I have always seen the dream as the wound left by the day. Greek: trauma = wound. German: traum = dream. Its shape is essentially backward-looking. Your day comes out through the mangle. Bit-part players cast as heroes.Inanimate objects get leading roles. Your free will, your agency, are all subjected to deep and constant sabotage. It’s like a lesson in life. Vladimir Nabokov had another take on dreams. He saw the dream as the one moment where the true nature of time is revealed. For him the dream casts backwards but also forwards. You can foresee events. In our waking lives we are unable to exist within this plastic multi-directional time but, instead, travel in a sorry apparatus leading us one way down a narrow gauge track, but in dream we are liberated, conveyed in a wondrous vehicle. Nabokov’s example is our experience of the following type of dream:
You are trying to save someone from the guillotine. This is a twisted version of revolutionary France. You are wearing a weirdly shaped Napoleonic-type hat. You are involved in a protracted conversation with a man who looks like, say, your brother-law, or a man you saw in a trailer for ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. All the while you are hurrying to try and save your friend, possibly a monkey, from the fall of the guillotine. You finally get out of the conversation. You see the podium on which the guillotine is set in the distance. You fight your way through crowds. You knock over someone’s Starbucks coffee and give the poor coffee-splashed man, who looks likea a famous weather forecaster, some coins as compensation. The coins look like nuts and as you give them the nuts turn to dust and stain the man’s hands. He is furious but you make a quick getaway, still focused on the guillotine. Your friend, the monkey, is mounting the dais and you are still fifty yards away. You push through the crowd. In any case, how are you going to save the monkey? Monkey is surrounded by guards, all armed to the teeth with muskets. You look in your pocket for a weapon. All you have is nuts. The dream accelerates. You are on the podium. You are struggling with the guillotine. The monkey is watching you from a safe distance, laughing. What are you doing? Oh no. The guillotine is falling. It is hitting you on the shoulder.
You wake up. Your bedside lamp has fallen and has hit you on the shoulder. How do you explain this dream? Could it be that the entire picaresque narrative telescoped into one instant when the lamp hit your shoulder? That lamp fall had been prepared through countless threads of narrative from the very outset of the dream when the guillotine had been revealed. Whatever the explanation, time being squidged into a pin-prick instant or set backwards in motion, time in dreams is flexible, supple, gymnastic in a way our geriatric waking-world cannot manage.
The big identifying feature of my own dreams is the lighting. My dreams are spare; in black and white, or, rather, charcoal grey. But above the characters are thick viscous clouds of dark colour, lumpy bubbles, like speech bubbles in cartoons, that may or may not be creatures in their own right. We, the characters in the dreams, do what we can, but there is a feeling that the sinister, dark bubble shapes are really in charge.