What do you mean when you say Surreal?

The other day I noticed an ad for a collection of short stories about the pandemic. According to the blurb on the cover of The Decameron Project, “When reality is surreal, only fiction can make sense of it.” That made me think of how often I’ve used the word “surreal” since the pandemic started.

The Jungle (La Jungla)
Wifredo Lam

When I say something is surreal, what I mean is that it’s unbelievable. Or strange.

But I began to wonder about what the word actually means. In the deepest sense. So I popped over to the Museum of Modern Art. Everything you’d ever want to know about surrealism is explained there, and I was intrigued by the definition. Influenced by the writings of psychologist Sigmund Freud, the literary, intellectual, and artistic movement called Surrealism sought a revolution against the constraints of the rational mind; and by extension, the rules of a society they saw as oppressive. 

Our country has spent a lot of time over the last year discussing the rules of our society, and what they mean, and who they apply to. It’s our job as mystery writers to push people to the breaking point, and see how they respond when a rule stands in their way. Perhaps our job is to explore the meaning of order.

It’s a lot to think about, especially since I was up late last night teaching. In fact, it’s surreal. 

What do you mean when you say surreal? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


One comment

  1. I mean it’s dreamlike, where events simultaneously don’t make sense and seem to have a deep and invisible meaning. I was always a huge fan of surrealism. I studied it, and still have Andre Breton on my bookshelf. For a long time Dali was my hero. Out of the surrealists he might have been the most apt and brilliant because his work came from a very twisted and underexplored psyche. I find the best writing happens when I can get to that subliminal state. So… yay for surrealism! Tear down the museums! (Says the surrealist manifesto)

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