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Dreaming By Richard Wilkerson (www.dreamgate.com)
There has been a growing suspicion and critique of Reason and Rationality
in the last century that was pre-figured with the Romantics, given
its first technique of investigation with ideas of the unconscious
and then fearfully brought into the mainstream culture with the
advent of the atomic bomb. The cold war kept us in America believing
it was only the Communist who were irrational and needed to be controlled
and contained. By the end of the 1960's the rational policies of
containment, mutually assured destruction and the cold war were
exposed as paranoid delusions. The peace movement, grassroots coalition,
novel social contacts, psychotherapies and ecologically minded living
offered contact with a productive irrationality. Some felt we just
matured in our ideas of what is rational, but others began seeing
rationality itself as the culprit.
The pragmatic critique of the Modern World has continued in the
America and produced fabulous responses in architecture (i.e. insides
of building found on the outside), politics (i.e. grassroots movements)
, law (i.e. extreme reform), therapy(i.e. contact with irrational),
science (i.e. chaos theory) and alternative culture( i.e. cyberspace).
In Europe, the critique has been more intellectual and has produced
an even wide variety of social, philosophical, literary and political
responses. Generally these critiques, responses and new productions
are often called "Postmodern", "Postmodernity"
and "Postmoderism", but I want to note that there is no
one movement or set of ideas that contain the postmodern. Many would
argue that it has nothing to do with the move from rational to irrational.
this month's Postmodern Dreaming column I would like to give a quick
general introduction to the postmodern and how it differs from the
Modern and suggest what it might have to do with dreams and dreaming.
Later articles will then wander organically, if not randomly, through
the Postmodern ideas, reading them together with dreams and dreaming
ideas in hopes of producing new concepts, ideas and practices that
might enrich both. References and suggestions for other texts and
articles are highly recommended for a more complete introduction.
o Forward into the Past
It has been of interest to me for some time that there are a great
many parallels between the history of the interpretation of literature/poetry/texts
and the history of the interpretation of dreams. Like dreams, early
sacred texts were seen as sacred and messages from the gods. While
this view continues even today, new streams formed and diverged.
The author's intention, what the author meant to say, was seen as
important. Others began to view the text separately from the author
and saw the meaning resting in the reader's response. Others found
the meaning by looking closely at the structure and context of the
text, seeking both the archetypal and social forces at play. This
sequence follows quite closely the ways of interpreting dreams.
By the 1960's it seemed that all the ways of interpreting a text
had been played out and there was nothing much left to do but catagorize
these elements. Then a post-modern revolution occurred. Some anticipated
it coming. In dreaming Jung, and later James Hillman, began talking
about something irrational in the dream image that needed to be
encountered to avoid getting stuck in dead categories. They knew
that only a break with old patterns offered new pathways. And they
knew that archetypes were not just stereotypes. Encounters with
the numinous core could strip away old neurosis and open the door
to the unrealized. Had the postmodern revolution occurred first
in Switzerland, it may have been very different.
France psychoanalysis was slow to take hold, being seen as a German
Project in the irrational. The French considered themselves as coming
from the rational tradition of Rousseau. By 1940s and 1950 things
began to shift. The Literary Left tended towards Marxism and the
structuralist projects of Levi-Strauss in anthropology and Jacques
Lacan in psychoanalysis had taken shape. In 1968 the country (France)
was temporarily shut down by a country wide walk-off of workers
and students, backed by the French-Marxist who were at the time
denied any political power. But within days the Marxist representatives
had traded most of their political positions for government positions
and the country was up and running, except for the intellectual
Left who felt betrayed and now drifted away from Marxism. It was
clear that even the most radical of political groups could be tamed
and dominated by the seduction of power. Perhaps, it was thought,
that organization itself if the culprit. In literature, philosophy,
critical theory, linguistics, psychology, leftist politics and art
a radical departure from the values of the past was in the making.
