Archive for June 11, 2009

Bizarro vs. Surrealism

Posted in Writing Related on June 11, 2009 by carltonmellick

Rich Ristow asked me this question last week:

What separates Bizarro from run-of-the-mill new surrealism? Or, the difference between bizarro and the older, more “classical” sense of surrealism?

I’ll start with classical surrealism. While classical surrealism seems weird, it is not bizarro at all. Classical surrealism was all about examining the subconscious human mind. Through the process of automatic writing, the early surrealists would just let language flow out of them at random. Andre Breton, who started the surrealist movement, was a Freudian psychiatrist who studied the subconsciousness of his patients during WWI. He believed that automatic writing was the purest way to study the subconscious. He turned this into an artform. A lot of early surrealism read like dreams.

While bizarro can be considered dream-like at times, it is not like surrealism. Bizarro is the genre of the weird. Dreams and the subconscious are not weird. They are incredibly common. Weirdness caused through dreams, insanity, or drug trips cannot be bizarro because those things are far too normal. Other differences between bizarro and classical surrealism is that the surrealists were politically motivated and took themselves far too seriously. If a writer didn’t share the same political views as Breton he wouldn’t let that writer get involved with the movement. In other words, he was a complete douchebag.

New surrealism is harder to define. There’s no new surrealist manifesto, there’s no new surrealist movement, and most people who are considered new surrealists never use the term “surrealism” to describe their work. There is actually a lot of confusion over what surrealism is these days. Some people think that all surrealism is just the old style of surrealism, some people think that anything that takes place outside of reality is surrealism (including sci-fi/fantasy), some people think that surrealism is just weird fiction. Personally, I think if anybody is writing surrealism these days they need to get rid of the “ism” part unless they are doing automatic writing or a Breton tribute. Just call it surreal fiction. Or better yet, call it irreal fiction. Very few people know about the term irrealism, but what most people are calling surrealism these days is actually irrealism…which can be defined as “a style that features an estrangement from our generally accepted sense of reality.” I would put Russell Edson in the category of irrealism.

Irrealism is definitely weird. Bizarro is the genre of the weird. So bizarro does include the irreal, (a lot of bizarro is irreal). But bizarro cannot include surrealism… because dreams/subconscious are not weird. Also, bizarro is mostly about weird plots and weird characters, and the automatic writing of surrealism has no plots or characters (unless by accident) so it cannot be bizarro.