Friday 28 June 2019

A Biography of Dreams - Clémentine Beauvais

I dream of a dream autobiography. One that would let us see nothing of a person’s waking life, but everything of their night-time wanderings, and the evolution throughout a lifetime of that dreamscape.

Infant visions, of god knows what - some light blue and very soft, others the worst shadows? Childhood nightmares of monsters, of hunger, of parents transformed into uncanny-valley creatures. Ecstatic dreams of flying, eating and peeing in awkward places, the young camouflage of eros. Adolescent dreams of shame, of triumph, of sex - some seemingly scarily misguided, others terrifyingly bang-on.

Within all that, other circumstantial variances : pregnancy dreams around one’s period, the thirst dreams of hot summer nights, the smothering nightmares of thick duvets. Those strange phases, days, weeks, when dreams seem to vanish, where have they gone, because of what? Stress, business, other things on one’s mind, too much joy. Other phases, the opposite: hyperactive psychedelic nightmares, Technicolor musical dreams.

The old clichés: naked-in-public dreams, lost teeth? I never had those, but apparently it’s common. A hefty dose of those are needed in the dream biography, to give it the appropriate effet de réel.

Adulthood and its lamentable wastes of good dreaming time: sleep squandered in work dreams, admin dreams, train dreams and more toilet dreams. The atrocious dreams at the confines of horror and dark desire: seeing one’s children dead, one’s parents dead, one’s partner dead. Dreams of piles of washing. More erotic dreams (more guilt).

Once in a blue moon, dreams of, well, blue moons, and other fantasy lands. As an adult, dreaming of actual monsters can be considered a privilege. Flying is a rare occurrence.

Old age. I don’t know. What do you dream of in old age? Tell me.

When I was a child, and a huge Harry Potter fan (which I still am), I would dream very often of flying around on brooms and doing magic with wands, but also just with my hands, or any object. My nightmares were terrifying and absolutely uncontrollable, but my dreams were pliable and kind. I wandered around Hogwarts at least a couple of times a week with Harry, Ron and Hermione.

But I remember well the time, around 14 years old, when wizard dreams started to malfunction. I used to be able to murmur ‘Lumos!’ and there would be light. Gradually, there wasn’t. I had weird frustrating dreams where I had a wand, but it didn’t work very well.

In one of them, I said ‘Lumos, Lumos,’ and the light went on, but that was because I’d tapped the light switch with the tip of my wand. I was aware it was cheating, but didn’t want to acknowledge it.

I remember I told my mother this dream and she burst out loud laughing, and said something like, ‘it’s the end of childhood, my darling’. It made me enormously sad at the time, because you can always count on children to romanticise their own childhood and mourn its loss even more than adults do.

Soon, I could no longer fly in dreams, but merely jump very high.

These days I never dream of making magic Evil magical things being done to me, yes. And I hardly ever dream of flying. Falling, yes. 

I don’t think it’s because I’m unhappy, or unimaginative. Maybe my superego’s become too strong for my id. It’s most definitely a Mr Banks kind of superego, not a Mary Poppins.

Graham Greene wrote a wonderful book of his dreams. Many encounters with famous people, politicians, writers. Normally, there’s nothing more boring than someone’s dream narratives. But those ones he manages to make fascinatingly universal. Just like the best (auto)biographies.
Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met in a dream? I nearly only meet minor starlets, for mostly incomprehensible reasons. JK Rowling I met often as a child and a teenager, but I never do now. She must be too busy being on Twitter to drop by.

The dream biography would see dead people and exes and long-forgotten friends come back and drift away again according to mysterious rules and cycles. My cat Opaline died seven years ago but she is with me at least once a month, generally very ill, and I have to protect her. Same with my sister, today a fiercely independent, strong and brave 24-year-old, but who appears in my dreams almost always as a tiny baby under my sole responsibility. My dead grandfather is often there. I always know he’s dead, and feel pleasantly surprised that, in spite of that, he’s bothered to turn up at whichever dream event I meet him.

A biography of dreams worthy of the name would require a strategic approach to data, of course; based on dream diaries, but also day diaries, for information to be triangulated as seriously as the exercise requires. But the day life must only be mentioned extremely allusively, and in small touches, and only insofar as it illuminates the central narrative. As in any writing project, it’s important to have a clear focus.

When the dream autobiography becomes a successful publishing trend, you can trust quantitative researchers will turn to the data for content analysis. We’ll start distinguishing patterns and predicting trends. It’s that time of life again when you’re going to sleep with all of your exes, sorry! Then, in a few months’ time, it will only be dreams of missing buses and your debit card not working. You’ll be utterly incapable of sending any text or email in any dream. It will only be random letters and hieroglyph-like symbols. Oh, and you’ll accidentally send your boss dick picks you didn’t even know you had in your phone. After that, for weeks you’ll eat a lot of cake and be stalked by monsters. At some point, apocalypse nightmare! The land will fold under your feet and volcano eruptions will be spectacular. You’ll hate it while it happens, but then you’ll have something to talk about when you wake up.

I have a friend with whom I discuss dreams almost every morning, like we’d comment on the latest news. It is a kind of intimacy I’d wish on anyone.

