This blogpost is so surreal.

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Last night I read The Country Doctor by Franz Kafka.

Reading a Kafka story is as if you are entering a strange circus tent, one where the bizarre seems perfectly normal. Instead of being horrified, you clap with approval and await the next act, one you are sure will have deep meaning in its weirdness. It’s an inversion where strange is normal and normal is strange.

This story does not disappoint.

When I turned the last page, and went downstairs to make a cup of coffee, the odd images and events of the doctor’s house call stayed with me like the memory of my first kiss—was it good or bad? Did it happen or not?  As readers of this story, we are left with some troubling thoughts:  the rape of Rose, the doctor’s servant and wiggly maggots in a small boy’s wound; but we  also are tickled by funny ones: talking horses and the naked doctor himself, trying to get back home on his steeds, now in slow motion.

This story is vintage Kafka.

He is the master of surreal.

Surrealism was a movement begun in the last century born from another movement, Dadaism. Followers disillusioned with the status quo and all that led up to WWI and II –overly rational thought and the aristocracy– looked for other ways to express their reality.  Creative and anti-establishment types, like Miro, Dali, Ernst, Breton, and Kafka, painted and wrote in attempts to show what a fusion of the conscious and the unconscious could communicate to a lost world of power mongers. They took much of their thought from Freud.

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I see surreal as  a dreamlike quality in which the rational is put out to pasture and the irrational comes into the kitchen to graze.

Alas, most of us know little about the scope of surrealism and its influence on most major writers in the last 75 years, but we are experts nevertheless.

Today, kids call their In N Out Burger surreal, their graphics on their iPhones surreal, and the moment of click when sending in their college applications, surreal.
Yeah. That was a surreal experience.
But was it? Not usually. Just another misused word.

Last weekend, my daughter Sara, her kids Noah and Nathan, and my husband Judge Blah and I did experience the surreal. The beauty of the moment was that we realized we were in  an odd unrealistic scene in the middle of our reality.

On the Central Coast of California, where the ocean is usually unsettled, frigid, and irregular, where the sand is coarse, the air is swirling cold and the marine layer of fog is thick, where the typically viewed creatures are seagulls and lines of pelicans, and maybe a sea otter or two, a school of Pacific blue dolphins swam in to the shore so close we thought they might beach themselves.

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Like rocking horses, they arched up—black fins cutting  the surface of the water—and then they plunged down, and then up, and then down, surely a dolphin’s version of the waltz. This play, A Dolphin’s Tail, attracted a small audience of maybe 5 other people who had the good fortune to be in attendance for a show whose opening would precede its closing by only one hour. Only 9 people on a California beach…

Back and forth, only 20 feet from the shore, the dolphins paraded.

The pelicans became dolphin copycats and lines of the stately fisherbirds circled and dived.  I half expected one of the dolphins to come out of the water with a baton and conduct the others in a watery symphony.

The air warmed, the fog drew back, the dolphins danced.

We were almost alone on the beach that day, save for a young couple, visiting from Europe.

She was topless.

Judge Blah said, This is surreal.

And then, as quietly as the show began, it all ended.

The fog lunged back in; the sweatshirts, the wind, the choppy seas returned. Loud families carrying blankets, beach chairs and cold chests full of Budweiser, stomped onto the beach. The waves turned dark grey and pounded the shore. The dolphins left the scene.

She put on her bathing suit top and they got up and left, speaking Dutch in soft tones.

Now, it was just another beautiful day on a rugged California beach.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Life, On fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to This blogpost is so surreal.

  1. Douglas says:

    The beauty of dolphins at play… One of the more enjoyable experiences of being aboard a destroyer in Uncle Sam’s Navy was to see dolphins racing along, playing in the bow waves. That and the occasional schools of flying fish leaping and soaring across the wave tips.

    A nice word picture, Cheri, as always. Brought me back to early morning walks along foggy beaches in San Diego and Long Beach. Though those never had the show you saw.

