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Response to Mattias Forshage's criticism of the book  “The Exteriority Crisis”

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[Some months ago appeared, under the initiative of Eric Bragg, Bruno Jacobs and Eugenio Castro the book The exteriority crisis. From the city limits and beyond. Few months later, our friend Mattias Forshage wrote a criticism to that book, as well as to some particular contributions, mostly related to the Madrid group members who participates in the book. As a consequence, those members of the Madrid group and also some friends concerned have written a response to Mattias' criticism. Both, Mattias and all of us have considered that the discussion is of the most relevance and that it has to circulate within the international surrealist community. Texts are available in the following section of this webpage:

Madrid, 30th April 2009 

Dear Mattias, 

This is our response to a part of your criticism of the book The Exteriority Crisis. From the City Limits And Beyond. As you will be able to notice, we have focused on what we consider as the important part of that criticism around which we think that a fecund debate could be opened and not a regression into some byzantine discussion. These aspects are: absence of meaning within exteriority, explanation of the idea of a “crisis of exteriority” and absence of a theory of exteriority.

 Absence of meaning within exteriority 

This is one of the points on which we partly agree with your argument. And if we agree with you, it is because the meaning of exteriority being incomplete, it can lead to a perfectly legitimate critical interpretation from the reader – in this case yourself who aren’t solely a neutral reader. 

At the same time, if we say that we partly agree, it is because the meaning of such a term, even if incomplete, is being highly suggested – including partly explained – in various points of the introduction to the book. To these points, that we are sending to you again in a more concentrated form (intermediate fragments being eliminated), we have added a further consideration taken from an intervention that will appear in the Spanish version and that we hope will contribute to a wider and at the same time more precise understanding of what we mean with exteriority. 

It seems necessary, on the other hand, to insist on the fact that the ambition of the editors of the book – and of the majority of its participants – never has been to exhaust in any one instance the adventure that the book constitutes, neither the “theoretical” explanation of the meaning of exteriority, i.e., its conceptualisation. Rather, that adventure is initially determined in what it has in the way of poetic experience. This point of departure is what prompted the book. And the understanding of it should start from that and end with that. 

Here follow these points: 

“The experience of exteriority begins with a leap past the point where it had been alienatedby the metropolitan interiorization (culturized) of the experience, where it became merely delegated and improper. This metropolitan interiorization works as a screen that separates exteriority from its outskirts, which tends to homogenize it, making it uniform, diluting its non-duality and its indeterminate nature. To have this metropolitan outskirt restored is thus to overcome an urbanized interiority (cellular, virtual, without community) predetermined by knowledge that is mimetic, clonal, delayed and consequently devitalized, since it doesn’t reveal itself (not announcing its place, breaking with its prearranged location) but which rather entrenches itself within a weakened interiority, in an advanced process of sterilization. 

This surrender (to abandon oneself to) to exteriority is not an escape (nor a hedonistic return), but the impulse of life towards the reconquest of itself. This indulgence is not comparable to the sublimation of the romantic absolute (neither is it a question of comparing it within the frame of this reflection). Perhaps the abandonment to exteriority engenders a somewhat more modest disposition (at least in its first enunciation), despite the great depth, as if it were the restoration of the relationship with exteriority through what we could call the apprehension of childhood: the discovery within the concrete of the animacy of everything, of that which palpitates and which we could associate with an exteriorial unconscious (this unconscious of exteriority, besides trying to be suggested in the text of Eugenio Castro, appears in contributions such as Silvia Guiard’s, Guy Girard’s or Noé Ortega’s: one will notice it if one lingers over them).” 

By this we think of exteriority as an indeterminate sphere that could contain its own unconscious, or rather, its own animate life, pulsating within concrete objects, spaces and places; and we encounter these items at a limit which this collective essay defines as the one distinguished by the outskirts (and what comes thereafter). Through confining our thought to the outskirts – to those urban spaces on the fringe – we conclude our interventions in a certain way by trying to focus on these specific objects, spaces and places, while deliberately setting aside surrealism’s historic interests such as the ones relative to the encounter, objective chance, wandering, unconditional waiting, etc. (A work on this specific issue will soon be realized by the Madrid Group). And by situating this thought beyond the outskirts, we dare to cross the bridge where the ghosts come to meet us, to find ourselves before everything that lives not according to the predeterminations of history, but which flows with the generative force of original ambiguity, i.e. of what we don’t know”. 

