Tag Archives: dreams

Robert Zend: Dreams Report the Bankruptcy of Words

Robert Zend (1929-1985)
Daymares: Selected Fictions on Dreams and Time
Vancouver: Cacanadadada Press, 1991

          About a year ago, a frend who used to live next door to Robert Zend gave me a copy of Daymares. Already having a stack of unread books at my bedside, I put it on my shelf for another day. Recently, I came across his name and retrieved the book from the tail-end of my short story collection. Now I can hardly put it down.
          Zend’s stories continually involute expectations about identity, time, and the distinction between reality and illusion. Shape-shifting characters, dreams within dreams, anachronisms, and paradoxes keep the reader adrift in a fantastical realm whose often dark irrationality explores mysteries of humanity: uncharted cognitive depths, the burdens of history, and the continuities between self and other.
          Daymares is a genre-blending work containing mostly short stories but also poetry and concrete poetry (“typescapes”). Some of the stories offer twists on religious mythology, including “The End of the World,” a comical revision of the Apocalypse in which the narrator scoffs, “Mankind, shmankind!” and boffs his neighbour’s wife as the four horsemen gallop toward the annihilation of the earth into smithereens—sort of. Others, such as “A Dream About the Centre,” explore the vastness of human cognition in the blink of a waking dream. One of the most moving stories, “My Baby Brother,” confounds time and identity in exploring issues of Holocaust death, survival, and the continuity of life.
          This Hungarian-Canadian writer will appeal to anyone with a penchant for Jorge Luis Borges’ mind-bending labyrinths, paradoxes, and dreamscapes. But Zend is an original swimming in a similar stream of fantasy and dream, navigated with keen intellect and feeling for the human condition. Borges wrote to Zend: “You consider me one of your masters, yet you were my pupil even before reading my work.”
          After relishing Daymares, I eagerly sought other works by Zend and ordered From Zero to One, a collection of his poems. Click here for Glenn Gould’s tribute to Zend on the back jacket.
          Below I’m reproducing an excerpt from Zend’s introduction to the book as well as two poems and two typescapes.

from “Introduction to an unpublished manuscript entitled
Selected Dreams”

          Although the Sun declared it a false doctrine, we still secretly accept the creed of Darkness, which teaches us that the land of dreams is common for everybody: it is not three-billion individually enclosed lands, but one. It obeys not three-billion personal laws, but one. It is a common land where we all meet each other, and these meetings will be unremembered during the linear Sun-time, by the vertically erected individuals who intermingle on the curved, collective male-plane. We all believe—though we know it isn’t true—that the land into which we submerge (while our horizontal bodies rest, tossing and turning about) is real, as real, if not more, than that from which we sank down. Originally, we were all the sons and daughters of Darkness: that was our prenatal land, the Atlantis-womb before the ejaculating rays of the aroused Sun-lord fertilized it, generating us who grow and pop out into the light. We never lose our nostalgia for the cool, dank, soily shadow-shapes of the womb.
          This is the world of dreams from which, at the very beginning of our personal lives it was so hard to be torn away. This is where we spent most of our early time, sleeping. Gradually, as the duration of our sojourns in that world decreased, our time in the clear, collective, articulate world correspondingly increased. The sword of merciful death finally liberates us forever, from the task of wasting even short hours in this male-reality, so that we can return completely to virgin mother-existence. Death allows us back to the land of time-spacelessness; to the tiny centre point of our individual self which strangely coincides with the three-billion other human centre-points, with those of the dead ones, with those of our more ancient ancestors: swimming, crawling and flying creatures, rooting-stretching plants and perhaps even with the centre-points of other alien-living-units, of agitatedly swirling atoms and majestically rotating galaxies.
          The real difficulty, for both the individual and the race, is not to learn the language of Darkness, but rather to learn the language of the Sun. Only the minuscule peak of our iceberg-soul uses Sun-speech. Its bulky expanse hidden under the surface still speaks the ancient language of Darkness: we consist mainly of dreams and only negligibly of wakefulness. By collective agreement between the Sun-ruled ego-peaks, which engage themselves in labyrinthine sociopolitical mythologies, this original language is marked with the stamp of insanity. This “insanity” lurking in all of us, even at high-noon, never stops giving whispered suggestions to our seemingly sane, wakeful structures. That is why we periodically grow sick of them and, through bloody revolutions, try to change them back to the original Utopia which had existed in the Atlantean womb-past, and not, as is erroneously hypothesized, in the Sun-like, glowing erection-future. All these attempts are, of course, futile. It is impossible to convert rocks into clouds, father into mother, iron into fantasy. We don’t have to learn to speak the language of dreams because we never forget to speak it: we practise it a third of every day; we all come from it, persons as well as species. It is our real mother tongue: translations into it are impossible. Everything else: literature, communication, institutions, law, family, society, love, cities, technology, religion, art and science, is already a translation from it—and unsuccessful translations at that: like ruins disintegrating in an alien environment.
          You can dream of a lion which is as harmless and cute as an Easter Bunny, or of a motionless pillar, which is as menacing as a rapist. You can dream of lovemaking as unpleasant as slavery, or of bland, grey flower-pots as warm and sensuous as rosy-hued flesh. Translating them with Sun-lit words gives rise to impenetrable jungles of misunderstanding in which sameness means difference; nearness, distance; flux, solidity; consecutiveness, simultaneity and repetition, comparison. This language knows no word, its events do not provoke emotions, its objects do not lend themselves to symbolization. On the contrary, it informs us of the bankruptcy of words: its emotions provoke events and its abstract objects are expressions of solid symbols.

