The Surreal Reality: An Escapist Point of View

Olga Mexina

Apr 04, 2012

Sitting in the circle of his letters in the grove that rustles with scorn and error, the heart blowing like a scrap of paper through the inhospitable passageways. -Tomas Tranströmer, from Gogol
I create worlds. Probably not very successfully yet, and I might never become an abstract perfection anyway. Maybe all I want is to create a world so real I could live there, a modern day Alice. A long time ago it seemed that the safest way to create these worlds is on paper. It also seemed that on paper I could create as many worlds as I wanted to, as opposed to 'real' life, where supposedly you can do only one thing at a time, choose only one direction. Unless you are drinking, but that's another story. In my own writing I try to understand this world by looking at it through a distorted lens, hoping that it shows the world not as we see it, but as it actually is. We see only one layer at a time and our brain constantly rationalizes our perception, trying to make sense out of everything, while the world is unfathomable and multilayered, like the works of Tomas Tranströmer. Reality at its best is what we call 'surreal', although I don't really like this label. Through juxtapositions of 'real' and 'surreal' Transtromer manages to authentically recreate the many struggles inherent in the human condition:
There's so much we must be witness to. Reality wears us so thin but here is summer at last: a large airport - the controller brings down planeload after planeload of frozen people from outer space. -From Summer Meadow
With the first line of the poem Tranströmer establishes the speaker as the observer and 'namer' of life and things that comprise it, while also softly reminding us that participation can be risky and painful. In a sense, he locates the audience without naming a place, and yet I know exactly where I am, in the middle of this thing called 'life'. It is interesting to note here how allusions to reality invoke the 'surreal' nature of life and vice versa, so the logic of reality 'wearing us thin', and the summer saving us does not seem farfetched or artificially constructed. Summer becomes a metaphor for happiness, escape and redemption; summer becomes the surreal world we escape to in order to grow back some skin, in order not to become invisible from being 'worn so thin'. There might not be a better way to describe the unnatural quality of flying in the sky in a huge metal construction than 'being frozen in the outer space'. Does that describe the reality? Not accurately I guess. But it does describe the reality of my experience. Of course, when I am on the plane I am not really frozen in the outer space. Really, I am flying on an airplane, which, according to Wikipedia, is 'a powered fixed-wing aircraft that is propelled forward by thrust from a jet engine or propeller'. Does that describe the reality? I guess. But it has nothing to do with human condition or the way I feel in that 'fixed-wing aircraft'. Observing the world through a surreal lens might be the only way to accurately see it and assess how we feel in it. It is also a way to escape the constraints and the tedium, the immense boredom and the sadness that comes with it:
It feels as if my five senses were linked to another creature which moves stubbornly as the brightly clad runners in a stadium where the darkness streams down. -From A Few Minutes
Isn't this how we feel in the world? So alive, so aware, so connected and yet so disconnected from 'another creature'? The juxtaposition of the surreal description of the five senses being 'linked' to another creature with the concrete reality of 'brightly clad runners in a stadium' locates the audience in an unmistakable 'reality' where the concrete stubbornly 'real' things collide with our emotional and mental worlds, which are most of the time (at least for me) far from stable and rational. And even though I don't really know what the darkness that 'streams down' is exactly, I do know what it is, because I feel it every day, being caught up in my five senses. The most successful representation of reality can be achieved only through layering of 'surreal' and 'real' as it reflects the substance of our life. This is what compels me the most in poetry; it's ability to describe what cannot be described. At its best at least.