But by exteriority we also understand the following, which is entirely associated with the above mentioned. (The paragraphs that follow are part of a new intervention that will be published in the Spanish edition): 

“What has traditionally being named (and reified) together with the concept of Nature and to which we prefer refer ourselves to in this way: what comprises the field of human activity (stars, woods, beaches, oceans…). 

According to historical materialism, exteriority not only involves humankind; the latter is being constituted by transforming and dominating it. According to the coordinates of a poetic materialism – and with the critique that we make from it – the transformation of exteriority has been predominantly a utilitarian and dominating one by the harmful colonization of economy, striving to launch a relationship with exteriority that could never be considered as raw material but rather, above all, as a potential of suchness, of rupture, of mistakes, of going astray in the extension of reality. In other words, the possibility of the marvelous

In this sense, exteriority doesn’t only present itself or is being made through lacking, it alsoerupts. It invades and upsets the mechanism of normality. Let us think here of disturbing meteorological phenomena: tornadoes, thick fogs, storms. The aggressive intrusion of exteriority in our urban environment doesn’t reduce its poetic potential to the emotion, to the sentiment of smallness, in other words to the sublime such as German idealism understood it. It surpasses by far what is apprehensible out of aesthetics. The invasion of exteriority breaks observation, provokes somatic and emotional effects previously unknown and affects conduct far beyond the utilitarian response. Let us take the following, probably commonly shared  example: the aphrodisiac character of thunderstorms and the marvel that it makes. 

Parallely with the relationship with exteriority that is being established by historical materialism, a relationship is being aroused with exteriority such as poetic materialism requires, according to which exteriority has been an illuminating panhuman and panhistoric force. Many lyrical topics from the epoch of versification (sunset, the sea, the starry sky, landscape, the telluric, etc.) have germinated from that inspiration produced from the contact with exteriority. It is possible that a part of its fertility is to be found in what exteriority has of dialectic disposition and thus of immersion in human development: otherness, relationship, totality, contradiction, movement… distinct moments in the process that constitutes us and that concentrate in a special way when operating with the non closed, with what isn’t a pure document of culture (1). The open space-time, among other faculties that belong to it, condenses us. 

In  short, and as a strictly approximate definition, we could say that: 

Exteriority is a relationship of otherness that, through presence or through absence, puts in contact with a whole segment (a sphere, a space) of materiality that hasn’t been dominated culturally by man and that is being confused with the historical term of “nature”. This non-domination can also be interpreted in the following terms: man apprehends this segment (sphere, space) emancipated from the cultural because it exists in him as what subsists (and/or sets itself upon) of history: an outskirt that palpitates in man himself (in the same way as an interior does which we identify as human unconscious). 

Therefore we acknowledge a force in exteriority (or potency according to preference) that always is there, in the open and as an openness (and this can quite right be what is in the outskirts and far beyond the outskirts of the city as well as what survives in everything in the city that is emancipated from its cultural and historic domination) whose intensity, if it finds its way to the interior under way of sterilisation that threatens man, would do for exercise an unexpected paralysis of that sterilisation as well as the renovation and/or rejuvenation of the human interior.

 Glimpse of a crisis of exteriority 

Technological colonisation of life. It shouldn’t escape anyone that this phenomenon is one of the axes that is about to transform human experience, a transformation that is taking a course that impoverishes quite sensibly both experience and life. The effects of that technological colonisation of life is to be verified by a good dose of convulsive conduct due to the fact that such a colonisation has been interiorized. Let us list, with all the risk that this implies, some of them: 

