Literary Obsession ~ Chapter Five


I dreamed afterward of flying when we made love together the first time.  I soared among clouds teasing me like feathers, taking my breath away over and over everywhere and nowhere as I had thrilled her and she me.   Still today I live in my dream after our first tryst, reminded of it daily by the little finger of her left hand, by the lower lobe of her right ear, by her fourth left toe.   And the tip of her tongue, the music of her voice, the heat of her breath.  But let me tell you also about another dream I remember; a dream of which I am also reminded daily; a dream to be interpreted not in the context of our happiness but in the context of our unhappiness; a dream I had at the time of our first serious quarrel.

I have not selected these dreams to write about arbitrarily, but deliberately because I want to use them to develop the thought that good dreams contribute to social integration while bad dreams are symptoms of dysfunctional relationships, so if we want to think about any vital problem whatever we need to think about dreams; and in general I always think carefully about how to begin, how to continue, and at any point on any page what word to write next, always trying to perform responsible speech acts; so now I have a plan in mind when I tell you our quarrel made me an unhappy person and that in my sorrow I sought consolation in religion.

On the nights after I prayed with my Catholic charismatic community my dreams reversed their bitter downward spiral into fear and anger and began spiraling sweetly upward into confidence and forgiveness on the wings of the hallelujah shouting,  the speaking in tongues, the swaying, the embracing, the storytelling, the praise and the gratitude of the brethren migrating with the heavenly hosts en masse on flying horses over the plains of Israel to the warm comforting waters of the River Jordan where we bathed together singing like best friends singing Happy Birthday in  a Jacuzzi.   Unlike dreams that   compensate in fantasy for frustrations in reality,  these two happy dreams of mine continued pleasures I was already enjoying awake, as people who do sex on drugs trip out on the drug when they are already tripped out on the sex.   My own experience with drugs has been mostly vicarious, but I have had a great deal of experience with religion, which I have found to be a healthier habit,  a safer high,  a wilder trip, and cheaper.   My druggie friend argues with me that his is the more honest and decent way of life because doing religion involves believing lies and repressing people who just want to have fun.   We disagree, but we understand each other´s deep emotional needs.   My happy dreams echoed the happy fulfilments of deep emotional needs in my waking life; while more commonly among human beings on this planet at this point in history there is a vast emptiness in the heart due to lack of satisfying relationships; an emptiness at the level of what Sigmund Freud calls the primary processes, at the level of dreams, at the level of the non-conscious mind (which is the greater part of the mind); which is why all around the world there are millions who are as I was hanging in the basement of the parish of Notre Dame du Chemin singing hymns with the brethren; and millions who are like Pablo the kid down the block who sniffs glue and steals avocados to pay for it.   The subterranean dynamites of the non-conscious emptiness of millions of people, often detonated by humiliation, explode repeatedly as insanity and violence far worse than the mild nuttiness and naughtiness of me and Pablo.
Although one might agree that dreams express the strivings of the non-conscious mind, and one might agree that the greater part of the mind is non-conscious as are the hotter fires of motivation; and one might go on to agree that the quality of one’s dreams is an index of the quality of one’s life and life-energy; and consequently one might believe my schoolteacher friend Leno Venegas when he says that the students who study and learn are the students who have a dream, while those who are apathetic and destructive lack a dream to inspire them; and one might believe me when I report that love improved my dreams; one might nevertheless balk at believing me when I report that my participation in atavistic ceremonies improved them.   It is perhaps easier to believe that the dreams of Little Hans were happier after Freud cured his fear of horses; or that the Wolf Man, who as a child had nightmares where he faced the cold white stares of six wolves in a tree, had good dreams after Freud deciphered the true causes of his anxieties.

Let us consider, first from a psychological and then from a sociological perspective, a dream of Freud’s patient Dora, the eighteen year old daughter of a rich man Freud had earlier treated for syphilis, whom her father brought in for treatment because of her hysteria and a recent suicide threat, as well as migraines, coughs, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, gastric pains, loss of voice, fatigue, depression, and hypochondria.   Dora dreamed three nights in a row, and then on a later occasion once, that her house was on fire,  that her father stood at the foot of her bed to wake her up and save her, that her mother wanted to rescue a jewelry box from the flames, and that her father said forget it I don’t want my children incinerated because of a jewelry box.

