Direct action surrealism in Chicago
in Surrealist sabotage and the war on work
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Chapter 4, ‘Direct action surrealism in Chicago’, contends that surrealism’s war on work is only fully understandable when considered in light of the labour activism, cultural sabotage and protest, and theoretical inquiries carried out by the Chicago surrealists during the 1960s and 1970s. The first section, ‘“Incendiary time bomb”: The Rebel Worker (1964–66)’, employs extensive archival and fieldwork research and applies social movement theory to argue that the Chicago surrealists pioneered a form of direct-action cultural practice. Surrealist aesthetics were compared to union theories and practices of workplace sabotage and strike in their mimeographed underground press publication, The Rebel Worker. Providing a history of the journal’s founding and an overview of its sabotage theories, the first section shows how this organ spoke to the concerns of the surrealist international even while it identified as an Industrial Workers of the World union publication. For the Chicago surrealists once they officially formed in 1966, the struggle for workers’ rights, with deep foundations in the Chicago labour movement, was fully synchronous with surrealism’s call for the abolition of work and the right to be lazy. The final two sections explore how Chicago surrealism conceptualised direct action artistically and rhetorically. The discussion begins with a discussion of artworks from 1968 by the Chicago surrealist and labour activist Robert Green, which are constructed with ‘sabotaged’ machines. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the Chicago surrealists’ encounter with Herbert Marcuse at the 1971 TELOS conference in Buffalo, New York.

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