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Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority

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John Bickley

In Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority, John Bickley explores the ways dreams and visions in literature function as authorizing devices, both affirming and complicating a text’s authority. After providing a framework for categorizing the diverse genres and modes of dream and vision texts, Bickley demonstrates how the theme of authority and strategies for textual self-authorization play out in four highly influential works: the Book of Daniel, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Love, and Chaucer’s Hous of Fame.

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Introduction: Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority

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INTRODUCTION

Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority

Dreams and Authority

Dreams have empowered human consciousness and action for thousands of years in recorded experience. In literature, the incorporation of dreams and visions has transcended cultures, eras, and genres. Until the last century, where psychoanalytic and physiological studies have sought to trace dreams and visions solely to psychological and cognitive sources—the inner workings of the unconscious and the self-regulating operations of the brain—most texts in the history of Western literature have portrayed dreams and visions as emanating from supernatural sources and serving a higher function. The vast majority of these fictional dreams and visions act as bridges to other realms, windows into a supernatural reality, offering the dreamers/visionaries (and their readers) access to knowledge beyond human or rational or worldly limits.

In his comprehensive study of the conception of dreams and dreaming in the Middle Ages, Steven F. Kruger succinctly summarizes this traditional conception of dreams:

For most of its long history, the dream has been treated not merely as an internally-motivated phenomenon (although as we shall see, such explanations of dreaming have their own ancient roots), but as an experience strongly linked to ← xi | xii → the realm of divinity: dreams were often thought to foretell the future because they allowed the human soul access to a transcendent, spiritual reality.1

These supernatural experiences outside/beyond the mundane—whether in relation to the world of...

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