Thursday, April 26, 2007

Not of This World - Part 1

Dreams, nightmares. Tomato, toh-maht-oh. Surreal or absurd? Try looking for a decent definition of 'Surrealism' in the dictionary of your choice and it doesn't really do the experience justice. Defining the term 'surreal' is usually the task of somebody who doesn't have a day job, but let me venture a comparison or two...

Absurd – A guy standing on a window ledge dressed as a toddler and singing Stomping Tom Connors’ ‘The Hockey Song’ in Portuguese.

SurrealUn Chien Andalou, featuring a distressed young man trying to get up a diabolically steep staircase while dragging a dismembered grand piano that’s stuffed with dead donkeys. Yeah, it's no (singing) "Oh! o jogo velho bom do hockey, é o mais melhor jogo que você pode nomear…" but it's far more respectable in some circles.

Absurd- This; Self explanatory. An interesting monster needs an interesting hairdo. Bobby pins please.

Surreal- This; A portrayal of the last moments at Jonestown with unconventional subjects. I'd add 'tasteless' to the description, but I was unnerved by the picture far more than I resented the artist for riffing off of a horrible event.

Surrealism to me has always implied a disconnect with reality more than a disruption of reality. A surreal event isn't necessarily outrageous, it is simply (or drastically) something out of place. It jars the rest of your senses enough that you can't quite process what's in front of you.

I once tried to explain the difference between the surreal and the absurd by using the example of a guy in an obviously fake gorilla costume addressing the House of Commons. If he laid on the chest-pounding gorilla schtick and the MPs shouted "Cor! A gorilla!" and looked uncomfortable, that's absurd. But if the aformentioned gorilla-suited dude was treated without deference and gave an eloquent defense of the Fishing and Hunting act as applied to northern Saskatchewan, that's surreal (this example doesn't work much better here than it did when I was unwise enough to opine it the first time, but maybe it's putting us all on the same track).

My wife disagrees with the gorilla in the house of commons (as many of us would, really). She suggests that if you were at home watching TV and there was a fire engine on the screen with a screaming siren, and if a fire truck was driving past your house at the same moment with its siren screaming, and the phone rang just then and when you picked it up you heard a siren, that would be surreal.

If the dude driving the fire engine was in a gorilla suit, that would be absurd.

This leads us to night terrors and nightmares. A bit later.


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