“The surrealists believed that objects in the world possess a certain but unspecifiable intensity that had been dulled by everyday use and utility. They meant to reanimate this dormant intensity, to bring their minds once again into close contact with the matter that made up their world. André Breton’s maxim “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” is an expression of the belief that simply placing objects in an unexpected context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities.
This “crisis” the surrealists identified was being simultaneously diagnosed by others. Martin Heidegger held that the essence of modernity was found in a certain technological orientation he called “enframing.” This tendency encourages us to see the objects in our world only in terms of how they can serve us or be used by us. The task he identified was to find ways to resituate ourselves vis-à-vis these “objects,” so that we may see them as “things” pulled into relief against the ground of their functionality. Heidegger believed that art had the great potential to reveal the “thingness” of objects.
The surrealists understood that photography and cinema could carry out this reanimating process automatically; the process of framing objects in a lens was often enough to create the charge they sought. Describing the effect, Walter Benjamin drew a comparison between the photographic apparatus and Freud’s psychoanalytic methods. Just as Freud’s theories “isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception,” the photographic apparatus focuses on “hidden details of familiar objects,” revealing “entirely new structural formations of the subject.”
Jonathan Lethem in The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism, published in Harper’s magazine. Worth reading!!