You say surrealism, I say licorice fish pancake milk

Just some random thoughts (since I can’t sleep though I know I should) re: surrealism, symbolism, magical realism, how they exist now as marketing categories/genres/sub-genres rather than reflections of their actuality, and how both apply psuedo-freudian and psuedo-jungian concepts to their own metatextual ends….

Like, for example- when a magazine asks for surrealism, what do they mean? Some provide dictionary definitions. Which is not only crass and cheesy and the hokey opening to a million high school essays, but it also dodges the question, it tries to shut down conversation rather than expanding. Because really, it is a serious question with serious ramifications. The same with applying magical realism and Magical Realism to this whole broad spectrum of things.

I think what it boils down to is this: both Surrealism and Magical Realism started as tools of criticism. Surrealism was criticizing the world itself, Magical Realism was a tool devised by critics. Both were created in specific points in time, to talk about very specific things.

But at some point, those people who write genre came along and tried to broaden these ideas, tried to make them not tools of criticism, but instead tools of marketing. I mean- really, that’s all genre categories are in literature, they are marketing categories. If you like X, you will like Y!

Of course these categories are just tools as well. I’m not trying to say that things labelled with magical realism or surrealism as a marketing category is a lesser thing. I’m not. I’m more dissembling the categories themselves- I think they are basic appropriations of other cultures, of other time periods, of other thoughts and movements, and trying to boil them down to formula, in order to sell things unrelated to the original idea.

The original concept was stripped from these categories- and instead, the words exist only as basic symbols for strangeness.  The original surrealist movement was about deconstructing reality through attacks on psuedo freudian psychology. They thought they were disrupting the mind by short circuiting it- they used symbols and symbolism to a very specific disorientation, and in their concept a way of freeing the mind from the shackles of ideology. (Burroughs is probably the person who introduced this concept into genre fiction itself- esp influencing the New Wave writers)

The modern works that carry these labels seems more interested in Jungian symbolism and archetypes, and giving things a dream like strangeness. Not to free the shackles of the mind from industry and art per se, but rather as a way of communicating with some symbolic architecture of the mind. It becomes a conversation, rather than a violent overthrow.

Not that this is a bad thing, but it is muddling the original concepts and it creates confusion rather than clarification. The new writing is symbolic, is dreamlike, yes. But is it surrealism? Is it magical realism? The answer would be no, if you looked at it from a critical literary eye, and only a yes answer when you applied the recent marketing category/genre to it.


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