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Slow Communication

Or: The Surrealist Way part II.

This is part II. of The Surrealist Way, in which I will focus on one specific aspect/quality that appears when we engagement with the world in a Surrealist way: slow communication.

(Two disclaimers: Firstly, if you haven’t read part one The Surrealist Way, go do that now :) Secondly, the following things discussed are not necessarily linked to the'Surrealism' movement as defined by art historians, rather what follows are some philosophical conclusions, I derive at from the way that Surrealism has been expressed more recently. Perhaps, this part of the Evolution of Surrealism and its potential philosophical implications.)

What is slow communication? I’m sure you’ve head of slow living or slow cooking before, in fact, it turns out ‘slow (insert anything)’ is an entire counter cultural movement against our efficiency-obsessed society.

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail's pace. It's about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting“ – Carl Honoré

The Slow Movement Wikipedia page lists and comments on a selection of a total of 27 things in life that can be done more “slowly”, but surprisingly communication is not one of them.

For most of history, humans have obviously tried to speed up communication and make it more reliable. Especially, phones satisfy the human desire to connect more easily and to reduce/eliminate the constant everyday surrender we had to previously make to randomness, in/determinacy, coincidence, and luck/bad luck (obviously we still need to do that in many cases). Many things in our daily lives, do require urgent communication and I’m not trying to say that we should go back to only writing letters to each other.

But they’re things, that don’t necessarily require maximum speed and efficiency in communication. Communicating love for example or communicating your appreciation for little things. In other words, emotional communication rather than factual communication, does not require max. speed. Quite the contrary is the case, it blooms most beautifully out of slowness into a meaningful message. The meaningfulness of a slowly communicated message is heightened precisely because the world is crazy and precarious and unpredictable. So, by creating these moments of slow communication, you are not only playing with randomness, but you are also playing with the possibility that the message might never arrive, or not arrive in the intended way. This uncertainty and fragility make it all the more impactful when it does arrive (as a surprise to both you and the receiver). Slow communication is a generator for the feeling of marvel (which is what Surrealism is all about).

Simultaneously there’s a paradox present in this idea. On the one hand you are actively embracing the randomness of the situation and yet, slow communication requires more ‘planning’ and thinking ahead about certain possibilities and outcomes than fast communication.We instantly know when a message failed to deliver on Whatsapp, or when someone missed our call. However, slow communication requires us to predict a kind of future in which the person will be present in the exact conditions we predicted beforehand to receive our message. Does that mean that ‘planning’ undoes the Surrealist acceptance of randomness and playfulness? Not necessarily. Here, I would like to suggest that the kind of ‘planning’ involved in slow communication is not necessarily the same kind of ‘planning’ we refer to in our day-to-day lives. It is more a ‘planting’ than ‘planning’; planting things/messages in space (like seeds) to be found later on, at an undetermined point in time. ‘Planting’ unlike ‘planning’ is an act of uncontrolled planning, it means that once you’re done ‘planting’, you admit to yourself the possibility that randomness might interfere with your planted ideas and messages.

Here are two beautiful examples of Slow Communication:

The film Amelié is considered by many a film executed in a recognisably French Surrealist style. However, in my opinion it is not only the visual style and aesthetics of the film that make it so surreal, but also the way the entire plot relies on slow communication and random encounters. All four categories of The Surrealist Way are present throughout the film. For example, Amelié randomly decides that she needs to return the lost briefcase she found which corresponds to 1. of the Surrealist Way (Using instruments of randomness and playfulness to make choices). Amelié and Nino are complete strangers to another, corresponds to 2. (Talking to strangers). To find Nino again, Amelié hangs up papers in the station where they last saw each other, this corresponds to 3.(Expressing yourself by putting yourself out into the world). And lastly, by engaging in her riddles, Nino actively collaborates in the Surrealist Game Amelié invites him to play, which can be argued to adhere to point 4.(collaborating with others).

This story and book by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, takes place on multiple narrative levels. “It is composed of the novel Ship of Theseus (by a fictional author), hand-written notes filling the book's margins as a dialogue between two college students hoping to uncover the author's mysterious identity and the novel's secret, plus loose supplementary materials tucked in between pages. . . Removed from the slipcover, S. is designed to appear entirely as a copy of the standalone novel Ship of Theseus written by Straka that was borrowed from Laguna Verde High School Library[1] Throughout the act of exchanging the book, the two college students fall in love, like in Amelié they do so slowly and through exchanging physical messages. By writing in the margins in a public library book, both characters are engaging with point 2. 3. and eventually 4. outlined as part of the Surrealist Way.

Obviously, these are both fictitious examples of slow communication, but that doesn’t mean that these things are impossible in our own lives. There’s a way to live in which we choose to create ‘art’/ express ourselves creatively, in all the ways we exist. This way of living is perhaps a sort of merging of the two art historical movements Gesamtkunstwerk and Surrealism. Because communication is something we do all the time, we mostly treat it as a means to an end and we don’t see that we can choose to (occasionally) communicate with more intention and anticipation. Similar to the kind of intention and anticipation we put into the pieces of art we create. Surrealism gives us the incentive to creatively play with the reality we find ourselves in, and the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk adds another layer to the appreciation we have towards the entirety of every existence as an artful play and as an artful interaction with the world and other people.

As seen in the examples above, slow communication requires more than just words of communication. The way you communicate (across longer spans of time) becomes an integral part of the thing you are communicating. Slow communication is a style of communication. And a style always transmits a sort of meta-information about the thing it is styling. Styles or particular ways of doing things communicate and emphasise the content of the message, on top of the literal meaning. We understand styles without much explanation because the style is inevitably part of communication. You can never communicate without style, but you can communicate with more or less intentions behind that style. Fast communication is equally a style of communication. So, a deeper difference between slow communication and fast/digital communication is that, in most cases, slow communication happens in the physical realm, using physical things (such as the book (in The Ship of Theseus), or the Briefcase (in Amelié). By ‘sharing’ objects, as a means of transporting and retaining messages, slow communication grounds our communication in a shared space. When you leave a physical message behind somewhere, the (un)intended receiver needs to be in the same space at some later time interval. This offers a kind of physical presence emanating from the communicating person to the addressee, through the intermediary object. In the case of fast/digital communication, this presence is withheld or less emotionally powerful. The third and final blog post on The Surrealist Way will go into further details about this objected-retained presence by considering one specific ‘object’ of (slow) communication.

Slow communication is a type of communication style, it’s not better or worse than fast/digital communication, just different. The main point of this post was to show how different messages might need a different style of communication. Ideally, fast and slow communication can be used in a complementary way. But more on that in the following part.

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