Interpreting the images and words of the dream, overcoming Dora’s resistance to knowing things she initially does not want to know, using the techniques set forth in his then recently published book (Traumdeutung, 1900), Freud finds that in her dream Dora is calling on her father to protect her feminine organs (her jewelry box).   Her conscious mind does not know until Freud’s psycho-analysis that she wants to be protected from her own temptations to give in and let herself be seduced, as well as from a Mr. K who in real life really is trying to seduce her, by rekindling her love for her father, calling him to help her to flee from a place where she is in danger, as in her infancy her love for her father and his disciplinary presence had protected her from wetting her bed.

The dream came to Dora when she and her father were guests at the lakeside country house of Mr. and Mrs. K, on the night after the day when Mr. K took advantage of a stroll with her along the lakeshore to declare his love for her and to steal a kiss, and he had apparently also stolen the key to her bedroom making it impossible for her to lock the door and sleep safely at night. Dora’s dream expresses her decision to flee back to Vienna with dad; it is repeated nightly while her decision is not yet implemented; the dream fulfills in sleeping-life the wish that he be the good dad that in waking-life he is not, for in reality her father and all her  family have treated Dora’s accusations about Mr. K’s earlier advances as sordid fantasies produced by her allegedly oversexed mind; in reality her father secretly wants K to succeed in seducing Dora in order to assure K´s acquiescence in his own ongoing affair with  Mrs. K.      Later Dora told Freud of a second dream:  she is in an unknown city walking unknown streets when suddenly she is at her own house where she finds a letter from her mother waiting for her saying that since she had left home without telling anyone her parents had not told her that her father was sick and now he is dead and she can come if she wants to;  so Dora (in her dream) starts for the railway station and asks a hundred people where it is and they answer “in five minutes” except for one who answers “in two and a half hours,” and then suddenly she is at the building where her parents live and she asks the concierge for directions to their apartment, and is answered by the housekeeper, “They are all at the cemetery.”   This second dream falls in the category of dreams about the death of a loved one, which is one of three kinds of dream Freud mentions in the Traumdeutung as “common dreams,”   the other two kinds of common dreams being those about being naked in public, and those about being unprepared for a final examination; and surely Freud is right to think that from the perspective of building up a science of psychology or of psycho-analysis the prevalence of certain common dreams, as well as other less frequent but still familiar kinds like Dora’s dream of being in a burning  building, can be seen as evidence of the deep non-conscious action of what Freud calls affective primary processes reminiscent of deep-lying tectonic plates.

I think Plato would approve of Uncle Sigmund’s efforts to bring more of the contents of the unconscious and preconscious minds into consciousness, for if we can (as I think we can) equate Freud’s ego (Ich) with Plato’s rational soul (logistiche psuche) then the two thinkers have a similar idea:  the conscious self has the job of directing and harmonizing the emotions; so they should agree that it can do its job better if it knows more about those emotions.   My friend Plato would say that dreams are invaluable because they display in codes that can be decoded feelings driving action the logistiche psuche hides from itself when it is awake.        Plato would, furthermore, not be surprised by Adriana Aron´s recent study showing that over half of the refugees fleeing the Salvadoran Civil War have recurring dreams that someone is chasing them trying to kill them  because  he realized long ago that what happens in the psyche reflects what happens in the polis.  Nor would Plato be surprised when Hannah Decker shows Dora’s dreams to be those of a typical  “hysterical” woman oppressed by the patriarchy of old Europe who makes herself sick to get some semblance of control  over her life  because he would expect psychic structure to reflect social structure.   But it would perhaps be more Aristotle, my dear friend Aristotle, who observed that Athens was a democracy because its defense depended on its navy and therefore every citizen had to wield an oar to row its boats-of-war;  who observed that city-states dependent on cavalry for defense were not democratic because the only citizens with military significance were the ones rich enough to keep horses; who would have observed if he had lived in Vienna in 1900 that Freud’s patients were from a social class where men—as Karl Marx unkindly remarked with a certain perhaps pardonable degree of exaggeration—accumulated wealth exploiting the working classes and then devoted their leisure hours to seducing each other’s wives;  who with his talent for sociology would have observed how in Dora’s Vienna the big picture (the society) matches the little picture (the individual);  the waking life matches the dreaming life; as Dora  spends her days caring for the children of the same Mr. K who is plying her with expensive gifts and soliciting her body because Mrs. K is out having fun with Dora’s father;  as Dora spends her nights dreaming she is lost and when she asks the way to the railway station people reply “in five minutes” or “in two and one half hours.”

