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« Fact for the Day | Main | Video for the Day: In-Grid »

May 22, 2008

Surrealistic Dreaming

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Throughout recorded history some people have considered dreams to be really important. They would be a source of messages from God or perhaps were a mechanism for foretelling the future. More recently, they have been considered a window to deep aspects of one's personality.

When I was in grad school I once stopped by the medical school library for a reason I no longer remember. Wandering along shelves carrying recent editions of journals, I happened to pause and look at the table of contents of a psychoanalytic journal. One of the articles was about Umbrella Symbolism in dreams. I gave the piece a quick scan and noticed that this contribution to science was based on three cases! Which is one of many reasons why I never took Freud very seriously.

My own dreams are usually pretty ordinary. I seldom even dream about things that are current in my waking hours -- even important or stressful things. If Freud had analyzed my dreams, Psychoanalysis might never have been born.

But I'm an arts buff (it sez so on the panel to the left), so what about connections between dreams and painting, say? Hmm. [Scratches head] Why of course! Surrealism! Some Surrealists bought into Freudianism (or claimed to do so). They supposedly painted what they had dreamed. The best known Surrealist of this school was Salvador Dalí who depicted drooping watches, people with window-like holes cut through them, ants crawling over stuff -- all sorts of weird scenes that were supposedly dream-driven. Other Surrealists painted other strange scenes.

I have never dreamed anything like Surrealist dream-scenes. Things in my dreams are realistic even if they are not representing objects in my waking world. For example, a couple of times a year I dream about being back at my frat house. I might be younger or my actual age, but not an undergraduate -- the details don't matter here and I can't recall them in any case. Sometimes Greek Row and the frat house are as they are in reality. Other times its architecture has been altered as the result of a renovation. Sometimes Greek Row has changed somewhat; buildings are different, locations of houses might have changed a little. But the architecture and other setting details are entirely plausible. Nothing is weird.

Cynical me, I've never been convinced that dream-painting Surrealists painted actual dreams. I think they simply came up with stuff that made for good public relations to entice buyers.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm a dullard who's lacking in the imaginative dream department.

Will anyone out there step forward in Comments and admit that they actually dream stuff like Surrealists painted? Comments by folks who only dream about ordinary things are also welcome.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at May 22, 2008




Comments

My dreams are very mundane. I don't have those vivid dreams some people do.

Posted by: MD on May 22, 2008 8:10 PM



While I don't really dream in the imagistic surrealism of the surrealist painters, the situational surrealism of my dreams is and always has been very striking to me from childhood (to the point of popping up and then waking my parents to relate what I had dreamed). In other words, I don't see melting watches or people with holes in them, but I do have warped sensations of time (two common dreams that I have after drinking coffee and taking a nap is of a perception of months or years flying by while I remain fixed, or of dreaming within a dream with repeated false waking). Other things include shifting landscapes (i.e. turn around and something is there that wasn't before, which is quite disconcerting even in dreams), completely unreal situations (trying to kill Daffy Duck in what I think was a setting of one of those old black and white DeBeers diamond commercials was a recurring one for a couple months), or just general weirdness (Paul Lynd yelling at me about being a liar after hiking in what I think was the Lakes District of Northern England). Once in a long while I get what I call a panoramic dream where my role is basically reduced and I'm seeing a pointless movie with extremely gorgeous imagery. Those tend to stick around after I wake with very little of that "melting away" effect that dreams have as you regain consciousness. I use those in modified form in my own writing.
I do tend to think I'm an outlier in regards to dreaming, though. I've not met much people who share the same experience.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 22, 2008 8:24 PM



When I was a child I used to have a recurring dream that could be called surrealistic. It was in a desert and sand dunes kept morphing into buildings and back again.

Now many of my dreams would make fairly good science fiction movies. I just figure that's because I read and watch a lot of sci-fi. In some other dreams buildings are often a little out of whack somehow - like the floor in one room is not on the same plane as the room next to it. And then there are my endless house dreams - I'll go into a house that will turn out to have a lot more rooms than it looked like it should have.

Posted by: Lynn on May 23, 2008 8:32 AM



Like Lynn I have house dreams also. In my dreams I'm in a house I've lived in all my life but I'm always in some unfamiliar part that I've just found and I'm exploring. Sometimes I find narrow dimly lit hallways lined with hundreds of closed doors. Sometimes the hallways are broad and bright and open up into rooms that are large and beautifully furnished. I've walked up elegant marble stairs and I've climbed up stacked crates to get to a higher floor. The only really recurring part of the house dream is this sense of discovery and wonderment and my puzzlement that a house I've always lived in is so unfamiliar.

