Surrealism in Conversation
I’m sitting in the back of an Uberpool listening to Omar, the driver, speaking to Marianna, my co-rider. While I’ve gotten used to what words mean literally in Spanish, I’m noticing something else about the way these words move between people in space. The words, simple exchanges of “where would you like to be dropped off?” and “not really sure, if this is what the GPS says then it’s good”, roll between Omar and Marianna in a dance. Their back and forth consists of phrases which don’t have a finality, almost never reaching the point. Marianna makes a joke about not actually knowing which address she put into the Uber app and Omar says something about bothering her with asking in the first place. Yet I had the feeling that they were saying something more which I couldn’t grasp. Even though I understand the literal words, I am left with the feeling, which I often get around speakers of Mexican Spanish, that I am missing something.
Often times when I am sitting around with people who are emphatically in conversation in Spanish, I will eagerly ask my friend “what are you talking about?” because I might have lost the thread or had no idea in the first place. The answer my friend gives me will be something simple, like “he’s just telling me how the avocados he bought for dinner were not ripe”, and I’m left feeling disappointed because I could have sworn they were talking about something more interesting.
I started to realize that the conversations I witnessed but didn’t quite understand felt like more not because of the words but because of the way they are speaking. The way conversations flow among people in Mexico leaves room for something more. People speak in a circular way that surrounds the point, or rather a point since we don’t know which it is, and moves around it instead of heading straight for it. This means that conversations last a lot longer and that there is always the potential for the conversation to become more or to fugue into something else.
It is as if deciding upon a final point is to let the conversation die and the potential of what the connection could be or the meaning of the interaction becomes final. Although I found this confusing at first, it was through conversations with my friend Oscar that I was able to begin to understand the purpose and intelligence of this. I would always be interested in Oscar’s responses to my statements. I asked him several times “Ok, but what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?” Sometimes he would bring it back in a way I had not foreseen at all and other times it did not matter what it had to do with our original point. Not heading straight for the point is about not ascribing meaning to an ever-changing interaction.
Once we decide what the final point is, we do not leave room for interpretation and further understanding. This is important because meaning is highly contextual and ever-changing. If we limit ourselves in what we mean, we limit our understanding of each other as well. I think it is particularly interesting that this limits our access to the subconscious and it’s ever-changing nature or meaning. Without trying to rub in the point too much, the nature of conversation in Mexico feels rather surrealist. I find it interesting that Mexican social interactions emulate this in many ways. People speak to each other not as if there is a final answer but that they might get closer to it by interacting. And often the point is the interaction itself and not what is being said in the interaction.
Understanding Surrealism in Art
The work of Leonora Carrington, now on display in the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultapec Park, is quite the dive into the surrealist world. Her paintings have no illusion that they are paintings and not real life. As such she uses elements of painting, traces, lines, perspective as parts of her strange esoteric world which does follow any necessary reasoning. By reasoning I mean that there is not necessarily any consistent meaning. Elements you might ignore, such as the shadow of a figure or the smoke wisps or even the faded background become important elements of the paintings as they are contain animals or faces or both.
What I find interesting about her paintings is that they are incredibly inconsistent. So to try and ascribe meaning to it once you think you’ve gotten the hang of the symbolism of one painting or another is useless. Any meaning you ascribe will be inconsistent. This makes you dive into a deeper world closer to real life than any realist painting I have encountered. Most of life and its happenings can be quite inconsistent. Once you think you’ve gotten the hang of what something means, then it will dismorph itself to reveal that it is only the perspective of that moment that gave you that meaning and that the meaning is not there at all. Looking at Leonora’s work, especially with the intention of discovering what it means, is to realize that the primary message is that “there is no answer.” This is similar to the way people engage in conversation in Mexican culture.