05 October 2013

sigmund fraud.

I don't really buy into (traditional) dream interpretation. I think the whole enterprise is a distant cousin of astrology and is based on two rather ludicrous premises:

Firstly, we assume that the human mind (which already has a lot on its plate) is bent on encrypting our neuroses and emotional hang-ups—most of which are fairly obvious anyway—in an arcane or preposterously literary symbolic code. Why doesn't the mind just come out with it and say, 'Hey, you've got some major intimacy issues' or 'You feel like your life is out of control.' The conventional rebuttal is that there is some sort of egoistic scrim that either protects us from troubling self-awareness (i.e., Oedipal complexes and past traumas) or obscures deep-seated psychological dysfunction in order to maintain a basic (albeit superficial) functioning. In other words, if our fears and the hobgoblins of our so-called id became too preoccupying, we wouldn't be able to go to work or mow the lawn or get our driver's license renewed. In a way, this is itself dysfunctional because it prioritizes banal concerns over a more thoroughgoing happiness (which itself would make tending to these banalities less tiresome, one might assume).

As attractive as this speculation appears, I'm not sure we have any basis for this presumption. Yes, people sometimes do actively 'forget' instances of sexual abuse, for example, in order to avoid confronting the trauma head-on, but I am not so sure how this translates to the dreamworld. Do these same people 'remember' traumas through their dreams? Or is the imagery of dreams retrofitted to seem to represent these traumas after they've already been rediscovered in the conscious mind? It's another chicken-and-egg scenario really. Also, these kinds of stressors are truly exceptional, and most of us are fortunate enough not to have experienced a trauma worth 'forgetting.' For comparison's sake, it's interesting to note that Freud seemed to discover dream imagery related to the Oedipal complex while not ever providing any compelling evidence that the Oedipal complex even exists. It's as if he went searching for evidence to support a hare-brained hypothesis (which—viewed through the lens of this theory—may itself just be a product of his own individual psychological hang-ups).

This brings us to the second—and more disturbing—premise of conventional dream interpretation: certain 'experts' purport to enjoy a special insight into the mechanics  of dream encryption. This stinks of religiosity and authoritarianism in the worst way—especially since, as I just noted in the previous paragraph, these experts are subject to the very same mind games that they claim to decode! Always beware of religious gurus, prophets, metaphysicians, and experts in manufactured disciplines. Freud was a well-meaning charlatan. I don't think he set out to sell the world snake oil; I think he was excited enough by a basic understanding of human psychology to extrapolate these principles to areas beyond the purview of science and logical analysis. Don't be fooled. Whatever lies beyond this purview is mysticism and religion and superstition.

How did you like that puffed-up introduction? Yes, it was only an introduction. This is the meat of the blog entry right here. I am going to cannonball into the waters of narcissism and self-absorption in order to talk about my own dreams now. 

Generally speaking, I hate hearing about other people's dreams—unless something really amusing or coincidental happens in them. But this rarely happens. Mostly they're just mish-mashes of past experiences run through a food processor or scraps of ideas ground up in the garbage disposal of the human mind. In other words, if it wasn't important enough to be spoken aloud by your conscious mind, then I certainly don't want to be subjected to the blooper reel of your unconscious mind. 

Nevertheless—in an embarrassing claim to my own exceptionalism—I'm going to tell you about my dreams, not because they are interesting or remarkable in and of themselves, but because they occur with such obsessive regularity that I feel they must be reckoned with in some way.

I've been out of high school for (HOLY SHIT!) twenty-three years now. (I'll say it again: HOLY SHIT!) But judging from my dream-life, these four years of matriculation scarred me profoundly. I'm forever walking the halls of St. Joseph's High School during my sleeping hours, bathed in the faintly bile-green filter of those institutional walls. Of course, little if any natural light reaches the hallways, so everyone's face is hollowed-out, blanched by the sputtering overhead fluorescence. I'm not sure how this corresponds with reality, but the place smells dank in my dreams (or else I'm impressed by the idea of its dankness). The muskiness of too many bodies in a tight space sours the air. 

Where am I going? One of two places. The first is my locker. It's locker number 777, which was actually my locker—although I don't remember which year. If you were an interpretation fanatic, you might think all the sevens were a good omen, but they're not. It's the first day back after Christmas break, and I'm approaching the locker, which is a dismal army-green, and I'm oppressed by the task ahead of me. What task? you might wonder. Taking a test? Re-encountering some of the douchebags of my high school class? (Sorry, douchebags. You know who you were.) No, none of these things could be further from my mind. The impossible task which (as always) confronts me is remembering my locker combination. Holy fuck, what a terror. Why didn't I ever write it down? How could I trust my mind to hold on to those random numbers? I never even thought up a mnemonic device. I just laid down the numbers—one after the other—in my conscious mind, and I hoped they'd stay put. But they didn't. It's like trying to make out something at a very great distance. You're teased by the general shape of it, but you can't quite grasp it in its specificity.

Where else am I going? Algebra class. Delphine Luzney is the teacher. Who could forget a name like that? Delphine Luzney. Why is it always that class and none of the others? But the problem is that I don't know where the class is. Why didn't I keep my high school schedule? Why did I assume that just because I remembered it one day that I would continue remembering it forever? It's been twenty-three years (HOLY SHIT!) and I don't even know what floor it was on. I could stop and ask someone, but they won't know either and why would they bother helping me find it? Delphine Luzney, where are you? It's not like I'm goofing off like the other kids. I'm trying to find you, but I don't know where they keep you. Maybe whenever I start remembering where you are, they decide to move you again to someplace else. 

My point here is that I don't think these dreams are particularly symbolic. I think they are what they express on the surface: a fear of being lost, of forgetting, of feeling disoriented. Aren't these normal fears for human beings? Why does all of this wandering through the hallways of my dreams have to point to anything more profound or particular? My mind is saying to me, 'You are afraid of this,' not 'You are afraid of this, meaning that.' 

It's interesting to note that I don't ever recall once forgetting my locker combination or the location of a classroom in real life. I'm sure I probably worried about it at some point, but the object of the fear never really materialized. It was just the symptom of a general fear that still nags at me to this day. Nothing could be more literal-minded than forever not locating what you're searching for. You can apply this to locker combinations or to existential questions of life and death. It's all the same. 


  1. If you live near your old high school, maybe the geographic proximity is triggering the recurrence of these dreams. I grew up in the Bible Belt. I've since moved far away and though I doubt that I'll ever fully recover, it's been years since I've had the locker combination dream or one with any school-related theme. It might be that my brain has finally found some new ugly memories and images to overwrite the old ones.

    1. On the whole, I'm not too unhappy with the locker combination dreams because I used to have dreams about tornados and (watching) plane crashes a lot. Those were much worse. (Freudian analysis would probably tell me that the plane crash dreams were a symptom of sexual impotence anxiety, but really I just hate flying and am overly preoccupied with plane crashes.)

  2. I feel like I would enjoy a dream where I'm on a plane that crashes directly into a tornado.

  3. It is pretty interesting though, that your subconscious thoughts of fear as you described comes out as a high school locker combination. Why isn't it about the thing that is actually on your mind at the time? I know we've talked about this before, but I have the same dream of forgetting that damn combination, along with a recurring dream about forgetting to go to class all semester in college, only to find out it is finals week and too late to drop. Why aren't I dreaming about the project at work that is consuming me? I find dreams really fascinating in that way.