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Recherche littéraire / Literary Research

Automne / Fall 2020


Edited By Marc Maufort

Julie K. Allen, Eugene L. Arva, Jean Bessière, Helena Carválho Buescu, Vanessa Byrnes, Chloé Chaudet, Yves Clavaron, Christophe Den Tandt, Catherine Depretto., Theo D’haen, Caius Dobrescu, Dong Yang, Brahim El Guabli, Nikki Fogle, Gerald Gillespie, Kathleen Gyssels, Oliver Harris, Sándor Hites, Michelle Keown, S Satish Kumar, Jacques Marx, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Jopi Nyman, David O'Donnell, Liedeke Plate, Judith Rauscher, Haun Saussy, Karen-Margrethe Simonsen, Chris Thurman, Anne Williams, Janet M. Wilson, Chantal Zabus, Gang Zhou

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Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, eds. Historizing the Dream / Le Rêve du point de vue historique. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2019. Pp. 463. ISBN: 9783826067389. (Caius Dobrescu)

Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, eds. Historizing the Dream / Le Rêve du point de vue historique. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2019. Pp. 463. ISBN: 9783826067389.

Caius Dobrescu

Bucharest University

It would seem that, over the last few years, the University of Saarland has aspired to become the center überhaupt for studying the dream from diverse perspectives not anchored in the authority of natural sciences. The University’s Graduiertenkolleg “Europäische Traumkulturen,” generously (and rightly so) funded by DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, German Research Community), is a living proof of this thriving multidisciplinary program. Saarbrücken thus becomes a center of dialog between most of the arts and humanities scholars studying the dream in Germany as well as some of the best international specialists in the field. This very visible intellectual effervescence ( is actually the continuation of another vast research project, initiated, under the aegis of the International Comparative Literature Association, by two professors from the University of Saarland, Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel: The Research Committee Dream Cultures: The Cultural and Literary History of Dream (, which was active between 2013 and 2019.

We could easily gauge the satisfaction of the ICLA yearly vetting of its research committees by considering the quantity and substance of the volumes published to this date. After detecting the poetics and stylistics susceptible of having been distilled from, or of overtly or insidiously shaping the dream, in the collective volume Writing the Dream / Écrire le rêve, published in 2017, and after surveying, in the 2018 Theorizing the Dream / Savoirs et théories du rêve, conceptual-expressive accretions ←205 | 206→that signal an articulate and deliberate reflection on the origins, nature, functions, consequences of dreaming, in 2019 the indefatigable Dieterle and Engel edited an equally massive volume dedicated this time to Historizing the Dream / Le rêve du point de vue historique.

A layman to the project, judging only by the above-quoted titles, would probably consider that a historical perspective could not have been avoided for the two previous volumes as well. It stands to reason that any collection of studies addressing the avatars of the écriture or of theory related to dream would be, even if not advertised as such, inherently historical, or “historizing.” But we have to admit in all editorial honesty that clear-cut thematic boundaries are in general difficult to come by, and would be far more so when scouting oneiric territories. On the other hand, the implicit, practically inescapable historical perspective on a subject matter is of a logical and epistemological order different from the specific treatment not only of historical occurrences, but also of “history” and “historicity” as such. And this is very much how the two editors organized the curated essays: namely, around strategically different understandings of the notion placed in the pole position of the (English) title: “historizing.”

The main understandings of the notion are reflected in the partition of the table of contents in a “Synchronic / Synchronique” and a “Diachronic / Diachronique” sections. While the association of historicity with the diachronic is highly intuitive, given that history is basically understood as a sequence of events, synchronicity might appear a bit misplaced in the context. But only to those who omit that what we perceive as historical is not necessarily an unfolding of sorts, but also the intrication of cultural codes that let a more or less distant epoch (or chronotope) appear as clearly distinct from our own. In this second sense, historizing the dream means inserting / entangling / weaving dreams back into their finely textured original cultural context. And this is indeed how the “Synchronicity” section works. The cultural reconstruction is meant to function as a dream-catcher, placing the investigated texts at an intersection of cultural, stylistic, social, ideological, political specificities that strongly suggest a given historical “bubble.”

