Theatre of Dreams - Article 1

PART 1.1

Joining a Culture: Socialization and Speech Community

To enter the social order of language and culture is to enter a work in progress. Much of what is learned about how to cope in the world, and in society, is picked up outside schools and institutions. The process begins in the womb before birth, but even there, children do not arrive as blank slates.


The child enters his culture through his language. Humans are generally born with the ability to make the sounds and retain the ideas of language and learning. The process of socialization and skill acquisition begins immediately. Individuals are shaped as they learn their culture's linguistic inheritance.


Culture and personality theorists believe that personality is created by socialization patterns, placing emphasis on child rearing practices such as feeding, weaning, toilet training and the general rites of passage involved with raising children. In this way, different cultures create different personalities through child rearing practices. From this viewpoint, gender roles, race and so on are culturally, rather than biologically, determined. The cultural environment in which we grow up imprints upon us a particular set of conditions and mores from which we cannot separate ourselves.

Play is an important educational tool. Football is enjoyed around the world, but those who play soccer learn different words and a different set of strategies than do those who play North American football. Cowboys and Indians reflect different values than playing house. Even Paddy-Cake has its own language and assumes the underlying values of rhythm and tactile response. Hierarchies too, are evident in play. Sports teams have coaches, assistant coaches, team captains, water-boys. When playing "house," conflicts over who gets to play the mommy, the daddy or the children frequently interrupt or end the game. Play informs the arts: humour, poetry, performance and dreams. The arts create societal mythologies that define what activities are valued and pursued within cultures. They influence expectations of human behaviour, instructing individuals how to act according to the rules of the game, rules that change according to fashion. Just as the rules of a sport league change from year to year to increase scoring or on-field action, the laws of society change to reflect evolving ethical and aesthetic values.

Anatomy of Childrens' Dreams


The national stage imprints a distinct language and socialization pattern on its children, which becomes visible in the dreams of children who enter the social stage. The distinct communal frame-work of political, economic, religious, domestic and ethnic institutions shapes the everyday drama of life.


Biological, social and mental structures are reproduced in each succeeding generation. As the child enters culture, the society's assumptions about politics, economics, spiritual values and education, as presented in the public media or "communal dreamscreen, are mediated by the child's family experiences. Thus, many influences compete to shape the child's personality. The child's own dreams will reveal which influences have been the most effective, or strongly-felt. The child eventually becomes an adult, impressing its values on the next generation of children, perpetuating the "trans-generational" cycle of dreams. The "Bildungsroman" - a particular type of novel that deals with a child's formative years and spiritual education - describes the processes by which maturity is achieved through the ups and downs of life as reflected in dreams that begin in childhood.


The language used in contributions to the IIDR's dream bank indicates a failure in western societies to teach children what they need to lead happy, loving, productive lives. The dreams of children in western societies reveal a developmental pattern, exposing a dark side of developmentally arrested dreamwork. Children have difficulty establishing a mature character and finding their way in the symbolic universe of language; that is, they find it hard to express and deal with their fears in a real way.


Our Children's Children: Assault on the Future

A six year old child reports shortly after 9/11 dreaming that a monster has a bomb and the bomb will soon go off, the child feels trapped and has no way to escape.

The child voices and speaks for all who sit with horror and terror, observing the lighted fuse of world destruction. Such dreams can only continue to fuel children's fears and the morbidity which each generation has inherited from the last. Providing each and every child with a safe environment free from all forms of prejudice, fear and hate must be a priority in the 21st century.

Life as Theatre: Seen and Being Seen

The English word theatre is derived from the Greek word "theatron," which refers to a place where spectators sat during a performance. The perspective of life as theatre views everyday life as a "show" (performance) which is "staged" (performed). Theatre as a visual art is an institutionalized space for voyeurism and exhibitionism (seeing and being seen). The need for theatre (theatophilia) has been attributed to a number of other motives such as the desire to imitate, the love of play in children and adults, initiation of religious rituals, the need to tells stories and the actors and spectators pleasure in character development.

