Manifesto of Legal Surrealism

by | 25 Nov 2010

Max Ernst - Elephant (1921)First Manifesto (1988) 

The pedagogy of the imaginary: perspectives of late surrealism for legal teaching

Not long ago I took part in an academic selection for the chair of Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires. The examining board expressed that it could not assess my pedagogic proposal for it was too innovative, its efficiency had not yet been attested academically – an example of erudition trying to defeat audacity. Logics is to the world as the skull to the body… I forgive them, I understand them, but I need to betray them. I feel that I have to repay my debt to all silences, which I imposed myself so far, in order to conquer the competence of my discourse. Now that I have it, I regret it.

I am writing almost automatically, and I am not going to proofread what I put down to paper. I want to let it be as it stands. It is a confession about the dangers of surrealism and this text.


Binding law to poetry is already a surrealist provocation. It is the twilight of the idols of knowledge. Fall of its rigid masks. Death of legalist Manicheanism. A call for desire. A protest against the mediocrity of erudite mentality and, equally, a healthy disregard for teaching as work [ofício]. That is recreating man by provoking him, so that he seeks to belong fully to himself, so that he feels a profound aversion for the infiltrations of a guiltful-rationality [racionalidade culposa] that is mystically objectivist. One that is converted in gendarme of creativity, of desire, and of our relations with others.

Poetry empowers him for it. It bears in itself the visceral understanding of the limitations that we endure, bringing to light the artificial and deadly order of a culture impregnated by presumptuous legalities. She can serve to awaken the senses and submerged desires and disenchanted by centuries of knowledge, whose orientation consists in securing all and every sort of immobility. Practicing poetry shall offer us the possibility to make desire triumph over common sense, good sense, and good feelings, leaving us, thus, earless to the so-called noble and true values, those that sacralise, with civility, every love for power. That is desire destroying by a single stroke both Gods and Masters. That is the seed of subversion found where one expects the less: the magical torch of desire.

Surrealist poetics tries to blow up the marks of a conformist daily life, enslaved by a way of thinking that is simultaneously puritan, consumerist, and Logomanic.

It enables also a healthy overture toward exploration and exploitation of all forms of expression that the dominant rationalism succeeded in enclosing in a reserve called “absurd”. Surrealism claims them as the placentas of creativity. A vital reaction against inert sensitivities. A radical manoeuvre to corrode the monopoly of a reason that spreads out submission: knowledge made out of common places and fake treasuries with which, by forgetting our singularity, we naturally agree.

For the surrealist, the absurd has no pejorative connotation: it is rather the form of protest that is opposed to the game of the coherent, the logic, the demonstrated – categories employed as incontrovertible criteria of truth in the great narratives that science produces to imagine the world.

In surrealism, the absurd reiterates the necessity of multiple comprehensions of the world. The surrealist absurd is a spontaneous way out to seeking the human voice amidst poets, amidst desires.

Breton states that declaring that reason is the essence of man means already dividing him in two – what the classical tradition never failed to do. The latter, he adds, distinguished in man what is reason, which by virtue of this finding is truly human, from what is not reason, something that, on these grounds, seems unworthy of man: instincts, sentiments, and desire. [Such is] a deadly dangerous and omnipotent cleavage that surrealism intends to surprise in its mistakes, appealing to poetry.

Praising and employing poetry, surrealism displays its firm intent to overthrow [derrubar] the strict margins of rationalism, shaking us at the same time, so that we awake from our delusions and relations of dependence upon all conventions in force.

It invokes the dream, the magic of a supra-real gaze at the world, for the pursuit of a new order of values, with no patience for erudition.

One cannot speak about supra-reality, unless as dream. Dreams are always surrealist.

The dream (as enchanted poetry) is a space of creativity without censorships: gestures, images, desires without guards or tyrannies.

It is revolution through the autonomy of art. Revolution through the dream transformed in pedagogic act that incites micro-revolutions. Thus, surrealist revolution faces the dream as possibility of decolonising imagination. Alongside this, the surrealist declaration of human rights is sought: the universal declaration of the rights of desire, the right to creativity, the right to dreaming.

Poetic dreaming makes revolution out of sentiment, and thus it subverts living-stupidity – this evasion of life that art shall flush out.

Back to surrealism. Not as a nostalgic fashion that forces the loss of historical memory, but as psychoanalytic recovery of an instant when the imagination of the world shined with plenty of youth. And it was fire and fun, playing with things, desires, and eternity. A beautiful instant of culture when action is led by dreaming: the radiant manor of the nightly [o solar do noturno], the dream that hinders one’s accession to a ready-made knowledge.

