Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sleep Does Not Have His House: Anna Kavan

A very rare bout of insomnia seems like the perfect time to discuss dreams.
Well, I did sleep for a few hours and woke up after a particularly vivid dream. Which I will not describe.
I ask that no one, ever, describe to me their dreams.
The Drowned World by Ballard was abandoned for placing a description of a character's dream on the first or second page.
Dreams, described in words, are inevitably wooden and exhausting, or far too fantastic and elaborate. It simply takes too long to describe in words what dreams provide instantaneously.
They are fast. We all know what they feel like. They are written so badly.
I have bought myself "Sleep Has His House" by Anna Kavan, due in no small part to the album which shares this title and a smashing author's photo. It looked like what I read.
Written in the third person, in the present tense, and consisting mostly of descriptions of dreams interspersed with biographical remembrances, I am finding it impossible.
It is missing terror and softness. The biographical bits become rafts. If she is to sit with me and the dreams described as if we were both seeing it for the first time, they are meaningless.
Without you, there's nothing in your dreams for me.


heather said...

bet you hated that martin luther king speech then.

JW Veldhoen said...

Sorry if I keep with the quotations:

"Dream is a second life. Never have I been able to penetrate those portals of ivory and horn that separate us from the invisible world. The hours of sleep are but a simulation of death; a nebulous drowsiness seizes our thoughts, and we cannot precisely determine the moment when the I, in another form, continues the work of existence."

Gerard de Nerval, Aurelia

Nerval spent the better part of his life (and this book) in this waking fugue, and eschewing narrative sense, in favor of this waking dream. I'm with him. I prefer letting this unsubstantiated I do the work... Maybe you wouldn't mind so much if life was but a dream, merrily?

Wil Murray said...

My throw-up response comes more from how authors treat dreams in their writing...or that i just fucking hate surrealism.
Your response makes me recoil, as it smacks of the kind of terrible conversation that starts "What if the red I see is not the same red you see?"
I just don't find that dreams are interesting subject matter to anyone but the dreamer, and maybe his lover....and occasionally the person he's dreamt of.
But his falls apart when I remember that one of my favourite Burroughs books is "My Education", his book of dreams.
Maybe, just maybe....My hatred is of naming dreams as "other". It smacks of an artist's belief that there is a narrative present, and things which could possibly be extraneous to it. Inclusion of these things, therefore, becomes a self-worshiping exercise, as the artist cannot resist reminding the viewer that it was his good judgement to identify and include the extraneous.
Again, I point your towards John Hawkes. His work is dream-like in much the same way as my paintings are sculptural.

PS. A letter is on its way to you, about Witchburn. A series will follow. I was very impressed.

Wil Murray said...

I revise my opinion of Sleep Has His House.
It is not a complete waste, just a bit flat.

JW Veldhoen said...

How could you hate surrealism (OK, maybe the ism...)? And yeah, the often boring illogic of other people's dreams does tend to grate on my nerves (except when their dreams are clearly indicative of some anxiety that they don't seem yet aware of, that I can see, when they can't, and it becomes funny).

Why I love Nerval so much... There is little 'other' about Nerval that is consciously composed to evoke. Unlike a charlatan like Dali, or a bully like Breton, for instance, who willfully composed 'surreal' effects. Strangely, I am influenced to some degree by this sort of work, but I can see your point, and feel safe knowing that there is an earnest desire in my own oneiric productions that comes from much the same place. I tend to think that good depictions of dreams have rather more to do with Platonism than surreality. That is, they provide a certain opportunity for (dis)proving whatever you think is real. That is why I like the quote, because it shifts so that the writer/artist holds that the dream is not the 'other'. The bad teenage coffee-shop emotion of Rimbaud rings true to me here:

"The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses. All shapes of love suffering, madness. He searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, to keep only the quintessences. Ineffable torture where he needs all his faith, all his superhuman strength, where he becomes among all men the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed one--and the supreme Scholar! For he reaches the unknown! ....So the poet is actually a thief of Fire!”

JW Veldhoen said...

And by way of post-script... The more I think about it I guess I'm not for anything called 'surrealism' much nowadays either. French symbolism, German and English romanticism, forebears to surrealism maybe. With a huge exception being my favorite Michel Leiris (who Breton tossed out).

JW Veldhoen said...

Sort of tribute on the blog today to you and this little dialog... Gave me just the right jolt to get on with some new writing. I think I was complaining esp. about "Pop-Surrealism", a term I saw recently, that bugs the living shit out of me.

Anyways, tnx Wil!

Wil Murray said...

I'll check it out.
I've been thinking a lot about this topic and found no solid ground. While I dread the kind of dream descriptions that I so often read and hear, I adore the dreams I have that I cannot for some time differentiate from reality.
They are necessarily banal ones( I wouldn't spend days believing I had sodomized a unicorn), usually had when I am drinking a lot(as I find drunken remembrances have a similar nauseous sheen as dreams).
The last time this happened I stopped in the middle of cooking eggs, realizing that I had not called a friend a few days earlier, that it had been a dream.
The eggs cooking in oil had triggered this.
This incident was very influential on my work, and the kind of thing I was writing about after the whole Dennis Cooper blog thing. I am fascinated by where and how one arrives at the places one does when the impetus to travel at all is some bit of imaginary or just plain false information.
This all led to a more nuanced relationship to the intentional/unintentional binary tension I had been working on in painting. Exploding any place of purity on either side.
And what about all the times I didn't realize that it was a dream?
Well I guess I could chalk many romantic failures up to that, right?

Pop-Surrealism? Almost as dreadful as my claiming to make Rigourous Pop and Amoral Formalism.