Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sigmund Freud and Dreaming the News

One thing that has surprised me about this project was how initially it wasn't so difficult.
I turned off the TV, I kept newspapers at a distance, I drastically limited the websites I visited, and I began to live in blissful ignorance.

The key word in the last sentence is "initially."

Lately it's been extremely hard to go on this way. Not knowing can start to feel like not living.

Out in my garage there are two stacks which consist of saved copies of the local daily newspaper alongside the New York Times. These stacks are growing noticeably taller.

The unread newspapers archived in my garage are approaching 16" in height.

Standing there in with my feet on the concrete floor of the garage it occurs to me that most of the stories and facts embedded in that paper pile are also stored up in my fellow humans' minds in the form of memories. But not mine. Like an amnesiac, part of my brain is empty.

Well, that's not quite right. The amnesiac once knew, then his mind went blank. I'm more like someone who has been a castaway on an island and never received word of anything at all.

Not even a message in a bottle.

Not So Sweet Dreams Are Made of These...
As I've stated many times to various persons, the purpose of this project is for me to see if I can live a "normal" life while not knowing what's going on in the larger world. I'm starting to wonder these days.

Does it count as normal if I have disturbing dreams about the news?

Let me venture a guess. No.

What follows is probably not the kind of thing the rest of you are dreaming about. But just to make sure, I've brought along a special person, a notable expert in this field, to weigh in on the matter.

Introducing Our Mystery Guest
Having made his mark a long time ago in the practice of psychology, a branch of which he can be said to have invented, our guest at The Van Winkle Project today is a man who truly needs no introduction. So I won't take up much of our time or his with that.

It should be noted though, that at this point, he is 154 years old. For that reason he doesn't get around much these days, which is another reason for both of us to be brief. At that age he's a bit fragile and it's difficult for him to speak at length. Frankly, he'd rather sleep.

So, without further delay, I would like to introduce two of Van Winkle's recent dreams with a guest interpretation, which will be delivered by none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna, Austria.

Dream #1: The Weapons of War Run Amok
I don't know how I got here. Out in nature. In the woods. Crazy thing! I see an U.S. Army tank clanking along. It's not supposed to be here. This is American soil. No orders have been given. Somehow I know that the tank has been hijacked by a veteran of the Afghanistan war who upon returning home has gone berserk.

There seems to be an Army tank in my dream...

I find myself looking down. From a bird's-eye point of view...

The tank is going around and around  in circles and knocking over trees with insane abandon...

Eventually the tank crashes through the forest, toppling more trees than I can count and it emerges from the woods to be met by a crowd of irate citizens. As the soldier climbs out of the tank they are shouting at him angrily.

"Why don't you go back and fix the forest!"

What I Thought the Dream Meant:

What on earth is going on in Afghanistan? The last time I had news of the war it was September and things were not going well. Some might have said we were just going in circles, chasing the Taliban and the Taliban cleverly running away from us.

And there is the ongoing problem of the living casualties of that war, those who serve and then come home and find the emotional trauma of war keeps them from living the way they wish, as if the legacy of this war is some awful dark force has that has hijacked their lives...

Dr. Freud's Analysis:

Wrong! Clearly this dream has nothing to do with the country of Afghanistan or geopolitical events. It is about Mr. Van Winkle's own life and story. He feels he is going in circles. He believes himself to have a certain power, symbolized by the canon in the tank, but he is unable to take aim and ignite his powder so to speak.

He also feels that in his being lost in the woods that he is harming others. These are the trees that he knocks down. In the end he thinks he will be held accountable for his failures. He will receive the disapprobation of others who will demand that he go back and do the impossible, fix the forest, i.e., live his life over again without such gross mistakes.

Dream #2: The Doomsday Scenario
I am bicycling along leafy neighborhoods in Washington D.C. Eventually the street I am on leads to wider lanes, bustling traffic, the appearance of buildings set on city blocks. Up ahead of me many policemen are waving at cars and me that we cannot go ahead. We will have to turn right as part of a detour.

That's when I see it in the near distance.

The U.S. Capitol building. It looks like this.

I can't believe what I'm seeing...
My immediate feeling is that the burning Capitol is not the result of a terrorist attack. I have a disturbing sense that an angry mob is nearby. Possibly there has been some kind of coup d'etat and the U.S. Government has been overthrown.

Stunned, aghast, I pedal away. As fast as I can...

What I Thought the Dream Meant:

When I went to "sleep" the nation seemed very divided and many people were angry. All the talk was of the mid-term elections and the Tea Party movement.

This dream seems to take my uneasiness to a hyperbolic dimension in which the competing points of views and parties become so polarized that in their divisiveness they ultimately destroy our government. "A house divided cannot stand," said Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps I am imagining not the literal demise of the buildings and organs of government, but the government's eventual inability to function in anything resembling an effective fashion.

Dr. Freud's Analysis:

Das ist unglaublich falsch! You mustn't think of the U.S. Capitol building! The U.S. Government. Think of you!

What appears as stones in the dream is really flesh and blood. You are like that burning building, you follow? These days you feel uncomfortable, as if smoke is pouring out of you. Who has done this thing? You have no idea. All you know at your deepest level of the unconscious is that you are monumentally upset.

So Who is Right? Freud or V.W.?
What am I going to say? You ask an honest question, you get an honest answer. I believe my dreams are a direction reflection of how my lack of news weighs heavily on my mind, no matter how cavalier I may act about it during certain waking moments. This not knowing leads me to imagine the worst.

Ignorance, it turns out, dwells just the other side of nightmare.

Of course, that could be a surplus of paranoia in me speaking, a word that Dr. Freud had plenty to say about. The important thing is this: While I'm sure some dreams can be profitably re-narrated to conform to a symbolic interpretation of them, I don't think this is always appropriate. Sometimes as the good Doctor himself said, "A cigar is just a cigar" and I would add a tank is a tank and a Capitol building is a building.

I may find a way to stop going around in circles in my life, but I don't expect these kinds of dreams to cease until I "wake up" on Sept. 11, 2011. - V.W.


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