In the terminology of Emile Durkheim who found in his empirical studies that rich people, poor people, and people without faith are more likely to commit suicide than middle class people and people with faith; who drew a map of Europe charting more suicide in the more modernized areas and less suicide in the more traditional areas; the confusion about roles and their duties that Aristotle perhaps would have observed in Dora’s family and its milieu would be termed “normlessness” (anomie) and “social disintegration.” If we graduate to a sociology of dreams and if we acknowledge happy dreams fulfilling wishes that are also being fulfilled in waking life,  in love and/or in the loving support of an extended family, then it becomes easier to credit my report that I dreamed of migrating with the heavenly hosts gliding en masse on flying horses over the plains of Israel to the warm comforting waters of the River Jordan where we bathed together singing like best friends singing Happy Birthday in a Jacuzzi.   I want to call it a dream of social integration; and I want to make it an example of a successful dream, a dream that marks the success of well-functioning institutions, as integration marks the success not just of Freud’s therapy, but also of rituals performed by shamans in indigenous cultures, of therapies based on behaviorist psychology, and indeed of any therapy, as has been brilliantly argued by the Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Jerome Frank in Persuasion and Healing; and  I would die happy if I could persuade more people to read Frank’s book and if I could communicate all I want to say with the phrase “dream of integration.” I want to say “integration brings happiness, loneliness despair” with Durkheim and “a dream stands on two legs, one present, one from early childhood” with Freud.     I do not know whether Freud’s “two legs” theory is true for all dreams.  But I believe that its two parts, one a generating event in the present life of the dreamer, the other a rekindling of primary erotic experience, help me to interpret my two bonding dreams and to explain “dream of integration.”

I believe the same early childhood erotic joy is rekindled in my love dream and in my prayer dream, and that its source is being rocked back and forth in my mother’s arms held close to her warm body sucking warm milk from a nipple of one or the other of her breasts.  I also believe the joys of flying and of warm bathing in these dreams (and my other similar ones) are enhanced by feelings of relief from fears of abandonment and attack that I acquired later in childhood and youth; they are homecoming dreams.    I am one of the lucky ones who has a home to return to in dreams,  as Odysseus returned to Ithaca to Penelope and a “welcome” (“welcome” translates Homer’s word “agape”  — a word which later named “love” and “God” in the New Testament); I am one of the lucky ones who as a baby learned  Erik Erikson’s “basic trust.”    I believe my basic trust in early childhood was one leg of two happy dreams later, one sparked by love and the other by prayer; and that these good dreams illustrate a connection psychologists already believe to exist between infantile bliss and ability to form healthy relationships in adult life, which in turn suggests a more general connection between the constructive channeling of erotic and other primary emotions (Freud would say their “sublimation”) and social integration.

Many year’s after I stopped sucking milk from my mother’s breasts, many years after I stopped sucking my thumb, I had an opportunity to discuss John Bowlby´ s book Child Care and the Growth of Love, a book which amasses evidence to show what I believe common sense already knows: that babies who are not touched, kissed, and cooed over are likely to grow up to be unhappy, dysfunctional and anti-social,  with Professor Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard.    Kohlberg suggested that people not loved as babies would be unable to move from the stage of obedience to authority to the stage of wanting to be nice boys and nice girls appreciating others and being appreciated by others, in other words unable to move from Stage Two to Stage Three on his scale of moral development, because they lacked an urge to come home to infantile bliss.  I conclude that since without passing through Stage Three nobody goes on to a higher stage, it follows that a nation of unloved babies must necessarily become a nation of irresponsible citizens.

