Saturday, 8 March 2014

A Night Dream and a Day Dream


In his book 'Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming' Anthony Stevens uses the term 'hermeneutic frustration' as an arsy academic way to describe the feeling of 'what the fuck was all that about???' that one feels after a dream or series of dreams that seems at once freighted with significance and maddeningly cryptic. Most of my dreams are unremarkable grey affairs involving nothing more intriguing than doing the washing-up or tying my shoes, but now and then a dream of such vividness will come along that you feel it has to mean something. A little over two years ago, I resumed the habit of recording all the dreams I remember after one such dream left me feeling as though an important message had been delivered, but written in a script I could not decipher. I still can't, although I've made dozens of attempts.

I'm in a production of the Philip Glass opera 'Akhnaten', in the role of 'the Page', which is not in the real work. It's the final dress rehearsal. The set is enormous and thoroughly impractical: outdoors, half the size of a football stadium and composed of scaffolding and planks, it ensures that you will get lost, miss your cues, misplace props and generally screw up. I am wandering along its walkways, bleachers and gantries, wondering if I'll be able to locate my shoes, glasses and mobile phone after the rehearsal. There is a break in the proceedings in which my mother appears, handing out shot glasses of whisky to the cast members, and my father, who was alive at the time, is there too, now a child-like presence, almost a simpleton, and something of an embarrassment. Suddenly, I am at a distance from the set, standing on a railway station platform and telling a train driver that I need to be back over there ASAP as the rehearsal will be resuming soon. As we speak, the huge, flimsy edifice lurches sideways and collapses. I'm back there myself now, still fussbudgeting about my shoes, specs and phone, and noting that the Akhnaten is now sitting in a little teepee of fallen scaffolding and planks under a gently settling cloud of dust. He looks forlorn and puzzled, and there's a comical, cartoonish criss-cross of elastoplasts on his forehead.      

So - a performance, a public presentation of complexes and conflicts, to be given here in a setting that is utterly impractical. This is an opera about an Egyptian king who has been called the first individual, the first monotheist (although he probably wasn't a monotheist) a megalomaniac, a despot, a failure, a visionary, and so on - 3,500 years after his death he's all things to all observers. Me as a page, a boy servant , not yet mature. My mother dispensing spirit: here it's scotch, but of course 'spirit' also means soul, essence, inner strength. My father there but not there, just as he was at that point in waking life, although I'd never have felt he was an embarrassment. Then the collapse of the whole job lot and the comically bathetic ending: it's only a pretend Akhnaten, sitting there looking like more like Stan Laurel, and I'm still fussing over my handful of belongings, each pertaining to such basics as walking, sight, and communication.

There seems to be a hell of a lot packed into this dream, but even after two years I cannot synthesise all these images into a coherent message: they all lead to other images, as if I were making some sprawling mind-map as useless as that absurd set.


On Wednesday, I had a waking dream, one where I just watch images drifting through my mind as I'm washing up or hoovering the sitting room. In this, I have taken it into my head to cook a Greek spinach pie to take to work. Getting a large spinach pie to work on the train would be impractical, so I see in the daydream that I go to Leicester to cook it at the house of a colleague who's an old Greece hand. We take our masterpiece into work and wow everyone in the staffroom. Now, back on your Earth on the same day, Sharon had indeed taken a large spinach pie to work, cooked by her son, and it was going down a treat with the teachers at the very moment I was daydreaming all this. When she mentioned it on Facebook, we were amazed at the coincidence and the perfect timing, and that she too had wondered at the practical problems of getting a large spinach pie to work on the bus without ruining it. Yesterday, somewhat breathlessly, we told a colleague of the coincidence.

'Yeah' he said, totally unimpressed. 'Funny things, dreams.'

Yes, I suppose we did look like a couple of credulous idiots, acting all flabbergasted at a coincidence. And reading through my most recent dream notebook with its two years' worth of attempts to interpret their imagery, I can't help thinking sometimes 'this is just insane: they're nocturnal brain-farts, they mean nothing, why are you indulging yourself like this, imagining them to be so significant?' But the recurring image is a disquieting one of botched public performances and of being forced into roles unsuited to me, and trying to understand why this should recur is what keeps me at it.

Spinach pie, or spanakόpita.



2 comments:

Bo said...

Happy belated birthday from me!

A 'Big Dream', that. The king and the page are both aspects of masculine identity, one mature, one (as you say) immature. And they can't connect. So I would take this as a dream about your identity as an adult man and the fabric of your life. What in your life feels hyper-elaborate and yet flimsy? Where has the flow got blocked? It's Shakespearean: all the world's a stage. And Miltonic: they also serve who only stand and wait.

I note that there's a kind of hierarchy of focus: the page on the king, and Akhnaten on the sun. There's not much about relationship here. The other persons are your mother---dishing out ambiguous 'spirits'---and your father, who as a kind of 'simpleton' seems to hint at a kind of impairment to your inner model of the masculine. The fusspot boy; the Stan Laurel monomaniac in a cloud of settling dust; the eerie Fool-cum-King Lear figure of your father. Three ages of man, none of them wholly in charge of what's happening, even the king.

It's striking---and a very good thing---that this is a performance. There is some distance (some literal distance in the form of that jump-cut in the middle, with the bus) between what's going on and you. And that means consciousness, awareness.

Vilges Suola said...

Well there's some stuff to chew on: many thanks for that, I'm very grateful. It really is very difficult to get a handle on this when you are doing it alone, but you've given me a really good framework to begin to fit in quite a few 'big' dreams since that one.

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