This departure was so powerful that a lecture by Jacques Derrida
in America in the 1960's lead to a widespread movement of American
Deconstruction in literature, philosophy and law. But the intellectual
aspects of the movement remained in America mostly in academic,
and it wasn't until the advent of the Net that the ideas became
more widely disseminated.
The implications for interpretation, of dreams and text, as well
as politics, religion, recreation, sex, identity, psychology, play
and other social practices are so strange and uncanny that Americans
have barely begun to grasp their theoretical implications and significance.
This may, as some suggest, be because we already act out so many
of the postmodern paradigms anyway, even if without the intellectual
baggage. We tend to *make* and *do* things in America. Again, the
Internet may be *the* postmodern expression, with emphasis on dissemination,
multiple identities, unrecoverable authors, multiple levels of meaning,
social practices crossing boundaries and categories once thought
to be in-violate, the championing of the particular, organic-order,
non-hierarchical, non-human, fluid, linguistic, textual and graphical,
like the dream. And here I hope to read dreams through the lens
created by postmodern writers. The purpose is not to break down
the illusions of the past views in hopes of recovering some hidden
truth. Rather the hope is more that these lenses (themselves fictions)
we will use for temporary viewing, will move us towards fictions
we find more significant, more meaningful, or even to those categories
beyond meaning and significance that cannot be named. To move not
towards the dream, as if it would finally open up and reveal its
secrets, but with the dream, as a co-player in the creation of the
improvisational universe that lives between reality and fiction.
I would recommend having one or more dreams at hand as you read
through the history I have presented below on dreams and the postmodern.
How does each approach change your relationship with the dream image?
What does each approach offer or promise? What does each approach
tell you about *what* you are interpreting when you do dreamwork?
What does each approach say about who the author of the dream might
be, and what the author's intentions are? Who is the reader? How
much of these questions and answers are dependent on the language
we are using?
The History of the Interpretive Response
There is a correspondence, or at least, strong parallels between
the history of literary interpretation and the interpretation of
The earliest writings include the recording of dreams and their
interpretations in Sumerian cuneiform tablets. In these writings,
it is assumed that the author of the dream is a god and the the
dream is a message to the dreamer. The dreamer, like many a scribe,
are seem merely as conduits of the divine or demonic.
And the study of the interpretation of sacred texts, hermeneutics
(HERmenOOtiks) which originally referred to theories of biblical
interpretations, later came to refer to the theory of interpretation
in general. The center of hermeneutics is the belief that the text
contains a stable meaning that can be determined and possibly recovered.
This was first extended from religious texts to legal, historical,
bibliographic and literary texts, but by the 19th Century had been
extended to all works in the humanities and social sciences. From
this emerged the idea of what is now called "Authorial Intention".
Here, the meaning of the text has to do with the author's attempt
to use commonly know language to produce a meaning. The recovery
of the meaning is found in forming a hypothesis about the author's
meaning and attempting to confirm or invalidate this by continual
reference to the text.
In Psychoanalysis, the true meaning of the dream text was arrived
at by a close reading as well. Results of Free association we added
to the patients clinical material and historical background to discover
the true meaning of the dream, the true unconscious intentions.
These ideas carried on into the middle of the 20th Century.
the 1940's an 50's, this interpretive text approach was giving way
to New Criticism. There was a shift from history and content to
form. At the heart of this approach was the autonomous *image* in
the text, independent of the author. The image, such as a poem,
could now be analyzed at several levels, the particular image (or
poetic line), the genre, or the place in literature in general.
The old focus on the intentions of the author were seen now as guilty
of committing the "intentional fallacy"(Wimsatt &
Beardsley 1954) which sees the appeal to an author's designs as
irrelevant to the autonomous structure of a text. Who can really
know the author's intention? Perhaps even the author him/herself
may not really understand the motives and intentions that went into
Conflicts and resolutions in the text were seen as the guiding
path into the texts, with the focus on coherence and internal tension.
Universal collective patterns were found, and as Kugler (1987) has
noted, this literary style reflects more Jung's approach to dreams.