Day and Night (1983)

The Dream-Cycle

Nothing dreams Something
  but Something is mostly Void

    Void dreams Matter
      but Matter is mostly Vacuum

        Vacuum dreams a Universe
          but the Universe is mostly Ether

            Ether dreams Galaxies
              but a Galaxy is mostly Space

                Space dreams Solar Systems
                  but a Solar system is mostly Sky

                    Sky dreams Celestial Bodies
                        but a Celestial Body is mostly Hollow

                          Hollowness dreams Beings
                            but a Being is mostly Empty

                              Emptiness dreams Consciousness
                                but Consciousness is mostly Sleep

                                  Sleep dreams Wakefulness
                                    but Wakefulness is mostly Irrational

                                      Irrationality dreams Knowledge
                                        but Knowledge is mostly Chaos

                                          Chaos dreams Existence
                                            but Existence is mostly Nothing

Nothing dreams Everything
before it is ready to awake


Awakening from Dreams (1983)

After I Die

After I die
Time will be Space
and I will move back and forth in it
    every step a generation
    and I will watch
    the child I was
    the Man I was—
        After I die
        “I” will be “he”

After I die
Now will be Then
and I will remember all who lived
    Napoleon and Socrates
    and Columbus and Leonardo
    and Moses and Gilgamesh
    and all the nameless ones
    will be like days in a long life—
        After I die
        “I” will be “they”

After I die
Here will be There
and I will expand or shrink at will
    the soul of atoms and their particles
    of suns and their planets
    of galaxies and their solar systems
    of universes and their galaxies
    will be my soul and they will rotate in me—
        After I die
        “I” will be “it”

After I die
If will be When
and I will fill all holes with existence
    making things that were not made
    living lives that were unlived
    growing histories that could have happened
    creating worlds that had been aborted
    realizing possibilities that never were—
        After I die
        “I” will be “god”

After I die
I will be nothing
and I am just dreaming about the impossible
projecting a tunnel under the prison wall
    but tomorrow: to go
    tomorrow: to talk
    tomorrow: to work
    tomorrow: to play
    tomorrow: to cope
    tomorrow: to survive—
        After I die “yes” will be “no”
        and everything will become so easy

Wednesday, September 20, 1973

Photo credit: Aniko Zend

Camille Martin

“I know I am traveling all the time”: The Twilight Dreams of Artur Lundquist

Excerpts from Artur Lundquist’s Journeys in Dream and Imagination (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991),
then a brief essay.

                                               I know I am traveling all the time, possibly with no interruptions, also with no tremors or noises, soundlessly and softly, and then I am no longer lying in my bed but stepping out into the world where everything is awake, sundrenched, comforting, and I am there clearly as a visitor, and I am quite at ease,

                                               it must be a dream journey I have undertaken, a definite dream journey where all is real precisely the way all journeys ought to be, but maybe one has to be dead in order to journey like that,

                                               by the way, how can I know I am not dead, even though I have no sensation of being dead, and it is as if I rest in a middle zone without feeling either warmth or cold or hunger or any human needs

* * *

                                               No wind, not even the slightest breeze, complete stillness and silence, yet I am traveling or have a definite sense of traveling, but how can it happen without a sound or feeling of movement,

                                               can I travel motionless or glide onwards without the least resistance from the earth or the air, can it be that time has stopped or speed no longer has a meaning, that I have reached the crossroads beyond motion and stillness . . .

