The earth is experiencing a global health crisis. A pandemic. Governments are taking measures to attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19, some more appropriately or effectively than others. Almost everything I hear about the current situation of the world - on the radio, in op-eds, from those I speak with - has described it as surreal. Strange. Bizarre. Unprecedented. It made me think about the way we view the world as it normally is, and to try and decipher what it is about current life that seems surreal.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word surreal as follows: “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” Now, I’ve had many dreams that could be rightly described as surreal, but I’ve also had dreams in which, for example, I discovered an unfortunately drawn tattoo on my right arm and my good tattoo had switched to the left. Not particularly uncanny. However, this was also the dream in which I was in a huge house that was filled with cages and tanks full of exotic creatures, including a huge snake I was convinced had swallowed a human. So perhaps all dreams are surreal to some extent.
Surrealism itself has been reflected in art, theatre, and music for about a hundred years. People like René Magritte, Frida Kahlo, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí are artists that used their works to reflect a world devoid of rational thought. They instead highlighted and focused on the uncanny beauty of the unconscious and of dreams. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. The melting clocks are instantly recognizable as an example of surrealist art.
There are also writers and playwrights such as André Breton, Bertolt Brecht, and Antonin Artaud who contributed to the movement, as well as musicians like Erik Satie and John Cage. All of these works suggest a world outside of the norm but that is somehow familiar, a world in which dreams and reality blend together until you’re not sure what you’re experiencing.
All of this is to say, do I think what the world is experiencing right now, this crisis of health and structure, is surreal? I’m not sure. I don’t particularly think of it as such. I have woken up from dreams convinced that what I was feeling and experiencing was real, and although at times the feeling lingers, I am soon aware that there is an immediate difference between my unconscious state and my waking one.
And so far my life hasn’t changed dramatically since these measures were put into place. It does feel like between one day and the next there were the beginnings of concern to now increased anxiety about our future, but perhaps all time is in a sense surreal, because in some ways it’s impossible to quantify. But I have still been going to work, and just now my work hours have decreased. There have been shortages of certain items on grocery store shelves, but I haven’t changed the way I’m shopping. While I no longer have the option to go to the library or the museum or to my favorite restaurant, I’ve always been a homebody. I’ve always preferred my own company to that of others.
I should point out that I am trying my best to follow the advice of health care professionals and self isolate when I can. It is quite possible, and even likely, that I am a carrier of the virus without even knowing it. Given my continued work, I have been exposed to quite a few people over the last few weeks. I haven’t shown any symptoms yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t pass it on to others. So I am taking this issue seriously.
And my experience is perhaps unique compared to many others'. Many people are out of work. There are many who don't have a place to shelter in. I also recognize that this is taking an extreme toll on the mental health of the citizens of the world, particularly those in the health care field. Their experience is undoubtedly difficult and stressful, and I’m sure there are times they are unsure if they are awake or dreaming.
Is all of this strange? Yes. Is all of this uncanny? Absolutely. Shops that were usually bustling are now closed. I have received emails from every business I have ever patronized assuring me they are doing what they can to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and that’s just bizarre. There are events taking place that are completely outside my experience, and so seem in some way detached from reality. But surreal? I’m not sure this whole thing fits my definition.
Unless of course this is all just a program within the Matrix. Then we’re all already in a dream state, and good luck figuring out what “real” even means.
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.