Marcel Mariën

  • 2016-03-01
  • Public Seminar

Marcel Mariën (1920-1993) is not the best known of the surrealists – it doesn’t help that he was Belgian. But he has a few claims on our attention. For one, he invented his own version of what is now called object oriented ontology in 1944. For another, he had a theory of the society of the spectacle that pre-dates Debord’s by nearly a decade. And for a third, he was a fine aphorist in the style of Lautréamont.

Mariën had a colorful life. From a working class family, he left school at fifteen to become an apprentice photographer, but after discovering René Magritte, became instead an apprentice to the Belgian Surrealists. Briefly a prisoner of war, he claimed to have spent the remainder of the war years smuggling forged paintings between Brussels and Paris. He had a variety of odd jobs, not all of them legal, including a stint at sea in 1951. At least according to his autobiography, Le Radeau de la mémoire (1983) it was a hell of a life.

He started Les lèvres nues (The Naked Lips) in 1954 while working as a typist in a refinery, as a way to look busy at work and to use pilfered office supplies. Among other things, it reignited the radical spirit of surrealism, which many thought had expired into mere artworld professionalism. The first issue had Paul Nougé declare “It is unthinkable for us to consider literary activity as worthy of occupying our entire lives.” The second issue included Louis Scutinaire’s slogan “You sleep for the boss,” later to become graffiti written on the walls of dormitory suburbs by the Situationists.