The European Car Industry –or- Das Auto in Zurich
Dreams Students Have -or- Finding Your Mythological Place
The car has become a pervasive mythological symbol throughout the Global Village. It is one of the most dominant modern conceptual metaphors we live by. Instead of discussing one of the dreams about cars the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) has received, I turn to a dream that Verena Kast published in her book Traumbild Auto: Von unserem taeglichen Unterwegssein (Dream Image Auto: Being Underway in Everyday Life, 1987). Verena Kast is a Jungian psychologist who also teaches at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
I have translated the dream as well as the title of the book from the German. As a point of note to the reader, I have taken some poetic license in translating the Swiss and European mythological idiom into an English speaking one. The automobile dream acts as a poetic archetypal vehicle (media) to explore how the culture industry shapes our mythologies and imagination, and thereby has a media effect on our relationships to our collective and individual mind, our body, and the Global Village. The dream found in Verena Kast's Dream Image Auto (p77) was dreamt by a young man, who was at the time a 19 year old student. The dream was reported years later;
"I am driving in the city of Zuerich, the car that I am driving is a large and beautiful Jaguar. A Jaguar, it sounds fashionably impressive. I should be going to the university. In the surroundings (Bereich) of the University there are no parking spaces that would be large enough for my car (it can't fit in). As well, the streets are extremely narrow, I begin to sweat when making turns, constantly there are small Fiats whizzing around the corners, for them there are enough parking spaces. I urgently search for a parking space, it is getting late, I will be delayed. During the time that I am rushing and consequently sweating, my car begins to continuously transform itself, it becomes increasingly smaller-temporarily it is Mercedes, then a BMW...I can't remember all the brands, only that the car is becoming always smaller-which very much amazes me as well as leaving me with an anxious feeling. Somewhere I am still driving around-in the university district-with an old VW, whose mudguards/(kotfluegel) have been taken away. Then, I finally find a parking space. I am very relieved."
European Culture of Narcissism -or- How to Win Friends and Influence People
And while I agree with Kast's interpretation that this student felt peer pressure from his fellow students, there is much more to this dream. The car that the student is driving in his dream is a Jaguar, by Swiss standards, a luxury "good looking" automobile. The student also tells us that the Jaguar is "fashionably impressive". Under the motto of the Dale Carnegie's school How to Win Friends and Influence People this student quickly learned to give up his fashionably impressive appearance of the flashy Jaguar look and metaphorically traded it in for a VW in order to conform and fit in with the student body politic.
Vance Packard The Status Seekers would see this type of car (Jaguar) as a cultural status symbol. From the outset, we can see this student's grandiose self image (Heinz Kohut's concept of the grandiose self) of status seeking. The students dream can be understood using the psychological and economic perspectives of Christopher Lasch, and Thorsten Veblen's good and conspicuous consumption. As well, for Deleuze and Guattari Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the dream would represent yet another illustration of the culture industry's culture of narcissism hard at work. The IIDR has received many such dreams that are intertextually connected by the same alienating cultural narcissistic driven thematic.
This is still only a literary fragment of the whole story, which has a much larger European oral cultural idiomatic scope. We can read the dream of this young student as voicing his distress with others (drivers) and his search for finding his social psychological place, his archetypal literary topos in the city and at the university. He wants to fit in. That seems well enough, however as Freud would often forensically observe, I am suspicious of his motives, and peer pressure is only part of the story. Personally, having also been a student at the University of Zuerich, I can identify and understand the poetic trials and tribulations that students collectively go through.
Not only are students pressured by other students, their lives are also psychodynamically influenced and pressured by the academic culture industry and the culture industry as a whole much more than is generally admitted or understood. In America, the criticism of higher education and its' failure to meet the needs of students was brought to the public's attention by Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind. Bloom gives an astute account of the state of "higher learning" in America. Bloom points to pervasive American students feelings of indoctrination and the meaningless, which are equally found in the dreams of alienated youths (read the IIDR article Juvenile Dreams and the interpretation of another student's dream The Seminary Student). I will have a little more to say about this topic at the end of this interpretation.
The European Business Enterprise -or- Mythology of the Auto Industry
Thorstein Veblen The Theory of the Business Enterprise believes that; "The MATERIAL FRAMEWORK of modern civilization is the industrial system, and the directing force which animates this framework is the business enterprise." Veblen is principally interested in the communal operation of business vehicles and the commercial traffic of modern life, business and commerce which is anchored in the culture industry machine process. The culture industry toils to tailor products for mass consumption. Brand products, even "no-name" ones, identify and classify consumers so that no one escapes the influence of the market.