Theatre of the Mind

Dreams may be described as movies, with images projected onto a dreamscreen within the mind. As literary narratives or screenplays, dreams can be categorized into genres. Within the narratives of the dreams of individuals, patterns, common themes and symbols emerge which are indicators of collective dreams for the groups to which individuals belong. These are the collective dreams of societies, the essence of biotopographical psychology.

The interplay between individual and collective dreams occurs through generations. Families, for instance, provide a historical or ancestral aspects to our dreams. I call this collective, ancestral memory. Dreams therefore reveal a transgenerational unconscious.

Mise-en-Scene and Impression Management

The dramatic analysis of dreams sees the narrative as a play meant to be performed. Humans take up roles in their own life-story productions, which are then criticized in predominantly visual terms, such as dress, décor, colour and lighting. In other words, people put on day-to-day performances that are directed by social norms, and which are frequently obsessed with details such as how the "performer" looks, sounds and behaves. Pressure to conform is often expressed through pop culture. These pressures shape individual and collective "productions" in relation to the cultural milieu of a "performance." Individuals are motivated to maintain positive self-images; to do so, they must "perform" well.


The metaphor of theatrical staging or mise-en-scene provides the foundation for the fashioning of everyday life. The entire mood of a scene in a play, or in a film, can be felt simply from the first glance one gets at the set where the action is staged. People react to other people based on similar first impressions: is that girl too fat? are that man's teeth white enough?, etc. When an individual fails to create a positive impression based on what is valued by his culture, he shrinks from face-to-face interaction, and becomes alienated from his society. People often employ "Impression Management" strategies to ingratiate themselves with others and maintain positive self images.

Presentation of Self

Reviewing the social institutions of Western society reveals physical and psychological barriers to social interaction, based upon class, race, gender, dress codes, property ownership, security concerns, language, infirmity, and custom. These may take physical forms such as locked doors, stairs, high walls and barbed wire, or behavioural forms such as an inability or refusal to speak other languages. The effect on community members when boundaries become too rigid and oppressive is alienation. The literature of escape and the Theatre of Cruelty are literary responses to the alienation effects and the broken dreams they represent.

Many dreams and nightmares signal the alienating effects of social norms and prejudices. The myth of equal opportunity is too often denied by experience, couched in terms that imply something is wrong with the individual. There is conflict between the imagined and experienced view of reality.

Dreaming Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Film, fashion magazines, and photography silently reproduce a language of gaze or ways of looking and appearing, which act as codes for the regulation of desire. Feminist views of the collective dream patterns of women believe that they are being shaped by male domination.


In 1975, Laura Mulvey Laura Mulvey ("Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema") introduced her theory of "the male gaze" which argued that women are stereotyped by men and in typically male ways of looking. Women are often seen and not heard. In film, the camera usually fetishizes the female body and not the male. The same is as true - or worse - in advertising, where male bodies sell items made for men, but female bodies sell everything. Mulvey also noted that cinema largely reinforces the dominant patriarchal order by repeating the dominant male narrative in its stories. This emphasis on the visual leads to a particular form of sexism called "lookism," where people (particularly women) are valued based upon their appearance (colour of skin, beauty, fashion sense, etc.).


White Mythology and the Oppositional Gaze

A similar problem confronts visible minorities living in a predominantly white culture. Franz Fanon has shown how oppression works in the dreams of black Americans and affects family relationships and sexual life. The language of prejudice instructs and defines self-hatred. The land, power, money, knowledge, beauty, even the language itself are all white. Any black man who covets them must warn himself off as a thief, violator and criminal. The result is a dream of racial narrative neurosis, set in environments where the self is divided into good and evil, black and white.

Bell Hooks' "Black Looks: Race and Representation" views the "oppositional gaze" as a tool for confrontation and gestures of protest towards the dominant (i.e. white) representations of blacks. The site of this resistance is found where black and white representations meet. hooks' argument updates Frantz Fanon's views that blacks have been marginalized and oppressed from participating in the (white) American Dream. Fanon found that the racial neuroses (caused by oppressive representations) of blacks translates into their dream life.