The focus on image patterns, the move to deeper collective themes,
the discovery of paradox and reconciliation, and the ultimate belief
in the coherence and unity of the psyche were as important to Jung
as the New Critics. Now all these style have been called into question.
Not only authorial intention, but the texts unity, autonomy and
ability to reveal some referential truth have been seriously questioned.
The first new trend to emerge out of all this doubt was called Structuralism.
Structuralism is a complex intellectual movement that became important
in France about 1950, and included such works as that of anthropologist
Claude Levi-Strauss, Literary Critic Roland Barthes and psychoanalyist
Jacques Lacan. By the 1970's there influence was considerable in
England and the United States. The roots of Structuralism are diverse,
but usually traced to the Swiss linguist, Fredinand de Saussure
(1857-1913) and his theory of language as based on a system of internal
differences rather than in resemblances to objects in the material
Language, and thus the text and dreams made up of language, are
seen as closed, culture bound systems. This new science of linguistics
, Semiology, would study all of the signs that make up a culture,
their nature, their laws. A key to understanding this systems approach
is the idea of words or signs as having both a signifier and a signified.
The signifier is the word itself, like "tree". The signifier
is seen as arbitrary. I could have used arbre in French, dendro
in Greek , silvus in Latin. Or "tree" in English might
have not ended up as "tree" but rather "oglot"
and we would have all gotten by just fine. And know when someone
says "tree" it is "tree" because the way it
sounds is *different* than "me", "free", "treat"
and so on. Thus the material acoustic sound "tree" is
unique because it is surrounded by a whole system of differences.
Try describing any object-word in your room, a desk, a chair, a
door, without referring to how it is different from another object
and you will quickly see how difference plays an essential key.
Now each word or sign also points to something beyond itself. In
normal usage we talk about what the word refers to, a particular
tree in material reality. But as a sign, it also points to a concept,
(as in the concept of "trees") and this is called by Saussure
the "signifed". We can think of the signified as the concept
or idea that a community of speakers associate with the sound or
written word. And again, the relationship between the signified
and the signifier is arbitrary as well. Saying "Tree"
in one culture may refer to the concept of "Bringing me some
point of all this was to constuct a view of language not tied to
material objects. The rules are inherent in the structure of the
parts. Just like a chess or checkers game, the pieces could all
look very different, as long as the underlying structure of the
game remained the same. The authors intention (the inventor of chess),
the historical shapes of the pieces and the materials they are made
up of take a back seat to the rules of the game.
o Structuralism at Work
By the early 1950's and 1960's people such as Roland Barths and
Claude Levi-Strauss had extended Saussure's semiological approach
to anthropology, literature and culture in general. In the new interpretive
vision, the sign's ability to reflect or mirror nature and the human
psyche gave way to the study of how the words and images work as
a system of structural relations.
In 1949, Levi-Strauss reformulated Freud's unconscious into two
parts, the subconscious and the unconscious. The Subconscious is
much like Jung's personal unconscious, and Freud's unconscious,
full of psychic substances, memories & imagos, and associations
collected during the course of life. The Unconscious was (structurally)
more like Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious, devoid of images and
full of structural laws. Levi-Strauss saw the personal subsconsious
like the personal words & pieces of life gathered, while the
structural unconscious is what really creates the rules that the
pieces play out in life.
1953, French psychotherapist Jacques Lacan adopts this idea of the
unconscious as full of rules, processes and structural strategies
and proposes a three part psychic system, the Real, the Symbolic
and the Imaginary. "The object as such, attempting to be know"
is the Real. We only experience this indirectly. The representations
of the object constitute the Imaginary. The Symbolic is more structural
and organizes representations into meaningful images. The self for
Lacan is a linguistic construction. Language here is extended to
mean any psychic capacity for representation. In the act of representation
we can represent ourselves thus creating self awareness. However,
this ability to represent divides us into a self that experiences
and a self that represents what it experiences. The experiential
self on one hand is only known because we can represent it, ("I"),
but at the same time separate from those representations and excluded
from the common world we all share through language/representations.
