Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Drift on Dreams

As some sort of mystic-model-agnostic non-monotheistic lover of science and as a reader of literature ("licher-choor" in Ezra Pound-speak), and a plenum of pamphlets/manifestos/crank-and-kook broadsides and all "religious" phenomena and junk mail...just as you too are (roughly?): dreams never fail to elude the interests of my imagination. Of that a few words before one of us goes off to Slumber-Land, the land of multiple cartoonish zzzzzzzzs.

Some writers I admire have talked about the value of writing down dreams as soon as you can, in order to incorporate the material in some way. William S. Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson come to mind. (The former even used a device called a Dream Machine while "awake" to simulate a dream-state; the latter gave interviews in which he said he kept a dream journal, and I even think he wrote about it in his Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1, but no one I know has seen this/these journals, if indeed they are extant. RAW died in early 2007.) 

James Joyce wrote an entire novel in his own invented dream-language. (Of that, more some other time.)

What I've found difficult is turning on enough light to grab a pen with paper, getting down enough details before the dream traces melt away into the voidstream, all without incurring a chronic insomnia. Guys like Burroughs had to be committed to the dream-thing, and it looks to me like it paid off big-time.
I've habitually logged/diarized/journaled every day since September of 1989, so there are scads of "last dream of the night"s logged in those spiral-bound notebooks. I've recorded my dreams, when I could, not for use in a novel (I have never written one), but simply for my own kicks. You know that last one? The one right before waking? Somnologists looking into the oneiric say EEGs tell us that for most folks the longest dream of the night is that last one before waking. The tell-tale waves are right there on the graph. Your had REM, you shouted out "cookie!," QED.

Sometimes I can only recall fleeting bits. Here's one I had from three nights ago, as I wrote it down upon waking:

"Rainy, dark day and yet I'm out gardening. Someone with a dry hacking cough in the distance on a quiet day, quiet rain. A single jewish mother I don't know asks for directions. Jeff (my dead younger brother) and the blond straight-haired guitar student of long ago who really looked up to me. I could fly - literally - but he couldn't. I kept trying to help him. Too easy to read this dream."

Okay, maybe it's not interesting to you, but that was one that actually gave me some insight. With that one I applied the Jungian thing where you assume every person in the dream is yourself, even though my dead brother and the student were real people. I have no idea who the jewish mother was, or how I knew she was single (or jewish, for that matter), or how she got into my backyard. Anyway...
"I believe it to be true that dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them." That's Montaigne, in the late 1500s, in one of his delightful Essays. And since Joseph and his psychedelic dream-coat that his dad gave him in the OT - and earlier, no doubt - we have and probably will continue to seek to read into our dreams for the numinous, or whether mommy really loved us, or whatever. This despite some compelling scientific approaches to dreams, fMRI machines and sleep studies, etc. (I'm thinking of the work of Allan Hobson, and G. William Domhoff and few others.)

This "reading"of ours and others' dreams: I consider it a time-honored aspect of the Poetic Faculty of us, homo sap. I'm "conservative" enough to say, yes, give us the latest science on dreams, but exercising our Poetic Faculty is a blast. I'll take both approaches, and some chewing gum, that girly magazine over there, a bottle of Old Harper...

[What? You're still awake?]

Here's Jerome Feldman, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley, in his wonderful and recent book:

"There is general agreement and considerable evidence that dreaming is important in consolidating memory and involves simulating experiences." - p.80 of Feldman's  From Molecule To Metaphor

Now, I think that's probably "right," but I will go on being overly intrigued by the sheer oddness of my dreams. Why? 'Cuz I wanna, that's why! I see a value in it. I ain't a-hurtin' no one!

Another scientist at Berkeley, Jack Gallant, has been working on a machine that could reproduce dreams. I read that in a science article one desultory day not long ago, and jotted his name down. Sounds impossible and/or ridiculous? Maybe? Here's something on Gallant and his work as of 2008.

I guess Gallant and his team have dared to dream the impossible dream-reading machine. Guys like that can't help but do that stuff, and we can all quickly imagine - on an absurdist level - yet further possible invasions of what we so laffingly used to call "privacy."

But I also hope it yields some good Art.

Finally, I note that the late great Professor George Carlin, in his riveting Napalm and Silly Putty, wondered if movie directors had credits at the end of their dreams.


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