The Fictions of Dreams: Dreams, Literature, and Writing

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The Fictions of Dreams explores the close connection between the narrative nature of dreams and the narrative devices employed in literature and creative writing. The book is unique in its confluential approach, linking the fictions of dreams with literary fictions and case studies which illuminate the centrality of dream analysis in therapeutic work. Dreams and literature are closely related. The dream's essence lies in its narrative facility. Dreams are autobiographical fictions which tell the story of the dreamer's life history, her insertion in transgenerational family themes, and her ethnic and cultural identity. In that sense dreams are psycho-social depositories and makers, not unlike what can be found in world literature: the recreation of interiority and historicity of a given time period. The interconnected worlds of dreaming and fiction writing tend to employ the same narrative devices: the memorial mode (Patrick Modiano), multi-temporality (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), poeisis (Kafka, Ted Hughes, Colm Toibin), historical consciousness (Irene Nemirowsky), and 'infinite connectivity' (Patrick White). The poetry of dreams and world literature also share the exposition of human motivation, as can be seen in the complex interiority of dreams and fictional characters. Both dreams and literature bring to the fore that which is hidden but seeks expression, such as the conundrum of fear, the propensity for destructiveness, the search for love, the search for knowledge, the search for beauty, the 'will to power', and the search for the spiritual. The theories employed are psychoanalysis, literary criticism, quantum physics, chaos theory, sleep research, the study of historical consciousness, theories of the ancient dreamers (Artemidorus, Aristotle), and theories of the social nature of dreaming. Case studies, actual dream fictions, will be used to illuminate the dream theories presented.

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Chapter One: Dreams and the Universal Design of Creation

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Dreaming can be better understood if we leave aside psychoanalytic thinking for the time being and bring into the equation other models of understanding the world. It is my belief that some of the laws that govern physical reality can illuminate the understanding of aspects of immaterial, invisible reality such as the psyche and its main proponent, dream life.

The universe of matter possesses an internal order, as does the universe of the mind. The dynamical systems of the material world, such as brain function, weather systems, and the formation of planetary constellations, are governed by chaos and principles that order chaos. The same is true for the dynamical system of the mind with its emotional underpinning. The process of dreaming creates order out of the emotional chaos of the mind. Dreaming can be understood as operating on the boundary area between order and chaos.

Another law that governs physical reality is that under certain conditions matter can be created out of fast-moving particles. The process of dreaming seems to resemble nature's inherent capacity as the maker of matter. The matter of the dream consists of images, symbols, metaphor, and autobiographical fictions, and through the process of dream thinking the psyche creates thoughts that can be thought about, and ideas that serve emotional understanding and become pivotal conceptions, leading to meaningful fictions about the dreamer's historicity and identity.

 

Chapter Two: The Fictions of Dreams

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“There can be no doubt that the connections between our typical dreams and fairy tales and the material of other kinds of creative writing are neither few nor accidental. It sometimes happens that the sharp eye of a creative writer has an analytic realization of the process of transformation of which he is habitually no more than the tool.”

—Freud, 1908

Dreams are the makers of fiction. They are the authors of autobiographical fictions, to be more precise. The fictions of dreams tell the stories of the dreamer's life history. Not only that: the storytelling also includes family stories passed down over many generations, and reaches into the stories told about the family clan's insertion into its ethnic and cultural identity.

Dreams walk easily on the timeline of past, present, and future, and engage in the narratives that have made the person, not so much in terms of chronological details, recording long lists of professional achievement or material success, but in terms of formative life events. These are not only events of beauty that have opened the heart and touched the soul but also destructive events that have left behind devastation and suffering. Beauty and the Beast revealed. Dreams bring up the hidden stuff of one's life history, in order to heal old wounds, in the same way the body has an inherent capacity to heal a bleeding, open wound, or a broken leg.

 

Chapter Three: Dreams, Literature, and Fiction Writing

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There is an irresistible affinity between the fictions of dreams and fiction writing. Dreams dazzle us by their vivid and succinct images, symbols, and metaphors, which come upon us when we are asleep. One might be tempted, given the dream's constant supply of images, to call dreaming a nocturnal cinematographic event. However, given that there is no such thing as a single dream, that dreams are all interconnected through memory, time, and historicity, their true nature is that of storytelling. It is the storyline that holds dreams together. And from the storylines of dreams, thinking occurs about matters of the human condition.

Dreams are autobiographical fictions, they are the narrators of the dreamer's life history, her insertion in transgenerational family themes, and her ethnic and cultural identity. In that sense dreams are psychosocial depositories and makers, they internalise the social context in which we live, and through the socialisation of its interiority they become the makers of an ever-changing perception of external reality.

 

Chapter Four: The Primary Human Drives

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The following model of the mind I found useful in the long-term work with dreaming patients. It is an attempt at mapping an internal territory of soul life, which is notoriously difficult to describe. Having said that, it is also true to say that precision and accuracy can be found, in terms of patterns and structures that dictate the apparent chaos, fluidity, and uncertainty of what the psyche is. The self is a fluid possibility. The psyche, after all, follows the laws of poetry, imagination, chaos theory and its ordering principles.

F + H + L + K + B + P + S

Dreams give expressions to our seven primary human drives: the conundrum of fear; the propensity for destructiveness; the search for love; the search for knowledge; the search for beauty; the “will to power”; and our spiritual longings.