Dreams, Social Reality and Alienation

Many dreams reported to the IIDR have the reported "quality" of feeling "real." You have entered what is known in philosophy as "Plato's Cave." In film, theatre and literature (specifically the Western Canon) the feeling of being transported into "virtual" social symbolic reality is faced not as an artistic fiction but as a real event.


A community's culture industries rely on group illusion (enchantment), identification and conformity to social reality for its solidarity. It is imperative to effectively cover up and veil the traces and clues that social reality is a rhetorical construction. From a sociological perspective these ideas are known as "symbolic interactionism." For a good read see Peter Berger's "The Social Construction of Reality." As spectators and actors/performers in dreams we derive pleasure in the illusion of and identification with social reality in that it provides us with reassurance that the represented social world corresponds to our expectations of it.


Social reality is then perceived as natural, universal and "real". A problem arises when reality does not conform to our expectations of it. Our mind is alerted when a cognitive conflict occurs while reading our maps of social reality when they mismatch with reality itself. Many dreams direct the spectators' attention to the dissonance of the gaps, breaks, slips and knots in the flow and coherence of the normal expectations of reality.


The problem is that the "illusion" of reality may be effective; however, it may be just as fragile because of problems with identification or conformity in specific situations. The function of such breaks in film, theatre, literature as well as in the dream is in producing an "alienation effect." The product of alienation from social symbolic interaction carried to its extreme is mental illness (i.e. depression and schizophrenia/autism). Disillusionment, disenchantment, and the disappointment of broken dreams is the common coin of the oppressed and disenfranchised. Feelings of devastation, helplessness and dejection all serve to illuminate both the reality and alienation effects of everyday life, especially its economic side. We can respond rationally or irrationally (i.e. insanely) to the dissonance we sense when social reality fails us and our expectations are defeated.

PART 1.2

Theatre, Performance and Dreams

If life can be viewed as a story, or at least as a story in progress, there is value in viewing life through the concepts of literary or artistic criticism. This is not a new concept. The words "theory" and "theatre" are derived from the same Greek source, meaning "to see," linking spectacle to a basis for the philosophy of life as something to be seen and to be examined. Dreams provide access to the competing visions and philosophies of life.

Ancient and Modern Cultural Drama

Every year in ancient Greece contests were held in the sports and arts. Greek dramatists wrote plays where conflicts between enemies were the heart of the theatrical production. The antagonist and the protagonist oppose each other in a dialogue of speech and reply. Violence is principally verbal or psychological in nature and can escalate to the physical.

Human beings are estranged from each other by differences of ethnic and social background, level of education, race, sex, age, and class . In all these areas of language and discourse, rhetoric can be used in a constructive or destructive (violent, conflicted) fashion.

Character, Plot and Dramatic Structure

Persons or personifications represented in narrative works have inherent intellectual, emotional and moral qualities. These qualities represent aspects of the character's personality. Characters interact and are revealed by the plot. Characters, especially stock, overly familiar characters, often show up in dreams. We learn to become characters in our own life story production. National character development is dependent on collective educational experiences.

For the ancients the dramatic relationship between plot and characters was like the tying and untying of knots, the knot being a metaphor for dramatic conflict applicable to both tragic and comedic narratives. The language structure of a serious play was determined by the requirement for a central dramatic conflict.

Most likely the ancients turned to their own dreamwork to recognize five phases, or acts, in which the conflict of the tragic narrative was worked out: introduction, rising action, climax or crisis (turning point), falling action and catastrophe. In comedic forms the catastrophe, marking the moral failure and frequently the death of the hero, is replaced by the term "denouement", meaning the resolution of the conflict and the action by other means.

