Surrealism, Mental Liberation, and the Mad Train (6/8)

In Surrealism and Psychoanalysis, Cramer and Gant present the surrealist theory that dreams are expressions of the self-conscious and therefore have value. Schools of thought, however, differed on whether they held meaning or if meaning was even necessary for value to be inherent. All Surrealists saw the unconscious, uncontrolled, disordered mind as liberated; the ungoverned mind was a pristine creative source. Max Ernst was especially interested in mental instability; clinical insanity appeared to be a liberation.

Trauma can introduce confusion into the dreamscape, and I think that is so clearly contextualized by WWI. Depicting disturbing dreams, searching for answers in them... all of this makes sense as cultures collectively processed their experiences. Asking what informs this narrative constructed by the mind leads to one of two answers: either the dream attempts to resolve waking memories or the dream is distinct from any other reality.

I focused on transition 002 and in it, "The Mad Train" specifically. There was a group of passengers in cars: a society. There is a driving force that carries them forward with momentum: a culture, a government? The landscapes they pass become distorted with the speed of the "mad" train (which has malfunctioned), turning into ominous, dream-like sites. As Poulaille describes it, "[e]verything becomes entangled, flows and crashes silently into something else, ushes, as if unde a powerful urge, to an absurd and useless combat" (95). The breaks are broken. The engineers expect collision and the end to their (I might be reaching here) "society." In the end, the nightmare images settle into a normal space. The train slows and nevers wrecks against another train's opposite force. I felt the idea of a "mad" train could be a metaphor for nationalism, collective war-time momentum, and the driving, idealogical machines that failed their creators with spectacularly in the onset of WWI. The notes of nightmare and the idea of insanity, along with the description style and fragmentation in the short story, evoke surrealism in several ways that I'm still unpacking.