October 13, 2019

The Trouble with Dream Scenes

“One morning, almost fifteen years ago, I woke up from a dream that was so vivid and powerful that I knew it must be true. I still remember both what happened in the dream and the feelings it left me with.

Now the fact is that listening to someone else’s dreams is nearly always tiresome; usually, if it goes on for more than a few seconds, unbearable. Dreams in literature are monstrosities: whenever I come across one, it takes a lot for me not to flip past it or shut the book altogether. It tells me that the writer has failed to understand his responsibility to reality, or else has not understood the role of the imagination in real life.

Why is that? Everyone dreams—it is one of the basic phenomena of being human, something we all share. Not only that: for every one of us dreams are significant, meaningful, relevant to our lives. Then why is sitting across the breakfast table from someone and listening to them tell you about a dream so unbearable? Let’s say the dream is about how the dreamer was going downstairs in a house she had never been in before, dressed in a silvery, sparkling dress. Waiting down below is a group of people she has never seen before, but it seems, she realizes as she walks down the stairs, that they know her; they look at her, some greet her by name.

If I read a novel or saw a movie that started with a scene like this, say by Arthur Schnitzler or David Lynch, I would be hooked. The mix of strangeness and normality would be irresistible, the mysterious atmosphere beautiful and compelling. What will happen next? Will she pretend she knows them, remembers the house, and understands the situation—will she play herself, as it were—until something comes along that she can place, something she can use as a thread to find her way back to explicable reality? Or will the strangeness intensify, the unknown but familiar faces coming closer and closer, will they confront her with something, so that she runs away, out into the moonlit garden, alone, out of breath, in her shimmering silver dress? But told as a dream, the morning after, across the kitchen table, I squirm and hope it will be over soon. Please, no more details!”

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