In the late stages of my pregnancy (circa October 2010), I lacked the mental dexterity to commit complete sentences to my daily journal, the majority of brain space directed instead toward The Tudors box set. To ensure that at least the odd thought was recorded, I frequently jotted down the bare details of dreams I had during this period.
Yesterday, I stumbled across the notebook containing these fleeting mental images which I had forgotten about this past year or so. Having never read them back to back before, I was overwhelmed by the sheer level of insanity bursting forth from the pages. One particularly salient entry reads:
“I was on a beach. Many people were there. A massive storm erupted and tsunamis began to hit the shore. Every tree or piece of shelter I clutched onto began to drift away. I finally managed (somehow) to get further inland. I ran and ran until I hit the train station where I saw the last train to Elephant and Castle leave the platform. I missed it and suddenly all that was left were masses of excrement where hundreds of people had defecated whilst queueing for the train. I screamed uncontrollably. I was stranded and left alone to die in a pile of shit.”
Being left to die in a pile of human excrement seems humorous when recounted. But the feelings I experienced during that dream were far from funny. I was terrified; truly and utterly. Alone and desperately scared. I felt abandoned by the world, desperate to survive but completely cognisant of my impending death. And death in the most putrid and degrading terms.
“I was in a fort with my army. A military force far superior to ours had surrounded the gates. I was desperately trying to get everyone on my side to slide, single file, under a secluded gate where they could escape into the forest. It was taking so long and I was getting increasingly frightened. I wanted to run, leaving them behind and saving my own skin, but they wouldn’t have been able to do it without me [not sure why – clearly all useless, ill-trained soldiers]. But if I waited for them all to get through, by that time we would inevitably be discovered.”
These are the tame ones, and those with at least some semblance of a discernible narrative. The rest are mainly flashes of extreme sensations and images way too ghastly to retell, nor is it really possible to put them into words.
Sometimes, through my dreams, I feel like I may have glimpsed Hell – such are the distressing images I encounter. Even the most grizzly of films can’t quite capture the violent, visceral assaults experienced during sleep. When I first set eyes on Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son however, I felt a certain disturbing resonance. I find this one of the most terrifying images in the art world. Similarly, when I first watched the Manga horror-erotica film Urotsukidoji, I felt someone had crawled into my subconscious and syphoned out all the data therein (minus the tentacle sex – bleeeegh!).
Yet despite the incredible relief experienced once awake (generally in an unpleasant pool of my own cold sweat), these images and feelings stay with me, often for days. I find them difficult to shake because I can’t help but think that through these sadistic messages, my subconscious is either trying to grapple with something intense or its at least trying to get me to pay attention to something crucial.
Sadly, the answer continues to elude me.
In my first year at university, one of the modules within my Social Anthropology major was Shamanism. I loved this course – it was interesting, intense and full of sexy rituals, perfect for reeling in the academic enthusiasm of young adults. My lecturer, the highly unconventional Dr Jadran Mimica, spoke of the various shaman credentials, one of the most key being a natural predilection for dreaming. Upon hearing this, I thought to myself that perhaps that was my calling. I was a magic (wo)man. A navigator of the mythopoetic cosmos. A witch doctor. But because I was born in the West into a rather regular middle-class life, my destiny would undoubtedly remain unfulfilled. Pity.
Fantasy and self-aggrandising aside, there is something deeply fascinating about the persistence of dreams. Yet I find myself highly divided on the subject. The logical part of my brain tells me that dreams are clearly (at times more clearly than others) an amalgamation of daily occurrences, thoughts (ranging from the trivial to the more exigent or life-altering), anxieties and desires, set against a backdrop of more intense, subconscious/latent goings-on. Yet the more impressionable part of brain finds itself seeking answers in the mystical; that there must be meaning to these dreams that extends beyond such mundane explanations. Something more profound than a series of archetypes swilling about my under-stimulated unconscious.
Usually, the logic wins over. Even though I may spend the day feeling drained by a particularly lively dream the night before, sometimes pondering the existential ramifications of these experiences, I ultimately come to the conclusion it doesn’t really mean a great deal except that I’m, perhaps, rather neurotic. And even though there’s a quiet internal voice which whispers “yes, but what if…?”, when I see others fall prey to the mysticism of dream interpretation I find it all a bit laughable.
I recently watched David Cronenberg’s Dangerous Method, which centres around the intellectual/relationship departure of Jung from Freud. Not an especially inspiring film to say the least and, in my view, trivialises Jung’s contribution to analytical psychology by depicting him as some sort of contradictorily priggish soothsayer. I don’t think the film is intending to undermine Jung’s approach by any means, just the opposite I would imagine, particularly as Freud is illustrated as an obstinate character who refuses to acknowledge any scope for analysis beyond the sexual. But it is difficult to see Jung as anything but ridiculous when he predicts a noise the bookshelves are about to make, or when he dreams (ominously toward the end of the film) of the ‘rivers flowing red with the blood of Europe’ – inferring Jung’s ability to predict the First World War.
Yes, when painted thus, dream analysis sounds suspiciously like – as my Great Uncle once said – a load of shit.
And yet, a lurking desire to seek meaning, to somehow decode these possible messages remains. Like horoscopes. It sounds like nonsense and it probably is and yet the idea is just too powerfully enticing to ignore.