                                               but yet I am here, can feel my body and sense my breathing, it is a nothingness that is definite, but without any wind or air or sound whatsoever, as if all but my own being has ceased existing,

                                               it amazes me somewhat, but it actually does not matter, why should I need wind and sound, that which exists does exist nevertheless, and I must be the one perceiving it, and that is surely sufficient to make me alive and capable of perceiving,

                                               I do not know what time has passed, but now I begin hearing something, at first vaguely, then with increasing strength, and soon, I can recognize a distant song by women, a choir like in a church but heard from a distance, the song rises and falls rhythmically, with different voices blending, lighter ones and darker ones,

                                               It is actually not beautiful, but it still makes an impression by its inherent certainty and power, yes, the song bears witness of a conviction that conquers silence and nothingness as if journeying by its own force and conquering all resistance,

                                               I feel that I am again traveling, that immobility and silence no longer reign, but I don not know what the women are singing or what the song means, it is simply there, filling the room which was only silence and emptiness

* * *

                                               The silence is like a fine spiderweb against my face, I cannot rub it off, it is simply there without being tangibly real, it does not flutter like a leaf in the breeze, nor is it entirely immobile, it feels like the impression of a wind that is already becalmed, it is hardly the beginning of the weave and it does not betray a pattern, it is the most insignificant matter, yet it makes itself known

* * *

                                               My dreams are of iron, so strong, so durable, but they soon begin to rust, eventually they fall off like flakes of rust and nothing is left of them, then I shift to dreams of dough so that I might bake and eat them, almost like bread,

                                               suddenly, as I sit at the table in good company, I am nauseated, I do not even have time to stand up and run to the toilet before I spew out a snake that curls out of my mouth, one piece with each spasm, like a birth,

                                               the snake lands in front of me, on the plate that is still empty, it is curled up, mottled, with a zigzag pattern on its back, more beautiful than a sausage and much longer,

                                               the snake raises its head and opens its jaws as if to say something but at that moment, I faint and I do not hear it.

I’m attracted to unusual states of consciousness in the history of literature, such as Hanna Weiner’s poetic conversations with the words that she saw projected, involuntarily, onto surfaces; and those “Kubla Khan’s” written during drug-induced altered states of consciousness. One of the most remarkable poetic records of an altered state of mind is Artur Lundkvist’s Journeys in Dream and Imagination: The hallucinatory memoir of a poet in a coma.

In 1981, at the age of 75, Swedish poet Artur Lundquist had a heart attack while giving a speech on Anthony Burgess. A friend administered artificial resuscitation and he was rushed to the hospital, where he lay in a coma in the intensive care unit for two months, his life sustained by a heart-lung machine. He gradually regained consciousness over the next few months, maintaining awareness for greater and greater periods of time. As soon as he was able to write again or at least to dictate to his wife, he attempted to re-capture the now-elusive dream visions that illuminated the two months of his coma as well as to set down the waking dreams that he experienced during the first year of his convalescence, intense and vivid ones in which his eyes remained open and during which reality mixed with unreality in a half-aware reverie. Such dreams are not uncommon for persons who have experienced a change in breathing patterns, as is the case being on a lung machine (1). Fortunately, Lundquist’s linguistic abilities were rusty but intact, and he was able to document his fantastical visions that arose during this fertile period of dreaming.

The memorable opening of his poetic journal of dreams, “I know I am traveling all the time,” suggests that he’s aware of his altered condition, and that the background noise of his mental state is his impression of traveling, paradoxically in “complete stillness and silence” and “without a sound or feeling of movement.” He exists “without distance in time and space” yet he feels that he is traveling “through time or space.” He can’t tell if he’s “lying in the same place” or “traveling without interruption.” He’s unaware of minutes and hours passing, “yet time is moving somehow.” It’s as though he existed in suspended animation while riding a train. He describes his state of mind during his convalescence as being full of contradictions: moving yet stationary, timeless yet in time, lonely yet also belonging, unaware yet on some level conscious. In this twilight state, while he’s on life support in the hospital, he dreams, sometimes about his own death and sometimes about the annihilation of the earth. Fantasies of nothingness, purposelessness, and oblivion haunt him in his awareness that his own consciousness could easily fritter away and end rather than be revived, and that eventually nothing will be left of the earth and all its life forms: “nothing that can see or feel or think remains in existence.”

His journey is metaphorical as well as viscerally sensed. The point of departure of the journey is a state of suspension in a world of silence and paralysis, as if he were in a cocoon. He seems to be neither conscious nor unconscious, and sometimes, for brief periods, he perceives the objects and people in his hospital room, but he’s helpless to make contact with them. The journey is one of transformation, and his destination is consciousness, the regained ability to speak and read, and ultimately, the ability to write about the journey of his dreams.

