Friday, July 03, 2020

I have a dream.

Dreams change as you get older. I don't think I have ever specifically dreamt about leaving my homework on the bus but I do sometimes have complicated, sexless, dreams in which I take a shower in a hotel and find that I have locked myself out of my room and decide to go down to breakfast naked and hope that no-one notices; or in which I get changed into to my swimmers on the beach and realizing that everyone I know is staring at me. People get locked out of their rooms with no clothes on so frequently in real life that Travelodge has spare dressing gowns in all the broom cupboards. 
I don't think I have ever specifically dreamt about going on stage in a play without knowing my lines; but I have had much more detailed ones about reluctantly agreeing to be in The Revengers' Tragedy and then not bothering to go to rehearsals and hoping that they forget about me. I am sitting in the audience and gradually everyone realizes that the very important attendant lord is missing and that his absence has ruined the play. 
Several times a year I dream that I have misread the timetable and missed all my French lessons for a whole term. French happens in a very small classroom on the bottom corridor just near the coat hooks. It was the same room we sometimes played Traveller in. I have sat in bed fully awake wondering whether it is better to admit that I have not been to a single French class or to go ahead and take the exam and get zero percent. Only after several minutes, sometimes while making the coffee or brushing my teeth, do I think "I am nearly thirty-five. I do not have to attend French lessons any more." Sigmund Freud said he would sometimes be half way through his breakfast before it occurred to him that he was an eminent consultant psychiatrist and did not need to worry about failing his first-year medical exams. 
There is also the dream where I realize that I have not handed in my chemistry paper at college. It is very specifically a chemistry paper. It involves moles. I have written the first half, at some length, and quite well, but for some reason never gone back to it. If I could finish the thing, however perfunctorily, it would count towards my final exam; but I am not sure if I am brave enough to go and admit that I have forgotten a whole assignment. There are huge temple-like concrete stairs up to the library, but the chemistry books are way over in a section I hardly ever go in. Maybe they will still give me my degree without the chemistry paper? I have never taken a chemistry course in my entire life. 
I think that the school-dreams mean that I still think of myself as an imposter; that I have never really grown up; that I still feel surprised when someone refers to me as "that man" or calls me "Mister". White people do not have coming-of-age rituals and English schools do not have graduation ceremonies. 
I think that the chemistry dream has to do with a sense that I squandered my time at college and could have done better if I had put my mind to it and had a better relationship with the tutors. 
In general, the dream of being on stage and not knowing any of your lines is about the feeling that we are all blundering through life without a script. I did Am-Dram for a while because Miss Beale said in one of my reports that I had "true dramatic ability". (I now realize that she meant I was a bit of a show-off.) I have bona fide flashbacks to my theatrical disasters; I come out in palpitations and cold sweats when I recall my walk on part in The Idiot wearing a white wig that didn't fit. 
The nudity dreams are about the fact that I sleep under a duvet and sometimes kick it off in the middle of the night. 
I liked Sandman. I think it is a very good comic book. For a long while I was slightly, very slightly, dismissive of it. 
My Mum had been going to the opera all her life; queuing to sit in "the gods" at Sadlers Wells as a teenager, going to fabulous productions at the Paris Opera on her honeymoon; latterly holding a season ticket to the English National Opera. She understandably resented the fact that people who hardly knew the plot of Carmen said that they "liked opera" because they had once heard a tenor singing Nessum Dorma on the radio. 
Sandman was wildly popular with people who thought they wouldn't like comics. So I sat in the corner sulkily and said "Sandman is all very well but you should read what Ditko was doing to Doctor Strange thirty six years ago."
I was in the right; at any rate Neil Gaiman would have agreed with me. Doctor Strange was a "better" comic than Sandman and Steve Ditko was one of the all-time greats. People who had never read any other comic came along and claimed to like Sandman. Well, good for them. If I had shown them one of my silver age shibboleths all they would have seen was a kids' funny book and some primitivist sketch work. 
