Back in Part 3, I had left off partway through examining a dream. I started with the first half of it and looked for connections among the elements of the dream, among that dream and others from around the same time, and between the dream and my life. In the process, I turned up some rather interesting things, but I hadn’t yet considered the part after the sudden transition.
Here is the dream again:
I had a friend who had a huge, insect-like creature as a pet. I went over one day to have him help me with something mechanical. He didn’t end up helping, though. It was around that time that the creature began to act strangely. It soon died—there was a special term for how it happened that literally translated as ‘self-devouring’. Then it was as if that friend was Katya, and we were communicating by mail—we were both concerned over what had happened. I was sitting at the kitchen table at my K— house, looking at a package I had received from her. It had gone far out of the way—a label on it showed it had been routed through Königsberg…. (March, 2010)
The first thing I might note about the second half of the dream is that my friend Katya appears there—the only familiar character in either part. The appearance of somebody familiar in a dream is always an occasion to ask yourself the question: does this dream have to do with that person, or is she standing in for something else? That “something else” could be some demographic or area of life they make a good representative of, or another person who’s like them in some way. It could also be some particular aspect of you—some character trait or interest or the like.
Although this idea may seem rather odd the first time you encounter it, it is extremely common for dreams to do this. In order to dramatize inner conflicts properly—it doesn’t have to be conflicts, but they’re what tend to get dramatized the most— you need a cast to act it out. That cast is often drawn from friends, family and other people in your life. Media figures, historical figures or fictional characters can also play this kind of role—often even more effectively, since you already have some idea of what they stand for.
The guideline interpreters generally use is that when people who are absent from your current life appear in your dreams, they are usually standing in for a part of you. Dreams are mostly centered around problems – this one definitely is – and dead or inactive relationships don’t tend to be problematic. And when they are, the dreamer is aware of it because they occupy their waking thoughts as well as their dreams.
When people who are present in your life show up in dreams, though, it could go either way, or even both at once, so interpreting is not so straightforward. And in the dream I’m considering, there’s an additional complication: Katya doesn’t fit either case exactly. She is a long-distance friend, both present and absent.
In retrospect, that ambiguous position probably made my long-distance friends natural stand-ins for aspects of myself I wasn’t close to but wanted to be, even more so than the people who were physically present. That Katya was a theater person makes her an even more natural choice for this ‘role’. The fact that she seems interchangeable with the friend from the first part of the dream might also suggest that her presence there isn’t the key element, but incidental.
But more to the point: can I connect this dream to my friendship with her at this time?—especially unresolved problems and issues? Not really. With long-distance friendships, the distance is the biggest problem. (Whereas closeness without conflict is found only in a cemetery—to quote one of Katya’s favorite sayings.)
In the dream, though, the problem isn’t the distance—at least not explicitly. It’s the insect, and perhaps the out-of-the-way detour. If there was a connection between these dream-problems and my real-life friendship, I was unable to find it then, and still unable to find it now. But the main reason to suspect that Katya’s standing in for some part of me is because the associations the first part of the dream stirred up—that’s intrapsychic stuff, not interpersonal.
So if Katya’s standing in for a part of me, all I know so far is that it must be a part I don’t know too much about. I could possibly figure out more, but not with internal evidence, as I’ve been doing here. It might be interesting, but it wouldn’t be dream-interpretation, and so I’ll leave off.
I’ve followed up on pretty much all the connections now, but there’s still one detail too specific not to be important. Why Königsberg?
The more precise a dream-memory is on any particular point, the more urgent the question becomes: why this, and not something else? If there’s such a thing as generic mental imagery, dreams surely provide our best chance of finding it. On many nights, we consort with anonymous people in unspecified places over subjects of which we only remember the gist after we awaken. Even if this is just a trick of memory and not a quality of the dream itself, it still provides a striking contrast to those elements we recall with precision. We can still ask ourselves: why this, and not something else?
This example is interesting because there hasn’t been a city of Königsberg for 70 years. It is now known as Kaliningrad—and even though the two names pick out the same physical location, they don’t name the same city. The two have different associations. My dream named the city of the past—and that already tells me that it’s probably not the location that’s important, but something more abstract.
But, as you are probably well aware of by now, I study philosophy. I studied philosophy at the time of the dream, too. Does this, perhaps, have anything to do with Kant?
No, it couldn’t. I wasn’t familiar with his work at the time of the dream. Unless…
At which point, I had a conversation with myself that went something like this:
“The first part of this dream was concerned with time—the devourer of time devouring itself, and so on. That means it‘s likely that the second part has to do with time, too—and it just happens to name-drop the home city of somebody who had very influential ideas about the nature of time. There’s no way that “Königsberg” has nothing to do with Kant.”
“Well, there’s no question that back when I had the dream, he was one of the associations. For that matter, I also associated the city with Euler, and with amber deposits. It’s tempting to read him into it, but I can’t overlook the fact that I knew bugger-all about transcendental idealism back in 2010. And at the time, I settled on a satisfactory explanation without going into that at all. Modern-day Kaliningrad is in that little part of Russia that isn’t contiguous with the rest of it. Katya’s representing a part of myself that’s separated and out-of-the-way. It illustrates a problem in communicating with myself—that is, with understanding myself. Everything was still fragmentary.”
“But the package didn’t say ‘Kaliningrad’ on it—it said ‘Königsberg.’ Kaliningrad is a part of Russia, but Königsberg wasn’t. And doesn’t that seem kind of redundant? You and Katya are already separated geographically. The fact that the dream was set in your house in K— makes that clear. The dream was very specific, yet you only got something general from it that you already knew. Is that a satisfactory explanation?”
“Still, the associations I’d need to make the connection wouldn’t have been there in 2010.”
“Didn’t you follow what’s-his-name’s blog?”
“Oh, wait, I guess I did. I’m sure he wrote some posts explaining Kant’s philosophy. I might have read those. But I guess what bothers me is that making the connection is natural now, but it wasn’t at the time of the dream.”
“If time is something your mind imposes on the world, and the first part of the dream is illustrating a breakdown of this process, why make the distinction? Maybe it was waiting for the future you who has the knowledge to understand it properly.”
“…hang on, let me think about that.”
“Do you think that the package being routed through Königsberg represents having to have a rational explanation for everything before you’re willing to accept it, thereby adding an arduous and unnecessary step to something that would otherwise be straightforward?”
But actually— experience with dreams can make possibilities real for you in a way even the best-formulated arguments never could. I’ve had dreams that seemed to go on for days on end, or longer; I’ve dreamed about being present at the end of the world—I’ve seen it happen a few times now, in a few different ways. Once, I stayed around afterwards and watched until all the stars had gone out.
And there have been dreams where time wasn’t even a dimension of my experience— some of the most extraordinary dreams I’ve ever had. But this also puts the experiences beyond the dimension of words, and so there isn’t anything more I can say about them. The best I can do is try to communicate from them and hope that others are listening closely enough to hear the echoes.
And to say that they’re dreams, that they’re all in the mind—they are, of course, but to say that they’re all in the mind does not give us the go-ahead to diminish or disregard them. Rather, it indicates that there’s more to the mind than we think, possibly a great deal more. And most of it runs orthogonal to reason. Refusing to rely on anything else to understand it means missing out on a great deal—or, in the best-case scenario, a longer and more arduous process than was necessary.
-to be continued-