How often have we described something a bit odd as “surreal”? Usually, in bringing up that word, we are struck by a setting where the parts are seldom seen together. For instance, the recent film, Melancholia, sends us the following scene.

The factor of Surrealism is very much with us in the twenty-first century. Those with an Art History bent will tell us that French polemical writer, Andre Breton, put together a coterie of artists (many of whom were very fond of the hijinks of Dadaism) fascinated by the early twentieth century phenomenon of the “unconscious.” Being a Marxist enemy of bourgeois sedateness, he looked forward to whipping his colleagues into a troupe of scary Bolsheviks. But, too bad for Breton, there was in his catchment a guy named Dali—Salvidor Dali— who could think of more exciting and lucrative things to do with the unconscious than spook a few bankers. (He was rather rudely referred to as “Salvidor Dollars,” by the more antiseptic of his acquaintances.) Dali, and a big swatch of the group looking into the frontiers of consciousness, gravitated to fashion and interior and industrial design (over and above such metiers as painting, which, in this vein, became the prototype of that celebrity cheekiness well known up to the present day).

So the 1920’s and 1930’s came to be highlighted by quirky and often rather dark manifestations, regularly making their way into fashion publications.

After that, the Surrealist affair with a new twist upon sensibility ceased to grab mass market attention; but that affair, having a coinciding thrust in other fields like philosophy and science, is far from over. The “Surreal” in the sense of “more real” courses through our time, perhaps nowhere more vividly than in a long stream of startling movies.

This is a subject I want to return to frequently, and I hope some of you will chip in with your thoughts.


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