Theatre of Dreams - Article 2

Western Folklore and Dreams

Myths and folklore provide generic narrative structures and the literary storehouse of thematic design. Western folklore encompasses the oral history of philosophy, religion, economics, politics, criminology, anthropology, education etc.

Dreams provide access to this literary storehouse. The literary use of depth psychology to investigate human nature, character and consciousness reveals that each person contains several stories. The dream is a tool which allows the dreamer to look back (retrospective - Freud) and forward (prospective - Jung) , leading to the therapeutic restructuring of a unified self.

Dreams, Poetry and Transgenerational Narratives

Giambattista Vico's "New Science"(1725) laid the foundation for the philosophy of history and language. Vico understood that consciousness is autobiographical. People build their sense of self - the Myth of Self - based on knowledge, philosophy and history.

All philosophies are in some sense autobiographical. The dream exposes how, for example, Western philosophies, myths and narratives work on the subconscious or unconscious self. Every nation's mythology is a classification system intended to unify knowledge, thereby creating a philosophy of life, nature and society by which the nation lives and governs itself.

For Vico, as well as Freud nearly 200 years later, primitive thought was pre-logical. Primitives were believed to think in terms of allegories, where every metaphor is a fable in in brief. Mythologies are the proper language of the fable, fairy tale and folklore.

The study of dreams provides a look at various organized myths of human experience through its universe of words and narratives. Humans do not simply view the world "as is," their experience of it is filtered through their imaginations, desires, needs and anxieties. Fictional and non-fictional verbal art and history finds their expression in the dream. The dream provides insight into what Hayden White views as the poetry of history. As such life is viewed as a continuous transgenerational narrative.

Life Writing and Dreamwork

Historical modes of production and consumption can be used to understand the dream. All psychodynamic theories (those which attempt to interpret or understand dreams) see the dream as a product of this type of dreamwork. Dreams are determined by this labour .

To create in relevant ways, whether in art or technology, requires an understanding of the work that has gone before and the work that is currently being done. This is how individuals link to communities of common interests. For Freud, the primary symptom of psychosis was the withdrawal of libido from the outside world. Work in the outside world ceases and the individual has no place for the public expression of private dreamwork. The success or failure of the dream is a function of this work process.

Everyday, people speak and people dream, what do they speak about?... what do they dream about?

The IIDR's research shows that dreams can be viewed from a literary work/communication perspective and organized as such. "Anatomy" from a literary perspective is defined as the detailed analysis of a subject, an exhaustive examination. Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism was a groundbreaking literary work and can be applied to dreams and dream-work. In this case the "anatomy" of what we are trying to examine is the anatomy of the dream, where the dream is the subject and object of investigation.

Collective dreamwork patterns (read national/cultural) reveal how work/communication is authored and authorized thereby producing the dominant narratives of everyday life. Dreams are induced and are transformed from one generation to the next; the literary structures and functions are the stuff which is induced and transformed via the Western Canon, hence a transgenerational screenplay where the primary archetypal plays/works being screened are Romance, Tragedy, Comedy and Satire becomes visible. This literary universe of meaning is constructed as we speak; it is a work in progress.

Within the narratives of the dreams of individuals, patterns, common themes and symbols emerge which are indicators of collective literary narratives for the groups to which individuals belong. The collective daydreams of individuals provide the screenplays of literature and film. For the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye the "whole domain of literature is a self-contained verbal universe a massive, complex and intricate product of human imagination". This imagined order of words constantly expands and grows through new works of literature even as it continues to use its' essential literary archetypes. According to Frye, literature projects an organized myth of human experience configuring and reconfiguring the world and one's self according to the desires and anxieties the individual and the community are faced with. The verbal expression of these experiences are the domain of literature both the fictional and non-fictional. Dream research provides access to the communal dreamscreen and its' dreams, myths and fictions.

