Electric Dreams

Becoming Nightmare, the Rhizomatics of Dreaming

 Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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  Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 Oct). Becoming Nightmare, the Rhizomatics of Dreaming. Electric Dreams 7(10). Retrieved December 31, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

There is a lot of jargon in this file that may be cleared up if you read my article on Deleuze and Guattari's postmodern philosophy,



Signs and Subject, all well greased and in place. All social/familial taboos in operation. All tasks of production and consumption completed and finally Brian goes to sleep. Some time later that night Brian awakes, too frightened to scream, heart pounding and he is on some kind of roller coaster ride in a land without gravity. Brian just had a nightmare.

There has been a break in the flow and the insertion of a nightmare machine in the factory of the unconscious. It shreds its way through signification (what is what) and subjectification (who is who). The usual codes have unraveled, and the flow of de-coded signs circulate in things that are only themselves. Brian' ears are red and buzzing, and he wonders why they are on his foot. He hears a old voice of a therapist asking what he thinks the ear on the foot represents, and now he knows the therapist must be mad, speaking about what the falling mast might mean symbolically as another wave pushes his ship under the swell. Both a breakthrough and a breakdown of a world that revolves around the subject. Now the subject is whirled around. Around may not be the right word, as around implies a center and there is no center here.

Standard wisdom dictates that we move away from offensive and frightening scenes. These reactions keep us out of trouble, keep our hands from being burned by the stove, keep germs off our food, keep our bones from being broken by cars and cliffs. However, this aversion reaction also keeps us in line and in alignment with early training that may no longer be valid. Taboos may be said to function in the same way. There are boundaries we are taught not to transgress, or there will be Hell to pay. But were these boundaries put into place by a perfect parent, guardian or teacher? Unlikely. And in a society whose parameters and values change at an unparalleled pace, one's value programs need to be upgraded more than once a generation.

In fact, this is the classic definition of the neurotic. The neurotic is a person who encounters offensive, frightening scenes and backs away. But they keep backing away until there is no further back to go, becoming deeply compressed within themselves, and no longer venturing out the front door, no longer touching anything without washing their hands, no longer peering over steep cliffs.

Societies too become neurotic, become paranoid, and then begin trying to control everything, the media, the way children are raised, what we eat and drink, who we talk to. Modern societies have tried to do away with these tyrannical systems, but in doing so have not replaced them with anything, and so our values have become confused, conflicted, fickle. One group tries to save trees, and tries to save the jobs so they can feed their family. The higher, synthetic truth that will bring together opposites is harder and harder to find. When people don't have an inner value to call on, they look around, see what the neighbors are doing, and follow suite. There is no real inner status, so outward signs of status become important.

Dreamworkers have always been aware of this condition of the retreating self/society and the machines that keep it in place. Spiritual dreamwork discusses these issues in terms of enlightenment and salvation. That is, there is a veil of illusion we call our lives, and the paths that allow us to transcend these illusions. Psychological dreamwork discusses these illusions in terms of neurosis and psychosis, and the appropriate level of challenges and supports are set up to allow the individual to make choices from places other than overwhelming affective/emotional states. Postmodern dreamwork addresses these illusions more as social constructs and looks for ways to subvert repressive forces and open up creative lines of escape. In this view, the nightmare is not something for the subject to escape from, but a path to escape the neurotic subject.


What are those gaps in the dream, those shifting scenes of the dream?

The self passes through various states as it (they) rolls around the body without organs. Some of these states are quite discontinuous. Freud and Jung both addressed this discontinuity. They knew it was more than a lapse in brain activation.

Interestingly, recently, the REM theory of dreaming collapsed. In 1953, Aserinsky, a grad student of Nathaniel Kleitmann, found that when you waken a person whose eyes were moving rapidly during sleep, they tended to recall dreams. Eventually the REM cycle was found to be fairly regular and that it activated parts of the neo-cortex through fairly random neural bursts. Since then, Alan Hobson and his friends have insisted that dreaming is simply the sleepy mind dealing with these random firings and gaps are times when there are pauses in this activation.

Over the last few years, a whole new picture began to emerge from the studies of a neurosurgeon who followed the dreams of patients with brain damage. Mark Solms noted that the activation sequences that the brain needed to dream (or more accurately, to recall dreams) was *independent* of the REM activation. Oh, REM brain stem activation got this new Dream-On sequence going at times ( a spiral like activation that cycles through our motivation centers, our spacio-temporal-imaginal centers, our higher visual centers) but so did other things, and once activated, it follows its own independent activation.

But all these notions seemed dated, or limited, when considered within a Deleuzio-guattarian engagement. Molar aggregates scrape and fight about territory all the time, and when this occurs over millions of years, brain structures get pushed to the limit and turn into revolutions.

Dream discontinuity here becomes more a matter of intersecting lines disrupting the subject of the conjunctive synthesis. At least from the point of view of the body without organs.

The body without organs. Imagine a body that has not been organized into brains, hearts, genitals, legs, arms, skin. A body like this has no real interior, there are just flows, almost a perverse polymorphic distribution of intensities that offer a smooth surface around which the dynamics of the subjects, the objects, the affects, the cognitions, the forces of production and consumption travel, not in paths where the end is known, but in partial paths, in trajectories. An egg, crisscrossed by forces, dynamics, vectors. As we approach the surface of this egg, the intensity drops to zero and everything begins to slide.