What attracts me most in surrealism is its carnival-making proposal of welding together, through poetry, dreams and life.

With it, I want reactivation in times of apocalyptic reasoning, rethinking it as late surrealism, with a postsurrealism that resists from within the culture of post-history.

I do not want to dramatize the besieged mentality, but to transform it, emancipating me from it. We have to make out of legal surrealism a locus for overcoming and rebellion against stifling cultures of opulence. We have to learn to module our lives as a work of art. The introduction of art in the world is subversive. It is to avail oneself of ingenuousness in order to live, as Oscar Wilde would have it.

Life, bodies, words, gazes, throbs… everything read, spoken, lived, and seen as intensities, away from concepts, tracing abysms in relation to great narratives that legitimise truth, either transcendentally or epically and, also, denying the Gods of foresight [Deuses-Previdência]. Surrealism can thus be disentangled from the relation Theory-Praxis, so as to embrace in depth the dreamt up character of theories.

Reality and dream, the cleavages are not drastic. It is hard to distinguish without creating myths. Suddenly, surrealism does not distinguish, it shelves theories without any bookcase, and it proposes a substitutive discussion: the relation dream-praxis. Thanks to this sacrilege, surrealists alter the sacred effects of knowledge.

The nocturnal Bachelard was an innovator of the conception of imagination, distant from conventional academic standards, distant from Sorbonne’s fashion. He explored imagination and daydream, thinking nature as material imagination. He claimed for knowledge the ceaseless right to return to the imaginary: the exercise of the daylight function of the imaginary.

Thinking alongside surrealists, Bachelard realizes the subterranean tides of knowledge, which manifest a different mobility – different from that that takes place as surface of reason: unidirectional, logocentric, disciplined, without psychological uproars. He discovers the ludicity of mathematics, the creative game, the “esprit de finesse”, the poetics of intelligence, science as aesthetics of reason, as Nietzsche would have agreed – it means also the body’s commitment with the concreteness of the world.

Imagination and dream keep up [guardam] close ties to democracy, for they provoke and call us upon around the new – they put before us the possibility to think and sense without censorship, reveal to us the secrets of singularity, the neurological point of difference: the new man, he whose dreams, whose imaginary is not censored by institutions and who organizes his affects without rented desires.

Democracy is the right to dream what is to be wanted [a democracia é o direito de sonhar o que se quer].

I believe that the most striking trait of a democratic mentality is its inexhaustible disposition to imagine the new, to welcome the unforeseeable.

Hence, poetics (in the sense of the arts), it teaches us to embrace an “adamic” attitude before all things of the world. A primitive gaze, absolutely essential for the recovery of knowledge’s function of turbulence and singularity.

Reason’s return to the time of children, when/where the things of the world are seen for the first time.

Poetry for Bachelard reveals that man desires an “ought to”, a destiny, and a creative affectivity. For the philosopher of epistemological obstacles, the primordial function of poetry is to transform us. Poetics, he proclaims, is the human oeuvre that transforms us most speedily: a poem suffices [um poema basta].

I dream a surrealism of tender eyes. Storms do not dissolve castration; storms only incite a refuge away from themselves. I claim, therefore, the scandal of sweetness, a delicate and tender torment – one committed to Eros.

Dream and poetry are the counterfigure of formal imagination. The latter stands out in the basic vocabulary of science and philosophy, serving the constitution of an imagination extremely dependent on a principle of passive visibility.

The formal imagination, grounded in an immobile and immobilized vision, fulfils its destiny by moving towards formalism. It disguises, thus, the materiality of things and of images, so as to think the world through tacit examples and masked images. A proposal that does not warn, as Bachelard states, that one does not learn a thought in the void.

In this way, formal imagination turns matter into an object of vision by seeing it only as figuration. It is the ultimate result of man’s disposition as spectator of the world, of a panoramic world, put under an idle contemplation. In the end, it means an apology for a dependent and lacking imagination. Dependent on objects of knowledge; lacking in relation to all new. It is a totalitarian imagination: one that presents itself as the eve of concepts.

Formal imagination is victim of an optic principle. It masters discursive processes that produce the truth of the social sciences, and that turn the scientist into a thinker-voyeur: the quiet thinker that Radin bequeathed to us as symbol of a whole reflective tradition, which conceives of the image as a mere mirage-without-life of a world whose significations, forcibly, must be translated into concepts. It is the word “optics” hidden in concepts; it is there to give the illusion of being a double of the world.

