Electric Dreams

Topics in Dreamwork Series 

 Dreams and Surrealism

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 April). Topics in Dreamwork Series : Dreams and Surrealism. Electric Dreams 4(4). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

"Whoever wants to be creative in good and evil, he must first be an annihilator and destroy values." - Friedreich Nietzsche

For many of us, when Surrealism is mentioned the image that generally come to mind is the liquid melting clocks of Salvador Dali. But In Europe, Surrealism was also a social , political, and poetic human liberation movement that championed the dream.

"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." -Rousseau in _Social Contract_

Like the Romantics before them, the Surrealists saw that the reasonable and rational held out a limited view for mankind, and that rationality, reality and religion had so choked our options for experience that all the marvels and significance of being were missed. Andre Breton, the father of Surrealism within the Modernist movement, drew together this Romantic spirit with the new leftist politics and the discoveries of psychoanalysis. "(Reality) revolves in a cage from which from which release is becoming increasingly difficult." (Brenton as quoted by Kelly, 1994)

The solution was the development of practices that challenged the old order and offered the new in the cast out forms of madness, social anarchy, disobedience, the shocking and the absurd. However, this anarchy was never anything more than a temporary technique for merging the social and the aesthetic, the dayworld and the nightworld the sane with the insane. Waking and dreaming reality were to come together in Surreality.

In Surreality, the role of dreams was to usher in the astonishing and open up to new possibilities. As Breton once said considering the amount of time we spend in dreams and waking like, that there is "disproportionate attention to waking life." (Kelly, pg 37) The dream is seen as offering a challenge in ushering in the marvelous. The search was to be a synthesis of dream and waking in Surreality, neither a compliance to conventional reality nor a retreat into dreamland.

Sadly, Surrealism itself went the way of many Modernist movements, it became formalized and choked in its own institutions. Breton's contacts with Freud were not particularly productive and Breton's analysis of his own dreams fail to bring to bear the wonderful spirit of surreality offered in other realms.

But the spirit of the movement has endured and has widely influenced not only postmodern philosophy and practice in Europe but offered itself as a kindred spirit of the human potential movements in the Americas in the 1960's that also began to see the reality being served by the mainstream culture as limiting, repressive and dangerous.

How then can we approach the dream so as to liberate the marvelous on one hand without sinking into complete unreality on the other? Akhter Ahsen, a contemporary proponent of Surrealism, offers some modern perspectives and techniques on dreams and imagery that may begin to give up a clue to the Surrealist Experiment.

From Ahsen in _New Surrealism, The Liberation of Images In Consciousness_ :

"One gets up in the morning and the eyes are still heavy with sleep. One opens up the eyes and the light comes in so strong that one dives back into sleep to avoid the traumatic impact of impassive reality.

The impassive reality can be so traumatic that the mind learns to withdraw from it. The passivity of an unmoving reality is anti-mind. When you look, the things stay there, nothing moves. But the mind wants to move. That is the contradiction. And if the mind has already been bombarded and constrained by replicas of immovable mental objects, dogmas and frozen belief systems, then where is the original movements of the mind manifested? Where is the original face of reality and its strength revealed? Where is the original face of reality and its strength revealed? How can we get there?" (p118-119)

Exercise: Let us see how some of Ahsen's imagery exercises might be applied to dreams to bring up back into contact with surreality and contact this original face.

A. Look at something static in your room, a bookcase or door. Watch it for about a half a minute and return your attention to it if you drift. Note the dullness and umovingness of this outer reality.

B. Now pick a dream.

1. Pick an image in a dream and hold it in your mind. If you begin to wander, bring the image back again and again for about a half a minute.

2. Locate the part of the image that pleases you the most and repeatedly bring this part of the image back into you mind.

3. Note the place of the image within your awareness, and how the image seems to be inside the mind.

4. Compare the image to the outer image you had. Which is more pleasurable? The outside boring world or the new freshness of the inner image?

5. Which part of the dream image gives you a feeling of beauty? Explore for a moment the beautiful aspects of the image.

6. Which part of the image gives you a feeling of power? What is the source of this power and how does the dream image reflect this power? How might it be developed?

7. Now hold this dream image again in your mind a few seconds and them look at the outside world. Has the outside world now brighten up as a result? Note how attention on the inner imagination can make the outer world look more interesting.

8. Experiment with bringing into your dream image various people in your waking life. Note how bringing them into the image, looking at them in detail and then viewing them again in the outer world changes the way we view them.

Though Ahsen sees to miss the point that we are in the imagination as much as the imagination being in us, his delightful array of imagery techniques (this being but one of hundreds he offers) still work to bring out the idea the we can valorize dreamland imagery without getting lost it in, and that there is place of exchange between the waking and dreaming world that offers us tremendous sources of creativity and new possibilities in creation of our own Surreality.

Surrealism is popular on the Net, probably due to the cross-categorical rebelliousness and free spiritedness. Here are a few starter sites

The Web Directory:


Usenet: Newsgroups: alt.surrealism alt.postmodern


+Ahsen, Akhter (1992a). The Method of prolucid dreaming. Journal of Mental Imagery, 16(1&2), Spring/Summer, 3-13.
+--------. (1992b). Prolucid dreaming: A content analysis approach to dreams. Journal of Mental Imagery, 16(1&2), Spring/Summer, 15-84.
-+-------. (1992c). Prolucid perspectives: Alternate physiologies, myths as filters, and essences. Journal of Mental Imagery, 16(1&2), Spring/Summer, 185-227.
+--------. (1991). Imagery and consciousness: Putting together poetic, mythic and social realities. Journal of Mental Imagery, 15(1&2), 63-96.
+--------. (1986). Prologue to unvividness paradox. Journal of Mental Imagery, 10(1), 1-8.
+--------. (1986). New surrealist manifesto: Interlocking of sanity and insanity. Journal of Mental Imagery, 10(2), 1-32.
+Alcuaz, Marie de (1985). Contemporary idioms of surrealism. Dreamworks, 4(1), 1984-85, 59-69.
+Bulkeley, Kelly (1994a). The Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

+--------. (1993). Dreaming is play. _Psychoanalytic Psychology_, 10:(4), 501-515.

+David, Fredereick B. (1973). Three letters from Sigmund Freud to André Breton. American Psychoanalysis Association Journal, 21(1), 127-134.