Finding Meaning in National Canons

"Everyone, while he dreams, is a Shakespeare"

- Arthur Schopenhauer

The child enters into the world and the inheritance of the Western Canon as a work in progress. We call this work Biography for the individual and the Historical Novel for the collective. Hayden White follows Northrop Frye's typology of four primary plots of literature and life, namely romance, comedy, tragedy and satire. Tropes (read metaphor) provide the dominant narrative modes of history and metahistorical thinking. White emphasizes the constructive and creative aspect of historical writing and therefore the historical novel.

Narrative Adaptations

Dreams reflect the narrative structures of myths, fairy tales and the Sociological Novel.

Myth is a basic phenomenon, a constant dimension of human experience. Roland Barthes was the first to interpret myths as being composed of symbols for everyday life and culture. For Jung, archetypes [recurring motifs or models in literature and art] were hardwired into the genes and brains of all humans, and the source of spiritual experience that embrace the meanings of life, death and history.


Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction: A Study of Meaning provided an in-depth analysis of "the making of meaning." His views can be applied to the dream. Genres are more about the choices people make in their speech than distinct forms of narrative. Perhaps the rise of the novel is due to the development of freedom of expression and the poets' increasing ability and willingness to perceive and express in a more rational fashion what is going on in the collective unconscious.

Genre [a style or catergory of art or literature] cannot merely be defined by looking at historical works already completed. Genre is no longer a matter of more or less subtle and consistent classification, but rather the key to an understanding of any text in a relation to a set of conventions and norms that define a type of narrative precisely. Any text both follows and deviates from the genre. As for any ideal model of a literary form, an examination of its conformity with, and deviation from, the model would clarify the originality of the work and how it functions.

Children learn to make choices about the words they use, which contain both personal and collective/historical meaning. These choices then define the unfolding of the narrative structures.

Modern genre criticism asks the question of the role of genre in framing authors' choices and readers' responses, where authors and readers are both, and often the same, dreamer.

Insight into dreams is provided by researching their texts by topic, word organization, grammar constructions, symbols, characters, and gaps in the connecting circuitry. In searching for the understanding of the cultural and ideological determinants of any text, whether films, cartoons, dreams or any narrative, insight into the dynamics of dominant and marginalized communications will invariably be found. Such communications circulate within families, nations, cultures, and history.

Genres of Dream Vision

Within the narratives of individual dreams patterns, common themes and metaphors emerge which are indicators of similar themes in the collective dreams for the groups to which individuals belong, as they appear in public media.

The themes and subject matter in the public, collective media have been categorized into genres to make critical analysis simpler. The dreams of individuals and groups can also be examined through the use of these same dramatic genres. The principal four genres of Dream Vision are romance, comedy, satire and tragedy.

Dream Vision and Fantasy

For Freud, creative writing is a publicly sanctioned form of fantasy. The public circulation of fantasy has many forms, from the publication of clinical case studies to Cosmopolitan and Playboy in the print media to films. These represent public forms of successful collective production and consumption of fantasy.

According to Freud, the creative writer's work is like the child's actions at play. Creative writing is seen as the author's fantasies displayed in a public forum (theatre of the mind) where the reader enters those fantasies. The reader or the spectator takes part in the spectacle transforming the fiction into realism. The reader achieves vicarious gratification identifying with this social world.

The Anatomy of Dream Vision, Theatre and Fiction

The word fiction derives from the Latin word fingo, meaning I fashion or shape. Fiction is most often a thinly veiled biography - the author "shapes" his or her experiences into ones that can be commonly recognized or identified with.

Dream research provides access to the communal dreamscreen and its' dreams, myths and fictions. Fiction, fantasy, dream merge to create a surrealistic blend in the theatre of the mind. Nations can be viewed through this surreal looking glass of dreams, daydreams and fantasies, which producing a distinct national mythology. When these are translated into art, literature, music, dance etc., the process of the animation of culture becomes clearly visible.

The IIDR is compiling an encyclopedia of Dream Visions which examines the Anatomy of the Dream, following Northrop Frye's literary definition of "anatomy" as in part a compendium of analyses of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs.

The Anatomy of Dreams found in the IIDR database have poetic and thematic classifications, typologies, developments and more. The Sociology of Genres is principally interested in the choices reflected in narrative patterns and helping the individuals who make them move from self-destructive and tragic patterns and outcomes to more constructive forms of life stories/biographies.