The postmodern market creates and becomes a mythological dream factory. Hollywood movies, commercial television, radio, and advertising shape leisure entertainment and consumption. In them, virtual reality becomes, not an artistic fiction, but a real event. Culture industries rely on group illusion, identification, and conformity for its solidarity, and must veil the traces and clues that social reality is a rhetorical construction of the marketplace. When the virtual enchantment of the culture industries and the suspension of disbelief fails, alienation, disillusionment and disappointment become the property of the oppressed and disenfranchised who live on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
The everyday business news dominates media attention. Hundreds of multi-national companies control the commercial landscape of the Global Village. Retailers like Wal-Mart, oil companies like Exxon, Shell, British Petroleum, car manufacturers like GM, Toyota and Daimler/Chrysler rank in the top10 global revenue generating corporations world wide. For Stuart Ewen Captains of Consciousness: Advertising the Social Roots of Consumer Culture, consumerism has become part of the daily cultural idiom and process of the social order. From a popular music perspective Tom Cochrane added to the commercial mythology of the car with his song Life is a Highway.
The student's dream reads like a European auto industry brand name advertisement. In this sense, it (the dream) expresses and exposes what Vance Packard The Hidden Persuaders called the "depth approach" of motivational research and marketing, in this case by the auto industry. The dream is a wonderful illustration of the European auto industry, Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW, Fiat and VW which are all made by European (mostly German) manufacturers. (The student stated that he could not "remember all the brands" which the car turned into.) Reportedly, in Canada approximately 1 in 10 jobs are related to the variety of sales and service work of the auto industry. From a French perspective Roland Barthes Mythologies discusses the New Citroen, telling us; "I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by the whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object." Ironically, Barthes died after being hit by a laundry truck on the streets of Paris while walking home.
The European Culture Industry -or- Eurocentrism of Consciousness
Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer's The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception provides the modern critical foundation for understanding the poetic dream patterns of Western civilization. The press, the photograph, the spoken and written literary word, clothes, clocks, airplanes, automobiles, the telephone, television, film, weapons and the university are just some of the modern culture industry's mythological symbols that appear in the dreams of diverse people across the planet. The International Institute for Dream Research (read article about IIDR) has received many such dreams, which are part and parcel of what has been called among other dramatic terms, "the society of the spectacle".
This inherited European media marketplace of meanings (gedankengut), the metaphors, the idioms, the allusions are all founded on the cultural canon of European archetypes of dream vision that produce consciousness. This European culture industry marketplace has historically morphed from the ancient Greek agora to the modern marketplace of dream visions. A European culture of narcissism and history of mentalities can be traced by collecting and using dreams. The European cultural dream and dream vision is one literary place that we can observe how the modern culture industries construct and engineer social reality, there are other places on the globe where different forms of consciousness and dreams are produced. The American Dream is another place we can observe the culture industry process at work. Jeremy Rifkin The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream argues the European Dream will overtake the American Dream in the 21st century.
This students dream is in this sense a culture industry testament to Eurocentric consciousness. In The Consciousness Industry; On Literature, Politics and the Media Hans Magnus Enzensberger sees thought and commercial ideas as regulated by the institutional and industrial symbolic base and superstructure of the social order. The civic production of everyday consciousness is behaviourally conditioned and reinforced by the culture industries demands for consumer conformity. For Enzensberger, this modern mind-making industry is a product of the last 110 years. Said otherwise, the communal unconscious of dreams became colonized and industrialized by modern industries, institutions and the media.
The student's Jaguar signifies the narcissistic ego's utopian (car of your dreams) class type car, with its' aristocratic taste, air and lifestyle. This ego ideal typological perspective, was discussed in the works of Max Weber, for Weber ideal types cognitively help to organize the chaos of observations and ideas thereby creating social cognition, reality and social order . Within this marketplace of ideas business enterprises compete for global dominance. This social constructionism of consciousness concept was taken up by Peter Berger in The Social Construction of Reality.
The EU Dream -or- European Class Consciousness
The parking space the student feverishly searches for, refers not to the individual space only, but also to the collective cultural group experience of a European class conscious stereo-typical space, which this student appears to view and experience as stressful and narrow minded. This student understands that for the Fiat types there are enough spaces. People having modern class conscious dreams are commonplace around the planet. From a popular Swiss cultural perspective the film Die Schweizermacher (see video clip of the Swissmakers) features a satirical look at the Swiss mentality, prejudices and the cultural ideals of the foreigners "assimilation" process in Switzerland. Like in the student's dream, assimilation is a fancy word for "fitting in", finding your place. Switzerland recently joined the United Nations, and while it is not part of the European Union (EU), it remains a central commercial hub in Europe.
Zuerich is like every other city on the planet, its' mysteries can be culturally mapped using the dreams of its inhabitants. It is local knowledge to the natives living in Zuerich, that Jaguar drivers can often be seen parked close to restaurants such as the Kronenhalle (the link to their website features some of the photographic images of Zuerich's cultural sites). The storied Kronenhalle is a stones throw away from the University of Zuerich. Some of those who drive Jaguars may be seen dining there tonight. Max Frisch (who was a student of the University of Zuerich) and Friedrich Duerrenmatt (also was a Uni Zuerich student) have dined there together. They are considered to be the most influential Swiss writers of the 20th century.
