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Javna ptica/The Public Bird, Milan Dedinac

Paragraph of text "Eternity, Testimonies and Public Bird" from the book of Milanka Todić: The Impossible. Surrealist Art, the Museum of Applied Arts, Belgrade, 2002.

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Thanks to history or chance, which the Surrealists believed in, the magazine Eternity took the lead, slightly ahead of Javna ptica (The Public Bird), even though Milan Dedinac had worked on this Surrealist poem since 1922. When, having been repeatedly postponed, it finally came out in December 1926, The Public Bird belonged to a rare species, as it was published in a circulation of a mere two hundred copies, while Roads and Testimonies numbered a thousand copies. As the exchange of publications between the French and the Serbian group of Surrealists was already then quite intensive, right away, in January 1927 Dedinac sent several copies of his book “for Eluard, Breton and Aragon”, but also for Marko Ristic, who was in Paris at the time. This can partly account for the fact why Ristic’s review of Dedinac’s poem Objava poezije (The Proclamation of Poetry), published upon his return from Paris, assumed the form of a Surrealist program. Namely, in it, Ristic uses the tone of a manifesto, saying, among other things, that The Public Bird is “beyond literature”, and that “it is not subject to literary criticism”. Apart from that, he also stresses that The Public Bird brings “dark armies of dreams”, and that it should be seen as a “dialectic development of irrational thought” which threatens the hypocritical and pragmatic bourgeois society. It is very important to note in this context that, in his effusion of words glorifying the poem, Ristic did not miss the opportunity to draw attention to the special, typically Surrealist, relationship between text and picture. For, unlike all traditional poetry collections and anthologies, The Public Bird is not illustrated with vignettes and drawings by more or less renowned artists – it features for the first time, as Ristic also underlines, hallucinatory photomontages, three pictures by the same author, pictures created upon the same principles as the poetic images.

Breton compared Surrealist pictures with Baudelaire’s opium–induced images. One no longer seeks to conjure them up, but they “impose themselves on him, spontaneously, despotically. One cannot dispel them< for the will is sapped of strength and does not control one’s spiritual powers anymore.” Those are images which arise, just like dreams, from the deep layers of the unconscious, harbouring repressed hidden desires and instincts unacceptable in the framework of a bourgeois society. The mechanism creating the images of dreams was revealed already by Freud’s psychoanalysis at the outset of the 20th century, but the Surrealists accepted that interpretation in full and included it in their own exploration of the subconscious. “When the latent thoughts of a dream, uncovered by analysis are explored, one of them sharply stands out from among others which are graspable and well–known to the dreamer. These other ones are remnants of the waking life< however, in that one distinct thought a very often untoward desire is recognized, one that is alien to the waking life of the dreamer, and which, hence, he denies in wonderment or rage. That impulse is what in fact creates the dream, it generates the energy producing the dream, using the remnants of the day as its material< a thus produced dream satisfies the impulse, it is the fulfillment of desire, Freud believes.

The secret of Surrealist creation could be so simple as to be accessible to all, just like a dream spontaneously materializing in a dreamer is, for example. Namely, “just like a spark extends when it sweeps through rarefied gases, so does the Surrealist atmosphere, created by mechanical writing,... readily lend itself to the creation of the most beautiful images. One could even say that the images appear in this reckless race as the only guides of spirit.” It is upon that principle that Milan Dedinac’s images in The Public Bird, both the poetic and the visual ones, also sprang. They are an expression of “the pure creation of spirit”, as Reverdy puts it, but materialized verbally in one instance, and visually in another. By the method of their creation, they meet the programmatic, and, it goes without saying, also the aesthetic criteria of Surrealist creation. For Surrealism, “the strongest image is the one which exhibits the highest degree of arbitrariness< the one which requires the most time to be translated into practical language.” Ergo, it would be improvident and useless to retell the content of Dedinac’s photocollages, because their function in the book is neither narrative nor illustrative. They do not refer to any specific part of the poem, nor to any group of verses, and could least of all be literally recognized in any one idea. They are there in order to convey, parallel with the text, and, in fact, aside from the poetic text, an experience of the marvelous, but also to confirm the Surrealist idea of convulsive beauty. One of Dedinac’s pictures, by a bold juxtaposition of two distant realities, uncovers unknown constellations of a universe in which the hand of a woman, like Adam’s hand on Michelangelo’s fresco, helplessly extends into space in search of a touch which is yet to inspire life into her...