22 May 2015

Just a Few Interesting Cliches


I awoke from a night of troubling dreams. Clearly, I have issues with which to deal. I say ‘clearly’ but there appears little about dreams that are clear to me though I acknowledge their meaningfulness. As with any competent (my word of the day) piece of literature, the dream demands some interpretation; and the dream teaches me about literature even as the opposite might be true as well, which might be something I learned long ago from Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Often the case is that though in the dream I appear to be in a familiar place, in fact upon awakening when I analyze the details they are not at all characteristics of that place! Proof that the latent content is aligned with but separate from the latent content. At some point in Walden Thoreau writes that he awoke to a question, and I believe that he is precisely correct: the dream is a response to a question my life poses to me, and the interpretation of the dream is an attempt to understand its construction and all its details as an answer to the question. Terry Eagleton teaches me that the text itself is a strategy to answer the question, and to understand the text requires that I reconstruct the question to which the text was answer.  Of course, since my life possesses a certain complexity, and my life inspires more than a single question, the answer is overdetermined. Come Watson, the game’s afoot!
            For example, in one of last night’s dream I returned to my office from a trip, or at least, the feeling the dreamer (me) experienced in the dream was that I was returning to the office building where I have worked for the past quarter century, but when I awoke and examined the details of the place, I realized that the dream had not reproduced my office at all. The feeling placed me in an environment that suggested my office, but the dream had produced a location that had elements of a variety of spaces in my life. In the dream I felt that I was in my office building, but in the details I am certain the building was not my office. And clearly the action of the dream--its plot—did not accord with placement in the office building at all. It was not my colleagues returning with me nor was the place at all meant for work; nor was I, in fact, returning for work; indeed, the dream had little to do with my work, though the architectural style (painted concrete bricks!) was endemic to a certain type of environment. As Freud taught, I can look at the details and realize their significance in and to the dream, but the dream is a construction (by whom or what, I wonder?) that has drawn those details from my life as an attempt to respond to something: to some question.
            And so I want to acknowledge that I start interpretation with the feeling of the dream (and of the text), which I understand an answer, and I work to find at least one of the questions to which the dream (and the work) is an answer, acknowledging that the dream and the text are overdetermined. Like the dream the text is produced under certain conditions and therefore, the interpretation demands that attention be paid to the conditions of its production: these are social, political, historical, psychological, etc. If as hermeneuticists say reality is what returns a coherent answer to an historically loaded question, then attention to history must be paid. Terry Eagleton, quoting Wolfgang Iser, says that a text is a set of instructions for the production of meaning, and that meaning is not an object but a practice of following instructions: “to organize various data offered  . . . by the text . . . we look forward, we look back, we decide, we change our decisions, we form expectations, we are shocked by their nonfulfillment, we question, we muse, we accept, we reject . . .” How I proceed depends on the prioritization of strategies and environmental and psychological elements in and of the present moment and the entire history that moment contains. So must it be with the dream.  Interpretation is an event that involves vigorous activity—perhaps that is why I get so tired!

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