“[D]reams – those flimsy, evasive, unreliable, vague, and uncertain fantasies.” (Jung, Part 1, location 253)
In the minds of linear thinkers like my father, there is no place for dreams. They belong to the world of the irrational, the intangible, and the chaotic. They are, as Jung says, fantasies better left untouched by rational thinkers and believers. They do not fit into to the world of what one of my college professors once called Big “T” Truth (objective reality). Dreams, in my father’s world, are frightening and threatening.
But to the artist, dreams can be one of the most fertile grounds for creativity. And I am not talking only literal dreams (or their second Janus face, nightmares). I use the word dreams in the way that Anais Nin uses it in her book on writing, The Novel Of The Future. Nin writes:
“The definition of a dream is: ideas and images in the mind not under the command of reason. It is not necessarily an idea or an image that we have during sleep.” (Nin, Ch. 1, location 144; emphasis original)
While Nin uses a more encompassing definition of dreams, I prefer to use the term dream tapestry. The dream tapestry is what lies beneath the surface, under the iceberg, out of reach of reason, intellect, rationale. The chaotic, the sensual, and the free weave the dream tapestry. For Nin, “[A] dream may include reverie, imagination, daydreaming… visions and hallucinations… – any experience which emerges from the realm of the subconscious.” (Nin, Ch. 1, location 144; emphasis original). To this list, I add fantasy, memory, narrative, creativity, and emotion. The dream tapestry is made up of what we feel and experience that is indefinable, indescribable, blind to the eye.
The challenge for the artist is finding a way to use the dream tapestry to find truth in art. Nin found a way in her fiction and in her diaries by following Jung’s philosophy: Proceed from the dream outward. Of course, Jung was a psychoanalyst, not an artist. His dreams were literal dreams and their outward interpretation was the revelation of illness and psychic life. But artists can use this same idea when they deal with a character or a story or song or painting. They can from the dream (dream tapestry) outward into action, into story, setting, dialogue, the pieces of a narrative. Method actors do this when they dive into not only the external trappings of character but their internal psyche.
If the dream tapestry is about freedom and revelation, it is also about pain, violence, and distortion. When I consider the dream tapestry of my characters (when I proceed the dream outward, from psychological reality into action), I do not disregard the vile pieces of their nature that drives them as much as their redemptive qualities. For, as Jung says, “[Dreams] originate in a sprit that is not quite human, but is rather a breath of nature – a spirit of the beautiful and generous as well as of the cruel goddess – “ (Jung, Part 1, location 648). The dream tapestry, then, includes also nightmares, illusions, delusions, and madness.
In the title story of a short story collection I’m currently working on, Gnarled Bones And Other Stories, the main character, Em, sinks into delusion as her close relationship with her brother Denny deteriorates as he lies dying in the hospital:
“But this morning, Goldie let me come with her to the hospital. The nurse helped him raise his head. He looked so squalid, poor darling Denny! Goldie said no, but I flew to him. He whispered that my kisses sparked him like wild strawberries fizzing in the sun. Goldie says he couldn’t possibly have said a thing for his illness makes him too breathless to speak. She has no clue, but I had a whole silent conversation with him. About Priscilla and Tommy and his birds and the bouquets I set out for him every morning. I know he can see them because his hand suddenly leaned into mine, curved around my fingers like the two tulips I put in the center of the vase every morning.”
Memory, another part of the dream tapestry, is a part of the psychological reality of the main character Jake of my novella The Order Of Agrios:
“… [H]is drawings of [his sister Vivian] always came out as a child Vivian, no older than seven or eight.
Once, he had tried to recall what arrested Vivian at that age. Their grandmother had died when he was six and they watched her grow weaker in the passing weeks. They abandoned their usual quiet play and hid behind the folds of the heavy curtain in her room, watching the nurse shift pails of warm water and witch hazel, mopping the moaning face as if with a magic potion.
He woke up one morning to hear his mother’s voice screeching over and over again. He ran into the room to see her standing with his grandfather at the foot of the bed, clutching the post with both hands. They were bobbing back and forth and the noise made him think of bawling or praying. Marie, the housekeeper, grabbed his shoulders, trying to restrain his jumping feet, but he wretched free, rushing at his mother with some childish notion of heroism. When he reached her, he saw what Marie had never intended for him to see – the screeching came not from prayer or tears, but from laughter.
His mother then flung him away so hard that he hit the wall. It was then that he saw Vivian, standing at the doorway, knowing too that their grandmother was dead and hearing too the screeching laughter. Her face was carved of brimstone and he heard her voice rise, not the voice of an eight year old but of an old woman
‘You will have no soul to bless.’
It was that horror of cruelty that the drawings defied, the cruelty that showed in the shadow of her woman’s face.”
Jake, an artist, cannot release himself from the past which haunts him so his memory sustains the vision of innocence and so he cannot draw Vivian as anything but a child.
Dreams in and of themselves are still a part of the tapestry and dreams woven into narratives frequent many stories and films (Gregory Peck’s Dali-infused dream in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound is a good example of this). But an artist has more than just dreams and nightmares to work with to speak the truth and look into the world. The artist has a whole tapestry.
Jung, Carl G., Von Franz, M.L., Henderson, Joseph L., Jacobi, Jolande, Jaffe Aniela. Man And His Symbols. Dell Publishing, 1964. Kindle digital file.
Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.