Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dreams, the Old-Fashioned Kind

If dreams, the kind that come with sleep, were a stock, we would say that they probably peaked in the early post-Freudian era and that then the bottom fell out of them. Nobody can say for sure what they're for, and Freud's & Jung's "interpretations" were simply interesting guesses that told us more about Freud and Jung than about dreams. There's simply no evidence that a book you or I "see" in our dreams means what Sigmund, Carl, you, I, or anybody else says it means. If anything, there has to be a statistically better chance that you know what the book means in your book-dream than anyone else, since you, at least, are the resident historian of your life.

As far as I can tell, almost everyone seems to agree that one's own dreams can be quite interesting (or not) but that the moment you tell your dream to someone else or someone tells his or her dream to you, the listener stops listening because other people's dreams are boring. Moreover, psychologists and psychiatrists don't seem to want to hear about dreams anymore. In fact, I suspect there's an inside joke in that profession whereby if you run out of things to ask the client, ask him or her about his/her dreams, right before minute 49 turns into minute 50. "Oh, I'd love to hear more about that dream, but we're out of time!"

The only "dreams" you hear about anymore are the aspiration kind--you know, all about "realizing your dreams," which is basically the same as achieving goals. Probably dreams (the sleep kind) fulfill some kind of biochemical, neurological function, flushing the wiring after a long day or helping the brain deal with stress physiologically. I assume the biochemists are working assiduously on that, especially if the pharmacological corporations think they can sell pills based on the research eventually. Dream-enhancers.

Dreams may also tell you what you may already know, namely that experience X had a powerful impact on you. For example, I still have anxiety-dreams about not passing some imaginary class in graduate school and not earning my Ph.D., which I earned in 1982, for heaven's sake, but I've just told you about a dream, and we know that no dreams but your dreams are interesting to you, so I'll stop. A poem, then:

Dream On

A small council
of evolutionary matter
in a county of the brain
knows the real purpose
of dreams, a purpose
wholly unrelated to what
we imagine dreams do
for, to, with us. So I
dutifully dream, as if
it were a chore that came
with sleeping (it is), as if
I were a member of that small,
secret provincial council,
which meets in a lodge
somewhere off of Highway Zero,
East of West, as if I had
a choice in the matter of
dreams, the dreams of
matter.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom
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