This process can be further reduced to three stages: Beginning (introduction of characters and their conflicts) Middle (interaction of characters in conflict) and End (climactic resolution of conflict and denouement). To take a classic three-act example from the movies: In Star Wars: A New Hope, we meet the main characters and the conflict between the rebels and the Empire is introduced. In The Empire Strikes Back , the characters are in just about the worst situations they can imagine, and there is no way out. In Return of the Jedi , they get out.

Narrative Structure and the Theatre of Everyday Life

The basic simplicity of plot structure has not limited its flexibility. Even static works of art may imply such a narrative structure. The drawings of beasts found on cave walls surrounded by human hunters imply a beginning, in which the hunters (the narrative's protagonists) intend to kill the beast in order to survive. The beast's (the antagonist's) own survival depends upon evading the hunters. These objectives conflict. The middle of the narrative works through the conflict, suggesting that several hunters working together may have a better chance of success than one working alone; or that a specific plan of attack is likely to be more successful than others. The conclusion may be shown, or implied. The beast will escape, or become dinner. Since the narrative is shown from the point of view of the hunter protagonists, it is likely that this story ends with the beast slain and the hunter clan surviving to hunt another day. Progression through the story should be causal, showing that each step of the process leads logically to the next.

Dreams, Theatre and Cultural Performance

Every performance (action) carries with it the impact of our cultural conditioning (cultural learning). Theatre often provides a testing ground for cultural assumptions and performance expectations in terms of social roles, rules (i.e. boundaries) and values which its culture idealizes or abhors. Cross-cultural investigation of dreams can reveal the folk-ways and sub-stratum (collective unconscious) of all human beings and experience.


The theatre is cathartic, a place where thoughts, feelings, fantasies and sensations can be projected - both by the actors and by the audience. In dreams, fantasies are acted out in an inner space. The stage space of the dream takes on the shape and form of the spectator's and actor's self and desire. An individual's and the community's inner space are bound together in time and space along a continuous thread of desire. The daydream is the stage where both the individual and the community act out unconscious desires. Dream-work binds the real and the imaginary into the theatre of the mind. This allows for individuals to call on past communal experience and create the vision of the present and future. Communal fantasies such as those found in film, radio, TV, water-cooler rumour and gossip circulate in the flow of everyday exchanges. Dreams reflect these narrative currents of communal fantasies and their underlying fears, hopes and desires.

Popular Culture and Culture Industries

Popular culture is also referred to as mass culture and is usually widespread and accessible to everyone. The business of popular culture is entertainment, dominated by the film, television, fashion, sports, and music industries. Popular culture references found in dreams provide a window into the production of public consciousness. Dreams make transparent the solidarity and divisions of social classes in their tastes, interests and needs.

Dreams can be compared to movies, with images projected onto a dreamscreen within the mind. Looking at the dreams of individuals, it's possible to identify patterns, themes and symbols which many people have in common as a result of living together in a particular society.

Dramatic Imitation, Identification and Idealization

In a literary sense, dreamers identify with characters in their dreams. They take on qualities, or get into the skin of others they deal with in daily life. Identification has deep roots in the unconscious. According to Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, identification is a fundamental characteristic of dramatic performance: "to see oneself transformed before one's own eyes and to begin to act as if one had actually entered into another body, another character". This implies that the dream text or playing out the performance enables the dreamer to make decisions and judgments based upon his dream experience as the other character. If we judge the other to be better than ourselves (a hero or protagonist) identification occurs through admiration. If we consider the other to be worse but not totally blameworthy, identification occurs through compassion, fear and pity. Many elements in such dreams, places and people, are unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity is frightening in itself because we don't know its territory. Death is one such territory. The struggle with life and death goes on daily for all of us in different ways. Understanding this struggle is paramount to arranging our priorities in life. Life is always a gestalt, an amalgam of life and death. When we are young we tend to overlook this fact. We do not wish to experience utter helplessness in the face of death and will use every method to escape its clutches. But there is no way to nurse ourselves around the inevitability of death.

