I was intrigued and then dismayed and then intrigued again after I read this week that 'surreal' had been named Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year. It's a word associated with the early 20th century intellectual movement that gave artistic expression to Freud's theory of the unconscious.
It turned out that the popularity was more about finding a word - any word - to describe the astonishing nature of Donald Trump's election win in November. 'Surreal', it seems, has been hijacked as a stronger alternative to words such as 'bizarre' or 'oddball' that were considered inadequate to describe the unprecedented nature of the Trump victory.
It's true that it has tended to be used in a grasping or dismissive manner that diminishes the precision of the original meaning. That was the source of my dismay. Also it is obviously a publicity stunt by the American dictionary company, based on nothing more than statistics of the volume of word lookups on its website.
But I was curious to explore further and went to The Conversation, where I found an excellent explainer article. It was from February and predated the spikes in lookups for 'surreal' on the dictionary website.
The article depicts surrealism as a 'revolution of the mind' that freed the mind from rational and utilitarian values and constraints, in favour of the 'transformative possibilities of the imagination'. It has surrealism 'reconciling the contradictory states of dream and reality into a more potent form of reality'.
This does ring true for me, and indeed it is very exciting. It could be used to introduce compassion into Australia's asylum seeker policy. But I am more disturbed that it is being exploited to affirm the Trump victory as a good thing.
According to the new logic, America and the world are freed from the odious system that Clinton represented and have entered an imaginative transformation that will reconcile the dream of 'making America great again' with the fearful reality of a civilisation that lost the War Against Terror instigated by Trumps opponents. That is surreal.