Examining carefully the discursive process of the social sciences, we can notice many marks of an “optic” understanding of the world. Expressions like: seeing, contemplating, evidence, idea (which meant originally visible form), point of view, perspective etc., show clearly how the discourse of the social sciences is impregnated with elements dependent on an optic conception of the world. Indeed, the very notion of “theory” is fruit of the “optic” attitude. It is derived from Greek, from the metaphoric use of the expression “Theorem”. The Greeks used this word to refer to the commentators of the Olympic games. They would stand on the terraces [arquibancada] to give their opinion on the games. Curiously, these characters were the only not to take any active part in the competitions. They would only see them. The “theorem” had the vice of ocularity, which our instituted scientists inherited.

Surrealism solicits a new attitude before knowledge. It shows that knowledge must no longer be the terraces of life.

Bachelard prefers to go out and seek another type of imagination. He calls it material. This is an imagination that recovers the world as creativity and as resistance. It asks for the active and emancipatory intervention of man, decreeing with this the death of the voyeur-thinker.

Here we are before the proposal of a democratic imagination, inventive, full of uncertainties. An imagination that never submits itself to the relation knowledge-power [saber-poder]. In it, what rules is the relation knowledge-desire [saber-desejo].

To wield power one never appeals to an imagination that reveals the new. Power requires the empire of a nostalgic creativity that begets only the effect of a change – an imagination that introduces alterations that do not change anything. This type of imagination finds its apex in the culture of post-modernity.

I am now thinking about Kelsen. I feel his sin was to employ his imagination to describe the legal discourse that was already in place. His imagination worked as anteroom for concepts, and that’s all. No other games have been engendered – just a concern for the purification of the old, which fed on his concepts. His habitat was a shroud for the creation of a democratic legal imaginary. He arrogated purity against the operating luxury of the new.

The totalitarian imagination works against differences. It is a sterilizing imagination: the ornamental imagination of stereotypes without space for the great desiring differences. It presents silence and blindness as tendency. We face an imagination that leaves knowledge without edge, without a taste for the edge [saber sem sabor]. Barthes remarks that knowledge [saber] and flavour [sabor] have the same root. We need that these two words be kept significantly united. For that, we have to accept that the taste for [the edge of] knowledge lies in the desire to change life: a permanent desire for the new word. This flavour has the taste of a dream. Certainly it is not the case that we have to instil the imagination of power, as in May 1968, but instead a democratic imagination.

I am speaking of dreams as a territory of encounter that allows our own better understanding in the interaction with others. It is the dreams’ discourse as manifestation of the world of desires.

Confronted with this proposal, we need to reconsider the teaching attitudes [atitudes docentes], generally stuck to a narcissistic attitude that ends up placing the student as a mere mirror, so that the teacher [professor] can recognize himself, narcissistically denying his weakness. The pedagogic dream requires the teacher to step down from his navel and join a process of transformative mutual recognition.

Thinking ideology from the perspective of surrealism, it can be approached as the imagination that determines an exterior control of relations among men. Avoiding the point of view that used to show ideology as falsification of consciousness or concealment of the world, I present it as a system of fictions that seek to induce relations among men, constructing a univocal reality.

I am talking about the construction of a reality where one looses the autonomy of desires for the univocal perception of the world.

Before ideological fictions, another type of imaginary reality can rise, a magical realism that allows room for understanding the fictional reality into which we are steeped by means of a fictional exercise of power.

Perhaps narcissism is the professional infirmity of those who teach…Preaching inconformity yields power over others, and one does not fail to comply with the institution of the university. We deceive ourselves when we say we are here to try and get things to change. We face now a feeling of omnipotence that hides other reasons.

Most of the time the non-conformist teacher – the great iconoclast – is playing God. He simulates to overthrow all idols with the secret hope to occupy himself the place of them all. Nothing is good enough, only his word: the only fetish to be venerated.

As in the word of a God, his word lets one see a glimpse [entrever] of the life that ought to be celebrated. This word is offered, and at the same time denied, concealed by the enigmatic mode in which it is hailed for an idle contemplation.

A bit like in ‘swing parties’, everybody looses in these non-conformed classes.

In the orgies invented by the middle class in late capitalism, everybody feels unwell: dirty and rigid. Because these parties are a flight from life that reflects their life. It is an attempt to forget monotony, to falsely flee the lack of communication and relation. A total failure: the different mode of not communicating.

