Monday, December 28, 2009

Dreams and Riddles.

It is widely believed that dreams gather together and rehash in novel and non-linear style the experiences and thoughts of the day, or short time period, immediately prior to the dream. I have heard some adepts argue, however, that this is a chronological error, and a gross reversal of cause and effect. By this contrary logic, the dream is to be understood as a disorganised draft of the day to follow it, which linear consciousness and daylight conspire to organise into grammatical cohesion and the fluid movement of an overarching argument.

The notion that the waking world is composed of material from dreams, and not vise versa , was probably never intended as anything more than wilful paradox, but I have heard many wilder conjectures advanced upon a similar theme. There is one belief which holds that every dream contains a series of a clues to a riddle which is to be manifested in the events of the following day. The person who would solve this riddle must first remember his dream down to very minute detail. He must then separate clue from mere extraneous detail; an arduous task, though it is said that all puns and numbers are automatically clues. Finally, by a system of correspondence never wholly understood, he must connect the dream clues to specific sights, sounds, snatches of overheard conversation, advertisements glimpsed on passing buses and trams, newspaper headlines, and so on, until such a time as he has first articulated the question posed by the riddle, and then produced it's solution. Crucially, they have only a day in which to solve each particular riddle; once night falls, an entirely new conundrum is posited, and the next day a new myriad of sensation awaits to suggest its solution. Of course, it is possible to continue working on a single problem over a course of days, months, or even years. But this is deemed an unwise course, since dreams are subject to degrees of dilution and confabulation even in their immediate recollection; all experience, once it has passed, is subject to similar effects, and thus each riddle is subject to increasing levels of opacity with the passage of time.

This belief about dreams is held to be true by no more than eight individuals currently living. They are simultaneously the most purposeful and lonely of God's creatures. They live in boarding houses and cheap hotels in small cities all of which possess a peculiar air of quietude and transience. They are places we have visited only briefly, and found to have an odd lack of character: a deadening sense of the past compounded by antique shop fronts and discontinued or wholly obscure commercial brands, elevators from old suspense movies, and restaurant terraces left empty, or sparsely seated with old, watchful, childless couples. They are cities with docks, with canals, with rivers, and yet strangely unconnected to the wider world, lacking temporal and global markers, lacking all sense of permanent habitation, all solidity of place. These are the places where our savants reside, frantically compiling their charts, and comparing them against the random flow of information that presents itself upon a given day. This belief in the acute meaningfulness of all sensory information, this sense of a constant and intimate dialogue between world and self, is the essence of magical thinking, and it is a peculiarly human malady.

Yet, the savants of this method of dream analysis have solved many extraordinary puzzles, perhaps owing to a mixture of persistence, and something of the dynamics which engender self-fulfilling prophecy. Most of these solutions, naturally, are self-enclosed, self-referential systems. We admire the complexity and consistency of them, in the way that we admire fabulous works of art, rather than endeavours of a scientific or philosophical nature. However, our savants have also solved a wide variety of real mathematical and scientific problems, which remain completely obscure to the mainstream intelligensia. How is it that madmen, operating by the most subjective, rudderless systems of thought, could so outstrip their academically trained brethren? It may be that where ever man seeks to overstep the merely vegetative and animal aspects of his nature, the baseline survive and replicate command virus, he has ventured into the wide spectrum of magical thinking. The Kabalistic exegete, the conspiracy crank, and the scientist share a common sense of the world as a code, with the human mind indelibly designed to function as the key to that code. These are truly characteristic of the human malady, the freak overspecialisation which is most characteristic of our nature. Further to this, it seems that our grandest ideas and artistic products are not invented, or sculpted out of formless clay, by certain gifted individuals, but rather something pre-existent which is accessed by some process of receptivity and intuition which we barely understand. Witness the mystery posed by mathematical savants and autistic geniuses, or the fact that madmen, in the heroic effort of maintaining the consistency of their delusion, remind us at some level of all our precarious systems of thought.

There is another similar variant of dream-lore which I should discuss before concluding. This is a system which is practised by a very small sect which seem to have originated in the antiquated heresy of the gnostics. This belief agrees in most particulars to the one we have just discussed: every dream represents a key or a code to a riddle which is to be solved in the period of daylight immediately following the dream. However, in this schema, the riddle is always one and the same. It is the riddle that drove Oedipus to intense grief and physical blindness, the question that Lear asked of the heath and the elements: the riddle of identity, of the nature of the self. To these dream-exegetes, the self is a different entity every day, and will continue to be ceaselessly reborn in this fashion, will continue to waste away in an endless repetition of beginning and becoming, until such a time as it recalls the part of itself which is outside time and contingency. The clues to this timeless foundation of identity are not to be found in past memories, which are simply the accretion of discontinuous acts and events, carried out by strangers: disposable as newspapers, alien and unfamiliar as discontinued or wholly obscure commercial brands. The only clues are scattered through dreams, and the only time to resolve the puzzle is NOW, every thing else is stale information, missed opportunity, newspapers blowing fitfully through blank, autumnal cities nobody will ever visit.

I often think sadly of these various dream savants, cut off from the rhythm and pace of the world and its tangible realities, shuffling through one-stop ghost cities, moving with a slow gait redolent of the sorrow of too much time pursuing shadows and myths. Or those others, every night resigning themselves to beginning it all again, to a new set of co-ordinates and instructions, a new reiteration of the same quest.


michael garrett said...

Jung's Red Book might make for an interesting read.


Tristan Eldritch said...

Yep. I hear it ain't cheap though!

michael garrett said...

You are correct... think I'll wait for the paperback!

In the mean time, I enjoyed your presentation of "Dreams and Riddles." Dreams, particularly my own, have always fascinated me.