Brunner and Surrealism

For background on this discussion, see the following web log entries:

How surreal
Even more surreal

Dear Eric;

Thanks for the referral to Breton's article. That clarifies a lot.

Breton rightly sees that Brunner's philosophy provides a very useful tool for understanding Magritte's paintings. In particular, he draws attention to the role of the three modes of thought: relative thought, thought of the Absolute, and the Analogon. This is all very good. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that in Brunner's philosophy the Analogon is purely negative. It is by definition the confusion of relative thought and thought of the Absolute. Brunner uses the concept of the Analogon to develop his social critique. In art, the Analogon can only serve as a tool for creating and understanding satire.

It is important in this discussion to carefully distinguish Analogon from analogy. Here is Brunner on the practical utility of analogy:

I certainly am not going to disparage analogy and the analogical conclusion from the known to the unknown. The analogical conclusion is the most important of conclusions. Without it experience would be of no use to us; without the analogical conclusion from our own 'man' to other men and from our own inner states to those of others we could not even achieve the concept man. (Science, spirit, superstition: 450)

Here he is, though, on the limitations of analogy:

On the basis of analogy, image thinking still reaches through all relativities of ideated existence which is not truly. Only the Absolute Thought must be truly thought because it is within us the actual primordial experience of our selves, of real Being and is not produced by us. The Absolute Thought alone must be thought, but cannot be thought in images. It can neither be directly imaged nor through analogy based upon our imagery—for it is not co-ordinate to our relative thinking of ideated existence (Science, spirit, superstition: 478).

So for Brunner analogy plays the essential role in all relative thinking, but it must be abandoned when considering the Absolute.

The Analogon is the term Brunner uses to denote all attempts to grasp the Absolute through analogy. He recognized that all language rests on images, and that any image of the Absolute, even if acknowledged initially as an analogy, carries the risk of being taken for the thing of which it is merely the indicator.

Taken in this sense, the absences in Magritte's paintings can be understood on several levels. They may be seen as a respectful refusal to portray the unimaginable Absolute. They may be understood as satire, showing how what we normally construe as absolute, i.e. ourselves, are in fact essentially relative, fictitious constructs. In this sense, the paintings constitute a protest against and a refutation of the Analogon. Understood in the ultimate sense of Brunner's doctrine of oneness, the individuals in Magritte's paintings are not in fact absent, but are rather placed within the context of the absolute oneness which all things in essence are.

In his works, Brunner makes use of the concept of the Analogon in a purely sociological sense. His main purpose is to use the concept to show how the masses and their leaders have throughout history distorted the thought and work of creative geniuses. The argument receives its main treatment in Our Christ, where Brunner represents Christ as the quintessential creative genius whose thought as distorted in the Christian religion is one of the primary historical manifestations of the Analogon. In works like Spinoza gegen Kant and Idealism and Materialism, Brunner shows how the Analogon has manifested itself in the history of philosophy. In Man Unmasked, Brunner undertakes a critique of human society in general on the basis of the concept of the Analogon.

I expect that all the foregoing will disappoint you in your search for a definitive text by Brunner on the essence of the Analogon itself. I hope I have shown why this is impossible to find. For Brunner, the Analogon is an absolute nothing. His purpose is not to dwell on this nothingness, but to show how it manifests itself in life. I have considered developing Brunner's work with a typology of contemporary manifestations of the Analogon, a post-modern Malleus maleficarum, as it were. But this would, like Brunner's own work, remain within the orbit of sociology, and so not serve any better the end which you seek. Nonetheless, I remain convinced, like Breton, of the utility of Brunner's thought in the understanding of art. We must simply bear in mind the whole of Brunner's thought, of which the Analogon is an essential but negative component.


Dear Eric;

To perceive the Analogon as a "shuttle" between relative and Absolute may hold some promise for artistic endeavor. The danger is that the Analogon itself may become aestheticized. This would be the ultimate example of how art is distorted into religion. I think that the essential thing to bear in mind is that the Analogon is always a distortion of the Absolute. It is also important to know that Brunner put forward his own doctrines regarding "shuttling" between relative and absolute thought. The movement from relative to absolute Brunner describes in his pneumatology. The movement from absolute to relative he describes in his doctrine of spiritual modification. Thus, in the end, I must maintain that the Analogon's only real artistic function is satirical. To my mind, Breton was really trying to make a case for the importance for art of Brunner's work in general. He saw how important it was to establish a mediating principle between relative and absolute. And this is indeed what Brunner has achieved. But the Analogon is the shadow of this principle.

Breton gets it wrong about the Analogon combining with the absolute and the relative. It is the relative practical understanding that combines with either the spiritual truth or with the Analogon, but never with both at the same time. The spiritual truth and the Analogon are never found together in the same person at the same time.

I have one clarification regarding my earlier letter. I stated that the Analogon was "an absolute nothing." This is strictly speaking incorrect. The Analogon is always a distortion of something true. In Brunner's philosophy, there is no "nothing."