Posted by: Alan W on May 23, 2008 10:40 AM



I only seem to remember a small percentage of my total dreams, but some of them are quite vivid and, um, weird.

I remember one marathon dream that involved walking through Central Park while seeing odd, elongated animals like big cats that were staring down on me from little granite outcroppings. It morphed into a scene where I was extremely weak and was trying feebly to crawl up a staircase, and I was met at the top by a woman in a long, flowing nightgown. As I tried to grab onto her to get up off the staircase, I realized that her ankles were hairy or even furry. She said in a very deep voice: "I'm glad at last to see you, dear boy" which for reasons I'm not sure of inspired a profound dread. I retained the images and the dread for quite a while after waking; I even made a series of drawings from them.

But generally, surrealism per se (as opposed to plain old American comic-strip goofiness) never played much of a role in any paintings or sculpture I produced. For me, painting and sculpture take so much time to crank out that if the subject isn't of interest to my conscious, reasoning mind I get bored with them. I always found something rather specious in Dali's claim to be working from the subconscious; the subconscious rarely consents to sitting still long enough to be painted. Mine, at least, has entirely too short an attention span for laborious art making.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 23, 2008 4:03 PM



My dreams never made too much of an impression on me until I started taking a beta-blocker (for a heart rhythm problem) back in my late 20's, when they took off like gangbusters. Many are strikingly similar to the above-mentioned house dreams, with closed doors everywhere and hundreds of undiscovered rooms -- most of them tiny in width but with fantastic 50-ft. coffered ceilings. There is some morphing from this location to that, or one person into another, with sometimes misshapen everyday objects, but they tend to be mostly just nonsensical: decorating a Christmas tree with tiny ceramic toilet bowls filled with holly; picking a scab off my arm and finding that my entire body is packed with dental floss; looking into my toilet bowl (again with the toilet!) and seeing that it opens onto a hole that goes straight down to the center of the earth; trying to insert my contact lenses as they grow huge, like watch glasses; walking straight up a 90-degree angle "hill" and finding Nikita Kruschev there telling me I'm going to have to conduct an opera with a swan; paving my front yard with aluminum & replacing my mailbox with a statue of Buddha. That kind of thing. Also, there are the occasional dreams of flying above the treetops, feeling like I'm running through molasses, or being unable to talk or scream. When they're not terrifying (which is unusual), they're pretty entertaining. I actually kind of look forward to dreaming.


Posted by: Flutist on May 23, 2008 8:34 PM



I once dreamed that I was jump/gliding about ten stories high by wearing a costume of a giant yellow football kick stand. (I want to call it a tee, like a golf tee.) The sky was pure black but the ground was well lit.

I often used to dream that I was trying to walk but couldn't. I looked down and found that while it felt like I was moving my legs, I wasn't.

I once dreamt of a somewhat random tower-grid of rusty I-beams so high that the bottom was basically invisible before you even got to the top. Again, the sky was black but the beams were well-lit.

The rooms in my dreams used to be only exactly as big as the things in them. I once left a bathroom (a commercial one) and it contracted like it was an actual bladder.

I have never been bothered by what's behind me. And anyway, If I tried to turn around the scene would change completely.

Because of these experiences, I don't find 'surreal' to be all that surreal. I just think things like, "Ah, Dali's clocks are made of some rubberized fabric."

Posted by: Alrenous on May 24, 2008 3:52 PM



Fredrick:

"I remember one marathon dream that involved walking through Central Park while seeing odd, elongated animals like big cats that were staring down on me from little granite outcroppings."

There actually is a statue of a big cat on granite outcropping on the left side of the main bike / car / jogging loop in central park. It's on the east side. Ah, google/wikipedia to the rescue:

Still Hunt by sculptor Edward Kemeys (1843-1907) was placed in Park in 1883. This bronze sculpture of a crouching panther waiting to pounce, was created by Edward Kemeys, the famous American sculptor who also created the famous Hudson Bay wolves at the Philadelphia Zoo, and lions at the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago. Situated on a rock outcrop on the west side of the East Drive at the edge of the Ramble, the crouching animal has scared many joggers as they approach this life-size and realistic representation. Unlike the traditional sculptures of other animals in the Park that sit on a base or pedestal, Kemeys situated his animal directly atop the ledge of the rock.

Posted by: Steve Johnson on May 25, 2008 1:59 PM






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