Yet he has no sense of destination in his dream journeys. What he has lost—his consciousness of place, of his body in a particular space, situatedness—becomes an obsession in his dreams. In a particularly poetic entry that is reminiscent of Stephen Dedalus’ meditation on place, telescoping from self to universe (2), Lundquist describes a village of farms in some detail, then zooms away:

                                               behind that the forest began, and the moors, the meandering creek and the half-overgrown lake, the cows who grazed without fences, knew the paths and followed them, and returned when it was milking time,

                                               then there was the church village and the whole parish, the district and the county and the whole country, and it was on earth in the universe, below the sun, the moon, and the stars, with years carved into tree trunks without revealing if the world was actually old or still young

Like Dedalus’ list, Lundquist’s image of an ever-expanding view tells of his wished-for certainty of place in an orderly world in which you know exactly where you are, even though there is a mystery about where you’re precisely bookmarked in the age of the world. When he does feel, in his dreams, a strong sense of self, that self feels alien to him: he doesn’t recognize the echo of his own shouting voice. It is absence and loss that most often shape his dreams, as when he envisions a couple buried alive after a strong earthquake, or a living, sentient stone mountain that is being cruelly and terrifyingly quarried by men who are more murderers than miners, or himself as the village idiot, “carry[ing] within [him] something that has never fully blossomed.” He’s in purgatory, a guest lost in a vast hotel, a village hidden in a mist. Corporeality and consciousness are absent or impaired, and desire—for life, for sexuality, for communication—is thwarted since the means necessary to fulfilling these desires are in a liminal state, halfway between action and immobility and unable even to know with certainty whether he is alive or dead.

Journeys in Dream and Imagination is a record of meta-dreams, meditations on Lundquist’s state of consciousness, dreams about the dream state. In the beginning of his journey, his dreams are “of iron, so strong, so durable.” However, this strong state of consciousness gradually starts “to rust,” and the dreams “fall off like flakes of rust” until they vanish entirely. He then switches “to dreams of dough,” which he bakes and eats, “almost like bread” that nourishes him through this period of amorphous half-consciousness. The metaphor of the consumption of dreams describes the interiority of his state of mind, and the next image of vomiting a snake that is also a giving birth to speech seems to signify his ability or desire to engage once more in communication with the world outside his twilight prison. Within his dream state, he sometimes interprets the vision he has just experienced, as when he sees trees growing between his toes and believes that dream to be a good omen, a “sign that life continues to grow inside me.” It is as though his consciousness were trying to solve the puzzle of its own impairment.

The necessarily interior turn during this period when perception of the outer world was subdued or shut off perhaps accounts for his awareness of his body, which he felt to be in a state of flux (the sensation of traveling, for example) and transformation: he has become something of a shapeshifter. In two successive dreams, he is transformed into a giant and then a miniature person, in the manner of Gulliver’s Travels. Proprioception is the brain’s ability to locate the position of the body relative to its own parts as well as to the exterior world. Since altered states of consciousness (during meditation or praying, for example) can change the strength of a person’s feeling of separation from or continuity with exterior space, other people, or objects, I wonder whether Lundquist’s dreams reflect disturbances in his proprioceptive sense of self in relation to others. During his convalescence, his brain was repairing itself—but was it also rehearsing, in a sense, the process of its own repair? Is this what the image of consuming the nourishing bread of his dreams signifies? If reinforcing the lessons of the day in a kind of rehearsal of knowledge is part of the function of dreams, as some neuroscientists studying sleep now believe, what was the purpose of Lundquist’s dreams, if indeed they can be said to have one? Why do so many of them have the feel of meta-dreams about the journey towards consciousness?

Regardless of the purpose of these dreams, it seems likely that Lundquist’s hallucinatory visions, alternately peaceful and nightmarish, represent his fears of being forever in a coma and his hopes of someday rejoining the realm of real people, objects, places. In his dreams, he creates worlds of uncertainty, where nothing can be pinned down as completely familiar and habitual; where communication is problematic or impossible, consciousness is present in some way but still suspended in a timeless, placeless journey; and where he is alien to himself and inhabits a world that is strange and unrecognizable.

His limbo is real and extreme, but there is something oddly familiar about his dilemma dramatized or described in his dreams, something that elicits the feeling that you’ve been there, too, in moments of doubt or frustration, when order dissolves, when thought fails to render its shiny nugget, when self seems irremediably scattered, when you feel alone on a teeming planet that seems to belong to another dimension, when talking to others falters and stumbles, when you no longer know who or why you are, and the world, faced ultimately with demise, seems pointless but stubbornly present. In his meta-dream stories investigating suspended being, the often surreal analogies for these states are almost endlessly inventive. But in them one can also read a description of what it is to be human, or to exist in “negative capability,” as Keats called the ability to live with “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”

Part of the pleasure of Lundquist’s record is becoming aware that even in a coma, the mind can cut seemingly endless facets in which to reflect itself and rehearse the dramas—miniscule or vast—of its journey through the interior. If his world seemed to be a solipsistic nightmare from which he couldn’t completely awaken, he peopled that world with rich possibilities and a self-awareness that sometimes comes across as more lucid and knowing—for all its twilight uncertainties—than the consciousness he so desperately wanted back.

(1) I gleaned most of the information in this narrative of Lundquist’s heart attack and recuperation from Carlos Fuentes’ introduction to the book.

(2) He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
Country Kildare
The World
The Universe

Camille Martin