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Recherche littéraire/Literary Research

Fall 2019


Edited By Marc Maufort

Daniel Acke, Mark Anderson, Eugene L. Arva, Franca Bellarsi, Valérie-Anne Belleflamme, Thomas Buffet, Ipshita Chanda, Mateusz Chmurski, Wiebke Denecke, Christophe Den Tandt, Lieven D’hulst, César Domínguez, Manfred Engel, Dorothy Figueira, John B. Forster, Massimo Fusillo, Gerald Gillespie, Marie Herbillon, S. Satish Kumar, François Lecercle, Ursula Lindqvist, Jocelyn Martin, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Sam McCracken, Isabelle Meuret, Delphine Munos, Daniel-Henri Pageaux, Danielle Perrot-Corpet, Frank Schulze-Engler, Monica Spiridon, Jüri Talvet, Daria Tunca, Cyril Vettorato, Hein Viljoen, Jenny Webb

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Jüri Talvet: Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, eds. Theorizing the Dream / Savoirs et théories du rêve. Würzburg: Köningshausen & Neumann, 2018. Pp. 424. ISBN: 9783826064432.

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Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, eds. Theorizing the Dream / Savoirs et théories du rêve. Würzburg: Köningshausen & Neumann, 2018. Pp. 424. ISBN: 9783826064432.

Theorizing the Dream / Savoirs et Théories du Rêve is the second volume in the series of academic research work conducted under the auspices of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA/ AILC) Research Committee on Dreams. The first volume, Writing the Dream / Ecrire le rêve, appeared in 2017. As far as I know, at least one more volume in the same series “Cultural Dream Studies / Kulturwissenschaftliche Traum-Studien / Études culturelles sur le rêve” – all of them coordinated and edited by Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel – is to be published soon.

In her review of Volume One, Dorothy Figueira underlines the great merit of the work accomplished by that particular ICLA research committee under the supervision of the German scholars Dieterle and Engel (Figueira). I can only share her admiration for the strong German academic tradition in comparative literary research displayed in this volume. Furthermore, before the present dream studies project, Dieterle and Engel had also edited (with the American comparatist Gerald Gillespie) a substantial international research volume, Romantic Prose Fiction (Benjamins, 2008, 733 pp.)

The recent postmodern zeal of deconstruction has flooded cultural and literary scholarship with all kinds of metaphoric and witty re-writings, as if trying to revive the fashion of the early seventeenth-century French littérature précieuse. This phenomenon undoubtedly had its initial spell, but as we have entered the twenty-first century, with its all-potent digital copying-machinery, the wide reading public reveals signs of getting bored with the artistry of ambiguities. On their part, academic publishing houses, which have to earn their daily bread in the context of an ever tenser world-wide rivalry, can hardly afford puzzles in book titles. Instead of précieusité, their expectancy is “preciseness.”

In a similar way with a number of Western international organizations, the official working languages of ICLA / AILC are English and French. ←207 | 208→In the particular case of these volumes on dream studies, the inclusion of the German version of the series title is surely justified, as German scholars have been the main architects of this impressive intellectual project. In Volume Two, Theorizing the Dream / Savoirs et Théories du Rêve, the article authors come overwhelmingly from German universities (12). Five authors represent French institutions, while one author only is American.

Among the series’ title versions, the most explicit is the German. Wissenschaftliche leaves no room for doubts: the purpose is scientific research. Even without “science,” the title in French is clear enough. In humanities, “studies” is mostly understood as a synonym for “research.” The English title of the series, “Cultural Dream Studies,” on the contrary, does contain a shade of ambiguity. Thus, “cultural dream” may well signify the dream of that (supposed) minority of people who nowadays have the courage of disagreeing with the pervasive trend of understanding culture as a kind of entertainment. (Needless to say, this is a different topic, which will need to be treated in future dream studies.)

I doubt that the title of Volume One has met the expectations of the German publisher. If one searches on the Internet for “Writing the Dream,” the first results would indicate sites in which quite a different book of exactly the same title, Writing the Dream (published in 2016), is advertised. It is a collection of 24 Australian short stories featuring a dream of some kind. The fact indicates that, for the greater reading public, primary literary creativity tends to overshadow critical metatexts.

