‘I hate bad dreams. My writing life has consisted, largely, of channeling all possible bad dream fodder into my waking life, with the help of fiction. To put it simply: I write bad dreams in the day, so I don’t have to suffer them at night. This is, I have found, a largely satisfactory method. There may be violent crime in my books, but there are gambolling lambs in my dreams. But what, you ask, of my reader’s dreams? That, I would say, is none of my business.’ (Viktor Kesserman)
Minds inspire dreams. Dreams inspire minds. Can we create new things within dreams, or do they reveal things already created; simply neglected, hidden, shrouded by mundane workaday thoughts?
I know not. I have given up trying to understand dreams ever since that summer I dreamt about vast armies of blue squirrels marching across the Gobi desert every night for eight weeks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still wonder, however, about the differences between the creative and the dreaming mind.
Take Louis Térrad, for example. All eleven of this Swiss writer’s novels are, he claims, ‘no more than transcriptions of his dreams’. He writes in the mornings, after waking; writing of what happened, in his head, during the night. ‘I am no writer, really’, he says, ‘more of a dream documenter: a matter-of-fact witness to fantastic thoughts that are, but are not quite, mine’.
Not quite his? Térrad’s honesty, his overweening humility, always strikes me as strange. He comes across as a tremendously guilty man – a boy with jam on his hands hovering around the kitchen door waiting for a smack from his mother. He can’t seem to wrap his head around the possibility that he is a creative writer: that he wrote these stories – that they emerged from his mind, and not someone elses. Why is this? So what if the ideas come from his dreams? They are his dreams, after all. He isn’t stealing other people’s dreams. His dreams, his mind – his stories, surely?
The bottom line is that Térrad can’t trust the creativity of his dreaming mind. None of us know quite how creative minds work; but creatively dreaming minds are stranger still. The dreaming mind is a mult-tasking magpie: stealing from here, from there, from everywhere: from nowhere. Indeed, Térrad’s dreams are full of ideas he cannot place or trace. The links between dreams and life can be obscure. The creatively dreaming mind, meanwhile, cares little for copyright laws. It takes what it likes, from wherever it likes. Térrad’s anxiety, perhaps, derives from this – from the fear that his stories are other people’s stories, which his head has appropriated, mysteriously, and coughed up in another form.
And yet, eleven novels later, no one has ever claimed that Terrad is a plagiarist. The process is a weird one, and we may never understand it, but the final result is such a pleasing one – it’s hard to complain. And equally difficult to stop wondering. It seems we will never stop asking questions which have no answers. For which I thank the gods.
As I have already established (and others are consistently proving) search terms are an endless source of fascination; all the more so since the majority of those I encounter seem to correspond to no clear logic, offering an immediate portal into the scrambled brains of some anonymous web-weevil. I could understand it if readers flocked to my gates in search of ‘obscure European fiction’ – instead I get people on the lookout for ‘consumption rate of pomegranates in Greece’, ‘square-like bruises’ and, last week, ‘baboon face tor’. Obviously I will take whatever reader comes my way, but I cannot help but think that these strange souls aren’t the people I had in mind when I first took up literary criticism.
Still, they never cease to inspire me, in their weird little way. They’ve even begun to weave themselves into my dreams. Last night, for instance, I dreamt of taking a pilgramage to Glastonbury Tor, only to discover on reaching my destination that someone had painted a massive baboon’s face on the southern slope of the famous small hill. Around this face stood a circle of naked revellers, their bottoms painted red, dancing to the whisper of the West Country wind. When I approached they started jumping up and down and reciting passages from James Joyce (at least that’s what it sounded like – it might have just been gobbledygook). Needless to say I didn’t hang around for long.
I wonder what Tor Borsen would make of all this? It was his name, after all, that acted as the vital bait for our curious visitor. But alas, I know not where the man with the name-that-means-conical-hill-in-Celtic is (as explained here).
Since posting the contents of a dream a day or so ago (see below) I have received correspondence from no less than one Anxious Democrat, casting aspersions or seeking reassurance (I can’t always tell those two apart) on a couple of issues.
First up, I seem to have mentioned that the President of the United States – or my dream version of him, at least – was ‘dressed in red’. This, thinks the Anxious Democrat, reflects poorly on me (or on my sub-conscience). The obvious allusion is, he thinks, either to Communism or (probably by association) to devilry. He backs up the latter claim by explaining that the scene as a whole, ‘taking place, as it does, on a park bench’, has ‘more than a passing resemblance to the opening of a famous Russian novel: Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita’. This ‘almost certainly confirms the connection to Satan’, he writes – something I can hardly verify, as I have never read Bulgakov’s book (and would be surprised if my sub-conscience had done so without my knowing, although it’s true we do differ on some things).
