Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dream Stories

I dreamed of conversing with Roger Caillois in French before I started reading him, and sought out his published works to honor my dream. I found that he was a wonderfully gifted French dream explorer and literary adventurer, a friend of the Surrealists, a student of games and myths and a traveler in the realms of stones and minerals.
     He edited a remarkable anthology titled The Dream Adventure, which sows many fertile ideas about the relationship between dreams and story. The anthology has three parts. The first is a lively introduction by Caillois distinguishing two fundamental approaches to dreams – that of those who wish to interpret dreams, and that of those who wish to enter and explore the dreamspace itself (which is vastly more exciting and creative).
      Then comes a selection of dream experiences from classical Chinese texts, many of which show the influence of Taoist modes of soul journeying. In one of the Chinese tales, a man on his way home is shocked to hear his wife partying with strangers inside a temple. He grabs a loose tile and hurls it, breaking plates on the table and scattering the revelers. When he returns home, he finds his wife rising from her bed, chuckling over a funny dream in which she was partying with strangers in a temple, then interrupted by someone throwing a tile that broke the crockery. “This then,” Po Hsing-chien (776-827) concludes, “is a case of dreaming spirits being encountered by a waking person.”
      Another Chinese tale, P’o Sung-ling’s “The Painted Wall” – written long before Through the Looking Glass or What Dreams May Come - a man called Chu enters a picture and marries the beautiful maiden he admired in it. Recalled to the other side by his companions’ shouts, he turns and sees the maiden in the picture now has the topknot of a married woman. How can this be? A priest responds: “Visions have their origins in those who see them.”
      The third, and major section of the book, is devoted to dream-inspired short fiction. As all good writers know, while many dreams come fully shaped as stories or scripts, it can be a challenge to turn dreams into effective fiction. If we start by revealing that the action takes place in a dream, we may set the reader at a distance, losing the magical “just-so” quality of an actual dream experience. So some of the most dreamlike fiction may never mention the word “dream”. Caillois has hunted with great skill for stories in which dreaming is an integral and thrilling part of the action.
        One of my favorites is “The Distances” by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar. In this chilling story, Alicia dreams again and again, with increasing vividness and detail, of a sad woman with broken shoes on a bridge in the cold of Budapest; they beat her; she is miserable and alone. When she marries, Alicia persuades her husband to take her to Budapest, where she’s never been. Out walking, she finds herself drawn to the bridge from the dream. In the middle of the bridge is the sad woman with the broken shoes. They embrace and Alicia knows ecstasies of joy. As they separate, she begins to scream – because she sees the smartly-dressed form of Alicia Reyes, hair slightly mussed by the wind, walking confidently away…they have switched bodies.
      Another of my favorites is “The Brushwood Boy” by Rudyard Kipling, who was no stranger to the possibilities of dreaming. In Kipling’s story a boy and a girl who have never seen each other in waking life start meeting each other in dreams and have high adventures that often begin at a pile of brushwood near an ocean. As the years pass, they continue to meet and adventure in their shared world, which defies the laws of ordinary reality. Decades after the first of these dreams, they meet each other in waking life, recognize each other, and come together as a couple.
      I do not know what inspired Kipling to write this tale, through perhaps I should, since I once lived in a house in East Sussex that he visited and was just over the hill from the setting that inspired “Puck of Pook’s Hill”. I do know that the premise of “The Brushwood Boy” – that in dreams we may live continuous lives, shared with others – is quite correct, and (if better understood) would transform our consensual notions of reality. I know this because one of my soul-sisters and I started meeting each other in the dreamspace when we were nine years old, more than three decades before we met in waking life – and have been sharing adventures in parallel realities ever since.

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