Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 30 August 2015


The Surreal

So I close my eyes:
the beautiful twins that
watch you undress –
in the dark, naked shadows
swim to enfold you.

(For F.)

23 October 1983

Naked-Woman-ShadowThe word 'surrealist' was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire and first appeared in the preface to his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, which was written in 1903 and first performed in 1917. It used to be best known as the name of an art movement which began in the 1920s but I doubt that’s the case these days. It’s become the default synonym for anything that in the sixties they’d probably have called ‘trippy’. Nothing’s unreal any more; it’s surreal. I personally think the word’s overused. In all my poetry this is its one and only occurrence. It appears once in my latest novel:

Phoebe was the first of my family to visit after I reappeared. Ten minutes after learning I was safe she was in her car and three and a half hours later she was hanging round my neck and sobbing as if it was going out of fashion. That was surreal. She’s married and lives in Cleveland with her husband, Terence, twin boys, John and Michael and a grey hamster they named Eric for a giggle only it stuck.

It’s probably not the best word but I’d used ‘weird’ six times, ‘odd’ twenty-two times, ‘strange’ thirty times and so on. I have a pretty decent vocabulary but English doesn’t have nearly enough words for me. Earlier on the narrator makes the following observation:

He lived on the first floor but that did little to allay his fear of being burgled. Was burglaphobia a real word? He would have to look it up. If it wasn’t it ought to be. There should be a word for everything.

And later:

[T]here should be a collective noun for a group of writers: a solitude of authors. It makes as much sense as a bouquet of pheasants.

And again:

Someone should coin a word for screwed up balls of paper. It’s the sort of thing in this life that deserves to have a word to describe it.

I can see why I used the word ‘surreal’ in my poem—I am describing a fantasy and the poem has a dreamlike quality—but I still think I could’ve picked a better title. As for the beauty of my eyes this is probably the only time in my life I’ve ever described myself or any part of me as handsome, good-looking, comely or even pulchritudinous. For the record they’re green with orange flecks and I don’t hate them.

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