Transcendence (redemption, resurrection) is a common form of the sublime in western literature. Conflict is the plot motivator between, at minimum, two characters. Resolution is the success or failure of the protagonist (hero) to prevail over, or transcend, the challenges presented by the antagonist (villain). Characters look to religion, love, violence, politics, hard work and perseverance or any number of strategies to deliver them from the world as experienced at present.

Combining the four basic genres of romance, comedy, satire and tragedy with the treatment of transcendence suggests a useful way to look at all literary genres.


"The greatest harm done to the human race has been done by the poets; they keep filling people's heads with delusions of love"

- Ingrid Bergman to Gregory Peck in Alfred Hitchcock 's Spellbound.

The dream of love and marriage is one primary way that the Western personality defines itself. The failure of love can and does produce symptoms like depression and suicidal tendencies, which can play out in revenge tragedies, soap operas, romance novels and other forums. Unresolved memories of youthful, poetic conflicts of love may produce a fixation of the mind and body on this human relationship.

Historically, Romance referred to the broad human impulse toward love, of nature, life, mankind.

The modern Romance restricts itself more to the tremendous pressure brought to bear on individuals to pair off, assume mortgages and raise children, adopting the dominant emphasis on "family values." For many, this registers in nightmarish dreams of entrapment. In the dominant Western Life Narrative, it is the man who leaves. Since the family is the primary educational institution of society, the consequence for abandoned children is loss of identity, or bastardization.

Modern romance deals with themes such as the desire for acceptance (will I be loved for who I am?) and identity (without you, I'm nothing.) Falling within the Greek comedic genre, romance raises expectations that love conquers all, that one will live happily ever after. Ethel Person (Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters) focused attention on the lover's internal soliloquy and external dialogue with the beloved. Narratives of love, loss and romantic agony play out through one's whole life.

Expectations of happiness are unlikely to be fulfilled by what is, in the end, hormonal coincidence. Romance is charged with the erotic, and its consequences, while Lucy Goodison (The Dreams of Women) points out that bearing children is an important life adjustment for women. Not only are there physical changes, there are social, emotional and cognitive ones as well. These changes register in dreams. But according to common biological mythology, motherhood is a natural desire for women.

Western couples continue to make life-determining decisions based upon notions of romantic, erotic love. Little wonder that romantic illusions (is this my soul mate? is this Mr. Right? the girl of my dreams?) fill dreamscreens and volumes of literature.

Dreams of Eros

Like the dreams of power and rivalry, variations on the Dreams of Eros (loving in all its manifestations) have been, and will remain, a social trend of dreaming. They provide the tension in the narrative of life, perpetuated over and over in a transgenerational drama.

For soap operas such as As the World Turns , The Young and the Restless and others, the centre of every plot is love and the erotic. The montage of story-lines vary and include marriage, weddings, rape, motherhood, illegitimate children, love triangles, loss, drugs, prostitution, adultery, funerals, abortion, murder and forgotten lovers. Youth and its perpetuation is a major part of the narratives. Are these fantasies the vehicles for problem solving real, human relationship conflicts, or are they harmful forms of escape? Can all problems be resolved through love, whether romantic, spiritual or sexual?

The family is the primary transmitter of social codes. This transmission is aimed primarily at children so they will reproduce existing political, economic, and religious power structures when they mature. Thus agonistic games, the lessons of patriarchy and capitalism, most affect children. Conflict between the desire for love and the desire for power is reflected in the narratives and dreams of families, themselves power hierarchies. Western society's Family Dream of mutual affection is often confronted with rivalry between mother and father, between parents and children and among siblings. The organizational principals that define a society are first found in the language and play of families.

Dreams of Comedy

If tragedy plays on our deepest anxieties, then comedy as an antidote acts as a defence mechanism to dispel these anxieties, transforming the tragic dream of anguish into liberating laughter.

