The surrealists believed in the power of randomness to invoke the muse. Automatic writing can clear the detritus built up on the brain after weeks of editing as much as a (I’m hoping) War of the Apes will. It’s also a channel to new (sometimes ancient) ideas uncomplicated by the burden of conscious thought. And it really works!
Case in point, the other day I was trying to come up with a good name of an occult group featured in my new novel Black Magick. Standard “thinking,” plus silly internet searches were getting me nowhere. So I turned to the Surrealists, those tricksters, for direction. One of my favorite Surrealist games is Exquisite Corpse (played by many bored note-passing school kids) a kind of ad-lib in which one artist randomly adds to what another artist has started. For mind-blowing examples, check out the Chapman brothers.
I was looking for a name and was coming up dry, so I grabbed a book (I suppose I cheated a little because it was a history book). I opened it to a random page, and something truly weird happened. Without thinking (that’s the point) my eyes closed and my finger began to move like the planchette on a Ouija board (also favored by the surrealists) until it landed on a spot and refused to move. I opened my eyes and beheld in bold letters the word afterlife on the first page of a chapter on ancient Egypt: the start of any serious occult study. A bit obvious, yes, but my automatic exercise in randomness helped to put me in the exact point of entrance I needed to take, to eschew lazy internet searches and dig into primary texts. I’m still digging, but I am confident I will find the perfect name for my occult group, or perhaps keep it half shrouded in mystery. We shall see…
I believe in the power of randomness and channeling, especially when it comes to poetry. Ginsberg famously advised: follow your inner moonlight. I channeled my most recent poem after obsessively repeating the word obsidian over and over again while looking at obelisks at my local graveyard (I know that sounds weird). Obsidian reminded me of Shelley’s great poem Ozymandias. I revisited it and meditated on it and used its structure as a base for my own humble offering.
Although self-expression in the name of art has led to some pretty awful outpourings (just because I felt it doesn’t make it good), it’s a useful tool for cutting through the muck and getting to the heart of the matter.