- 1. Children that tirelessly play for hours with a device named “console” (what a stupid irony that this word conveys!) games highly representative for a capitalist mentality: competitiveness, isolation, effort, schizophrenic consolation, in brief capital accumulation. Without a doubt it is being translated in a double internalization: the one of one’s inner life subject to these automated, police-like digital times (everything has to be done with the fingers, i.e., with the tracks of the fingers and this, except indefensible ingenuity, in fact presupposes an initiation in policial conducts); and as a consequence of that form of life, the slow distancing of outside life which doubtless is the most efficient way of internalization: children are progressively disappearing from the parks. By the way, we don’t know if saying of these – the parks – that they are the eternal and resistant redoubts of a contact (in this case in term of Nature and in symbolic terms) with exteriority in urban life. But we have to express more exactly and say that we are referring to popular parks as we shouldn’t fool ourselves and think that certain “noble” and “real” parks form any unconditional, gratuitous and “crazy” ludic spaces. They are rather places destined to recreational functions more and more associated with the leisure time of consumption and vice versa, to the consumption of leisure time: tourism maintains them and tourism impoverishes them, and the same occurs with the cultural events that are usually being celebrated in them (business is increasing or diminishing according to these modern hordes, and what is certain, is that these parks will persist as long as they function as a business and will be “reconverted” if not). In short, this is what is happening in the parks situated in the downtown areas – when downtown areas have these kinds of parks. However, what can we think of the waste grounds of the periphery, of the abandoned lots, of the fields, of the rest of the trees that still remain in the outskirts, of all these places so appropriate for shared adventures, for a childhood experience associated with physical and symbolic danger, and that have been eliminated by the plague of construction, by one of the worst cancers of modernity and of post-modernity: real estate speculation that has ended up withthe smallest trace of wildlife, of “worthless places”? Well indeed, these worthless places that our Swedish friends called “atoposes” (and without wanting to present ourselves as optimists) are a suggestive concentration of life beyond, emancipated from of our own life’s “culturisation”, emancipated thus from metropolitan urbanity: a culturisation that is, as may be guessed, to an extremely high percentage, a technological one. 

Let us return to the childhood of children. We shouldn’t forget that including their ‘outside’ games, which continue to a great extent to be subjected  to the consumption of technological games, are usually taking place within the “enclosure” designed by the architects between their apartment blocks. We say enclosure as their shape and use resemble mostly the enclosures of penitentiaries, so remote from a neighbourhood, common yard, so far away from these waste fields to which we were referring. The rotten fruit of these phenomena is the preventative life which is imposed on them, as life beyond is being stolen from them. 

- 2. Youngsters who decide to reduce their life to a room, abandoning themselves to the terrible delirium of all hypertechnological debraining machines. Think of those groups of Japanese youngsters who decide to seclude themselves in the house of their parents whom they force to build an own kitchen as they take over the home kitchen in order to isolatethemselves completely from all kind of physical contact with existence, abandoned to their own computational psychopathologies (here we hope not to fall in the torpor of interpreting these behaviours as a kind of modern hermitage as it isn’t, and if it were wouldn’t upset us much either).

The example isn’t irrelevant and could be extended to conducts that illustrate this trauma of life in this very context, just as that example could be applied to other countries, mainly to the so called “First World” countries. 

- 3. The abusive intellectualisation of life itself is the consequence of a break between our experience and our thought, so that certain so called intellectual activities limit experiences to a predominant rational practice which experience and expression do not need any phenomenological, hermenetical, critical or theoretical “elucidation” in order to occur. For example, the practice of the poem or the “plastic” practice – and especially the non-practices such as the encounter, the derive, contemplation, inaction and other similar (which are a marvellous manifestation of the inopportunity of exteriority making its way into inner life, reinvigorating it).

Moreover, the pointlessness of these experiences shouldn’t be taken as a watchword or a principle, but rather as a great call for attention or even as an alert. 

When a practice such as that of poetry stops being taken as a physical experience, as anopening like the encounter or the discovery, we contribute to widen such a break. When the practice of writing poems contents oneself with being a mental, intellectual experience only, we open the way to its confinement by not allowing all that exists beyond penetrates ourselves with its intense otherness. That confinement acquires the form of abusive intellectualisation, which is a way of accentuating antinomy, a way of deepening the division of analogical man. This is, without any doubt, a traumatic loss. 

