Surrealpolitik: Interview by Reihan Salam

Author: Jonathan Lethem

New York: (2014)

Quick Summary

Lethem talks about the social and political context of Dissident Gardens, and also addresses the role of "trippy" or surrealist elements in his work.


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[On why science fiction or fantastic-ness so often fails to deliver on its unlimited promise]
Well, it's hard. It's hard to live up to that promise, as it is in surrealist painting, ninety percent of which is like a little trompe l'oeil trick or something, and then every now and then you really are Max Ernst will make, or Dick Errico (?) makes an image that does take you to another experience. Those are hard materials, hard methods to maximize...When I've worked without those obvious [unreal] gestures, and I did it a number of times, I mean Motherless Brooklyn is the first time in some ways, but the Tourette's, the neurological trippiness of the language to me was like the fantastic element in that book. And what I've come to see is that I like to work with a baseline prosaic reality that we all can -- the consensual world, and really evoke it, and really make you feel a lot of mundane stuff, like recognition stuff, oh yeah, it's really like that. And then also have this field of the dream life, the distorting field of the visionary material in some form that is an equal pressure on the characters' experience. Something intangible, something esoteric, that they believe in as deeply as they believe in this prosaic world...The real contains the unreal. So for me, in a book like Dissident Gardens, just as the neurology and the language was the field of distortion in Motherless Brooklyn, so I didn't need a rocket ship or a werewolf or something in that book, I feel the same way about Dissident Gardens, that ideology, the utopianism, the desire to live in another world that's so, the passion, we all glimpse it, but to live oriented that way so totally that you sign onto the communist party, that is another one of those fields of distortion. It's like the characters are tripping on their [vision]...The idea that you're a vessel of this gigantic intangible movement, that's happening, that you are part of a revolution, even if no-one else will believe you, that it's about to come, to me that's as tripped out as any fantastic vision I could ever have offered, so it did what I wanted done to these characters' lives without my having to do those other things. (page )
Tags: [Surrealism, Dreams]