Making of The Doors: The Influence of Surrealism

The concept of using art to get in touch with the subconscious excited Jim. To understand his lyrical and poetic imagery on the first album it is necessary to grasp at least the basic principles of surrealist art. Loosely described, surrealism, which rejects traditional values and beliefs, attempts to express the subconscious mind by presenting images in a random rather than ordered path. The idea is that by avoiding traditional concepts of order, the surrealist allows his subconscious to flow free through his art. But the surrealists carry it much further than that as C.W. Mills describes in Surrealism in Art:

'The objective of surrealism was infinite expansion of reality as a substitute for the previously accepted dichotomy between the "real" and the "imaginary".

"Acknowledging the human need for metaphysical release, the surrealist believed that through the exploration of the psyche, through the cultivation of the miracles of objective chance, through the mystique of eroticism, through the diverting of objects from their familiar functions in surroundings, through a more cosmic perspective of life on this earth and finally through the alchemy of language that would learn to express this more dynamic reality, man might be able to satisfy his thirst for the absolute within the confines of his counted number of heartbeats."

The disorder of surrealism is only on a superficial level. The true surrealist attempts to get in touch with what they consider the ultimate order contained within their subconscious. It is the seeking of order through disorder or reality through illusion. The surrealists believed that creating without a conscious order allowed the subconscious to dominate.

The surrealist assumes that art which flows directly from the subconscious must be of a higher, more spiritual order. He believes that the subconscious is divinely inspired and therefore any art developed by the thoughts of mere man would have to be inferior to those of the subconscious. The idea of combining the poet with an oracle goes way back. There is evidence that the chants of the cave dwellers were poetic in nature and often brought on by sensory deprivation and natural hallucinogens. In the primitive tribes it was the poet-oracle who rose to the position of power and authority. He deciphered the spirit world and directed the tribe through conjuring and the interpretation of myths.

This concept was embraced by Arthur Rimbaud, the precocious Nineteenth Century poet whose life as a poet was over by the time he was nineteen. One of Jim Morrison's biggest influences, Jim liked Rimbaud as much for his theories about the art of poetry as for his poems. In 1871, at the age of 16, Rimbaud wrote a letter to a fellow French poet that contained this passage:

"The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, vast and reasoned derangement of the senses - every form of love, of suffering, of madness."

Rimbaud took the tribal concepts a step further. More than seeking the logical through the illogical, for Rimbaud it was the pursuit of sanity through insanity.

Historically, the rise of the surrealistic movement paralleled the rejection of traditional values and beliefs. As the power of the great religions waned, more new visions of spiritual evolvement were conjured through a mystical mix of poetry, art, and the occult. For many surrealists, what began as a more objective approach to life often wound up more steeped in ritual and dogma than the religions they rebelled against. Jim Morrison said that each generation wants new symbols to divorce themselves from the preceding generation and he seems to have been right.

Today, these theories are often embraced by those who feel unfulfilled with the prevailing religion of their era and locale. Often, when one becomes dissatisfied with his faith, he or she might reject the idea of a personal God for that of a mystical force. Instead of seeking a new approach to God or a better religion, whatever teachings the devoté has had are thrown out in favor of more stimulating rites of passage. It is safe to say that the young Jim Morrison made this transition. While some may see this as a cosmic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, he saw it as an inspiring new frontier of spiritual awareness.

Socrates taught too that poets had to be out of their minds to be truly divinely inspired. This would seem to indicate a God more of chaos than of order since His inspiration can come only through confusion. The surrealist sees man as being so bound by convention and conditioning that his only hope for true revelation is by altering his state in any way possible, especially the derangement of the senses. To define a man's place in the cosmos through words, poems and stories, the surrealist believes man has to totally lose himself in the process.

While some surrealists believe these practices put them in touch with something akin to God, there are others who believe that such intentional altering of the senses evokes demonic spiritual entities and that it is these entities that serve as the poet's muse. If this were the case, then the Surrealist's path to truth does not lead to truth, but to more lies.

In 1966 and 1967, Jim Morrison used LSD to take his journeys to what the Surrealists call the frontiers of divine madness. The mystical visions and omens Morrison experienced in this condition were the soul and depth of his lyrics and poems, and many of them were clear and compelling, a montage of symbolic mythological images. Sometimes, what he claimed to have seen was horrible, and he admitted that the blatant terror and nightmarish feelings he experienced could not be captured in words.

There is little doubt that Jim Morrison was on a spiritual quest, with many valid reasons to question and even attack the status quo of his time. But his philosophy allowed his great intellect and wonderful gift for communication to become lost in a sea of anger, confusion and self-abuse. Whatever one can say about surrealism and Morrison's method toward revelation, the truth is that, through him, surrealism influenced millions of others, and that it ultimately destroyed him.

[edited excerpts from Break On Through, with additional material]

Copyright 2003 by Riordan/Prochnicky &

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