In all its various details, life is a tragi-comedy, the comedy of mishaps, the quirky twists and turns of the flights of grotesque fantasy and a burlesque display of folly portrayed by tragic emotion and behaviour. As if by a mischievous trick, life can be viewed as scenes from a black comedy, the never-fulfilled wishes and desires, the helpless, frustrated efforts, hopes blighted by dark fates, the regrets of the unfortunate mistakes and comedy of errors whose paths all lead to inevitable death. Black comedy is concerned with the humorous treatment of the shocking, the horrific and the macabre displaying a marked disillusionment and cynicism. As if to add insult to injury, mockery is added to the misery and malaise of existence. Achieving the dignified status of a tragic character of a tragedy is replaced by the foolish character of a comedy.

The modern use of the term black comedy derives in part from the surrealist Andre Breton's Anthology de l'humor noire . Representing humanity or an individual with little hope of escape from an absurd and inhumane predicament, at its darkest, the adjectives used to describe this humour include sour despair, shocking, mordant, sardonic, macabre, horrific and fatalistic. It states since we can't do anything we may as well laugh. For a good read in this genre see Steve Lipman Laughter in Hell: The use of Humor during the Holocaust . Films representing black comedy include Catch 22, Doctor Strangelove, Slaughterhouse 5, A Clockwork Orange and Natural Born Killers.


Satire attempts to affect changes in contemporary human behaviours through the use of humour and ridicule. Ronald Knox' Essays in Satire likened the satirist to a small boy with a water pistol charged with vitriol (venom). It has been said that satire is born of the need to protest, making protest into art. Satire refines anger, ridicule, indignation, contempt and sarcasm.

Satire is a form of didacticism which is designed to ridicule and alter the audiences' attitudes towards, institutions, people, products and modes of conduct. The objects of satiric attacks are egotism, militarism, hypocrisy, greed, corruption, folly, excess, vanity and vice as found in contemporary civilized society. George Orwell's Animal Farm is a political satire in fable form.

Satire attempts to instruct the reader so that tragedy might be avoided, allowing society to transcend current problems, chiefly through the power of knowledge.


A tragic work is one which portrays disastrous human actions often ending in loss and death. The typical tragic sequence of conflict follows a specific pattern. The itinerary of the tragic plot follows the tragic error in judgement of the hero and plays on the guiding fictions or dramatic illusions of life which drive, link and reproduce social reality.

Recognition of the tragic sequence, as Northrop Frye has shown, allows Western Civilization to move towards irony. In other words, the recognition makes the tragic event and its consequences avoidable. The road from the tragic to the absurd is very short. The absurd such as Beckett's Waiting for Godot has taken over from the former domain of tragedy and renewed the genre by combining the tragic and the comic, with all the ingredients of metaphors of life and dreams of history a pessimistic/fatalistic game of figures and puppets.

Anatomy of the Problem Novel

The Problem Novel is a type of drama that was popularized by the Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen ( ) and the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw ( ). In problem novels the hero or protagonist is faced with contemporary social problems such as the class system, racism, sexism, prostitution, chauvinism, crime, violence, poverty, political corruption and moral values.

Historians and critics who are interested in the way a literary work is shaped by circumstances such as class, gender, race, and political orientation, investigate the social, political, economic, and religious organization of the forces of the era in which the author lived. The French historian Hippolyte Taine Hippolyte Taine ( History of English Literature ) has been considered the modern sociologist of literature, analyzing authors' race, geographical "milieu" and historical "moment." The Sociological Novel is a prose fiction whose major interest and background derives from the conditions of the society in which the characters exist. Ibsen had a major influence on this genre, which treats social, political or religious problems with a didactic message. The Sociological Novel is itself is a form of problem novel whose primary concern is the working out through characters and incidents of a central problem. Dreams are primarily the problem novel of a specific Speech Community.

Victim Novel: The Wound and the Voice

Up until the turn of the 20th century the word trauma or wound originally referred to an injury inflicted on the body. Medical and psychiatric literature, especially Freud's, changed the meaning of the word, to be viewed as a wound inflicted on the mind.