This exclusion leads to an unconscious order of existence, which
may be seen as all our unmediated experience.
The structuralist project focused on these representational realms
and worked toward developing an objective science of interpretation,
capable of revealing the symbolic structures underlying all narratives.
But by the 1970's even the main proponents of the movement were
beginning to questions the usefulness and desirability of extracting
a collection of abstract rules in every narrative and text. Essentially,
the text, once categorized and filed in the place of all the narratives,
loses its uniqueness and its difference.
A new movement was arising that was to shun the search for structural
similarities between texts.
This post-structural movement found its root influences in such
thinkers as Hegel, Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida. The key idea was
a suspicion of any project of interpretation that tried to ground
itself in an absolute, such as truth, reality, self, center, unity,
origin and even author.
Whenever we have a set of rules or system, there is always a grand
ole idea that stands outside of the structure and informs it, though
the grand ole idea is always itself outside of explanation. Derrida
point out in a seminal lecture (Derrida, 1966) an example of how
these ultimate first principles work in removing themselves temporally,
either ahead or behind of the system they explain. An example with
dreams would be the theories that posit anterior causes, such as
biochemistry, drives, family, trauma, childhood and day residue.
All explanation in these systems refer to an event in the past that
caused the dream, but is itself never questioned. Or the dream is
posited as moving forward in time towards ultimates such as Self,
Wholeness, Unity, Death and God. To work, the principles have to
be removed and the status has to be different. These transcendental
god-terms function as the lynch-pins for the entire Western theory
points out these are not grand eternal structures we assign to them,
but linguistic by products of a naively representational view of
language. These terms are... fictions. Useful, but none the less
made up. There is no language that is literal, even science. It
is all metaphorical. All language is ironic, both revealing and
at the same time concealing.
Even dream interpretation systems that simple describe the dream
images (such as versions of the Phenomenological approach), certain
terms will be literalized and given a privileged status, and all
the rest of the terms in the system will revolve around this term
and refer to it. Notice in dream theory how these terms are privileged:
wish, oedipus complex, archetypes, drives, phallus, desire, imagination,
self, repression, compensation. One term is seen as the orgin, such
as the Jungian Self, or in Freud, the drives.
Try raising the question of origins without thinking about the
origin of *that* origin. It is next to impossible. "Origin"
is now the transcendental term and all further thinking about it
will refer to it, though it remains outside interpretation itself.
Origin now explains everything but itself.
this dissatisfaction with central explanatory principles was not
new to the Post-structuralists. Nietzsche had been working on this
"god is dead" theme since the end of the last century.
The post-structural addition extends this idea to language and begins
to show how hidden in everyday language, this first principle still
exists. As Gilles Deleuze said, all words point to Pharaoh, meaning
that there is inherent in our language the implication of center
to which it is all referring. And yet linguistically, we never reach
that center. Instead there a hole in the center of the universe.
Those with faith or a flair for gnostic or mystic contact can say
the hole is not empty in the way an atheistic approach might have
it, but this must always be either private experience and or belief.
Shamanistic approaches try to bridge this gap by providing mediating
and initiatory experiences for the sake of the seeker, but these
generally lie outside of the realm of interpretative theory and
are based on relationships of trust between shaman and initiate,
or teacher and student, or guru and disciple.