Symbols of Mythic Individuation -or- Metamorphosis of the European Cultural Ego
As in most dreams, the student's textual narrative organization and deep structure of the dream begins with a well known word, the first person pronoun signifying our mythic ego's-I ("I was driving..."). From a philosophical perspective, we are talking about a person's subjective (narcissistic/egocentric ) experiences and subjective perception.
From a Jungian perspective there are a number of theories we could apply to the students dream, such as Marie-Louise von Franz Die Suche nach dem Selbst: Individuation im Maerchen (The Search for the Self: Individuation in Fairy Tales) who explores the human psychological drive (triebe) structure of heroic mythology, in relation to alchemical transformations of the active imagination. From a different Jungian perspective, Mario Jaccobi Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of the Self in C.G. Jung and H. Kohut, in part explores what Lasch termed The Culture of Narcississm. We live in a culture industrial age which actively shapes the mythological and is predicated on the pathological narcissistic preoccupation of "me" in order to promote consumption.
If Jung asked himself what myth am I living? Then, the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye provided a profound literary answer. Frye's modern social form of archetypal criticism laid out in his Anatomy of Criticism proposed a mythological framework for all of society and it's archetypal recursive (cyclical/perennial) symbolic transformations. From Frye's literary perspective, the cars that I drove as a student, the city and the University of Zuerich are part and parcel of the mythological journey of my youth and will always be a part of my Canadian in living in Switzerland coming of age (and closely connected to the Bildungs- and Kuenstlerroman) story. In this sense, this Swiss student's dream as well as my own, are from a literary perspective, stories that are textually connected (providing the foundation for comparative mythology) by the archetypal ego's developmental educational and artistic transformations while attending the University of Zuerich.
Das Auto -or- Is Your Car a Sex Symbol?
Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media: The Extentions of Man called the car the "mechanical bride." As one form of modern media the car has shaped our collective dreams. At the end of the dream the student is driving an old VW. Jean Rosenbaum asks Is Your Volkswagen a SEX Symbol? Rosenbaum asks; What does the ownership of cars like Cadillac, Continental, Thunderbird or VW say about their owner's expression of their personality? Rosenbaum tells us that; "Volkswagen buyers are a special group". "Volkswagen owners include students, professional people, and executives as well as a large number of older retired persons who appreciate economy and easy handling." The VW is advertised in North America as "Das Auto". The popular film franchise of Herbie the Love Bug speaks to the North American mythological status of the VW. Using Freud's psychosexual theory Rosenbaum believes that people anthropomorphize their cars and use erotic metaphors, such as the car having oral animistic qualities. "A good car is one that does not ‘eat' a lot of gas or oil." As part of the North American cultural rites of passage, having your drivers licence and a car, becomes strongly connected to having successfully navigated the transition from adolescence and entered full adulthood (man and womanhood).
From a popular culture perspective, Stephen Bayley Sex, Drink and Fast Cars: The Creation and Consumption of Images speaks about the Life of the Automobile and the romance with the machine. The "well wrought machine", is about selling dreams of performance, status and prestige. However, already in the 1950's the car began to turn the American dream of material success, optimism and prosperity into a nightmare where the machine began to develop a mind of its' own. We can see the popular cultural change in perception in the film Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean playing a rebellious teenager who becomes locked in a deadly game of chicken using cars as its stage. Ironically, Dean died in a car crash one month before the release of the film. Other road films such as the horror movies The Car and Stephen King's Christine (view Christine trailer) featured cars terrorizing America. These films appear to have taken on the McLuhanesque role of Frankenstein's "mechanical bride". From a different popular culture perspective Billy Ocean's Get Outta My Dreams and into My Car (listen to music video) is but one song that positively reinforces the popular erotic mythology of the car.
The Erotics of Cars and Film Noir -or- Crash
In the film Crash (see film trailer) we see cars taking on a cinematic noir role as instruments of sex, violence, death and psychopathology. The psychological boundaries of the dramatic frame of the human eye and machine frame of the camera are erased creating a post-modern landscape. The culture industry's post-modern cyborg sexuality creates a world in which all signs of human emotion have been silenced, leaving only a fetishistic technological symptom reading of what is seen. The visual organization and language of Crash mirrors the dehumanization of the body. Martin Jay Downcast eyes: The Denigration of Vision in 20th century French thought gives this dehumanization a voice.
Herbert Marcuse critical work's One Dimensional Man and Eros and Civilization criticizes the power of the culture industry to repress opposition and shape (libidinal dreams) the ideas of being human. In the Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway writes: "The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust." From a popular culture perspective the mythological TV and film franchise Star Trek features a female human cy-borg drone Seven of Nine, who is liberated from the Borg collective and struggles to find her own individuality (see video We are the Borg).