Quite on the contrary, the choice of the title of Volume Two of the dream studies series is highly successful. When searched on the Internet, the title appears immediately. Yet, Theorizing the Dream does contain some ambiguity. Introducing the terms of “theory” and “theorizing” creates an illusion of analogies with natural and physical sciences. As a matter of fact, in humanities theories for the most part work a posteriori. They have very little practical value for the economy of the world’s house – for establishing rules and laws that govern our daily life. Ambivalences are hard to translate: the French Savoirs et Théories du Rêve captures much more explicitly the essence of that volume. It conjoins the already existing knowledge (episteme) and theories – in the sense of a philosophic discussion – without any definite and concrete results.

The editors and all the individual authors of the volume, as agile erudite minds, have assimilated a truly impressive mass of references ←208 | 209→and sources not only in the languages of the Western “centric triangle” (English-French-German), but also in ancient European as well as in some Oriental languages. Vast cultural areas of the West and the East have been covered. The impression is, however, that after what has been said about dreams by ancient Western or Eastern sages and the “fathers” of modern psychoanalytical thinking, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, there is little room left for any genuine breakthroughs in theory. Medical peoples’ statistical analyses and conclusions can provide interesting details, but the topic clearly escapes their reach, as sooner or later, dealing with dreams, one enters the reign of the “otherworld” and the domain of the existential condition of human beings – the border-zone of non-existence.

Hence, the “theorizing” of Volume Two seems to derive its value above all as a “close commenting” on and a process of consci(enti)ously accumulating all the basic data and sources that were available to the authors (i.e. in languages they could read). To find fault with the fact that the volume does not include any contribution from the vast East-European linguistic-cultural area, would obviously seem unjustly exaggerated. Instead, the present volume could be viewed as a challenge and a call to intellectuals, writers and scholars from other (non-centric) areas to follow the example of the volume’s editors and authors and try to assemble a similar series on dream philosophizing from the traditional “periphery.” The latter could be stimulated by important ideas about dreams coming from the “periphery” itself, such as can be found, for instance, in Yuri M. Lotman’s writing about the “semiosphere” particularly in his last book, Culture and Explosion. Lotman’s metaphoric assertion, “dream is a semiotic window,” is at least for me one of the most successful images catching and conveying the quintessence of dream philosophy.

Another highly symbolic metaphor related to dreams (which can to some extent be associated with Lotman’s interpretation of “semiosphere”) has its origin in another vast Western “periphery.” The title of one of the best-known Caprichos by Francisco Goya, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos,” should not be translated as “the sleep of reason produces monsters” (as has been done is most foreign languages). Instead, it could more profitably glossed as: “the dream of reason produces monsters” – a prophecy foreshadowing our “postmodern” and “posthumanistic” days. In Spanish, sueño means both “sleep” and “dream.” A lot of stimulating discussion on the dream could be derived from the signifiers of “dream” and “sleep” in a number of languages beyond English, French and German. Thus, the Latvian word for dream, sapnis, resembles both the ←209 | 210→Sanskrit svapna (dream) and the Latin sapientia (good taste and sense, wisdom).