The shift from structural to post-structural interpretation is
that of seeing the text as a closed unity with decipherable meaning
to viewing the text as irreducibly plural, swinging from literal
to metaphorical significance(s) which can never be fixed to a single
center, unity or meaning. When we are aware that the theories by
which we see the world are just that, theories, then we can pick
and choose among them. When we forget that they are theories, then
they become more unconscious and begin to structure our views, fooling
us and tell us that they are really real. As James Hillman has pointed
out, dreams are so wonderful a teacher in this area, because during
a dream we realize that we are in the image, the image is not in
this all sound a bit like Nietzsche and the death of god? It should
as Derrida and the other post structural thinkers are all profound
readers of Nietzsche. Not only is the idea of a center looked at
with suspicion, but all structure is seen as founded on an untenable
paradox found in all Western Metaphysics. And yet there is no call
to despair. Though the origin cannot be recovered, the awareness
of this leads to a particular kind of freedom, hat Derrida calls
Since these early days of Derrida, many thinkers made the poststructural
shift, including Julia Kristeva & Jacques Lacan in psychoanalysis,
Michel Foucault and Michel de Certeau in history, Jean Francois
Lyotard and Gilles Deleuze in cultural-political critique and oodles
of others in literary and aesthetic criticism. Though each has his/her
own unique contribution, the was a general abandonment of explanation
of meaning via first causes, origins and orders based on binary
oppositions. The idea that there was even a single "me"
or "you" was abandoned as well. The idea of a single text
is replaced by the word "discourse" generally meaning
that anything longer than a sentence erupts into history, breaks
into contexts, decenters the subject and distributes a continual
flow of meaning.
Even the concept of "man" or "Humanity" becomes
a linguistic construct. We have no nature, or more properly, to
speak of our Nature is to get caught up in the linguistic binary
game of what is nurture, what is nature, and thus it has no meaning
outside of this game. All universals that are posited as valid fall
into this new paradox.
this movement was highly involved in linguistic critiques of social
and political practices, showing how language figures in the construction
of the possibilities of meaning and reality, the larger cultural
movement, postmodernism has extended itself into and beyond these
initial linguistic and social critiques to include the signyfying
practices of the culture at large. In literature, the writer may
have the text become self conscious and have the text converse with
the story itself. In architecture, what is usually seen only inside
a building might be found on the outside. The general significance
of the postmodern spills out into the streets and is as relevant
there as with the avant-garde. (How like the Dream)
o Sign of the Times
Increasingly important in Postmodern thought is the Sign in Culture.
The social order shifts from
productive to reproductive, and simulations and models of reality
begin to replace what was once thought to be real. The differences
between appearance and reality fade. Representation is replaced
by presentation. Singularity of truth is replaced by plurality of
viewpoint. Lyotard speaks about the grand narratives being replaced
by more local accounts of reality. Just as the emphasis in structuralism
moved the attention away from the concrete object to the objects
sign, the postmodern continues to move the attention away from the
signified (concept) to the signifier or the signifiying act. Like
an improvisational jazz movement or a rock and roll concert, the
meanings may swirl around the event, but the focus is on the instrumentality
or acoustic materiality of the moment.
Dreams and the Postmodern: A brief account to date
There have been a few attempts by dream theorists to move dreamwork
and dreaming into the postmodern, but these are mostly scattered
talks and texts. In 1989, Harry Hunt's book the Multiplicity of
Dreams was published. In this close examination of the coginitive
science of dreaming, Hunt revealed how bias of perspectives also
bias the not only the interpretation of empirical results, but choice
of the objects of study and the funding as well. Hunt also recognized
the core of dreaming as "exterioriz(ing) the processes of cross-modal
synesthetic translation and mutual reorganization that may constitute
the core of all symbolic intelligence." (Hunt 1989 206).
Here the process of cross-modal synesthetic (hearing colors, tasting
sounds) translation and mutual reorganization refers to a post-representational
presentation in which meaning is generated in the freeplay of being,
becoming and re-becoming. Bert States, in his book _the Rhetoric
of Dreams_ explores Dreams and the Freudian Primary Process, (the
dream-work of displacement, symbolization, condensation and so on)
in literary terms of Irony and other metaphoric shifts brought about
by language. Paul Kugler, a Jungian (post-jungian?) and Gordon Globus
have both given presentations at the Association for the Study of
Dreams on the postmodern and dreams. Kugler attempts to question
the limits of dream theory as we move from the modern to the postmodern.