  2. Christopher says:

    Your account of being on the beach and experiencing the dolphins has something distinctly Kafkaesque about it.

    Did you write it just after you read Kafka’s story, and so were still suffused with his spirit?

    For me, the way to read Kafka is to imagine that his stories and novels were actual dreams he had. Then they makes sense, as does “A Country Doctor”, when looked at this way.

    Who of us has never been in a real life situation so absurd that the word “Kafkaesque” comes immediately to mind?

  3. Cheri says:

    Douglas,
    Thanks for your word picture here, as well.
    Saw three mountain lion cubs on our road last month. A first. Life is always offering a new experience, just when we think we’ve “seen it all.”

    Christopher,
    I wrote the description about a week later and was trying to figure out how to write a piece about the overuse of the word surreal, so I read Kafka’s short story again. In a sense, you are right. I was infused with his spirit.

    And Amen Brother to your last sentence!

  4. Christopher says:

    Yes, I see now that I should have said “infused”, not “suffused”.

    As to “surreal”, the day may come when kids junk it in favour of “Kafkaesque”, which becomes a new in-word, to take its place beside “humongous” and “awesome”.

  5. andreaskluth says:

    We all agree here on Kafka’s genius. And how interesting: We also seemed (on this blog at least) to agree that we did NOT like magical realism. Where Garcia Marquez failed to rope us into his realm, Kafka utterly and easily succeeded.

    “…speaking Dutch in soft tones…”: Is that possible?

  6. Cheri says:

    I’ll check with my neighbor, Gemma, and see what she thinks about your comment. 🙂

  7. Chourou says:

    Hi,Cheri.Nice posting as usual.In my opinion,it is only the YODA’s FORCE that can show you perfectly what the surreal might be,but now I have to say,I tolally agree with your hubby(lol).

    I wish I could have appreciated such a wonderful scene there.

    • Cheri says:

      I will need the power of Yoda to finish my reading here in Santa Fe. Always great to read your comments. i am impressed with your growing English written fluency.

  8. Chourou says:

    I’ve mistaken spelling,though…:P
    tolally → totally
    BTW,I’ve just read Paul Auster’s”Timbuktu”you reccomended.I like this very much.I think it ironically illustrates,kind of,how the actual US nowadays might be going ,through the eyes of a dog.

  9. Chourou says:

    I think Paul Auster has illustrated kind of a contradiction or so called chasm that the modern American society is holding in itself in his works, as Leviathan, the story of a man who goes around and explodes statues of the Statue of Liberty again and again at every corner in the US.

    As for Timbuktu, I found that it also caricatures certain aspect of the modern society in some parts, in a different way from Leviathan, though it might be not critical point of the story. Mr. Bones comes across Dick Jones family, and Bones end up being kept by them. Jones family is rather rich, and there Mr. Bones gets very good care in food, playing, dressing, medical, or whatever. You can say Mr. Bones would be happy to get a perfect treat as a pet from the viewpoint of dog care, but he is essentially unhappy and unease. The family could not give him essentially what he wants, as his former keeper Willy, a homeless and druggy guy from Baltimore, did.

    Sorry I am not able to show you the point precisely…..

  10. Cheri says:

    I get your point!

    I need to go back and reread this story.
    Yes, the dog was never really happy after losing his homeless but loving owner.

    Home is where the heart is, says the old maxim.

  11. Christopher says:

    “……..Today, kids call their In N Out Burger surreal, their graphics on their iPhones surreal, and the moment of click when sending in their college applications, surreal.
    Yeah. That was a surreal experience……”

    Is “humungous” now passe?

  12. Cheri says:

    I still hear humungous occasionally but may “ginormous” has eclipsed it. As I have written about before, the words “amazing” and “awesome” are running neck-in-neck (thought I’d put a horse-racing term in my comment since tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby!)

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