This conclusion is buttressed by all I know from other sources, including my own trite observation in the classroom that the children who want to please their parents are the children who want to please their teachers; bearing in mind the need for confirmation from other sources because Kohlberg is open to the objection that he is biased in favor of the male and the rational; and because Freud is open to the objection that for him every emotion is erotic; for example he did not question the clinical findings of his colleague Alfred Adler who found that aggressiveness and will-to-power were the mainsprings of human behavior, but he (at least prior to 1920) declined to regard aggressiveness and will-to power as basic human impulses (Trieben), classifying them instead as unnatural re-channeling of erotic impulses in destructive directions in ways reminiscent of Saint Thomas Aquinas classifying evil as the absence of good,  evil (as in Freud’s case sadism) being the corruption of the love that God  (as in Freud’s case Nature) intended.

Recently I checked for several days the “Trending Now” charts on Yahoo showing that day’s ten topics most searched on the Internet. The most common searches were for sexy female entertainers, followed by sexy male entertainers.    This modest foray into quantitative empirical research (using a methodology other inquirers can replicate) tended to confirm three of my opinions: first, although Uncle Sigmund no doubt overestimated Eros and defined it too broadly, he was not entirely wrong in making a scientific case for saying sex makes the world go ´round; second, Uncle Sigmund was certainly right on the broader point that we are often motivated by strong primary emotions we understand dimly if at all; and, third, that as long as five hundred or more fill a Pentecostal church, fifty thousand or more attend a rock concert, and one hundred thousand or more flock to a football game, while only six show up to discuss how to save humanity and the planet from certain destruction, humanity and the planet probably will not be saved from certain destruction.

Let me now write the rest of this chapter as an effort to make clear  more of my opinions on dreams and how they figure in a Game Plan to get homo sapiens off the endangered species list, free of attempts to prove that my opinions are true, or original, or what Sigmund Freud meant.       My goal is to contribute to reorganizing a modern world-system where hysterical women like Dora and paranoid men like my father are generated by dysfunctional institutions ill-suited to the human body as it has evolved over the millennia and ill-adapted to the surrounding biosphere; bearing in mind that myths (today most notably Smith’s myth of natural liberty) organize human action and that dreams drive it.  When we say “the dream drives the action” we mean not just a night-time experience during sleep but also the day-time motivation energized by the primary affective processes that the night-dreams express and reveal  –motivation  standardly organized by the logistiche psuche’s conventional norms at the point where the rubber (the myths) hits the road (behavior).  Norms: to understand capitalism we need to understand its constitutive rules, its norms.       Dreams: to transform capitalism we need to engage the underlying tectonic energies of our driving emotions (Trieben).