Our Anxious Democrat is also concerned, it seems, by the manner in which the President departs from my dream: falling or flying through a hole in the ground. Again, devilry springs to his over-anxious mind. Of course! It all becomes clear – this dream wasn’t related to my interest in the differences between editions of the same book (as I first thought). It was instead an incontrovertible expression of my facist, racist, paranoid and idiotic mind, filtered through the medium of a book I’ve never read. Silly me for thinking otherwise.
What to make of all this? I cannot say and can barely be bothered to try and wriggle out of a hole that was never there in the first place. Let me simply state that, during the few dream moments I shared with the crimson-suited President, I never once suspected him of being anything other than what he was: The President in a red suit. A nice fellow, so far as my sleepy self could tell. From whence the suit came, I do not know: but I am almost certain that it is not connected to a deep-rooted fear that the most powerful man in the world has a holiday home in the Underworld. Exactly how the President came to creep into my dream I am, again, uncertain.
What I do know is that all this does well to illustrate my wife’s favourite saying (‘Keep your dreams to yourself’) if not her second favourite saying also (‘Don’t drink a whole carton of pineapple juice before going to bed’).
The sources of yesterday’s dream (see below) are not all that hard to identify. Different editions have been on my mind – and desk, of late. As this blog post reminds us, there can be a certain pleasure derived from juxtaposing the English and American editions of the same book (or, in some cases, editions from a dozen other countries). Though this is not something that I have ever been able to do with my own books (alas) there are a sprinkling of obscure European novels that have been published on both sides of the Atlantic.
For example, an old acquaintance of mine recently sent me the American edition of Edmund ‘Blumin’ Ek’s debut novel The Incredible Expletive Shock!! I suppose I ought to reproduce it here and allow you to compare it with the English edition (which appears somewhere on this page) but as my camera is, at present, undergoing treatment, I fear that you will have to wait on this one. What I can tell you is that the American edition is much more colourful, to the point of luminous. It may even glow in the dark.
Another book of which I’ve recently seen two versions is Pyetr Turgidovsky’s forthcoming Delicious Air of Life. The American edition is an uninspiring matt black, with pale pink writing. The English edition, meanwhile, contains a photograph which looks distinctly like a view of Vladivostock, a city close to my heart (so close, sometimes, that it threatens to stop it). This tallies with early reviews of the book, which claim that Turgidovsky’s tale takes on the Eastern seaport’s dark history of chemical pollution, delighting no doubt in each and every miserable statistic. Something to look forward to there.
In other dream-related news, perhaps I ought to offer a riposte to my wife’s theory that last night’s fantasy had something to do with body-based paranoia: the unspoken fear, perhaps, that I might be turning into my unattrative ‘American edition’. To this I say ‘pish’ and/or ‘tosh’. I am not a handsome man, that much is obvious. But I am in the not least anxious over the size of my ears and shape of my nose.
Last night I dreamt that I met the President of the United States. He was sitting on a park bench in Berlin, dressed in red, reading a book. I sat down beside him and asked him what he was reading. It turned out to be my own study, Gogol to Galsworthy: A Rhapsody in G. This came as a surprise – not because I don’t think my book worthy of a President’s time, but because it looked to me like a different book entirely.
‘It’s the American edition,’ explained the President. This surprised me; as far as I am aware, there isn’t an American edition. Still, I didn’t like to doubt his word. It was barely possible to. Oh those honeyed tones of his! So what if the crimson jacket was a little on the overpowering side: the man oozed dignity. I asked him whether I could have a look. ‘Sure thing,’ he said, cracking a winning smile.
So I took the book. On the cover was a black vase, Greek in style, with an orange ‘G’ on it, sitting on blue-stained floorboards (the book, not the orange ‘G’). All very tasteful – a far cry from the English edition, which has always displeased me, however many times my wife has assured me that it ‘commands attention’. On the back cover of the President’s book, nonetheless, I was shocked to see a photograph of a most unattractive man, with fat cheeks dripping like Dali’s clocks, a nose sculpted by a clumsy toddler and ears stolen from a kangaroo. ‘The author’ read the caption.
‘This isn’t me,’ I said, handing back the book. ‘It’s the American edition’ repeated the President. I asked him to elaborate, but before he could a white horse appeared and he fell (or flew, depending on which way you look at it) through a hole in the ground. Sitting in his place was the man from the photograph: the American edition of me. I awoke with what some writers would call a scream, but which I prefer to term a throaty whimper.
The sweet palms of sleep did not fall upon me for too many minutes last night. And in the brief periods of rest I did get, dreams came thick and fast (that’s frozen custard thick, not warm carrot soup thick). In those few moments between hitting the snooze button and awaking to the second alarm – barely time, you would think, for a short-short story – my mind seems to have squeezed in an epic, six-hundred page novel or two. I wake in need of a sleep.
One turns to literature for consolation – and like all good women, it obliges. I was reminded, in this case, of Eva Holubk’s poem fat and careless curator of my thoughts, which I duly reproduce in its entirety – and in usual Holubk fashion – below.
More on Holubk here.