The same happens in many classes where one tries to put forward a critique of knowledge. There is no celebration of life. Everyone goes on in anonymity. They talk about living in a different way, but they do not take advantage of that moment for such a different living… and when the party is over each one gets back to one’s normality, as always frenetic, mechanic and anonymous. Also the critical teacher gets back to his anonymity without quite caring for his own words, they are but only his daily interval. The break that strengthens.

Surrealism must heed this. The surrealist class should be part of life, and not a flight from it. Magic and dream as part of life, not as a forgetting of punishment.

It is important to consider at this point that, from a pedagogic perspective, by the route of the fantastic, one can try to sound out both the limits of academic and epistemological codes, established institutionally, and the limits of the authoritarian mystifications of traditional education.

In more than 20 years of teaching, I warned that a teacher needs to be a bit of an illusionist. Employing a pedagogy of the imaginary, showing that to change life, it is essential to reinvent fictions. [“It is essential”, É preciso, normally translated as “it is necessary”, but it is in fact more than necessary, it is precise, exactly what is at stake, cut off upfront – like in the Latin prae/caedere – from all that is superfluous].

We have to reinvent language if we want to develop democracy. Democracy is impossible with stereotyped people [homens]. The slumbered man, without commotion, is no democrat. A stereotype can neither bear uncertainties, nor accept differences and different people.

Anthropologists talk about magic in a way very different from the sense I give to it in late surrealism. From primitive thought, I keep only the possibility to understand magic as a vital principle. Something that is transmissible and apt to accumulation, but that can only be acquired in contact with others.

The strong quality of this type of representation would be given by the possibility to functioning as a participatory mentality. A primitive way of thinking that suggests to reclaim so as to recover the root of the sense of a collective life; a collective living that has faded away. This way of living creates habits very different from those that shadow Western rationality. The primitive mentality seduces me insofar as I show a way to face its representations much more by means of emotions than by means of thought. Generality is for the primitive an affective category. Emotional representations have in their lives a paramount role: magic realism replacing a mystical objective realism. It is magic in place of objectivity.

Rational logic tends to oppose radically intelligence and emotions. Late surrealism binds them, summoning a certain type of magic: vital enchantment.

Appealing to the emancipatory possibilities of magical thought, surrealism seeks to replace this sickened love by the search for the affirmation of our singularity. For that, it tries to subvert the watchful figures of law, science, and power, discovering in them certain marks of corruption; it attempts to invent a counter-image of loved-objects. A disenchantment that allows us to recover our autonomy. Thus, we would no longer idealize these figures, rediscovering them in their imperfections and, therefore, in their real history.

The construction of counter-images requires the recovery of the space of the political in society. A desire for signification that the masses have lost. Today the masses are apathetic even when consuming the routines of imposed significations.

The theology of power requires one to look at censorship and depersonalisations as truths, i.e., given by means of a universal lectureship, which functions toward keeping men in a state of sacred belief.

In institutions, as in neuroses, belief works for the construction of fetishes. They allow simultaneously producing and concealing of the procedures that point out not only to the manipulation of psyche, but also, if not more concretely, to attract men effectively. This appeal takes place through legitimising discourses that make institutions speak as irreplaceable voices of absolute knowledge. In this way, they determine man’s relation with discourse. To govern us, it is necessary to appeal to worship, in other words, our sickened love for the messenger object.

Pedagogic discourse is at the centre of this process. Most of all the teaching discourse of law.

The legal discourse appears bound to a science of the sacred that keeps in silence a hellish zone of production of knowledge: a knowledge that talks about freedom and justice without knowing that it is serving the oppressive mentality of a time.

The sciences of law celebrate the possibility of availing themselves of discourses that set up bonds of worship to the law, warranting with that the institutional production of subjectivity. A knowledge that makes law overflow with the sick effects of love.


There is no purpose in trying to define, with any precision, the meaning of surrealism. It would be a semiologic form of setting up an authoritarian criterion of exclusion. The acts and projects that could not be framed in the definition would be discarded from the surrealist movement. This is what Breton tried to do, in order to control somehow the projects of surrealism. Defining surrealism is a form of betraying the spirit that animates it. It means to attempt to reach the univocity of the fundamental set of its propositions, enclosing them in concepts. We would obtain, in this way, a readable discourse of surrealism. Surrealism, however, exists as a ceaseless becoming writeable of texts that go on in redefining their meaning and their fate, each time again. Those who are bound to history of these texts add to them other significations. The value and the goals of surrealism depend on this vertigo of senses. Surrealism is a singular approach to the fantastic, so that the common consciousness of life may be upheld. In the proximity to the fantastic, at this point where human reason looses its control, each surrealist could translate, in a magical discourse, the emotions contained in the depth of his being.