Psychoanalysts would hate this dream biography, because writing down a dream is forbidden in that science. You have to speak it, because there’s no such thing as a dream narrative, they say, only what you do with those pictures when you tell them to someone, free-associate, and hesitate and ramble. I agree fundamentally, I think, but still: I want to read that literary effort, that attempt to make sense of it, to chronologise it all. I want it to be aesthetic.

Who will write that autobiography for us? Someone hopefully very normal, with dreams like ours. But someone diligent and with a sense of humour. They’d need to write down their dreams from the earliest ages. Illustrate them, that’d be nice too. Then select (necessary stage) with a razor-sharp sensitivity for pertinence. And then tell us that story.

I don’t read much in the manner of biographies and only slightly more when it comes to autobiographies. But that one I’d read from cover to cover. An existence’s flipside.

Clémentine Beauvais is a writer and literary translator. Her YA novels in English are Piglettes (Pushkin, 2017) and In Paris with You (trans. Sam Taylor, Faber, 2018).


Penny Dolan said...

A beautifully dreamlike post, Clementine.

Although I'm not sure I should be reading it just as I am trying to wake up . . .

Susan Price said...

Another fascinating blog, Clementine. It made me look at the dream diary. I don't remember dreams often but when I do, I record them because I love the weirdness.

I haven't dreamed much lately: not a single dream for 2019.
But last year I recorded that I'd dreamed of my garden, which has a pool. I'd dreamed I'd seen geese flying in and landing on the pool (In real life there'd hardly be room for one goose.) Looking down into the water, I was surprised to see a turtle, which seemed a bit exotic. -- I mentioned this to my brother who looked startled. He said he'd also dreamed of my garden, on the same night, but he'd seen it full of exotic, colourful birds. Then he added, 'I knew it was your garden, but it didn't look like your garden. It was bigger and squarer.'

I glanced further down the page and read the entry before this one. There, a few weeks earlier, I'd written that I dreamed of my garden, except that it didn't look like my garden because it was bigger and squarer. Cue spooky music. I do not know what to make of this.

Your Friend said...

“A clear focus” is a family of behavior algorithms that resonate within itself and provide patterns of classifying subjects with fast, resolute and precise accuracy .
When, as a common sense, we label someone as “well educated” we classify him/her as having an efficient algorithm driven mind that will respond similar to us if encountering life events that are perceived as “buttons” . “Don’t push my button” = Do not take me forcibly to a stance where you limit my options thus believing your will would be satisfied by the result . Semantics, yeah, that was thought and used already by A. E. van Vogt in the trilogy of “Null-A” .
Expressing oneself in an abstract manner is not accessible for everyone .

It isn’t cosy to become more and more acute aware of the tiptoe-ing of approaching demise ; that is what causes the dreams the loss of color, vivid feelings , feverish actions , strangeness & creative originality.

It is unpleasant to ask someone to “Follow” you and at the same time to place that one on a “Restricted” list . Not just on Tititiwittyher, FaceAgenda, InstaGrrr ... but learning sites.

I have a book that you might want to flick through although it is a science fantasy type: “Brian Aldiss - CRYPTOZOIC” . “Biography of dreams”? - That’s right my esteemed friend , someone already thought of that too , yet not exactly the way you expressed the wish to do it. Book subject - through drugs and special discipline of mind training, people “are capable” to translate their conscience & body through time & space according to their DNA data history and create there Avatars , of their own person , that can interact with, and even change the original version of the universe they came from .

“A biography of dreams worthy of the name would require a strategic approach to data” - I bet it does and that is the reason “Deep Blue” is doing overtime.

Write something “aesthetic” ? then, I need a trained , well educated , with literacy, kindly pair of eyes to look upon the manuscript very often . Are you willing to do it ? Meeting on a lawn , exchanging drafts and having long, long wormwood tea/wine enhanced conversation ? Mirages wither hope and without it body is legless .

“ It’s that time of life again when you’re going to sleep with all of your exes, sorry!”- the cruelest punishment that a psychic could apply to her/his loving partner would be, while in dreaming state, to force him/her watch & hear & touch , from beginning to the end , the lust endeavors with former, actual and possible future other partners/dates/lovers .
( I apologize if , unaware , I did it to someone “very psy” that cares for me, but hey, if even “in my mind I cannot be at home” then “where to go” to be with myself ? It is like going to toilets - basic needs : You want to wash your hands while “I” am brushing my teeth?, then knock at the door and I shall open. If I am “on the throne” I will certainly not answer. Same if being in a “squashed” state , or a state of “legless hope ”&“ sorrow abyss”).
Something very “Le Dernier Tango à Paris” (1972) - Maria Schneider/Marlon Brando movie type.
BUT ! I like much, much more “The Passenger” (1975) Maria Schneider/Jack Nicholson movie .
BUT, again, someone already thought of that too and thus appeared the scene from “Clockwork Orange “ movie, where Beethoven 9th symphony is used as a soundtrack for war horrors movie while a person is forced to watch and to listen, and, by associating opposite states of emotion, to create into the experiment’s subject a disruption of his mental state .