Friday, May 10, 2013
Writing about Dreams
Margaret Atwood does it for the New York Review of Books.
From the piece...
Dreams have always fascinated us. They feature in the Bible, in the Greek myths, and in the traditional lore of almost every culture on earth. They’ve also baffled us: What do they mean? How do we know? Why do we care? Because we do care about our dreams, from time to time: a happy one can lift the spirits for a day, a sad one can depress.
The allegorical dream vision was a staple of the high middle ages, and dream visitations are common in folksong, but characters in the developing novel form didn’t dream frequently—or such is my impression—in the eighteenth century. Nor do they, much, in the early nineteenth century: Jane Austen’s folks don’t dream. Poets do, from the Romantics on, but that was seen as poetic. The realistic novel stuck to what people did and thought while awake.
But in addition to its industrial revolution and its build-out of capitalism, the nineteenth century was obsessed with hidden aspects of the self—mesmerism, somnambulism, multiple personalities, trance, possession, mind-altering drugs and hallucinatory experiences, hypnotism, spiritualism, Swedenborgianism, and more. Pre-Freudian medical investigators of the mind and brain: where do we go when we sleep?