And we ask ourselves: isn’t that fall into abusive intellectualisation the negation of the very healthy “loss of knowledge” to which surrealism aims at, an aspiration to break with meaning in order to remain exposed to an occurrence that seriously convulses the being, an occurring that constitutes itself into a necessary opening? 

If it is so, at least to a large extent, then we feel authorized to speak of a crisis of exteriority as the confinement, conscious or unconscious, of the experience of non-meaning in abusive intellectualisation converges with the culturization of our affective apparatus, of our inner experience. At the same time it points to the symptom of our lack of outer experience. And we shouldn’t forget that it is likewise a kind of internment insofar as such a culturization builds its own penitentiary around us, men and women, and around us, specifically surrealists. 

Well effectively, as surrealists we cannot fool ourselves on this point. And we need to ask ourselves certain questions concerning our behaviour and answer them. How many hours do we spend sitting by a computer with of all other electrodomestic devices of “entertainment” and the brutal change that it introduces in lives? How long is our lifetime – not of existence – in a day? By life meaning precisely what surrealism claims as such: the abandonment to the dangers of the unknown with its prodigies and marvels, with its beasts and traps; our own abandonment to the encounter with the passions and their vertigos. Indeed, do our passions – not delegated, not postponed –, rule our lives, and if not instinctive passions at least with the necessity and urgency to which we “theoretically” refer ourselves? 

This is one of the main reasons, and a fundamental precondition because of our necessity to have an experience of exteriority, either in order to recuperate it or to have it for the first time, and ultimately because it has turned pressing that exteriority leads to the rediscovery of interiority; the rejuvenation and reminder of our hibernating, lost or half-lost forces can be actualized through the abandonment/receptiveness relationship of exteriority. 

We insist therefore once again that the internalisation of technology draws us away from life. And of course this is not the “model” of “surrealist life”; not for us from the Surrealist Group of Madrid and some of its friends. Consequently, this profound change of habits introduced by computational and cybernetic society brings about a radical change of way of life: if life had always taken place in the street and beyond the street, today more and more it takes place in an interned interior. In this way madness makes itself comfortable. Otherness is being exiled or even worse, it is being compartmentalized in a close beyond as if it was about a possibly electrified fenced enclosure, but with the comfort of an apparent life. It is not a matter of being amazed by this undesirable phenomenon – before which it is only a question of rebelling –rather abandon ourselves to the glimpses of a “wild” – or more modestly rustic – life that evocates what existed, what lived beyond, surrounding us with their siren songs although we do not like to hear them (or cannot due to the connection through which all the state of the new technological devices atrophy our senses). 

Here are some of these glimpses: 


Sensation of being astray in certain streets 

Sense of the horizon 

Sensation that the city ends in determined centric zones 

(Other friends can add own points of view in this respect) 

But even if one understands the liberating value that they can have: aren’t these glimpses concrete proof of the existence of a crisis of exteriority? Aren’t they a manifestation of an exteriority reduced to its surviving expression? These glimpses that we, despite everything, cannot afford us the luxury to ignore: aren’t they the manifestation of an experience of absence – or progressive loss –, of the experience of plenitude, each time more on its way to extinction, each time more of a rest? (2)

 A theory on the concept of exteriority? 

Mattias, in order to make it clear from the beginning: it is not on any theoretical ground that prompted  this book. The assembled adventure doesn’t need such ground. Nor does the echo that it may provoke. There is thus no reason to grant it any theory. We cannot therefore satisfy your request on this specific point. 

On the other hand, as you raised the issue of theory, we ask ourselves if you are not giving way to a certain type of egocentrism in the sense that it doesn’t seem that you are interested in abandoning yourself to the other and to the others. And this book, precisely, as well as many of the persons who participate in it, decidedly abandon themselves to otherness: they proceed beyond in order to recognize, maybe, what doesn’t exist inside yet, or is so hidden that they don’t have any knowledge of it (in the particular and in the general, i.e., in the personal and in the social, but also beyond the social – in the open). 

