Is a surreal poem an original experience or does it refer to and re-create an experience prior and external to itself? Reading the poems published here, I'm often accosted by this question.
That’s an awesome question. I believe the ambiguity of these two possibilities (orginal/internal/intrinsic versus referential/external/extrinsic) was intentional because the Surrealists made it their mission to abolish the illusory dichotomy of inner/outer, etc.
Original/intrinsic. Surrealism has been assimilated into modernist and postmodernist poetics primary as an original experience; that is, as an experience generated in and unique to the text. This is perhaps best captured by the alchemical model for surrealist poetics. Gregory Corso was particularly fond of Percy B. Shelley, for instance, whose alchemical approach to language sounded to him very much like the surrealists. In this model, language is an objective thing that the poet manipulates like a laboratory researcher, and when the poet gets the right arrangement or combination of objects: Voilá! a magic spark flies, or a sudden transformation occurs, turning base elements into gold. Certainly this is not inconsistent with the Surrealists’ theories of radical juxtaposition and contradiction. Here, each word, phrase or image created by a poem (automatically generated or otherwise) is unique, and the results (because of the element of chance) are unpredictable and original. This transformative manipulation of language elevates our understanding of the world and helps turn ugliness and chaos into beauty.
Referential/extrinsic. But there is another way side to the story. Surrealism’s Hegelian loyalties suggest a metaphysical monism that proclaims underlying unity to all things. Ultimately cohering to a preternatural or supernatural or teleological reality (about which the Surrealists declined to speculate), the world and all things in it are interconnected and thus correlate and interpenetrate according to this hidden, deeper reality. Thus, the jarring, seemingly contradictory relationships of ideas and things in surrealists texts are presumed to gain their marvelous quality because they point to this deeper reality. That is to say, rather than seeming merely bizarre and irrational, surreal images are also beautiful because the ultimate order of things is not merely rational (in fact most Surrealists would say it is fundamentally irrational, anarchistic, and erotic). All things are analogous to each other because they correlate in a part-to-whole unity that is only differentiated through arbitrary divisions (rationality). This “metaphysical” side of surrealism is indicated by the “One in the Other” game and the concept of Objective Chance. In the One in the Other game, any object can be contained by any other object—“The raisins inside the water bottle inside the book inside the crumbled napkin inside the baroque music”—revealing a plane of interconnection. The concept of Objective Chance says that accidental encounters with ordinary, everyday objects can be marvelous and meaningful simply because they reveal a principle of chance (extrinsic to us) operating in the world. Found Objects (and the whole array of artistic prompts that obtain from this tradition) engage this aspect.
Again, the Surrealists hoped their poetics would dissolve the apparent difference between these approaches. It is intentionally unclear whether chance, difference, beauty, etc. are constructs in consciousness or in reality itself. And so they might have answered that your question betrays and assumes a dualism that they believed was illusory and inhibiting. :-)