Thus, surrealism is a discursive strategy that awakens, through appealing to the fantastic, the latent state of our singular desires. It shows the singular sense of each existence in questioning the official forms of culture. Surrealism is in a direct function of the necessity that each one of us may exercise with autonomy, our own gaze before life.

Certainly, surrealism suffered strong influences that went on to feed its roots: psychoanalysis, Marxism, and aesthetic tendencies converged towards the setting up of its genesis and evolution. New elements that have been brought into the surrealist movement added knowledge, sensitive reactions, and suggestions that imprinted strong marks onto the general attitude of surrealism.

Surrealists have organized their poetic, moral and political rebellion around several common ideas. Collaborators of the magazine The Surrealist Revolution, unanimously, agree about the following issues: the world called Cartesian that revolved around them was an unsustainable, mystifying, with neither humour nor passion. Against it, all forms of insurrection were justified. All psychology of the understanding was discussed; they agreed to oppose the exorbitant pretensions of reason, whereas the latter had to be deprived of the absolute power that had been attributed to it for centuries. The duties that reason imposed upon man in the moral sphere would loose, for surrealists, all justification. Before the laws of the instituted morality, surrealists agreed to formulate concrete reservations, they intended to liberate man through poetry, dream, and appeal to the supernatural in order to promote a new order of values. They regarded with concern the way in which science manipulates desire and things, but renounces to inhabit them. Science for surrealists has always been this thought that is admirably active, ingenious, nonchalant, which treats all being as a general object, but ignoring the subject of passion. Science does not recognize that the passionate subject can also be subject of knowledge. Hence, it describes affects as one describes the wildlife of a distant country, without realizing that man is wholly in his passions. That is why surrealists appeal to poetry.

From these convergences, some divergences come up about the means to reach them.

For my part, I wish to reclaim some of the trends opened by the surrealists. I am trying, with this manifesto, to produce my own reading of surrealism, putting down in it all my pedagogic experience. I want to make an exercise of adaptation of the surrealist experience, as pedagogic gesture, to the teaching of law. Certainly, times are different. Now it is necessary to struggle against the sort of sensitivity that steadily wins over the planet with the definitive consecration of late capitalism’s culture. I speak then of late surrealism to show how it can be useful to the search to affirm singularity within a culture that intends to bind all of our sensitivity to the machines that overflow our daily life. Late surrealism will allow us, then, to uncover the passions inside these very passions, so as to change the quality of affect. In the culture of late capitalism, the tendency is to present fashion in a homogeneous and diffuse form so that they can be consumed as objects. The market rationality that brings in it the logics of sentiments’ domination.

In the six months that I took to write this manifesto, a great array of interrogations without responses came up. So long as I moved forward with the reading of surrealist texts, I felt the necessity to research several themes and authors that made me slip away from those purposes that I had initially required of myself. The different readings gave me somehow a certain clarity about some questions. It has been a lucidity conquered slowly. For this reason, many of my statements shall look redundant, sometimes obsessive. I chose not to alter the sequence in which ideas have been expressed, keeping with this the strength of its spontaneity. I am presenting a sincere text and not a set of affirmations with the intention of truth. It is a work in continuous unravelling. In this way, I am being faithful to the spirit that demands a manifesto.

[Summary of positions expressed in the first part]

III. [Reflections on totalitarianism, with certain particularities, from Tokyo to Latin America – and democracy as alternative]

Humanity enters the era of indifferent fantasies. [These are] dreams without commitment that allow for the foundation of a penetrating system of control of subjectivity, but not openly repressive. That is, fantasies that enthral without allowing our emotional involvement with them. It is an imaginary constructed to neutralizing affects. Disney World is the perfect example of this realm of impersonal fantasies, indifferent aesthetics, and imaginary without passion. It is the dream of a world that transforms itself radically by the force of technology. A world where objects are eroticised and people are reified. Our own dream and fantasies have not at all influenced the charmed world of “Disney World”. Technology steals our capacity of dreaming. A city of automates that shows how the official imagination will be in the beginning of the culture of post-modernity.

For now we have a world of consumerist Fausts who sold their souls, the commodities. A Baroque world of allegoric commodities that think for us: the death of thought converted in commodity. Objects, images, and information that we consume under the gaze of melancholy, converted in professionals of anguish. Paralysed, condemned to having a desire of non-desire in the melancholic desire of consumption. Under the gaze of melancholy, life dwindles and takes on the aspect of death. The organic takes on the rigidity of the inorganic. Death usurps the rights of life. Thus, notice an allegoric contemplation and assimilated to the commodity-form so as to erase mankind’s libidinal capacity, and its possibility to localize supports of libidinal investment.