We can repeat without fearing to get bored that the proposal of the editors of this book is the following: the concrete experience of the open in the outskirts of the city and beyond these outskirts. It is true that the open – exteriority – is being interpolated here in a relevant form through a strong experience of Nature; but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t being interpolated less in the part of exteriority that can remain in the city; and how exteriority penetrates in the city as we have emphasized previously. It is thus not thetheoretical level that is being sought out here, even less that should be the primary, rather the exploration both of the suchness and the unconscious of exteriority, which implies, irremediably, to give way to both the experiential and experimental levels. This is a book inspired by the practice of exteriority, and from this it is resolved. 

We think, Mattias, that maybe your passionate inclination towards the theoretical level has blinded you to what is the main issue of the book. 

All things considered, that doesn’t mean that there is no thinking in this book, and more specifically, no surrealist thinking about exteriority. There is, but it isn’t any discursive, logic, articulating thinking in the rational sense of the word. It doesn’t have any doctrinal ground nor development. That doesn’t mean however that the book reduces its objective to a formal or simply conceptual level (which it fortunately has, and it isn’t contemptible). In fact the entire book is imbued with a poetic thinking in line with what a surrealist mental activity arouses which doesn’t divide experience from elucidation and foundation (theory). All and every one of the texts that compose the book bring forth a gradually intense poetic thought in which experience and analysis are happily fused. Every one of the texts sets about dealing with those levels as differentiated as they are inseparable (as autonomous as connecting), following a poetic analogy, not deductive logic or a theoretical speculation. Without any doubt, what has been preferred at this occasion is more “the invention of the poet than the solution of the scientist”.  

Before falling into possibly endless polemics (what should need to change into a constructive discussion), we repeat that a very detailed reading of the book (with special attention to its fissures) continues to be the best way to exercise the necessary apprehension of what we just gladly explained to you. In that meaning the book also continues to constitute the most evident testimony of all that. It speaks “eloquently”, in a poetically understandable way, and we think that it is a really “novel” contribution within the surrealist environment (given its collective and international and also conceptual character). 

Anyway, and in connection with the latter, maybe it would be worth remembering that in fact  we assist to a kind of development in this book starting with texts such as yours, the one about worthless places (atoposes), Bruno Jacobs’, the account by Miguel Pérez Corrales, the text about the El Torcal mountain by Eugenio Castro, the whole issue of our Paris friends’ journal dedicated to passional geography (and also, going backwards, the Jornadas followed by an exhibition about Ecology and Surrealism organized by the Madrid group in Madrid), and Silvia Guiard’s text Quebrada. This development leads to the latest texts, articles and essays in which perhaps there is a deeper consciousness regarding the concept of exteriority and what we have tried to be more explicit about at the beginning of this text. 

The experience of exteriority is thus situated as a natural step, a concretization of the perspectives at least sketched in our document on the image (The False Mirror) edited for already 10 years ago through which we aimed, among many other things, open a debate about certain surrealist practices within the framework of specific objective conditions (the situationist perspectives, of which we promptly make use of, are indeed of great value on this point). 

The term (or if one prefers a working hypothesis) of exteriority may perhaps seem rather broad. However, this doesn’t imply any disadvantage concerning the development of new and successive orientations in line with such a stand. Further initiatives and interventions will be the best way to enrich the experience as well as its critical and poetic aspects. 

What can emerge from all this will awaken, stimulate or initiate such experience of exteriority or not. 

Eugenio Castro, Manuel Crespo,

Vicente Gutiérrez Escudero, Lurdes Martínez,

Julio Monteverde, Noé Ortega,

José Manuel Rojo, Ángel Zapata

 And our friends

Eric Bragg, Bruno Jacobs and Emilio Santiago


(1) We emphasize the pure denomination as it would of course be a joke to affirm that the opening towards exteriority isn’t culturally mediated or that we in it would recover a wild functionality implanted in Nature (a wild operativity immune to recuperation as it never before existed). What is certain is that different degrees of “conditioning cultural opacity” exist when we connect with the world, and that what we call a relationship with exteriority is being established through one of its thinnest densities. 

(2) We should all remember that already in Le Paysan de Paris, Aragon devotes a whole chapter to the “Sense of nature in Les Buttes-Chaumont”, which unequivocally reflects a fatal absence ofexperience of Nature. It wouldn’t be excessive in this respect to establish an association with this sense and the short note on parks above.