This model of the mind owes reference to Freud's dual instinct theory, which gave exposition to two fundamental human motivations: namely, the sexual instinct and aggression (L + H). As we know, sexuality is not love but love is underpinned by sexual desire. The notion of love, surprisingly, is not an integral part of psychoanalytic theory. Instead, theorists talk about “object relations” to describe the connection between people, an unfortunate turn of phrase in as much as part of emotional maturation is that we do not end up relating to the other as an object. However, it is somewhat understandable in terms of how theory developed, as Freud saw the infant only in ways that were about instinctual gratification of her needs, with little reference to emergent relationships.

 

Chapter Five: The Father of Modern Dream Analysis

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The foundation myth

A foundation myth is about the universal search within all of us for the very origins of our existence. It is the search for our identity. Where do we come from? The ethnic and cultural origin of the generations before us are significant markers of identity. Most pertinent, though, is the question of one's family history where generation after generation of ancestors have converged into the parental couple.

We spring from the minds of our parents. How did we come into being? By two people appreciating each other, being passionately in love; or were we a mistake, a late arrival in the family; or were we made out of a reparative idea, the relationship needing to be rescued by yet another child; or were we conceived in a haze of drunkenness or at the godlike heights of coke addiction? Both our human fault-lines and the beauty of our being can be traced back to the very beginning, when we only existed as an idea in our parental minds.

Death, loss, and mourning lie at the root of the psychoanalytic profession. It belongs to its foundation myth. If Freud had not lost his father towards the end of the nineteenth century he might not have had such revealing dreams about him, nor his realisation of dreams being the via regia (the royal road) to the understanding of internal life, nor would he have composed his major work, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams). His father's was a timely and far-reaching death. Mourning usually brings about a flurry of dreams about the nature and significance of the person lost, but it also brings to the fore the shaping forces of the culture in which the deceased has lived.

 

Chapter Six: Sleep Research

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The guardians of sleep

One of Freud's assumptions on dreaming, that “dreams are the guardians of sleep”, was proven wrong by sleep researchers. Freud's notion was that one of the functions of dreaming is to preserve sleep. The researchers found the reverse to be true, namely that “sleep is the guardian of dreams” (Jouvet, 1999, p. 52).

On the level of ontogenetic security, the dream state is a potentially perilous situation for the dreamer, given the increased threshold for arousal (the dreamer is less able to sense his environment) and muscle paralysis (the dreamer cannot take flight). There is a significant correlation between the amount of dreaming and factors of instinctual security. We cannot fall into dream states during deep sleep without a complicated biological preparation.

One could almost see the ontologically fragile and mentally highly productive dream state as requiring a certain amount of biological “parenting” by deep sleep. Dream consciousness uses more energy than waking consciousness; it uses so much energy that its reserves need to be refilled during deep sleep. Energetically speaking, deep sleep is the provider and caretaker of dream sleep.

 

Chapter Seven: A Brief History of Dream Consciousness

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The prehistoric dreamer

Cave paintings

One of the oldest depictions of a dream state is a mural in the complex of caves at Lascaux in southwest France, painted some 18,000 years ago by our European early modern human ancestors (Aubarbier & Binet, 1997).

There we can see depicted a man asleep on the ground, body and arms outstretched, surrounded by a bird perched on a stick, and a mortally wounded bison, a beautiful and powerful creature, with its entrails hanging out, and a spear, broken in two, seeming to connect the hunter and the hunted. On closer inspection we notice the hunter's penile erection directed toward the dying bison, in touching distance of its furry neck. The man and bird, unlike the beast, are drawn in a childlike style, with thin strokes, not dissimilar to Winnicottian squiggles.

From sleep research we know that, apart from rapid eye movement, fast cortical activity, and the absence of muscular tone, penile erections in males and clitoral engorgement in females are prime biological signifiers of the state of dreaming. And birds, in prehistoric cosmology, represent the immaterial nature of the soul. So it seems that the hunter's soul has left his body to roam freely through time and space, driven by his desire to kill this formidable beast. The scene set on the wall is a dream, not an actual depiction of hunting. It describes the hunter's wish to make a kill in his next hunt. His dream thinking is concerned with a successful hunt, and a union with the hunted, showing a reverential attitude towards the beast that is sustaining life.

 

Chapter Eight: The Ancient Deities of Dreams

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“The dream is personal myth, and myth is the dream of a culture”

—Freud

Dreaming feeds the individual's internal life and her conscious awareness of it with unique stories collected over a whole life span, compressed through symbolisation into personal myth; equally dreaming feeds the social unconscious in a symbolic bowel movement of burning social issues. Mythification of psychological and social issues takes place in the world of dreams; it is a process of digestion and transformation of emotional experience.

The major mythological deities of dreams in Graeco-Roman times were Asclepius, Apollo, Neptune, and Zeus; the minor ones were Hypnos and Morpheus. The oldest dream deities were possibly An-Za-Oar in Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian mythology, and the Egyptian Imhotep.

Asclepius

“The mind tries to be its own doctor”

—Admetos in Alcestis by Euripides, in a version

by Ted Hughes, 1999, p. 67

Asclepius is the main deity of dreams. There are two different myths surrounding the son of Apollo and Coronis. Coronis betrayed Apollo and was condemned to burn at the pyre. Baby Asclepius was rescued by his father and taken to Mount Pelion where he was put into the care of Chiron, the centaur and divine mentor, who taught him to hunt and instructed him in the science of medicine.

 

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