Kugler asks of any dream interpretation:
is the dream being literal, and where is it being figurative? To
what does the dream refer, the inner world, the outer world, or
is it self-referential? Who is the author of the dream, biology,
a wish, a desire, a deity, or is there no author? How do we develop
a dream theory that is itself self conscious? That is, capable of
carrying an awareness of its own figural aspects and assumptions?
( its own unconsciousness?). Gordon Globus has been attempting to
construct a connectionists theory of mind/brain and apply this to
dreaming as a way to move into viewing dreaming without getting
caught up in representational thought. In his Neural Net theory,
the brain flows, and in this flow of interactive influences there
are valleys and hills that we settle for a few moments and experience
one of many possible worlds. Dreaming is simply the flow of these
neural nets without the constraints of outer stimulation. James
Hillman has also attempted to view dreams without importing theories
from the past and his _Dreams and the Underworld_ creates a bridge
between the structural projects of Jung and the Postmodern psychoanalytic
theories that remove the idea of the Self as a central organizing
principle to open the individual to a specturm of archetypal influences
which may play out on a larger cultural theatre than the therapist's
the most explosive and creative venue for postmodern dreaming has
been the Internet. Some ideas are more apparent than others. The
ideas of the pre-commercial Net have influenced contemporary Late
90's Cyberspace, which include sharing of resources, the acceptance
of multiple identities, the encouragement toward the non-familiar,
the cooperative spirit of helping one another get these ideas up
and out to the public, general trust of chaos and anarchy and relationships
bonded by mutual interest rather than coercions. Though most of
these concepts have collapsed under the proprietary territorializations
of the commercial networks, they are the backdrop that have provided
support to what I'm calling America's Postmodern Dreaming in Cyberspace.
Here the multiple forms of trans categorical presentation erupt
in ever new forms. Typically we catagorize them, dream art, dream
work, dream sharing, dream science, lucid dreaming, shamanic dreaming,
spiritual dreaming, journey dreaming, psychic dreaming, dream journals,
dreams comments, dream inspired poetry and so on. But these dream
eruptions generally defy any classification and break many boundaries.
At one moment a dream is a journal entry, the next a discussion
between people from around the world in a simulated virtual room.
Later a picture emerges on a Web site and it is linked to the sleep
research laboratories in Cincinnati. An individual following this
path may be involved in the meaning of the dream, but they are also
involved in the track of the dream, the medium of the text in a
chat room, in an email, and on the Web, as a gif or jpeg. This,
I feel, has been America's contribution to the Postmodern, a computer
mediated anarchical network of discourse vibrating with the eruptions
onto its virtual surface.
seems to be missing is a reading together of the pragmatic American
know-how with the Continental discourses on theory. Instead of using
new ideas to explain the meaning of what we have done, the idea
here is to use the ideas to further what has been done, to break
through old concepts and restrictions of the real, to reach, as
the surrealist call it, the Surreal.
In dreamwork online we have in many ways already achieved postmodern
status. The identity of the player is always in flux and there is
an emphasis on play itself as important. We often acknowledge the
inability to establish the meaning of a dream for another subject,
and thereby all agree from the start that all meanings are really
our own. A dream might mean a life style change to one participant,
while another may build a new community, another take on social
are deeply aware in the late 20th Century of all the ephemerality,
fragmentation, discontinuity and chaos. To move into the postmodern
is not to transcend this, nor to counteract it, nor even to find
the eternal elements in it. Rather, we learn to swim in it, to wallow,
to witness as if that is all there is, Samsara is Nirvana. Thus,
this column plans no particular direction or schedule. At this moment
it appears there is a postmodern attitude, but this may change.
Deleuze suggests to 'develop actions, though and desires by proliferation,
juxtaposition, and disjunction," and "to prefer what is
positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities,
mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive
is not sedentary but nomadic." (Preface, Anti-Oedipus).
How like the dream.
-Richard Wilkerson, May 1997
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