The goal of a totalitarian order is the abolition of all possibility of libidinal investment and all possibility of counting on a knowledge based on the metabolization of the heterogeneous. In totalitarianism, anguish takes hold in subjects as death drive [pulsação de morte, in Portuguese, the most well accepted term for the Freudian Trieb or drive is pulsão], as closure of all possibility of interpreting anguish. Psychotically, men live in anguish without localizations, without representations. The sense of anguish apparently resolved in the subtle mirage of melancholic consumption or of some brother, omnipresent and faceless. A ghostly instance [instância fantasmagórica] where one looses the right to have access to collective history, the right to foreshadow a future time and the right to have intersubjective relations, of joining up with others yielding affects. A world where one looses also the right to passions. Soon it will see the time when consumerist Fausts will no longer be necessary. Men will be, then, barred from having ideologies.

With regard to totalitarianism and to democracy, there is no doubt that we shall help their understanding by bringing about a semiologic dislocation.  Refraining from attributing them a valuable significance in itself and showing them as meanings of a form of society. It is to be remarked that I am speaking about totalitarianism and democracy as about a meaning [sentido], i.e., a signification of a social practice. It is a question of a procedural [processual] signification that imports a territory of confrontations that will be instituting the modes under which men will replace the real for the symbolic. Democracy is part, against totalitarianism, in the struggles to define reality and who institutes it. In this direction, one can only envisage the possibilities of a democratic constitution of reality when it derives from – in solidarity and collectively – from society itself, as a form of resistance against the institutional imposition of a totalitarian version of the real. For that, it is necessary to get back to thinking that that has been decreed the unthinkable.

Democracy has to be valued as a practice, permanently instituting a political space – a space where power is legitimated by being tied to the permanence of conflicts. Especially so, when it is confronted with the psychic mechanisms that are forcefully internalised by subjects so as to attain the objective of a society totally conformed to the model of an order and irreversibly totalitarian.

What I am going to discuss here is, in short, the possibility to think democracy as a way to face reality attributing to it, collectively and with solidarity, its significations, resisting to the symbolic insignificant, that is, facing up reality in a way that is heedful and unpremeditated. In this manner, democracy appears as a production of unforeseeable significations, opened to the new and creative. I am talking about democracy as creative resistance, as unforeseeable resistance against a totalitarian order, which in turn does not admit the new in history.

Thinking democracy as the sense of a form of society that gets going to meet its becoming, constructing spaces of resistances to practices of disciplinary domination or suppression of subjectivity – it is then not difficult to understand the necessity of sustaining the symbolic production of this form of society in a reason that would not be grounded on the privileged figure of the subject, rather in that relation amongst subjects, in a communicative and open reason.

Communicative reason is committed to the non-modelled formation of subjectivity, and with spaces of resistance against the disciplining ways of production and suppression of subjectivity. The words that I pronounce meet their meaning in my bonds with others, in the relation between the conditions of production and reception of messages.

Communicative reason as surrealist reason: reason of desire. Reason as resistance to alienation.

The task of a critique of power and violence can be defined as the presentation of their relations with repressive and autonomous instances of society. The sphere of such relations is designated by the concepts of totalitarianism and democracy.

In this line of thought, totalitarianism can be exposed as the cultural instances where one forbids thinking the forbidden in order to create institutionally a subjectivity that slowly but steadily becomes evanescent. A cultural world much more concerned with the abolition of thinking than with its alienation. Men without desire who go on consuming, consuming, until they consume their own lives.

With regard to democracy, I outline its significant tendency of opposition to totalitarianism. Before such totalitarianism, democracy appears to me as the sum of all moments that resist it. I see democracy as a pragmatics of resistance, or if you prefer, dear reader, as a politics of affirmation of certain instances of autonomy. Repression and autonomy, a dyad that feedbacks into itself, imposing reciprocal limits to itself.

Hence, I am trying to avoid romantic conceptualisations, idealizing and juridifying democracy; I try to see it as a dynamic process that goes on to meet its significations, in each moment of history, with the imposition of certain limits to totalitarianism. In a more drastic way, I should say that I am suggesting to reduce the meaning of democracy to the gesture itself of imposing limits to totalitarianism.

There are no ideal meanings of democracy. There are processes of affirmation of autonomy before a cultural order that is totalitarian in a refined manner.

