Jon Michael Galindo

~ writing, programming, art ~

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8 September 2015

Almost Surreal

Surreal writing evokes a dreamlike sense of wonder when mastered and pitiful confusion otherwise. Unfortunately, its principles resist systematization: No one can teach you how to master surrealism. Never fear! Allegory can imitate surrealism and all its effects.

Surrealism suffers from, in my estimation, ignominious origins. Nevertheless, its unfettered stream of consciousness produces enchanting results; although, more often then not, it produces rubbish. I have used surrealism to produce pieces which I considered beautiful. Surprisingly, others found the work confusing, and as my mind continued to develop I lost my capacity to understand or enjoy the surreal pieces I had produced.

Surrealism flows from the unconscious mind. As such, when an artist reads what his surrealism has produced, it resonates deeply: It captivates. Unfortunately, because our hidden psyches are the antithesis of universality, the story similarly lacks universal appeal. Others cannot enjoy it. There are, it seems, some minds naturally predisposed to universality. Their surreal writings impact the reader. I have no such capacity.

Instead of attempting surrealism, I would like you to consider surreal-esque allegory.

While aiding surrealism’s birth, Freud shocked sensibilities with his notions of symbolism, but the truth is that symbolism is the single, fundamental principle of communication. I don’t mean that Freud said nothing new, I mean that his obsession with indecency fell short of a broader, simpler understanding of symbolism. Surrealism’s inherent symbolism makes allegory its perfect counterpart.

Consider that, in writing, anything may symbolize anything. A good allegory will make its symbolism clear, so that the reader may appreciate the story behind the story; but, this need not imply a realistic story. In fact, the result may be simply surreal.

The idea here is that an author will use symbols in a consistent, understandable way. When those symbols themselves defy reason, the result resembles both the structure and impact of surrealism.

The formula is simple: Choose a set of easily recognized, diverse symbols, and craft them matter-of-factly into a story. Rely heavily on anthropomorphization and mechanism.

For example, a traveller might represent humanity and his destination represent the human ideal of perfection. The symbolism is simple enough.

A traveller would logically journey toward a city or some geographical feature, so instead use an alternate, easily recognized symbol of perfection: the sun. A traveler is walking to the sun.

I mentioned anthropomorphization. As well-known symbols for vice and destiny you might elect, respectively, a gun and the road beneath his feet. Here, anthropomorphize. Allow the gun and the road to speak and to interfere in the traveler’s journey. (Their roles will, of course, depend on your personal interpretations of vice and destiny.) They may speak using words or actions, and their motivations may be notably inhuman: for example, the gun may simply want to fire itself at every occasion; the possibilities are, of course, infinite.

I also mentioned mechanism, which might sound peculiar. What I mean is that unusual mechanisms may represent the conditions of the soul. Perhaps the gun has been installed using shafts, gears, or wires into the traveler’s heart. Do not explain the reasons behind the mechanism, simply use it. He cannot abandon the weapon. If he fails to wind the gun, will his heart stop? If he fires it, will the repercussion kill him? Does he know? Is he wrong? Or, you might mechanize the road, (without, of course, abandoning its anthropomorphization), by making it a series of train tracks high above the water, (or inescapable by some other means). At times the track runs straight, at times it branches, and at times it shifts by the act of gears whose operation and intent you need not explain. Use mechanism.

This allegory remains simple, but it has quickly developed the wonderful peculiarity of surrealism. A lonely traveler, his heart dialed into a capricious weapon, walks an interminable, desolate journey across mysterious train tracks, trying to reach the sun. Just don’t stop there.

Every scene must employ allegory. If you want to talk about hope, perhaps have him meet an anthropomorphized dove. If you need an enemy, why not a dragon or a businessman in a helicopter? Will he encounter an ethical dilemma? Have him judge between two warring entities, using suitably absurd yet recognizable symbols. Reject subtlety. It is overrated, and the subconscious does not intentionally generate it. Have, for example, an American flag fighting. Make it clear but bizarre; the subtlety will see to itself.

The key to imitating surrealism is purity: Do not allow your story to degenerate into science fiction. Do not explain the mechanisms in excessive detail, (unless the components are themselves symbolic); do not spend long paragraphs describing realistic scenery, (although, please, use symbols in crafting the environment); do not put long, realistic speeches in your character’s words or thoughts, but let dialogue be equally symbolic: understandable but strange. Above all, do not meander. Use a universal storyline; use climax and denouement. Tell a story that progresses through beginning, middle, and end, to which all analogies and symbols are subservient.

In the end, no one will really understand everything you intended by the symbols. That is not the point. Rather, you will have crafted a comprehensible story of universal appeal which possesses all the bizarre, essence-of-dream qualities of surrealism. The result may genuinely be called surreal; and then, congratulations! You have successfully counterfeited surrealism.

© Jon Michael Galindo 2015