My goal is different from the goal of people who study when discontent articulated in radical ideologies will rise to the level where majorities see change as a possibility and cannot stand the system any longer and are able to pull off a successful revolution, because I  believe the real transformation will be the shift in constitutive rules that frees humanity from the iron cage of the logic of accumulation, a shift which –as we should know by now—revolution does not guarantee.    Escape from the iron cage is not separate from the constructive tasks of organizing green alternative ways of cooperation and sharing like (four examples) community supported agriculture, local currencies, gift economies, worker ownership.  My goal is the same as Arnold Toynbee’s when he concludes from his study of history that successful civilizations are ruled by charm, while unsuccessful ones are ruled by force; I agree with Freud that civilization is mainly energized by the sublimation of Eros. It should be partnership, not domination (Eisler).    Although I agree too with Herbert Marcuse that there is often a “surplus repression” of pleasure making people more gloomy and more fearful than is necessary to motivate them to work hard enough to make the economy churn out the necessary goods and services, I want to put a positive spin on his critique. I want an esthetic education leading to ethics (Schiller), I want to equate truth and love (Gandhi), I want beauty to prepare the soul for the entrance of right reason (Plato).  To that end I will now suggest a thumbnail sketch of the social history of charm, beginning with the first family ties.    The glue binding the first human groups was the women’s sex appeal.      The males hung with the women and children because –unlike other mammals—the human females were always in heat.  (Tanner, Leakey)
Of course this account of the erotic origins of human kinship presupposes that there were already strong positive emotions bonding the women and their children;   and we know too that later, if not earlier diverse cultural resources fostered social cohesion.         If the clans and tribes of our remote ancestors had not known how to achieve enough group cohesion to cooperate in food sharing and child care, they would not have survived.        The ancient cultures that survived learned to turn on the charm  in many ways to promote functional behavior and  discourage dysfunctional behavior, including  music, magic, feasting, dancing, singing, gift-giving, initiations, rituals, pageantry, totems, spirits, ceremonies, reverence for deities, going into trances,  costumes,  ancestor worship, sacred animals, sweat lodges, chanting, narcotics, holidays, games, contests, jokes, mysteries, secrets, stories –in short everything that is fun and exciting deployed to achieve socialization into norms and roles—as we can see in the ones that   have endured into modern times. To make the mirror image of the same point:  among pre-hominids and hominids and then during  the many millennia of human evolution the emotions themselves (the physiological arousal states)  have evolved to lend themselves to being used by cultures in ways favoring the survival of individuals and of groups.
Which brings me back to our charismatic prayer group in Quebec where we  made it a point to follow exactly the practices described in ancient texts; we even danced to rhythms and steps authorized by the Old Testament.    I make bold to suggest the hypothesis that the explanation of the resulting improvement in my  night life was that people long ago learned to bond with integrating charms  nobody then or now  fully understood or understands, and  I suggest that I was the beneficiary of some of those tried and true charms when my dreams switched from anxiety to celebration; but  I do not think for one moment that  advocates of abstinence, virginity, and celibacy weaken erotic drives; on the contrary with Freud I believe that Eros tops the charts whether the ranking  is measured according to how much or according to how little; and to demonstrate my point  I call as a witness my  friend Patrick, a Catholic taxi driver, who like Dante Alighieri  believes in constant conversion, weaving  one’s eternity thread by thread day by day, hour by hour; and because what he means by constant conversion is constant purification from the temptations of sex, Patrick enjoys an exciting life cruising around town in his taxi fending off the temptations of the devil minute by minute.
The story of modernizing economic calculation leading to the disintegration of traditional kinship norms and the commodification of almost everything (and here ends my thumbnail history of charm, at the point where charm becomes a commodity) has been told often and well by historians like Karl Polanyi and sociologists like Max Weber. Nestor Garcia-Canclini adds that indigenous cultures still endure malgré tout; they share space with modernity in contemporary “hybrid” societies; or as Robert Bellah puts it now modern and ancient “languages” cohabit.   In the same institutions and even in the same person a modern head may share power with an ancient heart, and indeed more than one head with more than one heart. Nevertheless, to solve humanity’s main problems it is mostly modernizing economic calculation that must be tamed.

