Charles Rycroft. The Innocence of Dreams (1979)
As a society, we set such high value on verbal and written expression of language. Outside the artists environment of art and poetry, little attention is made to the interpretations of dreams or other forms of unconscious communication, seeing them perhaps on the one hand irrational, imagined symbols, against the other, the rational language, the world of the grounded and realistic. Of course we are all communicating in both these ways, creative interplay is rife, and as an artist and psychotherapist, it is I who wants to document this process of where image becomes language.
Our dreams, which I shall call creative imaginings that we present to the world, are free from conscious manipulation; they are where we wish to be, what we wish for or hope to be or not to be. They are places we once knew, or states we would want for are imagined, a place to share with people we love and warn against places we might find ourselves with those we wouldn’t want to be with. Imagination can be interpreted as an awake version of dreams experienced in sleep. We lose the ability too recognise the importance of these affective messages as images or symbols; these messages free from the veils of our defence.
Rather than sleeping dreams, this project consists of gaining insight from the visual representations of hypnagogia and hynopompic experience. It is the realisation of images that emerge from a dream-state, those images that might appear while falling asleep or images immediately accessed upon awakening. This ‘threshold consciousness’ as it is known, can be described as a point at which ego boundaries are loosened; it could be described as when one might have more openness to sensitivity or to be in a state of a more heightened suggestibility. It has long been thought that the hypnagogic state can provide insight into a problem. The best-known example being August Kekulé’s realisation that the structure of benzene was a closed ring while half-asleep in front of a fire and seeing molecules forming into snakes, one of which grabbed its tail in its mouth. Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors—including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton, have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.
These creative imaginings can be used to allude to ideas, narratives, recollections and feelings. During these transitional states, this semblance of undefended imagination, as they travel from unconscious to a pre-conscious state, loose the capacity for reality testing - they are initially seen as hallucinations, however there is within them an act of knowingness, a display with indifference that is uncontaminated by self conscious will.
The self-portrait is a way of observing these phenomena that we make for ourselves. These images, freely associate and to an extent are free from defence, (which may come into play to disown responsibility), they create an opportunity to get more of an objective look on our innermost feelings. To be, in the words of Rycroft, ‘a momentary glimpses of the dreamers total imaginative fabric, glimpses into the fabric, where are woven all memories, expectations, wishes and fears’. (p. xi)
There is an aspect to these images that are alien to me, that they are my dream-self as someone other than myself. Initially there is no connection; they could not possibly reveal anything of myself. They are as aspects of myself that hasn’t yet been assimilated into myself. Jung, Calvin Hall and others have recommended that dreams should be studied not singly, but in a series.
These unassimilated parts of self are sent for assessment, a form of fractured objectivity about oneself. If these individual images have any meaning or message, then the way these messages are communicated must apply to the process as well. A self-conception process begins; enhanced by making others witness these un-assimilated parts, (as we do in therapy), a way of discovering different aspects, or symbols, that are not initially understood.
Freud would describe dreaming more in terms of hallucinations, a mechanism to repress wishes. The symbols produced would be described as a neurotic symptom, created from this repressive agency. The two distinct types of mental functioning where Freud described as primary and secondary processes - the primary process being characterised by condensation, displacement and symbolisation, the secondary process being governed by logic, speech and language. These primary processes described by Freud are a mode of thinking very different from conscious thinking, they are the mechanisms of the unconscious mind; they are both primitive and archaic. The internal agency would distort, repress dream imagery into unrecognisable and generally unrecognisable parts, this agency he called the censor and later the super ego.
Condensation and displacement are the prime mechanisms of the primary process, these are no more than wish-fulfilment hallucinations and are, according to Freud, characteristic of unconscious thinking. Condensation is where two or more images are fused together to create effectively a composite, who’s meaning is from both. It is common for people to be fused, often with aspects of self and others. When an object or feeling is displaced on to something it symbolises or refers obliquely to something else, becoming a symbolic substitute. Displacement is the process of symbol formation; it can also represent creations of figures of speech such as a metaphor in language.
If in `Freud’s terms dreams are the product of a neurosis, then all daydreamers are neurotic. The question arises, what is it within the artist accesses these symbols is able to use artistic expression to act as such a representation of the human condition, without implying that it is simply the pathology of the creator. It is this lack of image integration of these un-integrated parts that in our imagination resembles our dreams.
So a dream to Freud was a repressed wish that was veiled, to produce manifest content from latent content, an interpretation was needed; to unscramble these bit-parts and distortions imposed on by the censor. Free association is the technique Freud used to access this latent content. By following the first line of communication or idea in the analytical situation the journey to manifest content begins. The translated content from this primarily visual content expressed in discourse Freud called secondary revision.
The Jungian term for secondary revision would be amplification. Jung placed more importance on dreams and considered them as much a product of the dreamer as of the collective unconscious. The fractured images re-combined, fragments from external images, along with universally occurring experience. He also considered us dreaming continually while awake, the chatter of consciousness simply drowning them out. More to do with psycho-physical rearrangements and integration, than with hallucinatory gratification and of repressed wishes that Freud believed. But what of the creative imagination of the viewer? These images create transference between the image and the viewer and as a series, the part objects can be formed into a more rounded picture, they become part of the combined experience projected on to the photograph. This combined knowledge is a mental picture created of the intersubjective space between the object and viewer. By observing the narrative, over time, discerning meaning from previous work; this becomes the knowledge that underpins future interpretations.
Connection between creative imagination and dreaming long recognised by writers and artists themselves however legitimate to discuss the nature of this relationship. This project can seen as a fusion of concepts of images ideas, (condensation) replaced by language (displacement) and symbolising other representing another symbolisation in the presence of the viewer, observing the relationship between these two selves in dialogue, the unconscious revealing, the transition to consciousness, the narrative of primary processes becoming of communication to secondary processes.
The self-portraits I produce are not dreams, however they come from this place of half-light, as an intra-personal communication, a communication between two aspects of the same person. These could be seen as messages from one part - self to the other, symbolic messages. Interpretation could bring an intuitive understanding of these metaphors and symbols, a reflexive mental activity, one part observing, one of reflecting upon; an internal discussion with objectivity. To amplify or create a secondary revision, analysis of these images becomes text and this is used to make a set of statements about a combined narrative, a constructed metaphor, the project becomes an interpersonal communication when assessed.
Biography imagined, becomes a shared biographical experience.
Spencer Rowell 2012
Spencer Rowell 2012