Anyone not yet convinced that dreams can be a form of art, much less a marketable one, should have told that to Melville House Publishing before they...moreAnyone not yet convinced that dreams can be a form of art, much less a marketable one, should have told that to Melville House Publishing before they published the dream journals of Georges Perec (“la boutique obscure” translated by Daniel Levin Becker, 2012). Most famous for his novels “Life A Users Manuel” and “A Void” (written entirely without the letter ‘e’), Perec was a highly inventive and linguistically challenging writer who was not above the challenge of trying to record his dreams with the same style of language and plot consistency in which they were dreamed. According to Perec’s introduction to his dream journals, which he called the world’s first “nocturnal autobiography”:
“Everyone has dreams. Some remember theirs, far fewer recount them, and very few write them down. Why write them down, anyway, knowing you will only sell them out (and no doubt sell yourself out in the process)? I thought I was recording the dreams I was having; I have realized that it was not long before I began having dreams only in order to write them. These dreams—overdreamed, overworked, overwritten—what could I then expect of them, if not to make them into texts, a bundle of texts left as an offering at the gates of that “royal road” I still must travel with my eyes open?"
Perec goes on to give some notes on transcribing and composing dream records on the level of typography and page formatting (paragraph breaks indicate changes of style, place, mood as felt within the dream), before presenting the dreams themselves.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a dream journal titled (though not translated as) ‘the obscure shop’ carries with it a certain everyday or quotidian banality—dreams abound of conferences, house-calls, writing crossword puzzles, chasing cats, and buying clothing. One is strongly reminded of the dream journals of French critic Hélène Cixous (published in translation as “Dream I Tell You” in 2006), where the most untoward and dream-like situation is that her daughter keeps transforming into a kitten. While both dreamers are often haunted by scenarios of the World Wars, they also struggle with the mechanisms of dresser drawers and interpersonal relationships (though Perec’s journals do not avoid dreams of sex). Perec’s dreams, though, also indicate a fascinating shift toward a post-modern worldview and literary style.
Born in 1936, Perec’s dreams included in this book were not dreamed until the 1970s-80s, and amongst the quotidian, early-century concerns of his formative subconscious, one finds fascinating moments when Perec finds himself living out the plots of modern movies or demonstrating as a “hippy.” In one dream (no. 52 in the collection), after making dinner reservations Perec, “returned to Paris in a magnificent machine, ultramodern and very sci-fi. I remember panoramic portholes. Dizzying speed.”(less)
A weird and beautiful novel that heavily influenced the Surrealists, The Experience of the Night is told through the illogic of dreams, and as such it...moreA weird and beautiful novel that heavily influenced the Surrealists, The Experience of the Night is told through the illogic of dreams, and as such its highly symbolic plot doesn't make very much sense. But its scenes are breathtaking, and hint at a much more fantastic reality hiding behind the one we commonly think we live in, that is, the reality that exists in each of our subconscious. Read this for its vision, not its meaning.
From a technical perspective, this book would be more effective in its aim of transporting a person from everyday real life to the marvel of dreams if it actually depicted a recognizable reality in the first place. This is a personal frustration with a lot of surrealist literature: the assumption that the real world is there without the need to represent it through a historical context. It's difficult to take apart a real world if the reader is uncertain that they aren't dreaming the whole thing in the first place.
Mainly recommended for those who already appreciate the strange and uncertain. Is similar in tone and style to some of ETA Hoffman's tales.(less)
12.1.09 I couldn't sleep last night, as inspired as I was having begun to read Carl Jung's Liber Novus, his "Red Book." My first impression is that thi...more12.1.09 I couldn't sleep last night, as inspired as I was having begun to read Carl Jung's Liber Novus, his "Red Book." My first impression is that this is a massive tome; at 16x12x2'' it is easily the largest book I've ever laid hand on, and just turning the pages takes a substantial effort. But it's well worth it.
The Liber Novus is Jung's account of his decades long process of psychological and subconscious self experimentation, through a technique called "active imagination;" a process that he claimed was the seeds to all his work. Written first in a series of Black Books, this masterpiece was later painstakingly copied into a red leather-bound book, though never finished. And by copy I mean create an entire illuminated manuscript, complete with exquisite calligraphy and full color mandala and dream illustrations, that Jung worked on till his fascination with alchemy took hold, and then sat in a box until long after he died.
