So, fiction and poetry will now be over here
The idea is to come up with a theory of dreams from which the question of interpretation has been entirely banished. That is, we should stop thinking of dreams only as the encryption of some content. In most analyses, the the formal properties specific to dreaming are regarded only as the secret clasp to be prised open in search of the truly valuable, the meaning.
There are generic accounts of, say, the novel, which do not consist simply in puzzling over the meaning of particular novels or asking what the novel 'means'. So there should be a book about dreams which does not have as its starting point the interpretation of particular dreams or the question 'What do dreams mean?'
So instead, we startby trying to identify some of the distintive qualities of dreams. The first thing that strikes me about dreams is the presence of radical novelty.
An example from last night. A curved length of carved and burnished wood, forming part of a sideboard or dresser. The wood is inlaid with distinctively formed lettering. This object, this length of wood with its peculiar signature, is not from childhood or anywhere else. Put it this way: it has been designed by the dream.
Suppose I had the skill to draw or paint such an image, or create it as a computer graphic. It would take considerable time to craft it. Would I have conceived it to begin with even? But the dream conceives and crafts it at once.
It is clear that the dream is able to use, or coin images, objects, which, if they existed in graphic or material form, we would say they were the result of design and labour.
The images – or things – in a dream are often characterised by novelty and by design. They are not representations of things that have been ‘met with’ in waking life and then cut and pasted into the dream. The dream is not a collage, however intelligent.
That dreams then are characterised by novel artifice might seem at once obvious. I do not make great claims for this observation. But it is by no means the default understanding of dreams. There are rather long-standing ways of thinking of dreams as:
Rather than dreams being the simulacra, the attenuated forms and copies of what lies elsewhere and previous, the dream-world consists of things newly fashioned and without citable precedent. Rather than being left-overs, detritus, they are conceived and executed by the dream itself.
The intricacy, detail, symmetry of these ‘representations’ entails what we would elsewhere presuppose to be a concentrated intelligence. As opposed to what? Again, we can think of those ways of thinking about dreams that picture what is happening as a kind of slackening of the rational intelligence, the form-giving intentionality of the ego. In this slackening, all kinds of bizarre and grotesque shapes are released – dreams as the sleep of reason.
What I encounter in dreams is frequently not the indiscriminate combinations, the monstrous births, of a picture-making faculty gone mad.
Hegel says that the dream is a form of thinking (rather than some confusing amalgam of sensible shapes). But it is ‘picture thinking’. Yet is this really true, at least in the way Hegel means it? Does not picture thinking involve conventional shapes - pictograms and ideograms – to represent objects or concepts? Picture thinking involves the stylized ‘signature’ of a thing or idea. The dream does not use such pictograms and ideograms.
Firstly, it produces highly detailed, often strikingly new, objects. These are charged with a striking singularity, as if to say ‘this particular thing’ not ‘this category of things’. These objects do not confront us as representations. The dream object does not form part of some alphabet of ideas. It does not appear straightforwardly as the signature of an idea.
[to be continues, hopefully]