noun: surrealism

  1. a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

Thank you Google dictionary.

Surreal – ‘sur’ means ‘above; ‘real’ refers to reality as we know it. So ‘surreal’ is above real life, or something that takes reality and stretches it to the sublime.

Surrealism is a major movement in the arts, and sometimes by taking reality and distorting it, the harsh truth is exposed in a way that the façade of banal real life hides. You could argue that early 20th century surrealism is now reflected in contemporary postmodernism, and had roots in early impressionistic artists.

So surreal is a little more than Salvador Dali paintings of beans and fragmented body parts. (Hint, he often commented on the horrors of war, as well as the depths of the unconscious mind.)

I take issue with the Google dictionary’s definition of surrealism as involving the irrational juxtaposition of images; artists will play with imagery, and combine images in unsettling ways, but there in an intention behind the juxtaposition and often implicit meaning underlying the combination of images.

Think good ol’ semantics – sign, signifier, icon, image.

Images and ideas all have culturally significant meanings, and connect to broader concepts in popular culture.

Picture a typical Hollywood actress juxtaposed with an image of Barbie. Put ‘em side by side in the same frame. Both may be pretty to look at, but underlying associations connote an artificial plasticity to both.

Actress = Barbie, Barbie =Actress – and BOOM! we connect the two to create something beyond either image alone. The actress is implied as being fake, plastic, and a totally artificial creation.

So what the heck does this have to do with writing?

Every English student knows a text has meaning beyond the print. And classic horror (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein comes to mind) is about more than just a monster. It’s about modern society, and man’s place in it, and our relationship with nature.

Where am I going with this?

Well, for me, contemporary horror, fantasy, and sci-fi (to lump them all together under the realm of something else, or an intentional distortion of reality)are very different from traditional fiction – where the writer is trying to create a realistic world and characters to immerse the reader in a realistic version of our world as we know it. Contemporary horror, fantasy, and sci-fi are deliberately so far removed from reality, that like my beloved marginalized characters, it serves as a commentary on the very thing it’s removed from.

For fiction, like visual art, a surreal element shows up parts of ourselves we’d rather not see, and holds up the ugly truth for us to inspect and embrace.

Sure, we can escape into alternate realities, and play in the land of the imagination. But sometimes, for fans of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, there is a sublime truth and beauty in the darkness.

And that’s what keeps me here.