This first edition presents not just a translation of the text (by Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani), but a full facsimile of the original folio plates, which have been kept in a safe deposit box unlooked at for the last 80 years and so are in excellent condition. The edition also includes critical apparatuses; a historical essay to contextualize the significance of the Liber Novus in Jung's life and work (and was the main thrust to convince the Society for the Heirs of Jung to finally let the book be published), as well as paratextual citations to highlight the variety of references in the manuscript itself, which should make the read that much more insightful.
Flipping through the folio I was struck by the richness of the illustrations, some of which I would consider masterpieces in themselves, filled with fractals, swirling colors, archetypal situations, and a surreal dream-sense that was apparently under-appreciated by the Surrealists. The calligraphy is in German, which I unfortunately don't speak, and can only comment on the precise appearance of.
As for the text itself, that will be my next attempt. I will say that it begins with the title: "The way of what is to come," along with some prophetic quotations from Isaiah, and much of it is in dialogue form between Jung and his spirit guide (in the tradition of Mephistopheles), placing the work as a modern take of the tradition of revelatory literature, which isn't so far off considering the inclusion of Jung's dreams prophesying the World Wars.
On the whole, the book seems to be Jung's attempt to reconcile the scientific with the mythic and spiritual, the personal with collective, and as such could not be more timely than to finally see the light of people's eyes. As a writer interested in the use of dreams and personal narratives, as well as having taken this process to my own experimental, revelatory, self-mythology and understand the danger of attempting vs. the incredibly potent imagery that can come out of such a process, I suspect the Liber Novus may have far reaching cultural effects that we could only begin to imagine.
12.11.09 I finally started reading the text of Jung's Red Book last night, and it is as revelatory, revolutionary, and vitally important as I suspected it would be, not just in terms of Jung's psychological theories but in taking a stance for a broader spiritual approach to reality that is even more lacking now than when Jung was writing. Reading this is like reading Blake, I want to quote every passage (as they are almost all brilliant), but if my cat will get off the tome I'll look at some of the important symbols and themes that Jung was attempting to articulate.
The spirit of the times vs. the spirit of the depths - Jung makes a distinction between the spirit or stance of the time in which he lives vs. the spirit of a greater, ancient, and universal reality that is entirely overlooked by the present, and is striving to come forth through Jung. This is historical consciousness vs. the mythic subconsciousness, and Jung frames the Red Book as a way of getting past all the small-minded, violent, materialistic impulses of his age (including a harsh criticism of Christianity), while recognizing that this present world may entirely ignore his warning and call for an understanding of the subconscious.
The supreme meaning - Jung claims that God and gods are only images of an eternal supreme meaning oscillating between meaning and absurdity, and it is this supreme meaning that men must come to recognize as a solution to the spirit of the times. This is entirely consistent with my concept of ultimate significance, in that the supreme meaning is more truly real than the images we conceive of it through.
Dreams and epiphanic visions - Jung recounts a number of visions prophesying the world wars as well as his own future work. He claims an uncontrollable compulsion to record these dreams, though he never did before. Similarly, a number of the passages Jung claims are actually the spirit of the depths or his soul speaking through him as a medium.
The soul - Much of the early part of this book is Jung's attempt to reconnect with his soul. This is the formation of his archetype of the anima/animus, but it is not made explicit in his academic writings that the archetype is not just an image but one's actual, living soul, which encourages us to live and do everything we dream of living and doing. The soul is one's God and opposite, which perfects us in the supreme meaning. The soul is not part of us, we are only the expression and symbol of our soul in the world.
The desert - Though Jung's academic writings discuss the archetypes they do not discuss (as far as I've read) the importance of subconscious locations. In particular Jung discusses here the image of the desert, which is the conception of oneself and soul that one must journey into and rejuvenate in order to overcome the spirit of the times. Jung believes he saw a desert because his soul had been withered (and perhaps those in touch with their souls experience a garden). From my own explorations of the subconscious I also found this "desert of the soul" as the location for the deeper, mythic realities I had to contend with outside of the city (the symbol for the everyday world and times). As my own process continued, this desert was first flooded and became a garden before the entire inner world was set to flames so that a new internal reality could form. I am curious how these locations change through Jung's process in the remainder of the Red Book, as I find such psychogeographies an essential compliment to the character archetypes.
