1. Automating Automatism

Central to Surrealism is the idea of 'psychic automatism': the practice, inspired by the Freudian practise of free association, of articulating as directly as possible "the actual functioning of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any moral or aesthetic concern". But what do we learn about the 'actual functioning of thought' - or the 'unconscious' as we might also call it - from the results of automatic writing? Take the first lines of 'Soluble Fish', the example of automatic writing included by Breton in the first Surrealist manifesto:

The park, at this time of day, stretched its blond hands over the magic fountain. A meaningless castle rolled along the surface of the earth.

Should we conclude that the idea of a park that has hands, or the idea that such hands may be blond, lie deep in the functional structure of the psyche of the individual who produced these lines? This of course is absurd; instead, what we learn from the surrealist experiment is that, when the strictures of reason are placed in abeyance, the mind is capable of acting like a random word-generating machine - a machine which at its best will spew out lightning-generating 'images', revealing unforeseeable relations between the most diverse ideas and objects.

Why a machine, an automaton - why does Breton call the process 'automatism'? Because the abeyance of reason is the abeyance of the will (rationality and the will are inseparable for Aquinas, for Kant, for Heidegger): creative activity thus gives way to a passive listening to the 'the Surrealist voice', and the writer a 'recording instrument' for the echoes of that voice.

If what this automaton does is record or generate random words, however, the randomness in question is never absolute - the randomizing function is primed by nothing less than the entire psychic context (the soul, the surrealist voice), which in this case includes a penchant for the language of fairy-tales. And isn't there also, in automatic writing written by and for poets, always a certain phonetic constraint on the randomizing function, with words produced according to their sonic resonance with other words, or born out of alliterative or assonantal moods? By mimicking these constraints, the Augmented Imagination Project constitutes an artificial variant of the machine which surrealist poets become when engaged in automatic writing: it is thus automatism automated, the Surrealist automaton without a soul.

For more information on Jonah Wilberg's 'the Augmented Imagination Project' check out his website (