However, I have to warn you that I am not speaking of limits as a classical jurist. It is not the case that we need to impose limits, anchoring violence in the rules of law. I am not thinking about any type of mythic manifestation of power. I think of a new paradigm of life, where violence and power do not drift mythically towards the determination of our values and necessity.

When jurists equate, following Kelsenian thought, the State to the Law, they suppress private life, delegating absolute power to read the history of juridical norms to the bodies in charge of producing legal signification. Thus, the State acquires the monopoly of juridical memory and provokes the purification of collective memory over the past and the present of norms. Certainly, in controlling the past and the present of norms, one controls also the past and the future of society. Therefore, it turns out to be difficult to accept that democracy comes about by recognising the bodies in charge of the production of juridical significations, as the only instance apt to rewriting the history of law. A “pure” history, which is always a history engendered by desire to forgetting: norms are valid if they belong to system without memory, which in its totality is efficacious.


I consider my book “Legal Science and her Two Husbands” as the embryo of this manifesto. The centrepiece [carro-chefe, literally in Carnival’s parades: the main float] of this text was the notion of carnivalization. With that, Bahktin enriched literary critique revealing the discursive dispositives more viscerally committed to the symbolic dimensions of politics. A language without reserves, profoundly eroticised, that makes of literature a dimension of the public space. I refer to public space as a locus of collective production of desire and of significations. A locus where the exercise of social powers faces up the forces that resist it.

Carnivalization is a frame of mind, not a literary genre. It should indeed be said that it is the transgressive frame of mind that comes about, as in dreams, through force of desire, so as to provoke expressive dislocations. Since Descartes everybody knows that one cannot reconstruct any longer where an experience of deconstruction has taken place; an experience where exploration of ideas has to be performed away from consecrated places and formulas, in the marginality of genres. They constitute, consequently, strange and vibrant ways of representing the things of the world: unexpected visions burst, with their sensorial meanings [sentido], the commonplaces that, as buzzing of bees, resound in the head of many – including teachers and social scientists.

Carnival is originally a spectacle without catwalks [passarela, where today Carnival is “contained”, for instance, in Rio]. There are no separations between actors and viewers. Everyone converges, in the carnival act, exercising the plural of fantasy.

Ultimately, I am trying to claim the importance of a carnivalized language as this social space does not allow any meaning uncovered, ready for consumption, neither does it allow any subject of enunciation in the condition of judge, master [teacher-master], confessor, or consecrated interpreter of a reality that oppresses and restricts carnivalized language. Carnivalization is a practice of language’s autonomy.

The autonomy of carnivalized texts requires a ludic and eroticised relation amongst all official discourses, be they scientific, political, or poetic. In carnivalized texts, signs wear fantasies as libertarian mechanisms that displace individuals out of their usual positions amidst the social structure, projecting them toward a ludic community that is predisposed to questioning all totalising norms and stances: a symbolic break that appeals to parody and to grotesque realism in order to reveal the insensible and the absurd of instituted sensibility: a creative response to situations of social exclusion. In carnavalized texts, the convergence of numberless contradictions springs forth [se dá], extolled as the plural of sense.

Carnavalized discourses cannot be detained, they cannot be transformed in fetishes in the shelves of a library; their constitutive movement is the journey [travessia: it means in Portuguese the crossing of long distances, of giant spaces like oceans, continents, deserts; also a long, desolate or forsaken path]. The processes of their meanings constitute their product. The carnivalized text is not bound to a hierarchy, not even to a simple segmentation of styles. It always implies a certain hope for limits that find subversive force in its unclassifiable nature. The carnavalized discourse is always placed on the limit of norms, conventions and hierarchies; furthermore it is placed on the limit of rules of enunciation, legibility, and instituted rationality. There is no censorship in the journey of its senses. The carnivalization of signifying processes happens in the transgression of the limits and of instituted censorships.

We need the medieval fools and jesters so that all fears, everything that in the totalitarian culture terrorizes us, become grotesque through carnivalized ridiculing and the subversive character of the laugh [riso], the humour of the people in the public space, opposing the solemn and guilt-imposing tone of the official culture. Carnival culture permits, therefore, a vision of the world, and of the human relations that work as parodic and eroticised doubles of the official symbolic field. In a way, we are confronted with signifying doubles that free us from any dogmatism and allow us to bear, through laugh, cultural situations unsustainable for the unconscious. It is the way to make the loss bearable and epic. It is the Chinese laugh before the judgement of Jiang-Quing, it is the sense that sustains the folkloric bond the Mexicans have with death: a laugh that liberates, a laugh that sorts out in a superior level the unbearable nightmare of Thanatic fears. In the carnival vision of the world, man can laugh (subversively) at his own unhappiness.