I was right, but irrelevantly right. Perhaps you cannot fully understand or appreciate Sandman without some affinity for the half-century of comic-book process of which it was a part. But people did. Perhaps you can't fully appreciate Oliver Twist without reading all the other Victorian workhouse novels which Dickens was drawing on: but people do. "Get out of my private fantasy realm" is never a good look. 
My real complaint was about the ludicrous over-praising of Sandman from some circles. Volume one was one of the best fantasy themed comic books of the 1980s; volume two was the best contemporary comic book of any kind; volume three was the best comic book of all time; volume four was the only good comic book in a field otherwise composed purely of men in their underwear shouting KAPOW; volume five was the best fantasy story of all time; volume six was the greatest work of fiction since man invented the alphabet...
Does "tragedy" mean "a story with a sad ending"? Or does it mean "a serious, major work with something important to say about life?" If I said "I just read some bad Literature", would you reply "Well then, it wasn't Literature?" Is there such a thing as a Bad Tragedy? Are we permitted to dignify all those large print love stories with names like "The Unprepossessing Secretary Married The Hunky, Rich Italian Businessman" with the name of Novel? It follows that there can never be a good comic book. People had to invent silly words like "graphic novel" before they could admit to liking Sandman. 
SF's no good, they bellow 'til we're deaf.
I like Sandman. I think that it is a very good funny-book. But it did require some buy-in to an idea I am not quite prepared to invest in: an idea that came from Jung via Joseph Campbell by way of George Lucas; an idea which Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have turned into a religion. 
Dreams are very important; because dreams are where stories come from, and "Story" is a privileged, incantatory term. A story is not just something which happened. A story is not just something which someone made up, with a pleasing form, a beginning a middle and an end. A story is not even a way of remembering an important thing which happened a long time ago; so that the Christmas armistice and the life of Jesus can only come down to us as stories. Story is a magical category; a word of power; a religious artefact. The incantatory use of the word story fades into Gaiman's other famous spell: "". 
I am not quite sure what "make good art" means, and why it is necessarily a more inspiring message than "make good porridge" or "do your best". But the spell infects everything it touches: Doctor Who on its return became increasingly about Stories with a capital S; the main character increasingly aware that he was inside a story. ("We are all stories. Make sure it is a good one.") In its previous existence, a Doctor Who story meant running around a quarry trying to escape from monsters for six weeks at a time. In black and white. I think possibly maybe that the fun went out of role-playing games precisely when they stopped being about adventures and became about stories.
Sandman lives in a place called Ther Dreaming. Ther Dreaming is where dreams come from and where stories are born. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison believe increasingly literally in a realm called Idea Space where ideas are born and where ideas go when they die.
We spoke earlier about Weekenvy, the belief that everyone else uses their days off more constructively than you do. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are selling a slightly more insidious Dream Envy: the belief that everyone else's dreams are more interesting than yours. 
Some people say that they do not dream. I am not quite sure if I believe them. I think that they are waiting for the Rabbit Hole or the guided tour of Purgatory. I don't think they realize that the vague, incoherent images and emotions which dance through their head just before they wake up are what the rest of us are talking about when we talk about dreams. 
I have never made contact with The Dreaming. I have never dreamt of flying, although I have dreamt of tripping up. Agreeing to appear in the Revenger's Tragedy and forgetting to turn up on the opening night is, I promise you, one of the more interesting ones. If I kept a dream diary you would find that I have five kinds of dreams. 
1: None of your business
2: Something incredibly mundane: ordering a cup of coffee but weirdly being served by the lady who works in the pharmacy. 
3: Needing to go to the toilet
4: None of your business
5: Literal nonsense: that time I found there was not enough jam on my self-assessment return, so I had to put extra flags on the puppy. 