Nevertheless, the distribution of the essays according to a standard (and assumedly global) chronology might seem a little self-subverting with respect to the intentions of the editors (made explicit in the introduction, but also in the fact that, on the back cover, they list all the authors discussed in the volume in a purely alphabetical order that manifestly ←206 | 207→defies any preordained temporal axis). The structure of the contents also follows a rather conventional cast of “antiquity.” In spite of the temporal abysm that separates them, the Sumerians and Romans might not argue against being placing in a closed horizon, as they would be comforted by the remarkable quality of the studies dedicated to the subtle connections between their recorded dreams, their religious sensitivity, and their sense of power, studies authored by Annette Zgoll and, respectively, by Gregor Weber. But things may turn quite differently, for instance, for the Chinese, summoned to illustrate a “classical” civilizational area, through the dream encounters in four novels that extend from 1300 to 1800 (The Plum in the Golden Vase; Tang Xuanzu’s The Peony Pavilion; Wang Shifu’s Romance of the Western Chamber; Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber). The deep knowledge of these texts exhibited by Johannes D. Kaminski allows him to present evolutions in sensitivity and mentality that clearly warn against taking at face value imperial China’s own immutable vision of itself. A temptation the editors do not seem to have resisted, when including Kaminski’s sophisticated historical account into the “Synchronism” section. The temporal conundrum does not end here: there is no explicit rationale for relegating China exclusively to some global state of premodernity (not fully distinct from an extended “antiquity” or “classicality”), without further discussing the impact of its modernization(s) on its dream culture. There might be a perfectly reasonable and practical reason for this decision, but the reader should not be left to his / her own speculations on the matter.

Further on, the core of the first section illustrates a standard cultural chronology that successively appends Middle-Age, Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Realism, Modernism. In general, the case studies proposed by the contributors are treated as beads on a thread, in accord to the “Synchronicity” label. But methodology can never be as disciplined as we would wish it. Therefore, the two successive essays authored by Manfred Engel, covering the (West-)European 19th century, represent perhaps the most eloquent example in the book of treating history diachronically, as a process, rather than synchronically, as a comprehensive structure. Taken together, the two chapters, “Enlightenment and Romanticism – the Psychological Fall and the Imaginative Rise of ›Big‹ Dreams” and “Dreams in 19th-Century Realist Narrative Fiction,” reconstruct, through a number of careful textual analyses, a large process of oscillation (a possible cultural equivalent of an economic Kondratieff cycle), from the dominant rationalism of the 18th ←207 | 208→century that tends to stultify all non-natural interpretations of dreams, to the Romantic resurrection of “natural supranaturalism,” and then, in a second move, to a new wave of “realistic” reluctance towards Romantic spiritualism. This very nuanced and polyfaceted perspective on change seems naturally prolonged into (West-European) literary modernity by Bernard Dieterle’s contribution on “Le rêve et les paradis artificiels.” Placed at a considerable distance, (it marks the end of the “Diachronic” section, and thereby, of the whole book), this essay tracks the dialectics of naturalistic and non-naturalistic visions on the dream (i.e. the interplay between dream, memory, and the use of hallucinogens) from Thomas de Quincey to Henri Michaux.

Highly interesting is the illustration of the last section of the historical template underlining the “Synchronic.” The choice of a contribution focusing on African francophone literature, and of an essay on “Indigenous contemporary drama” (i.e. written by “First Nations” authors of different parts of the Commonwealth, but especially from New Zealand) may seem primarily as a bow to political correctness meant to attenuate an all too Eurocentric general perspective. But the complex analyses of represented dreams as cultural forms of negotiating between ancestral mythologies and modernity by Tumba Shango Lokoho (for the African case) and Marc Maufort (for Oceania) decidedly disperse this impression. Actually, by trusting the representation of the post-modern epoch to these “eccentric” cultural areas, the editors both collected two remarkable essays on short circuiting the European sense of historical succession (Maufort hypothesizes on reading magical realism as a general expression of this process), but also consolidated their non-teleological tenet on historizing, through the subtle analogies the modern cases scrutinized by Shango Lokoho and Maufort entertain with some of the ancient literary-cultural instantiations of dream and dreaming that open the “Synchronic” section.

