Men's Dreams: Understanding Masculinity

Erich Neumann The Child tells us of the archetypal paternal principle which psychologically structures the communal psychological mirroring process shaping the mind. The collective unconscious or dreaming process becomes patriarchally organized, this in-turn becomes a fateful political double bind of mirror anxieties for both men and women. Political conflict popularly known as the battle of the sexes ensues.

Historically, a morbid and malignant disorder develops in the individual and the collective, a misogynous-misandrous (woman-man hating) driven plotting dominates the dream work of Dream Vision. Male fear and hatred of women symbolized in the femme fatale does not go away when repressed, but returns in compulsive symptoms such as pornographic encounters, addictions, and increased phobic anxiety. Misogyny is as old as mankind. The misogyny of man's "his-story" is reciprocated by the misandry of woman's "her-story", in modern times encapsulated in Valerie Solanas's Medusa-like Scum Manifesto, which rants against men: "Every man, deep down, knows he's a worthless piece of shit." By contrast, the theatre piece The Vagina Monologues offers a healthy, liberating exposition for both women and men.

Valerie Traub Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of sexuality in Shakespearean drama attempts to trace the circulation of desire in dramatic texts. By circulation Traub means how the dramatic erotic energy, fantasies of desire and anxiety moves through the society ("social polity"). Anxieties such as misogyny and homophobia are seen as being transhistorically induced as part of the plotting of the cultural poetics of desire. The Shakespearean theatre provides a dramatic stage to screen the patriarchal circulation of desire, anxiety and fantasy within culture. The theatre of the erotic unfolds in a larger theatre of ideological codes, politically framing anxiety and the psychological defence mechanisms that fashions the psychological landscape of the cultural communal unconscious. The dominant ideologies determine erotic tensions of life which can be pushed, pulled and driven to dramatic extremes. The film A Streetcar Named Desire (video trailer) underscores this desire, fantasy and reality.

For the ancient Greek dream interpreter Artimedorus Interpretation of Dreams, the erotic dream is a metaphoric religious game of military and economic rank and status. The metaphor of penetration places the partners in a ritual relationship of domination vs. submission, master vs. slave, authority vs. subordinate. This political erotic ideology binds the community into a generational whole. It takes no leap of the dramatic imagination to understand that, historically, sexuality is one of the oldest, most powerful, and most subversive metaphorical weapons. The body is subject to the socialization process that a child can accept or reject. Such a political quest for dominance underscores a community's communication psychopathology.

In ancient Greek society the myths of creation depict the powerful forces of religious order battling the primordial forces of chaos.This war of the gods establishes a sacred ritual order of a male creation mythology which lives on in men's dreams and fantasies. We find these masculine fantasies in literature, films, advertisements and dreams: heroic, self-sacrificing warriors battle against evil adversaries to make the world just and secure again. In the Iliad, the shield of Achilles is as an artifact of the Trojan War that symbolizes of Athenian honor and its code. The film Troy (video trailer) provides a cinematic view of Achilles seen in the epic rear view mirror of history.

The Iliad and the Odyssey gave the Greeks heroic male parables. For modern feminists, Western literature is based on oppressive patriarchy. At the same time, the idea of masculinity itself has undergone substantial revision. The film High Noon, a favourite of U.S. presidents, cast Gary Cooper in the role of the small-town sheriff, a strong silent man and heterosexual icon. (The film was parodied by the American music group Green Day in the music video High Noon of Broken Dreams). But such recent films as Transamerica (video clip of trailer) and Brokeback Mountain (video clip of trailer) gave central roles to, respectively, a transsexual and a homosexual pair.

Mark C. Carnes in Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America finds ritual initiation of men commonplace in primitive religion, a paradigm for masculine development: "With the transformation of the patriarchal family during the decades after 1770, the customary path to male adulthood almost disappeared, and for a time boys and young men were free to chart their own developmental strategies." Fraternal rituals such as those in Freemasonry sought out religious meaning and built community through brotherly love. George Washington and other American Founding Fathers were Freemasons, as was Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Canadian Prime Minister. By contrast, such rituals can promote nationalism, often the cause of wars. Islamist fanatics such as Bin Laden declare war on the West in the name of Allah.  

Leo Braudy in From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Chivalry finds that male honor involves the policing of boundaries of families, tribes, and nations.  Film westerns like High Noon confirm this idea, as does the noir film The Maltese Falcon, the historical romance novel and film Gone with the Wind, the Cold War film Top Gun, and Japanese samurai cinema. Braudy tell us that from the time of the Ancient Greek theatre, masculinity has always been in search of an audience, to witness its virility. For the Romans, Rome as the basis for national honor and pride was the stage. Medieval tournaments presented the spectacle of knighthood. The martial language of the war novel and film alludes to past conflicts and foreshadows future ones. Machismo has been used to justify military history itself.

War is a perpetual site of dramatic interest in all literary genres. In film, the delusions of grandeur and the grotesque sweep of the landscape of the human carnage of war has been featured in the classics of Dr. Zhivago, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lawrence of Arabia, Letters from Iwo Jima. Much as in dreams, the war film also dramatizes individual struggle, as in Bridge on the River Kwai and The African Queen. Although war has been a human constant, new technologies have accelerated destructiveness to such a level that all life on the planet could be annihilated.

James Hillman in A Terrible Love of War tells us that a scene from the film Patton (video trailer) sums up his theme. Patton, played by George C. Scott, touring the aftermath of a World War II battlefield, kisses a dying officer and says: "I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life." Hillman quotes Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam War: "We can now understand these catastrophes for what they were: essentially the products of the failure of the imagination." Similarly, nearly two generations later, National Security Agency director Michael Hayden compares Pearl Harbor to Al Queda's attacks on the Twin Towers: "Perhaps it was more a failure of imagination this time than last." An understanding of collective dream patterns could help imagine an alternative to war.

In Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam America, James William Gibson tells us that, post-Vietnam, the dreams of American men began to change: "It is hardly surprising, then, that American men--lacking confidence in government and the economy, troubled by the changing relations between the sexes, uncertain of their identity or their future-began to dream, to fantasize about the powers and features of another kind of man who could retake and reorder the world.And the hero of all these dreams was the paramilitary warrior." Gibson finds this change in 1970s Hollywood films such as the Dirty Harry tales featuring Clint Eastwood and those of Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson. In the 1980s, it was Rambo and Sylvester Stallone who answered the call to these action-adventure films. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was Bruce Willis as detective John McClane starring in the Die Hard franchise and Tom Clancy's character Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who saves the day in the late-Cold War film The Hunt for the Red October. The newest James Bond Casino Royale (video trailer) persona has as his central purpose the war on terror. These masculine myths and psychological territories, Gibson says, "have kept us chained to war as a way of life; they have infused individual men, national political and military leaders, and society with a deep attraction to both imaginary and real violence." The dream opens up such territories.

The dreams of men provides a dramatic frame story for masculinity;

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