In his opening article in Volume Two, “Towards a Theory of Dream Theories,” Manfred Engel dedicates the final chapter (“Excursus”) to the dream theory of Carl Gustav Jung. Engel proposes a classification of all dream theories under four types: 1) Supernatural Theories, 2) Epistemological/ Ontological Theories, 3) Rationalist Theories, 4) Natural supernaturalism / Romanticist theories. Dorothy Figueira concludes her essay “Dream in Ancient Indian Literature and Philosophy” by observing that “[i];n the West, dreams are thought to be not real. In India, dreams can be seen as representing true reality” and “are understood as purveyors of another reality” (57). Marion Eggert’s article “Beyond Prognostication” traces the repercussion of Neo-Confucian ideas (influenced by Buddhist and Taoist tranquilism) in the work Dream Explication of the Korean writer Hǒ Kyun (1569–1618). Ideas about dreams in Ancient Greece are summarized in Christophe Chandezon’s essay “Comprendre et classer les rêves d’Homère à Artémidore.” In the volume’s only article in German, but with a title in Latin, “Aut anima intellegit, et verum est; aut, si verum non est, non intellegit,” Stefan Seit discusses the “intellectualization” of visions and dreams by St. Augustin and their subsequent “rationalization” by Thomas Aquinas. Under the main title “Fontaines perpétuelles,” Gilles Polizzi detects parallels between Freud and the French writer Béroalde de Verville. (In the subtitle to this essay, the years 1556–1626 surely do not attempt to define the limits of the Baroque era, as one might misconstrue, but relate to Verville’s lifespan.) In one passage, Polizzi mentions (as a “Baroque commonplace”) the phrase “la vie est un songe” (161). Incidentally, it is one of the very few occurrences of the word “songe,” the French synonym of “rêve.” I could not notice in the volume any mention of the great European Baroque writer Pedro Calderón de la Barca – perhaps the only equal to Shakespeare – whose drama, above all, made world-famous the phrase that “life is a dream.”

In “The Dreams of Athanasius Kircher SJ,” Andreas Bähr describes the dream journey of the Jesuit priest and polymath (1601/2–1680) in his Itinerarium exstaticum (1656/57). Murat Ares’s essay “Dubious Perceptions” synthetizes the attitude to dreams of the Enlightenment philosophers John Locke and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, as well as of their intellectual forerunner René Descartes. More views of German ←210 | 211→philosophers situated at the border between Enlightenment and Romanticism (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schleiermacher, as well as the Dane Baggesen) are described and commented in Paul Ziche’s article “Dreams as Transitory States.” “Romantic Anthropology” (a term coined by Manfred Engel) is explained through the work of German physicians and medicine professors Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert, Carl Gustav Carus and the political activist Paul Vitalis Troxler, in an article by Christian Quintes. The double attitude to dreams by E. T. A. Hoffmann, one of the greatest German romantic writer whose work is saturated with all kinds of dreams and fantasies, is examined by Ricarda Schmidt in her essay “Lovers’ Dreams ‒ the Path to Heaven or Hell,” as an “attempt to throw light on the dark recesses of the human mind, and challenge narrow-minded shallow rationalism as much as woolly mysticism” (269). Patricia Oster provides an overview of the source and role of dreams in the work of French romantic writers Victor Hugo, Gérard de Nerval and Charles Nodier, in an essay titled “Le XIXe siècle, ‘observatoire’ du rêve.”

The transition to modernist sensibility in literature, with the emergence of French theories of erotic dreaming (in relation to nocturnal emissions), is described by Jacqueline Carroy in “Le sexe des rêves,” while Bernard Dieterle, in “Construction et maîtrise du rêve dans la modernité” deals with the role of dreams in the work of Charles Baudelaire and Lautréamont. Sigmund Freud’s main ideas in his foundational work Interpretation of Dreams are revisited by Joachim Pfeiffer (“Comprendre des textes vides de sens. La théorie du rêve de Freud”). Manfred Engel’s article “Dream Theories in Modernist Literature” is the most extensive individual contribution of this volume. Yet, length is justified, as Engel deals with the giant trio of writers of the modernist breakthrough in Western prose fiction – Marcel Proust, James Joyce and Franz Kafka. Tania Collani investigates the presence of dreams in the work of European avant-garde (futurist, Dadaist, surrealist) poetry. The volume closes with an article by Michael Schredl, a social scientist, head of research at a sleep-laboratory. Among other observations, he speaks of the effects of the dream on “waking life” (416–17).

Reading Volume Two has deepened my personal conviction that dreams, though totally useless in the world’s economy, have a truly incommensurable and irrefutable presence in the world’s spiritual-mental and moral being – through myths, folklore, religion, arts, and above all, creative literature.


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Jüri Talvet

University of Tartu, Estonia

Work Cited

Figueira, Dorothy. Review of Writing the Dream / Ecrire le rêve. Eds. Bernard Dieterle & Manfred Engel. Recherche Littéraire / Literary Research 34 (Summer 2018): 305–07.