Surrealism in Literature: Herta Müller--The Passport

I'm reading, among other things, Herta Müller's The Passport and finding it very rough going--not because it is difficult to understand, complex, or in any way semiotically thick.  No, rather, my difficulty stems from what I think is a major problem with surrealism from the get-go.  Surrealism, to achieve its affect properly, enforces (to put it in Aboriginal terms) the dreamtime into the present reality.  This is essential a visceral, visible experience.  The attempt to capture it in words must be succinct, precise, and with purpose.  Too often, from Les Chants de Maldoror and Nadja on what happens is merely very worked up weirdness.  In the novel I am reading now, Ms. Müller pauses her narrative to relay the significant fact that "His pupil was cold."  How was it cold?  Did he feel it?  Was it projected outward and thus give other a cold feeling?  Even in this odd novel, how is that a significant datum?

I say this advisedly because surrealism may be my very favorite mode of the painting art and even to some extent the art of film.  Properly done it can be as mind altering and vision expanding as anything I've read about in Castenada and it lacks the potentially deadly side effects.  Rene Magrittte, Joan Miro, and Yves Tanguy are among my very favorite artists (I don't even mention Salvidor Dali who IS surrealism--ask him yourself!)  Now that I've waved my credentials about in your face, I'm certain that my credibility has been boosted a few points and so I continue.

It is fortunate that Ms. Müller's novel is short.  Despite its deliberate weirdnesses, it is likely that I'll be able to hurdle most of them and get to the end.  But literary surrealism is a sort of dead end in itself.  Other than poetry which is most surreal when it is most imagistic, literary surrealism sets itself the unenviable task of attempting to convey abrogated reality in prose that doesn't sound as worked up as the situation being described is.  That is, the tendency of language to help to formulate verbal pictures undermines its essential utility in attempting to convey most surrealism (other than a certain atmosphere) because it ends up sounding overworked or sardonic--not particularly otherworldly or surreal.


  1. Too often, from Les Chants de Maldoror and Nadja on what happens is merely very worked up weirdness.

    That's the way I sometimes feel about the Book of Revelation!

  2. Dear TSO,

    I sympathize, but feel differently about the obviously allegorical and symbolic--as in Revelation--although, I think you have a legitimate point, given than it all reads like a Castenada fever dream. It's just that THAT works for me in a way many moderns do not.



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