In waking life, the ego uses narrative bridges to compensate for this discontinuity. Even when we wake up, the technique for learning dream recall is journalling.

But when sleeping, the access to the neurotransmitters that allow identity structures to rigidly hold together and produce grids, thereby reterritorializing dominate cultural axiomatics, disappear. That is, the dream state is full of narratives and subjects, feelings and thoughts, repressions and productions, and these work in a way that is unfamiliar to the subject, who upon waking may recall a "dream" but in fact is only recalling the last slice, the one it can identify as a story.

Disjunctions appear as gaps between dreams because the subject relates to them from its experiential story-frame. Deterritorializations may be experienced as apocalyptic or may be seen as loss of consciousness. Each dream story, while it is being produced, is like a child playing on a train track, and a track at the intersection of an infinite vortices. The subject consumes the dream as narrative, but can only rarely use that narrative structure to reterritorialize its identity. Again, probably due on the bio-chemical level to the dissolving or wavy grid of control that occurs during dreaming. (Interestingly activated first by the very spot that leucotomies -earlier called lobotomies - are performed, ie dopamine, active-producing, connecting, interest-producing, action-producing, desiring centers).

Gaps in the Dream. Freud saw them as a cover-up, but one in which a sharp mind could follow back by association, to a source. Oedipus gouging out his eyes, then retracing his steps of the crime. Whether one goes for the theory of being able to recover authorial intention or not, the process, free association, did emerge as a skill by which the subject could begin to produce his/her own streams and lines of escape.

Jung, in his charming Hegelian way, saw the gap as a portal being held open by two unreconcilable opposites, two things that the ego just could not let go of, yet could not have, two horrors, two beasts in eternal struggle for one reality they could never both inhabit. Through this portal held by the struggle emerged the uncanny transcendent.

OK, perhaps its just another tyrant awakening in the desert and slinking off to Bethlehem, but when the dream becomes one of many sites where the intolerable may first occur to us, where the molar limit produces molecular cracks and bleeds the brood of the night, then here is a factory that produces the un-containable rupture across which the nomad may skate.


Like desire (and madness) dreams seem to be the most powerful when they bring us into contact with radical otherness. Daniel brings Nebruchanezer into contact with a dream that transforms the religions of Babylon. Joseph brings Pharaoh into contact with a dream that alters the state of Egypt. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written after a Robert Lewis Stevenson encounters his own Hyde in a dream. Freud and Jung encounter desire and madness in dreams and create and alter the course of psychotherapy.
This radical otherness is better characterized as a continual process of becoming other, which begins in the desire to escape bodily limitations. These limitations can be both cultural as well as natural. To regress back to representations for a moment, in dreams we often find ourselves up against our own cultural and psychophysical limit-expectations. We stop at red lights in our car in a dream. We open dream doors. We walk upstairs and eat meals. Yet in other dreams we fly, we breath water, we walk through walls, men become women, we can be several identities at once, we become animals and crooks, we have sex with taboo people and inanimate objects.
And perhaps most radically, we stop being we. I am not the center of my dream, but just one trajectory intersecting the dream.

*zzzzz* Desire as productive, creating breaks in the flow and connecting one desiring machine to another.

*zzzzz* Dreams/nightmares as productive, and what they are producing and how does this work? Careful, does each dream produce a singularity, or can we abstract and generalize since we have all been caught in the same habits of western culture?

*zzzzz* Dreams/nightmares in their different phases of deterritorialization of subjective space, their territorialization of brain space, the teterritorialization of ?

*zzzzz* If you must remain psychoanlaytic, how about a slight shift? Instead of seeing nightmares as a failure of the censor, what happens if we posit that the nightmare is a deflection of something so ungraspable that it can only be said to be a successful censoring of that experience.

*zzzzz* Dreams/Nightmares as ruptures between the binary thinking of conscious/unconscious, wake/sleep, aware/not aware, here/not here?

*zzzzz* What might have young Felix or Gilles have thought to themselves when they first had to tackle Descartes Dream problem about reality and knowing?

*zzzzz* How might the dream/nightmare be seen as a co-patriot of disfamiliarization?

In ancient Delphi, people would sleep on the steps of the temple of Apollo, seeking (incubating) the dream that would allow them access to the oracle inside. Mythically, this access to the truth was a later imposition of Apollo on a pre-Greek people who practiced dance and rites that were assigned by the Greeks to Dionysos. Pan is one of his entourage and was said to have taught Apollo dream work at Delphi. In the Dionysian groups, the questions or problems, if that is what they really were, were danced along the hillsides and meadows and involved transformations in ecstasy. This moving-into may be distinguished from Apollo's seeing-from afar. With the dominance of Apollo, the dramas were all contained in the amphitheater and the ecstasies relocated to the dream (and the one oracle, who was imprisoned in the center of the temple and surrounded by the priests who did all the interpreting of visions and dreams). This same set-up was found in the cult of Asklepios (Aesculapius in Latin). At these popular dream healing sanctuaries the amphitheater was ever near the spa. The patients would be cured when they encountered Asklepios or one of his family or animals in a dream. The becoming other, so to speak, was limited to particular containing vessels. Still, Dionysos is seen as Apollo's dark brother and has his own months where he is still the god at Delphi.

Like Dionysos, the nightmare remains nomadic subject, the free autonomous subject which exists momentarily in an ever shifting array of possibilities as desiring machines distribute flows across the body without organs.


For more articles like this, see the Postmodern Dreaming site