Monday, February 16, 2009


'In dreams begin responsibilities' is the title of a story written by Delmore Schwartz and published in a volume of that name in 1938. I read the story a long time ago and have nothing to say about it now, and yet I can’t type the words 'in dreams' and not think of the writer who I will always think of as 'Delmore' because of John Berryman, and Robert Lowell, and Lou Reed.

He came to a bad end, didn’t he. Indeed, and perhaps that’s why he’s lurking somewhere in the background even now. The man who, in Lowell’s poem, changed Wordsworth’s 'poets in their youth begin in gladness, thereof in the end come despondency and sadness' to end with 'madness,' and then -- followed suit.

But the ostensible point of this post is that I might not be mad enough, even yet. One reason, among others perhaps, that my blogging has languished somewhat of late (I seem to hear Hamlet saying, 'I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth') is that 'the things of this world' -- let’s call it prosaic reality -- have become things I care not much about. So, for instance, the state of the academy, à la Stanley Fish, or the state of the economy, à la Paul Krugman, or the state of Hollywood, à la Carpetbagger, or even the state of Joaquin Phoenix, à la Gawker, diverting as those questions might be, haven’t been taxing my mental lobes enough to crank out 'copy.'

And why not? Because of dreams. Fittingly, this week’s assignments in Daily Themes, for the first time in the many years (8?) that I’ve been involved with the course, are to write about a dream, to write a dream for a character, to write with 'dream logic.' I say fittingly because, fitfully, I’ve become a bit dissatisfied with my own waking reality quite a bit of late -- which extends, dear reader, to my own belabored prose. From which we get 'prosaic' reality, literally, in the first place. And what has inspired such low libidinal urges toward what we in -- we have to come up with another substance, it should be clear by now that whatever those towers are made of, 'ivory' is not the material -- academia like to call 'expository prose'? Well, besides my own cruel fiction’s requirement of exposition, it is, you guessed it, poetry! Oh, and film.

Recently I’ve read Marie Étienne’s Le roi des cents cavaliers (2002) (King of a Hundred Horsemen in the English rendering by Marilyn Hacker, 2008), and Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life (2007) and some achingly familiar but often disenfranchised area of my brain was coaxed back to what feels like posthumous existence by re-acquaintance with the 'dream state' of poetry which, while having everything to do with the modern world (particularly Harvey), makes no attempt to name it as such, to produce exposition, in other words.

Harvey’s volume does come at times to seem something of a 'one-trick pony' -- I’m thinking of the almost-not-quite abecedarian poems in the sections called 'The Future of Terror' and 'The Terror of the Future' -- but it’s still quite a nice trick. And other poems, for instance those delineating the existence of 'Robo-Boy,' were quite charming. I think I’m well-disposed toward this poetry because it studiously avoids doing all the things that tend to bore me about poetry -- the increasingly prosaic variety, particularly. Then there’s Étienne who is simply a joy to behold, in French at least, because, even when exposing, er, expositing, er, positing or expounding, Étienne’s prose line (and these are poems often written in 'prose') is so succinct, so attentive to its aural associations, so emphatically particular that 'the dream' is all in the ears. The poems induce an almost surreal dream state simply by virtue of how it sounds to say simply things like: 'Derrière les volets clos, la lumière extérieure.'

And as to 'the dream' on film: somewhere in, what Joyce in his great dream work calls, 'the bacbuccus of the mind' (in this case my mind, but, collectivists, who can say for sure?) are percolating thoughts ('fish got in the percolator'?) of David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006), and to some extent Blue Velvet (1986), which I watched again recently. Suffice to say that a journey through Inland Empire left me for a week or so rather dissatisfied with the heavy 'reality effect' proceeding apace in my own W in P. I’ve coped with that with what coping mechanisms were at my disposal, but I want to take this opportunity, such as it is, to again express wonderment of an enterprise that can make nightmares take on reality in Normalville, U.S.A., as in Blue Velvet, but can also disengage from how things normally look and act, not only in ‘the real world’ but also in the ‘fictive world’ of that real world provided us by standard-issue cinema -- even such cinema as purports to provide us entry into a ‘fantasy world.’

So, getting back to Delmore’s dreams (recall, the protagonist in his story was 'at the movies' in a dream, watching a movie about his parents) -- what kind of responsibilities begin in them? Is it a responsibility to ‘the world’ as it really is? Or to the dreamer as the self or subjectivity ‘exposed’ by exposition of what goes on in that bacbuccus (the ruckus in the bacbuccus, let's call it)? Or to the reader (if we transpose such dreams into prose or film or poem)? Like those Three Witchy Women at the start of The Magic Flute (which I just saw for the first time on Valentine’s Day -- talk about dream logic!), I’ll say 'nein, nein, nein.' It’s a responsibility only to the dream itself. To the ‘dream logic,’ if your rational cranium must have it so, herr professor, but what that logic makes manifest is what you must follow through the eye of the needle, down the rabbit hole, there and back again, and wherever it lead you, because such method, madness enough in itself, is the only way to arrive -- 'O phoenix cruelprints' -- finally at something, as the aging kids in the gingerbread tower like to say, ‘wholly other.’ Utter!

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
Tiptoes to my room every night
--Roy Orbison, "In Dreams" (1963)

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