The descent into hell - Jung has a vision in which he realizes that he must descend to hell in order to individuate himself and find the supreme meaning. Such descensus avernum are common in mythic and revelatory literature and serve as another example of the importance of place as symbol for Jung's theories. Jung equates this descent with the possibility of going mad, and sees himself as a sacrificed hero who must overcome that potential madness for a more divine madness lacking in the spirit of the times. This section (and the titles of the other sections) suggest that Jung is on a hero's journey comparable to that described by Joseph Campbell. This hell is all the absurd meaninglessness of our times that we must go through in order to construct our own meaning of events, which is the supreme meaning. (less)
I'm not a huge fan of Kerouac, but I am a sucker for books of dreams, particularly from notable authors, as I'm interested in the ways that dreams are...moreI'm not a huge fan of Kerouac, but I am a sucker for books of dreams, particularly from notable authors, as I'm interested in the ways that dreams are represented as a narrative form. So far, Kerouac's fast-paced, ungrammatical style lends itself well to the feeling and uncertainty of dream narratives, though it suffers from the same shortcoming as Cixous' "Dream I Tell You" in presenting material that is fairly everyday and doesn't capture the surreal and epic quality that I love about dream narratives.(less)
It's always interesting reading a book after watching (and being a big fan of) its movie version, especially in this case where the book's translation...moreIt's always interesting reading a book after watching (and being a big fan of) its movie version, especially in this case where the book's translation was only finished after the movie came out. Perhaps the main difference in this story about dreams taking over reality through stolen psychotherapy devices is that, unlike in Satoshi Kon's anime, where the more surreal imagery leaps from the screen within the first ten minutes, Tsutsui takes more than half the book for the content of dreams to become manifest. In fact, a quarter of the book passes before the dream detective Paprika enters someone's dream at all. Despite the potential for this to seem really slow, and less interesting than the more frantically paced movie, Paprika the novel actually works best by holding off the potential for surreality to manifest itself, because that allows the author to create a familiar and logical real world first, which is necessary in order to make the weirder elements read as believable. Another interesting twist is that many of the inter-character plot elements held till the end of the movie are given at the novel's beginning, making the story less about finding out how the characters interact but seeing how these interactions change in the face of embodied subconscious impulses.
As someone who has spent a lot of time working with my own dreams in a narrative context, it was interesting seeing some of the ideas that Tsutsui uses for his dream detective's dream interpretation methods, such as having dream characters really represent other people from our memories, which I find a little too simplifying with how dreams actually seem to work, but was necessary for the novel's cohesion. One unique concept is that of "dreason," which opposed to the reason in dreams that allows us to control our subconscious imagery (the translator should have called this lucidity, but for some reason didn't), dreason is the awareness of where logic falls apart in dreams, which keeps us from accomplishing even the most simple task and eventually wakes us up through being startled by frustration, guilt, etc, an idea that I've come up against in my own dreamwork and have called thwartedness, though I think the term dreason captures the scope of it better, and Tsutsui does a good job of displaying this in action, letting dream scenes and characters morph into each other, startling the dreamers who aren't always quite aware when they are dreaming.
One of the deeper themes of the novel, and a necessary one in talking about dreams vs. reality, is unfortunately not introduced (either directly or indirectly) until near the end of the novel, and I would have liked to see be played out from the beginning, more as it is in the Kon's movie: that goodness and evil (or god and the devil in religious terms), are imaginal constructs that are not opposed to each other but are opposed to the banality of everyday life/ human waking existence, the idea being that such extreme aspects of psyche necessitate each other, and the wilder, surreal parts of life, whether desired or feared, are at odds with life as it is lived on a daily basis. Unfortunately this idea just seems tossed off or unfinished, as the setting of a cutting-edge psychiatric institute is not exactly everyday enough to see the range/ struggle between reality and the dreams. Similarly, there is no resolve: good triumphs over evil as if it was reality triumphing over the dreams, which is certainly a common ending, but it perhaps would have been more interesting, and more in line with some of the Jungian psychology that the book draws on, to have the characters find a balance, a place where both good and evil, dreams and the everyday, could coexist as equally real and important, since humans after all are the ones who created these ideas of psychic extremes in the first place and still must learn what to do with them through our imaginations.
Those critiques aside, this book is fantastic, mesmerizing, and full of so many novel ideas and writing techniques that it is a must read for anyone interested in dreams, science fiction, psychology, and plain human behavior.(less)