media, and the general public. Not one writer, journalist, or other visitor has called at its headquarters in the Shari‘ al-Madbagh building to hear what its members have to say.”

Fahmi, an arts critic on al-Risala’s editorial board, went on to explain why he felt that, fundamentally and conceptually, this had been a doomed project from the start. He wrote that the kind of degenerate art that this group was calling for was not possible because the term itself is oxymoronic: True art could never be degenerate, since, by definition, art is the supreme expression of the human spirit, and as such it is “honest,” “elevated,” and “high-minded” - it could never be “degraded” or “corrupt” in the way that degenerate things are. The value of artistic work is assessed on the artist’s heartfelt commitment to beauty and craft rather than the work’s style or subject matter; texts, images, or objects routinely turned out by disinterested hacks for reasons other than deeply held personal vision or expression are either “tomfoolery” or “merchandise” and so do not qualify as “art.” The idea of “degenerate art,” then, was a wrongheaded contradiction in terms.

2011 MLG Institute on Culture and Society
06/20-24/2011, University of Illinois at Chicago

Call for Papers
2011 Marxist Literary Group Institute on Culture and Society
Special Topic: "What Is Revolution?"
Deadline for Proposals: March 1, 2011.

The Marxist Literary Group´s 2011 Institute on Culture and Society
(2011 MLG-ICS) will convene this summer (June 20-24) on the campus of
the University of Illinois at Chicago. As always, any submission that
engages seriously with Marxist thought will be considered, including,
but not limited to, Marxist considerations of literature or literary
considerations of Marxism. This year´s special topic will be "What is
Revolution?" What is class struggle? Can there be one without the
other, as horizon or precondition? How does radical social change take
place? Is it necessary to have a theory of revolution, or is it better
to pursue an intelligent opportunism? Does Marxism require revolution?
Does revolution require class? What would a plausible political
subject, or a plausible subject of history, look like today? Does our
present moment hold any revolutionary possibility? What contemporary
movements, possibilities, and practices hold promise (or do not)? Is
there a plausible relationship today between aesthetic practices and
the end of capitalism (as we know it)? How does one represent what is
only possible, not actual? Is "struggle" another name for the
possible? What is the relationship between politics as such and the
economic as such? What is the relationship between politics and
thinking, between revolution and philosophy? These questions and
others will be the focus of this year´s Institute. Selected papers
will be invited for submission to Mediations (
Recent years´ programs can be accessed at

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune Film Review by John Pietaro PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE Directed by Ken Bowser ( Released, January 2011. Documentarian Ken Bowser walked up the aisle to the front of the IFC Center in Greenwich Village for the premiere of 'Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune' and explained that this film was some twenty years in the making. Twenty years for a documentary about a folksinger of a time that now seems far into the past, one who never lived to know of his place in the annals of topical music. Citing that Ochs' brief life and briefer still career fell far short of the popular acclaim he struggled for, Bowser reminded the audience that, "it's important that we who love Phil Ochs and understand his relevance let others know". It was never supposed to be a closed society of the initiated, so spread the news—all the news that's fit to sing. The protest singer's vibrancy in performance, the visceral stir in his voice and the earnest plead on his face are back. The music's depth, the urgency of the day and the living movements that Ochs was so central to are visible for all to see. Leaning awkwardly over a microphone while cradling his Gibson 6-string, James Dean haircut spilling over his forehead, cocked eyebrow revealing sardonic wit while the mouth produces an earnest portal for songs of pride and revolution, Ochs erupts onto the screen, something of a celluloid hero. Within the cinema that was once the legendary Waverly Theatre—a site frequented by Phil in the '60s, walking distance from his Bleeker Street apartment—it was easy to feel transported. And necessary. These times, too, need Phil Ochs.
Voina, The Russian Art Anarchists, Explain Themselves" Marlon Dolcy The Russian art anarchist group Voina is known for drawing an enormous cock on a bridge opposite the ex-KGB offices, and instigating a sex party in a museum. Last week UK street art phenom Banksy declared that all profits from his current print sale would be gifted to the group's defense. We spoke to the group (half of which were replying from prison).
"The Death of Universities" Terry Eagleton Are the humanities about to disappear from our universities? The question is absurd. It would be like asking whether alcohol is about to disappear from pubs, or egoism from Hollywood. Just as there cannot be a pub without alcohol, so there cannot be a university without the humanities. If history, philosophy and so on vanish from academic life, what they leave in their wake may be a technical training facility or corporate research institute. But it will not be a university in the classical sense of the term, and it would be deceptive to call it one.

Warhol Foundation Threatens to End Financing of Smithsonian Exhibitions

The Andy Warhol Foundation is threatening to stop its financing of Smithsonian Institution exhibitions if the institution does not restore a work of art that was removed from an exhibition after it drew attacks by the head of the Catholic League and some Republican members of Congress. The Warhol Foundation gave $100,000 to the Smithsonian for the exhibition, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,”
at the National Portrait Gallery, from which the work was removed.

Call Montreal’s 6th Annual International Anarchist Theatre Festival The Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival (MIATF), the only theatre festival in the world dedicated to showcasing anarchist theatre, is currently seeking submissions to be staged in May 2011. Application deadline for the Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival: January 20, 2011.
Slavoj Zizek Is a Bourgeois Snob! Christian Lorentzen A long line of fans formed around the stage at Cooper Union to have Slavoj Zizek sign books. They rattled off their names for the philosopher's dedication.
"The Origin of Writing," Draft for Download John Morton A draft copy of "The Origin of Writing" is now available for download. This is a post-structural analysis of the form of image writing used by the First Nations of North America prior to European contact, with particular care given to generating anasemantic concepts which are configured directly to the subject matter, rather than drawn pre-established from dominant schools of semiological thought. If you like Derrida and the concept of grammatology, and/or Deleuze/Guattari and the concepts of schizoanalysis, I think you'll enjoy this.
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