‘This essay reads more like an overview of a subject I plan to explore in more detail in a narrative: that, in our relationship to our dreams, we exhibit many similarities to our primitive ancestors, when they tried to understand the visions which appeared to them by consulting witch doctors, etc.’
We wait around for others to tell us what is okay to dream. We do this waiting in our homes, where the approved dreams come to us from every screen. Though we know the images we’ve tuned in to are broadcast across syndicated networks and streaming services, we’ll remain at least a little insecure about choosing to watch a program if we’re not informed as to what the consensus is—if this be the case, at least let there be a familiar actor involved, whose reputation we do know, whose body of work is widely acclaimed. Oh what an absolute thrill it is, in contrast, to go out to sit nestled in a packed theatre: a modern marvel where we can go dream in the anonymous safety of the public, with eyes wide open, gazing upon light which vanquishes every trace of shadow: at the theatre we buy tickets to see movies which throw back to us the images of our own dreams, and here we are so willing to let our minds roam—alongside the narrative—relaxed when our self-criticism is for the interim suspended, when bathed in that soft blue glow of the screen. We begin to associate the two. For decades we haven’t realized this is what’s going on, though: that our identification with the plot and its characters remains for the most part unexplored, like our relationship to our dreams. Why should they be? The evening’s dream was a public event in twilight, after all, and our relationship to it is not more nor less complicated than our desire to participate in occasions which strengthen the bond between us and our community. If there is no occasion to go out to the theatre, then a viewing party of dreams already released—favourite episodes—will do, when together with friends and neighbours we arrive at a more nuanced understanding of what has become our collective psyche.
One is left alone each night, however, and when the screens and lights go off, and the individual tries to sleep, personal thoughts and the dreams inspired by them prove inevitable just as soon as one closes his or her eyes. The turned-off screen at the foot of the bed is kind of like a closed eye, too, which is unsettling: one chooses to fall asleep with the TV turned on. That’s better, for self-produced, novel images which our individual mind conjures when alone with not a light nor whisper around strike us as even more scandalous, appearing more fetishistic, for the fact that we do not know the mind from which they came.
Uncomfortable with even a hint of lingering uncertainty, and without the vocabulary to interpret these apparitions, we make the journey to the therapist on the mount, to be informed that the recurring motifs pervading our sleep can be interpreted, and in fact have ready explanations, and thus are normal. So long as we keep our scheduled appointments, and make our weekly pilgrimage, our sleep is untroubled, and our thoughts are as pure as the light we submerge ourselves into like a warm bath or womb, before drifting off.
The day surely comes when we buy our own home: our private retreat. We’re sure to choose one open and bright, with many windows—the highly coveted floor-to-ceiling’s are looked for, and we’ll have as many of those, please, as our family can afford, and with as many screens as our family can afford, too. In our fantasies of this day these windows have always been open, and of course the television is always on: if curious, one can imagine the home settled on as being similar to what’s found in many commercials.
What a wonder, each neat and tidy presentation of domestic stability found in a city’s residential streets; that there are houses, and that most people—individuals, families—have found their way into one, to take shelter from the vicissitudes of nature and create a reliably stable retreat and home base, is a modern miracle and triumph over our primitive ancestors yet corrupted by other—natural?—forces which seem to arise spontaneously and fester and strengthen in these modern, wondrous dwellings, when their doors are closed. Such corrupting influences our ancestors did not know to run so rampant, for most people back then had no privacy: their business was known by their neighbours—was often a part of their neighbour’s, as their family was, too.
Are not these modern structures rather a declaration of uncertainty—in other words, of an insecurity not known by our fore-bearers? For in the privacy of our individual dwellings we must make the right choices as to what habits and practices are acceptable and will bear proper fruit. This modern task is excruciating, bringing with it much uncertainty, which is something we cannot bear for any length of time, for there is so little time to be uncertain in this world, yet still be a success. There is a fear of unknown forces—the force of the unknown—festering in private nooks and crannies where shadows still linger in our house, where it seems the absence of light becomes more and more dense with each passing day a solution is not found, and pressure builds and threatens to explode out into the street beyond our fresh-painted and wallpapered walls unless—what? Enough money is earned to carve out yet another window, or buy another screen? The screen is preferred, of course, because unlike the window, it gives one the illusion that what they’d find were they to peer inward are visions comprised of pure light, like a television’s. Thus the screens multiply; they are in every room and draw the gaze which prefers to pass over shadowed corners, denying they exist. The television, turned on and tuned in to a channel airing regular programming, is always a welcome presence.
One day the perfect scene we’ve all been searching for will come onto the television, and we will freeze the frame, and yell loudly for everyone to come—quick!—to see what’s on. If there is an answer from the other room, it will be a muffled reply: someone saying they’re already watching. The sun will be streaming into our brightly painted living room from oh so many angles, for by then we will have so many windows it will be like we are in a prism, it glowing, hot, as our innermost desire burns before us on the screen. Our eyes are wide open, are stinging, as the image stares back at us, and there is not a shadowed corner in the room, or even in the whole house, and it is no wonder of this modern world that the frozen image is dark: that there is blood, streaked across a face contorted into an expression of terror, eyes wide and staring at something off-screen. We gaze back, absolutely fascinated.