The individual, in the carnivalized version of the world, takes on a state of erotic ecstasy that is opposed to all upholding, to all perfecting and regulation, pointing out to a future admittedly uncertain.

Carnival’s symbolic fields permit men to return to themselves, suspending alienation. Carnival senses can be attached to the medieval public space [praça pública, literally public square], where a symbolic order would be produced, result of a living, material and sensitive contact – of a contact liberated from official norms as their transformative negation. In a way, the medieval public space yielded festive moments without restrictions, symbolic moments opposed to all idea of finishing and perfection, and all idea of immutability of certainty: dynamic symbols, mutable, active, symbols impregnated with renovation, ludic consciousness, and a profound sentiment of relativity with regard to truths and authorities in power. Symbols also allow for the degradation and regeneration, through grotesque realism, of what is socially instituted as sublime so as to conceal the agonizing world. In a carnivalized universe, the birth of something new is as important as the death of the old.

In the practices of carnival communication, the game turns into real life, marking the triumph of a temporary type of autonomy: temporary deliberation of dominating truth and of instituted practices of powers. In other words, the game in the carnivalized language is opposed to all upholding, pointing out to a future necessarily incomplete and irreducibly plural.

The games of the carnivalized language do not import rules of censorship; they coincide with a liberation of symbolic energy that places us before an infinite significant of signifiers. It is a game that rejects the consumption of senses. The point is that, in fact, their signifiers are much more than the material dwelling of the signified; above all they allow the creation of the very plural of senses. Their signifiers dwell as the place of sign where the signified can be permanently emptied to make effective the infinite of sense. This infinite does not find itself referred to any idea of the ineffable, of unnamed signified, but the idea of game: the perpetual engendering of signifieds entwined by a web of signifiers in state of permanent structuring. They are organised by responding neither to an organic life of maturation, nor to a hermeneutic life of deepening, rather, according to a movement of serial counter-levelling, of variations and connotative and decentred juxtapositions, without closure. We are not before a discourse with several meanings, we are before a semiologic territory where the very plural of senses actualises itself: the Barthian text. According to my reading of Barthes, I would say that the plural of a text has not effectively to do with the ambiguity of meaning, but with that that we could call the irreducible multiple, that is, the totality of a semiotic field appreciated splendidly in its broad polyphony, in its exclusive intertextuality. Thus, before a text, in order to share it, we need to experience/taste it in a work, incorporating it to the game that it proposes, but never feel it as an object of consumption.

Placing myself before dominant legal conceptions, I would like to say that the legal section of the discourse of order grounds the power of its enunciating discourses and its corroborating truths in a monologic and fictitiously legible discourse. [The legal section of the discourse of order] ultimately disguises the primitively carnivalized nature of the discourse of the law. They are always denied texts to protect a coercive force. Before the law, it is necessary to conceal the irreducible multiple of the senses that actualise law in an endless intertextuality. Exclusively a legible discourse can speak in the name of repression and the dispositives of submission. The fictitiously legible character is used to justify the legal exercise of power and the power of police of the knowledge of the law.

Silent voices of this manifesto

Alaugnier – Aragon – Artaud – Bachelard – Bahktin – Barthes – Bastos Pêpe – Baudrillard – Bataille – Benjamin – Borges – Bréton – Cademartori – Castoriadis – Chaplin – Cortazar – Dali – Da Matta – Dostoyevsky – Eco – Foucault – Freud – Guattari – Kristeva – Lacan – Lautréamont – Lefort – Legendre – Lyotard – Morin – Orwell – Paz – Picasso – Rouanet – Woody Allen.

Translated by Pablo S. Ghetti from the Portuguese original: Luís Alberto Warat, Manifesto do Surrealismo Jurídico (São Paulo: Acadêmica, 1988). The choice for ‘manifesto of’ rather than the more current ‘manifesto for’ has been made to safeguard the original ambiguity of the genitive. This means not only that a Manifesto was written by Warat for the sake of legal surrealism, but it also means that legal surrealism manifests itself in the text. Note, moreover, that some oddities in this translation reflect oddities in the Portuguese original, and some of them reflect the oddity of the work of translation itself. This translation owes much to discussions and meetings organized by the Latin American Studies reading group at Birkbeck, University of London, School of Law (many thanks to all who took part in it). Finally, this awkward translation would have been unreadable without Victoria Ridler’s brave and careful copy-editing.


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