Kafkaesque Metamorphosis? -or- Mythological European Canon
To the modern canonical mindset, Franz Kafka's re-worked Metamorphosis consciously signals the dystopian nightmare and the theatre of cruelties within the family, the stigmatizing and alienating force of bureaucracies, and the sense of hopelessness, powerlessness, estrangement, and isolation felt by urban dwellers. The Kafkaesque points to the existential nightmare in which the character is bewildered by the workings of the mind and social reality and has trouble developing a course of action, even if only to escape the nightmarish and destructive culture industry's city and mindscape.
The student's anthropomorphization of the transforming, and metamorphisizing car may provide a post-modern culture industry clue. As part of the ancient Roman canon, Ovid's Metamorphoses had a profound historical influence on Western culture, the collective unconscious and dreaming. As we can poetically see by this students narcissistic mythological dream, it still has. Apuleius Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass) speaks to us of a long metaphorical journey and transformation that ends in salvation. In his book Art and the Creative Unconscious, Erich Neumann devotes a whole chapter to Creative Man and Transformation. Neumann's ideas are closely connected to my own, in that he understands that the archetypes are always "related to the cultural canon of the time." For Neumann the cultural mythological canon is closely associated with the sublimation of the archetypal hero myth. Metamorphoses or the symbolic creation and the mythic transformation of the individual and cultural canon is archetypally installed into the human psyche in every new generation.
The IIDR has found the literary archetypes of the archetypal hero myth in the Western canon and the canon of popular culture circulating in the dreams of its' citizens. Begging the question, what happens when creative sublimation of this myth fails?
Carnivalesque -or- European Pedagogy of the Grotesque Body
Carl Jung understood that there existed in the collective unconscious something called an archetypal collective shadow. It is all that which we oppress, repress, hide, censor from coming to the light, from being made or becoming conscious of. The IIDR has used the metaphor of film noir and related it to dreams, in order to explore the nature of the collective shadow, this Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Like satire, profanity turns anger, contempt, and indignation into attack. "Dirty words as well as dreams are a true way to the unconscious. They provide, like the old roads built by the government, wider and more perfect access to the hidden world." Sandor Ferenczi says in Sex and Psychoanalysis.
Maybe the old VW in the student's dream that was missing its' mudguard (kotfluegel), is really a Jungian or Freudian German euphemism, a pun, a slip? The word "Kot" in the German-English translation means shit. For this student, was the shit a Jungian alchemical symbol of putrefaction? Or was it a Freudian necrophilic fixation in the anal autoerotic phase of personality development? Or maybe, it was...perhaps...just something out of the German vernacular, "Es scheisst mich an" (It makes me feel like a piece of shit)...? Are all of us lost in the poetic translation of the subversive dirty Swiss German joke (off color humor) of the grotesque body? This form of humor is discussed in the IIDR dream interpretation Off Color Humor -or- The Grotesque Body.
The fact, that at the end of the dream, the student tells us that he felt "very relieved", poetically underscores the validity of such an interpretation. It also may represent the student's response to the culture industry's influences, what Alice Miller calls poisonous pedagogy. I recommend to you (the reader) reading Jean Paul Sartre's social psychological novel Nausea. Was it not Sartre No Exit who said "Hell is other people"?
As most other students I knew (when I was a student), I sometimes couldn't take the nightmarish Kafkaesque university bullshit. There was plenty of it, there are numerous stories I could tell. I still have a satirical student union (VSU/ca.1981) poster hanging in my study, the graphic picture created by an unknown student, protesting against the academic institutional-industrial machine and the student's assimilation process constructed by the university. The subtext of the poster loosely translated reads; "We won't let ourselves to be sold short, we are not stupid!" (Ironically, in terms of this interpretation of autos, above the graphic ancient Greek pillared entrance of the university machine instead of "Know Thyself" this phrase has been replaced with "WELCOME TO THE MACHINE" (read interpretation Welcome to the Machine). Of course, one of the signs beside one of the video surveillance cameras reads, "PIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!" The finishing touch of the ideographic "way finding" pictogram is the Mercedes car symbol, which sits above the WELCOME sign. In this satirical sense, following in the footsteps of Aristophanes, Rabalais and Swift, this student's dream can be read as a form of Swiss subversion that finds its expression every year in the Carnival of "Fasnacht", thereby representing the "carnivalesque".
The good news is, that I always tell my clients that are in psychotherapy two things about shit; one is to use the comedian Bill Murray's stock phrase "sometimes, shit happens" and two, my own idiom, "shit can be used for something...it can be used as poetic fertilizer ...and makes things grow". It has been my aim since being a student to become what Northrop Frye called "The Well Tempered Critic".