Saturday, October 27, 2007

Are Others' Dreams Boring?

Fredric Jameson says yes, adducing Freud’s remark in “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” that when someone begins to tell his fantasies, they “repel us or at least leave us cold” (Standard Edition, vol. IX, 152). Jameson goes on: “anyone who compares the fascination we often feel for our own dreams with the boredom that suddenly overcomes us in listening to the account of another’s will know what Freud means” (Archaeologies of the Future [New York: Verso, 2005], 46).

Bernardo Bertolucci uses this idea at least twice. In The Sheltering Sky (1990), Kit and Port, the couple played by Debra Winger and John Malkovich, travelling in the Maghreb, are about to breakfast with co-residents of their hotel, I believe, when Malkovich begins to muse on a dream. Winger interrupts him, saying that nothing is more boring than imposing one’s dream on another. She is, at this point in their journey, an advocate of clear distinctions; she notes that they sleep apart so that she can get a good night’s rest, and that “sex should not be confused with sleep.” In Bertolucci’s Oedipal fantasy-parody, Luna (1979; a film you can see only on an out-of-print Portuguese DVD, because of its casual acknowledgment of the appeal of mother/son incest) almost the same lines occur right before the Oedipal world falls apart. The father of the family is played by Fred Gwynne, best known for his work as Herman Munster (nice touch). It’s the end of breakfast time at the start of an ordinary day, and the family is about to go their ways to work and school. Gwynne says something like, “I had the strangest dream--” and Jill Clayburgh, the opera diva mother (Caterina), shuts him up with the same excuse that telling a dream is impolitely boring. He goes out the front door and drops dead of a heart attack, and the chaos that is most of the rest of the film breaks out. The women, then, resemble Walter Benjamin in my entry below (“No Room For Breakfast”): they’re reluctant to contaminate the daylight, and Bertolucci’s point seems to be that what they attempt to hush will out at any rate. I have doubts about whether almost anything is really boring, but when I first encountered it in Luna I was genuinely shocked at the notion of a boring dream. Nor does Freud write that fantasies bore; they repel or leave cold, where stiffening indicates defense; in the continuation of the passage above, also included by Jameson, “the feeling of repulsion . . . is undoubtedly connected with the barriers that rise between each single ego and the others” (SE IX, 153). Threatening to arouse or overwhelm, others' dreams are not too little, but too much.

And so it is even with an item on the website of Theodore Fines of Macalester College, “My Most Boring Dreams.” Fines narrates two dreams which, without associations, are just too tiny for evaluation, and this one:

I dreamt I went out to get a few cartons of RainBlow gum. I went to Rainbow Foods, knowing they wouldn't have it (Target carries the milk-carton type cartons of these, while Rainbow does not). When I got there, they surprisingly did have it, but they only had vanilla flavored. I had never seen vanilla flavored before. The cartons of vanilla flavored were $5.69 each, so I just bought one of the smaller bags of it that they had, for $3.69. I brought it home and my wife was surprised that there was a vanilla flavor, and that it was so expensive.

There was another part. A woman in the grocery store asked me for some help. I followed her down an aisle, where she showed me some kind of spread to put on crackers. The fat content was 2 mg / serving, and she wanted to know if that was a lot. I said it was very low fat, and she should go ahead and buy it.

Not at all boring, not remotely--positively juicy, and a classic dream of the sort Freud often had about his married life. There are at least ten different websites devoted to people’s boring dreams. A topic of some worry, then, but needlessly. They’re all very entertaining.

Image: John Giorno (inventor of “Dial-a-Poem”) in Andy Warhol’s Sleep, 1963

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