To tame economics (the beast, the box, the basic structure) I now beg leave to suggest eleven thoughts.  Although no reader is under any obligation to believe my thoughts, I can scarce imagine a reader doubting that they are important if they are true; nor can I conceive –blinded as I may be by my own eyes—that they be false, since they just restate facts established by others –as anyone can verify in any library—  in a format designed for drawing practical conclusions.  Following throughout Charles Taylor in construing our basic structure (the box) to be the constitutive rules of a bargaining society; and finding beginnings of our bargaining society two thousand five hundred years ago; I will suggest four thoughts about its history, two thoughts about its consequences, and five thoughts about a Game Plan for turning the tide with respect to humanity’s and the biosphere’s present predicaments.    History: beginnings of our basic rules are found in Rome. Over time similar laws and ethics from elsewhere in Europe joined the main stream.  The first laws served to prevent fights among paterfamiliae.  Feeding babies and caring for the sick were not relevant. Those were matters for women and slaves; the purpose of the law was military: to avoid internecine fighting that would sap Roman power. So at the first start of law in Rome –I am not talking about Confucian, Hindu, or African law, which were more like community therapy—all the dream energy of bonding and all the charm energy of integration were marginal to jurisprudence.    Second: emancipation (getting out from under the mancipum, the hand, of the Paterfamilias) would henceforth mean becoming too a sovereign autonomous individual like him.     Third: some seven hundred years later the Romans invented their law of nations, jus gentium, constituting a universal legal subject with a few universal rights;   disregarding  local kinship obligations, languages, religions, customs, ceremonies, roles … .   Under the jus gentium commerce could be transacted anywhere in the Roman Empire under the same rules.  Fourth: in the reception of Roman Law in early modern Europe and in British common law   “contract” (Pufendorf 1688) came to be “a meeting of minds”   – a definition which had always been implicit in the very idea of the sovereign autonomous individual; and then in Adam Smith contract became the principle of the division of labor, the principle of the market (Smith 1776).  Europe changed from a “status society” to a “contract society.” In a contract society –unlike a pre-modern societé segmentée that is in principle an extended family—  where there is no contract there is no reciprocity of duties, no duty to share food for example;   except of course when in hybrid societies non-mercantile logics (like those of family ties, statutory entitlements, divine authority) complement  the constitutive rules of a bargaining society.  Consequences:   A first consequence is exclusion;   property is by definition exclusion.  Dominium, meaning place conquered, was the ancient Roman word.  Proprietas came into use as its synonym well after the Republic under the Empire.
Those who own no real estate and can pay no rent are therefore excluded from space.       A second consequence of the constitutive rules is the ungovernability of a world where rational action to solve problems is constrained because nothing can be done that violates for example the systemic imperative to prevent inflation; since for money to be a medium of exchange it must first be a store of value; and in a market society livelihood depends on exchange; so therefore inflation must be curbed even at the cost of unemployment and cutbacks of social programs.    I had a recurring dream about ungovernability—about a lack of capable authority– starting when I was four years old: in my dream I was a passenger in a car speeding along a road, and then suddenly I realized to my horror the car had no driver; the driver had disappeared, there was only an emptiness in the driver’s seat as the car careened to destruction. This dream started after my father was laid off from his job.    I was too young to understand Keynes, but I   could already guess that the man who does not get the money does not get the girl, and that since my father was losing the money he was likely to lose the girl, and I a father.

Game plan:   First: we acknowledge and accept the systemic imperatives.      My suggestion is to try to manage as well and as fairly as possible within the constraints that in the near term cannot be avoided.    My second thought about a Game Plan is that following my first thought is while necessary in the near term, impossible in the long term since there is no sustainable future inside the box. The way out is to build a plural economy at the same time.    While shoring up investor confidence, promote institutions with diverse logics that add up to make a resilient economy able to compensate for shortfalls in investor confidence and resist pressure to subordinate all other goals to achieve investor confidence.    Cooperatives, nonprofits, and public service are three more examples.    My third, fourth, and fifth thoughts seek the multiple motivations needed to energize the multiple logics of a plural economy:  the need for basic trust in early infancy as a foundation both for homecoming dreams that will fuel cooperation in the future adult and for Erikson’s identity and fidelity tasks (third);  the need for dreams of integration (fourth); and the need for deploying all the fun and exciting activities that in diverse cultures and in diverse contexts seduce the masses into behaving in ways that are functional, or at least not disastrously dysfunctional.
Please let me just add a prediction  that  solving the economic problem will prove to be the key to solving  many other problems; that to the extent  the economic problem can be solved then the problems of war, of violence, of ecology, of drug culture, of crime, of mental illness and others which are not solvable now,   in a world of diverse plural economies will (unless I am  mistaken)  become solvable, or at least much easier to alleviate;   but at bottom –here I fear I may be overconfident in  expecting that somebody will understand what I am trying to say —   the crux of the matter is not really an economic problem at all but a tangle of myths and a bundle of dreams.