The nonsense ones are a bit interesting, because they occur in a liminal state, just before you wake up, where joining the Cornish separatist party in order to recharge the hedgehog appears to be an entirely logical thing to be doing; and you can't quite keep hold of it; leaving you with a sense that you were briefly in touch with some entirely different mode of being. I suppose that is what Death, or Heaven, or Being on Acid must be like. Proust talks about waking up and briefly thinking that he himself was the quarrel between Francois I and Charles V. 
Knausgaard, mercifully, is relatively uninterested in dreams. 
Here's one: 
Someone gives me a ticket for a live adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses; in a city I don't know. Maybe I have gone to Dublin specially. There is an old fashioned box office with a glass screen like a bank. It is orange. There is a bar in the theatre; you are allowed to buy drinks during the show. It turns out to be one of those immersive productions; in a dark circular room. I gradually realize that the man checking my ticket and the man serving in the bar are characters in the play. In fact, the whole of the audience are actors; I may be the only real person present. Did I miss the memo about coming in costume? Someone is reciting a long poem; I try to listen but the words are inarticulate. Maybe they are in Gaelic; or maybe I just forget them when I wake up. I always find that writing in dreams is in some language and script I cannot understand. Someone is riding a bike, very slowly, around the room. I recognize the cyclist: he is one of the moderately well-known folk-singers whose gigs I go to. I am nervous he may recognize me. He is cycling far too slowly; far more slowly than you could really ride a bike without falling off. I get up and leave the show. I never normally leave cinemas or gigs until the show is over, however much I hate it. I have to get a very late coach home. It is raining. It is nearly light when I get back to my flat. How will I tell the person who found me the ticket that I did not even stay until the end of the first half? Perhaps I can find a review and lie? When I wake up the dream is so vivid that I literally have to switch on the computer in my pyjamas and check that there is no live-action immersive production of Ulysses running in the UK at the moment. I have never read Ulysses. 
A lot of things are mixed up in that, and none very significant. I have been to several immersive productions of plays; Bristol is full of them. I used to write reviews and got sent free tickets. I once saw a production of a Samuel Becket radio play in which the actors walked among the audience, but the audience were required to wear blindfolds. I sometimes feel embarrassed at venues I regularly attend because I recognize the performers and I am not sure if they recognize me. I do not know if it is appropriate to say hello to a stranger just because you have paid to see them on the stage. I once saw one of my favourite singers in the audience in a very small theatre: I suppose a friend or relative was in the show. We both clocked each other, but it was clear he didn't want to be bothered "off-duty" and I entirely respected that. It was he who was cycling round the theatre in my dream. The first time I went to Glastonbury: long after the main stages were finished, I found a field I had not been in before, where people were playing folk music and experimental jazz long into the night. In one corner of the tent was a man on an exercise bike. The tent was so green that the bike was generating electricity so if the man had stopped cycling the lights would have gone out. The experience felt very like a dream. There is a scene in Malone Dies23 in which a man accidentally runs over a dog on a bike. 
A lot of real-world memories had shuffled around in my head and produced a dream narrative which was entirely nonsensical, yet at the same time so believable that I had to fact-check it the next morning. 
I think that the grammar of how the real-world memories moved around in my head to produce that real-seeming dream experience would be worth exploring. Are modern psychologists interested in that sort of thing? The real productions of Becket and Moby Dick turned into a dream production of James Joyce; the somewhat famous singer in the audience turned into the somewhat famous singer on the cycle; the man powering the show at Glastonbury became the man cycling round the theatre in Dublin. I suppose moments of heightened emotions—seeing a play with a blindfold on; feeling embarrassed by sitting near someone a little bit famous—may be "flagged" or "tagged" in my folder of memories. Flagged memories are more likely to be cut and pasted into dreams. 
In that way writing and dreaming are very much the same kind of thing. You jump from one subject to another, guided by an associative progression rather than by any logical thread; and what you are left with is not a story or an argument but the foot prints of the route you happened to take. But in dreams there is no-one to gently guide you back to the original point.

23 The more readable of Samuel Beckett's novels

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