Beliefs create Social Reality

Screen-writers embed in their work the "suspension of disbelief" and the "will to believe." Reportedly the poet Samuel Coleridge coined the term "willing suspension of disbelief," referring to the reader of poetry who, in order to maintain faith, must see the truth within the constructed fiction. It is a prerequisite that all idealism is grounded on the assumption that something presented in art is as it appears. Thus it is "as if" we are watching a real presentation. Dreams almost by their very nature provide the virtual stage, the characters and the plot where the willing suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite of the dream narrative.

This implies an unconscious contract between the writer and the reader (the audience). The audience is thereby persuaded to imagine (via identification, empathy with the character etc.) that the presentation is real rather than view it as pure fiction. In this fashion literature and film help us to recognize and explore our fantasies without giving way to them as we would if we suffered from delusions. Belief creates reality, is the dictum of social psychology. When the illusion of reality begins to fail the audience becomes increasingly suspicious; this undermines the confidence in the social authorities creating the social world and the reality presented. Alienation and disillusionment are the net result. The Western Canon is the creative cathartic response, a turning away from alienation and transforming it into the sublime.

The theatre of the mind metaphor has been used since Plato and historically this idea progresses to Freud. More recent popular books such as "Living Your Dreams" by Gayle Delaney are anchored on the metaphor of the dreamer as film director whose essential functions are the writing of a dream "screenplay" and scripting dialogue. The dreamer as dramatist acts out a soliloquy in front of an audience constituted and conjured up by himself. The theatre of the mind metaphor sees the dream as a place where the dreamer as director and scriptwriter can create dramatic situations to act out concepts/thoughts, feelings and needs by placing words into his or her own mouth and the mouths of the hallucinated co-stars of the dream.

Literary Works, Dreamwork and Catharsis

Catharsis is the emotional and intellectual release of the spectator from the spectacle of a literary work (including dreamwork) through the subliminal identification of the audience, or dreamer, with the work's characters and cause. This release occurs at the moment of climax in a story, when conflict is resolved (or revealed to be incapable of resolution, the big questions answered. It can be viewed as the beginning of literary understanding and criticism. In the dream, this is the moment of breakthrough, of understanding. As the dream is the Royal Road to the unconscious, so dreamwork becomes the Royal Road the sublime. The networks of cathartic release make the dramatic circuitry of human creation transparent.

If catharsis is important to all literary genres, then the sublime is the principal aim of all narrative. By the sublime we mean a capacity for enchantment or even ecstasy. Those who reside on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams have no transportation to the sublime, no identity with social reality, no opportunity for cathartic release through art. They are the truly alienated and disenfranchised.

The Recognition and Reality Effect

The concept of the recognition effect is relatively synonymous with the idea of the reality effect in literature, film, theatre and dreams. The spectator/audience believes and feels that s/he is being transported not into a fiction but into a symbolic reality, a real event (think of the film Mary Poppins , when the children, Mary Poppins and Bert are transported into a pavement drawing). This is why people think the dream is real, because on a certain level of consciousness it was and is always real.


By using the literary devices of imagination, illusion and identification producing the enchanting fiction of a sublime world is allowed to develop. (Think of the Dream Vision of Alice in Wonderland ). By producing, staging reality the traces of the production of everyday meaning is covered up. The alienation effects are what show us the gaps and tears in the social fabric of nightmarish meanings of reality. This is where the enchantment fails, where re-cognition fails. The re-cognition fails due primarily to ideological-oppressive processes shaping dominant narratives, where author and authorization (i.e. through processes of censorship) fail. And yet paradoxically literary dystopias can be sublime in that they warn us via the recognition effect to avoid present and future dangers and tragedies ( Brave New World or 1984 ).


For Freud, always the classical tragi-comic poet, the spectator's pleasure via recognition effects was fueled by the drive and need for aesthetic sublimation, which provides insight into the character's personality, the plot and the outcome of the actors behaviours. In Freuds' understanding this allowed individuals to understand their human tragic nature and thereby to the avoidance of tragedy.

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