The story of trauma or psychological injury as a narrative experience is one from which escape is impossible and attests to the endless impact on the life of the survivor. The story that trauma tells, is that it is "much more than a pathology, or the simple illness of a wounded psyche: it is always the story of a wound that cries out" in an attempt to tell the community of a reality or truth that is otherwise not accessible. The language of trauma resonates around the plea by the victim to be seen and heard, to break the silence and blindness of the community and thereby make transparent the mental horrors of life. Dreams make these horrors visible.

Birth of Tragedy

The German philosopher Friedrich Niezsche first book The Birth of Tragedy published in 1872, proposed that the then modern era was in need of a solution to the suffering and absurdity of life, because of the failure of Christianity to provide resolution (also refering to Nietzsches', idea God is dead). The Greeks had discovered such a solution in their literary and theatrical works of tragic art. Nietzsche believed, that tragic vision offers "a profound and tragic view of the world"...and " the conception of individuation as the primal cause of evil" but also "the joyous hope that the spell of individuation may may be broken in augury of a restored oneness" (Birth of Tragedy). Overcoming the pessimism, horrors and nausea of life is the problem for The Birth.

Men, Women and the Western Canon

History can be viewed as a form of mythology, and drama is one way of perpetuating national mythologies and folklore. The ancient Greek dramatist Euripides and the 19th century dramatist Ibsen are known for their seeing women as socially oppressed. Women have finally been "liberated" and fought and won civil and political rights in the 20th century. Some feminists might argue that the fight is not over, but ongoing.

In terms of theatre, male dominated theatre (also loosely understood under the term patriarchy) was pervious only to masculine values and conflicts and projected these onto the communal dreamscreen. These conflicts focus primarily on male concerns and motifs, such as power, aggression, battles, victories, defeats and capital.

The Tragic Plot

Not all the themes seen on individual or collective dreamscreens reflect successful adaptation. When the spell of enchantment of communal living fails, disillusionment with social reality is the result. Disillusionment that appears unconsciously on many individual dreamscreens is expressed publicly by those with access to the collective unconscious: authors, composers and artists. Art reflects communal currents of dramatic enchantment and disenchantment. Among many techniques, the poetic artist uses the rhetorical or persuasive aspects and dimensions of language that are primary to all forms of discourse, including the language of the dream and the nightmare.

Reading is influenced by the reader's literary repertoire, and shaped by general experiences and specific knowledge of reading and its strategies. The repertoire is influenced and conditioned by fundamental beliefs, acquired knowledge, assumptions, expectations, motivation, interest and sentiments which circulate within a cultural and historical context. More specifically, most readers assume that stories have certain styles and conventions of plot development, clear characteristics and some sort of agon or conflict that will be resolved by some means. Some readers/dreamers have a limited and restricted repertoire, vacillating, for example between tragedy and the literature of escape. Exposure to new stories can broaden horizons of understanding and lead to a more elaborate narrative code.

While tragedy depicts the failure the achieve redemption or transcendence, these objectives are not denied. Had the protagonist not committed a tragic error, or more to the point, if readers avoid making the protagonist's error, tragedy might be averted.

The Tragic and Dream

The dramatic genre of tragedy imitates deadly life forces. Tragedy mirrors the inner psychological conflicts of life and death situations. The dramatic form thrusts dreamers into struggles with themselves and others. Tragedy dramatizes the human propensity for creative destruction. Crimes of passion, blood lust, jealousy, envy and pride provide the context for tragedy. Children in western cultures are thrown into pre-existing social worlds of tragic conflicts. Recognizing that the themes of dominant ideological narratives are often destructive leads to the conclusion that our children have been betrayed, an awareness that is essential for Restoration of the Dream, the principle aim of the IIDR.

IIDR and Dream Vision Archives

Narrative in the Western Canon is driven by conflict between competing ideas and characters. In the IIDR's archives a growing multitude of social conflicts found in dreams involve rape, violence, crime, fear, prejudice, right to life vs. freedom of choice, pornography, hate crimes, on and on.

It is hoped that the archive will provide a systematic mapping and accurate understanding of global social problems. History's great spectacle will be seen as a biographical kaleidoscope of the connections between people, places, times, thoughts and behaviours.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.