Political Dreams

February 18, 2020 at 12:34 pm (By Amba) (, )

When the public sphere floods your night head you know you are “living in interesting times” and there is no escape.

The New Yorker recently ran an article whose SEO (search engine optimization) title is “How Dreams Change under Authoritarianism.” (I can’t find its print title, so I’ll resist a digression on how the internet sucks all the art and wit out of writing titles and turns them into dull labels.) The article is about an out-of-print book, published in English translation in 1968, called The Third Reich of Dreams: The Nightmares of a Nation, 1933-1939. The author, Charlotte Beradt, was not a psychoanalyst, simply a writer who collected 300+ dreams of apprehension and dread from friends and acquaintances before she made it to New York in 1939.

A small shopkeeper in Vienna dreamt that the lamp in the corner of his room suddenly began to talk, repeating to the police every sentence that he had ever uttered against the Government, every political joke he had told.

(To think that we complacently invite just such “talking lamps” into our homes—Alexa!! It’s not even a stretch to imagine them put to work as household spies surveilling and betraying us. They already keep dossiers of our consumer choices and personal vulnerabilities. Only that last hook-up between the tech corp and the government is unfinished . . . and Zuck is working on it.)

Learning more about this book led to the discovery that there is a Museum of Dreams in London, Ontario, “a hub for exploring the social and political significance of dream-life.” Its founder, Sharon Sliwinski, published her own book in 2018 called Dreaming in Dark Times. Her conviction is that dreams can (again, as they did for our tribal ancestors) reveal truth in times of confusion and denial, and provide insight and guidance not only to individual dreamers but to the community:

[T]he disclosure of dream-life represents a form of unconscious thinking that can serve as a potent brand of political intervention and a means for resisting sovereign power. 

How about that! Show me yours and I’ll show you mine and we can call it Resistance!

Reading the dreams of people under the rising Nazis makes you realize that comparisons of our situation to theirs are still hyperbolic. But does anyone really doubt anymore that “it could happen here” (and has, if you’re not white), that we are on a road that leads there for many more of us if we don’t get off it ASAP, and that we’ve trusted in institutions to protect us that are far weaker than we thought they were?

I’ll show you mine, and maybe you’ll show me some of yours in the comments. Maybe we can get a read on the truth of our predicament.

This dream of a grove of tree trunks with their branches and leaves (and the sky) sealed off by a crude concrete ceiling, cemented out of sight—trees painfully choked off from their own upper reaches—seemed to me a political dream though there is nothing overtly political in it. I still don’t know how to “read” it. Any thoughts?

Yesterday Twitter was flooded with posts on the hashtag #PresidentWarren, a vigorous pushback against the media’s “erasure” of candidate Warren. Like most such tweetstorms, it was clearly orchestrated and coordinated, yet some unknown proportion of the participants also seemed sincere. It’s hard to tell the operatives from those who are there in all innocence. Anyway it was effective in blasting Warren back onto the radar and creating the perception that she still has lots of ardent, enthusiastic support. (This morning there’s no sign that the mainstream media noticed.) (UPDATE: One day later, they noticed.)

So I dreamt of a cityscape that looked like a Maurice Sendak children’s-book illustration—something like the city skyline of baking soda boxes in In the Night Kitchen, in cozy brownstone colors. In this cityscape, Elizabeth Warren’s already largish figure was to be cut out, made larger still, and reinserted into the scene so that she would stand out more—if not quite bestride the city like a colossus, a political Godzilla. I was somehow to be one of the participants in this effort, or at least an implicated bystander, and I was very confused about whether it was a good thing or not. Clearly you could do that, you’d better do it if you wanted to be visible at all . . . but should you, really?

My best political dream to date, in terms of giving me heart, was more than a year ago, maybe even two. I thought I wrote about it, but that was probably on Facebook.

I was out shopping, carrying some bundles and a paper cone of flowers, and I had to pee. I stopped in a deserted corner of some mall or train station or bus terminal or Starbucks and went into one of those big one-person, all-gender, family-and-wheelchair bathrooms. Sitting on the john and reading a magazine, I fell asleep in the dream.

I woke up and Donald Trump was looming over me.

He had on a cheap-looking royal-blue suit—it could have been an expensive suit but it still looked cheap—and a red tie. His face was flushed (or blushed), his eyes were a hot blue and his expression was challenging and overbearing. There was no iota of a #MeToo situation. His intent was simply to intimidate.

I was not intimidated. He was ridiculous. I would have burst out laughing if I weren’t so annoyed at the intrusion and incredulous at his rude bloody nerve. I rolled up the magazine and started whacking him with it, shouting with every blow, “GET – OUT – OF – HERE! . . . GET – OUT!!”

I kept on whacking him until he slunk out the door.

I woke up lighthearted, freed from the burden of fearing or even hating Trump. He is a joke. I remain very afraid, but not of him—of the forces that are filling him like a poisoned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and using him (as long as he’s useful) as the front and figurehead for their takeover.

(Credit where credit is due: this dream may have been enabled by Nancy Pelosi, at one of their early meetings, shaking her finger in his face.)


  1. wj said,

    On my phone, there is a “feature” which offers to complete a word once it is partially typed. Sometimes it offers a phrase based on the (assumed) first word.
    Apparently my brain does something similar. I read “President Warren” and it just automatically completed the phrase to “President Warren G Harding”. Which says something about what too much knowledge of history does to you.

    Unrelated: I have never been able to see why anyone would want to use some of this new stuff to do everything at home online. And tie anything and everything I own into a network — one based, not on a home server but off somewhere on a cloud server which I don’t control. Privacy apparently is an outmoded concept. Perhaps it will remain so . . . until a bunch of people discover just how much can happen to them because they exposed their entire life to anyone who could access what they assumed (based on absolutely nothing) was a private computer system.

  2. amba12 said,

    Convenience is such a drug, not to mention novelty and gadgetry (adults have become toddlers, mesmerized by screens and squalling for new toys, with no parent to check them), that people are willing to discard what one might once have thought were deeply held values to obtain them.

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