While the French version of the title does not pose immediate semantic dilemmas, the use of “historizing” over the more common “historicizing” elicits the heightened attention of the reader. The two are mostly synonymous and refer to recreating a historical context, or looking at things from a historical point de vue, but “historizing” may additionally refer, pertaining to context, to the fact, and allegedly the manner of telling a story. Among Romance languages, Romanian seems best positioned to render this synonymy, since it derives from history / istorie the verb a istorisi, literally meaning raconter une histoire (to wit, ←208 | 209→des histoires). Therefore, we have to take into account another semantic split: “historizing” as an analytical and hermeneutical process undergone by the critic, vs. “historizing” as the very praxis of “telling” one’s dream in a given space and at a given time. Can the personal imprint (that would help us put “story” back into historizing) be detected within the greater trans-personal interaction of discourses generating different cultures of dream? Many contributions answer positively to this challenge, through their focus on specific works and authors not perceived as automatic illustrations of cultural “systems.” Given the distance in time and space, Dorothy Figueira’s empathetic recovery of the intensely personal element of dreaming in Sanskrit drama and poetry is particularly remarkable. A quick mention can barely do justice to similar efforts of detecting the marks of a personal historizing of the dream in German medieval verse narrative (Agnes Karpinski), the sonnets of Italian Renaissance (Dietrich Scholler), Austrian relations on the 1683 Ottoman Siege of Vienna (Andreas Bähr). The most existentially charged approach, which brings to an extreme literariness the idea of historizing as traumatic penetration of “history” into the deepest oneiric fiber of human consciousness and corporeality, is Christiane Solte-Gresser “Cauchemars d’après-guerre: Approches d’une poétique concentrationnaire (1953–1963).” The most spectacular contribution, exposing the manner in which dream could become an individual (even if much larger than life) project and method of collecting the historical memory of mankind is Gerald Gillespie’s exploration of the multi-labyrinthine Finnegans Wake.

Let us stress, while nearing the conclusions, that the ramifications of the meanings of historizing, and subsequently of “history” are not limited to the “Synchronic” section. The “Diachronic” one, even if covering a mere fourth of the whole contents, still exposes clearly distinct understandings of the central operational concept. Murat Ates attempts to circumscribe “oneiric existence” through a kind of debate between Plato and Nietzsche, which indicates a traditional sense of Geistesgeschichte implying a virtual (con)sequence of ideas transcending the contingencies of factual history / historicities. Marlen Schneider analyzes the Baroque through romantic pictorial representations of the biblical dream motive of Jacob’s ladder in rather epistemic terms, through the lenses of a progressive advancement of secularism. Meanwhile, Ricarda Schmidt’s “Ideal, Conflict, Destruction: Lovers’ Dreams in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries” favors an approach closer to the histoire des sentiments of the Annales School.

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The ambiguities between Synchronic and Diachronic aside, the volume edited by Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel is remarkable through its state of the art case studies, its simultaneous explorations of possible understandings of “historizing,” and last but not least, through its interdisciplinarity and even tentative multimediality (two of the contributions suggest a future opening of the “Dream Cultures” project towards film history: Caroline Frank’s piece on Surrealist cinema, and Julian Lucks’ study of dreams in Contemporary US TV Series, focused on The Sopranos – to the indubitable delight of its many die-hard fans). It is also true that the choice of cultural areas sidestages the usual zones blanches of western mental maps, such as eastern Europe (present strictly through the observation that Romanticism “caught up only slowly and much later in France and other Romanic countries, and in Eastern Europe,” 167). But, on a sincere and confraternal note, would anyone be seriously surprised by such omission(s)?

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