Electric Dreams

 Passage: Nightmare Within, Nightmare Without

Comments on 9-11, terrorism, dreams

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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  Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 Oct). Passage: Nightmare Within, Nightmare Without.  Electric Dreams 8(10). Retrieved Dec 28. 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

" Let's suffer together. But let's not be stupid together."
Susan Sontag

It has been a nightmare. I am disoriented, unsure how to respond and fight back against monsters that are now gone. If they are gone, why is my heart still beating at double speed? Why am I afraid of the dark like a child? Why I am so unsure of who I am and who I am going to be? Will my training in working with dreams and nightmares help me?

The Torn Veil

There have been many collapses besides the New York Trade Center Towers for those affected. There has been a collapse between the personal and collective, and an enormous black carpet has been rolled out to transport the dark celebrities across the void, Rampaging bigotry, unleashed prejudice, cries of war against old, known enemies in the frustration of a missing, current target. In psychology this is called displacement, projection, psychosis.

Before 9-11-01 people would send in dreams and ask if the dream meant their boyfriends were being faithful, if the dream was a sign they were going to loose their teeth, or win the lottery. More profoundly, people wondered whether their dreams meant they were going to live in some kind of new way, get some kind of new work or find a better alignment with the infinite. Dream workers in general followed what Jung called a Subjective approach, where the parts of the dream are treated as parts of oneself; the cane we use to walk as a symbol of the supportive parts of ourselves, the house down the block in the dream as a complex that houses levels of inner feelings and patterns.

Now we send in dreams about airplane crashes, buildings on fire, bombings, and being abducted by terrorists. The shared dreams become a vehicle of expression, a portal between the individual and collective across which each are giving expression. We are turned inside-out. The outer world now internalized, the inner world now externalized. The veil has been torn. Before we could keep imagination in-there, and the world, out-there and hide in-between all our theories about who we are and what the self really might be. As Jung used to say, when wake up, we say we had a dream, but when we are dreaming, we know that the dream has us. The nightmare has us, at all levels. So what are these levels?

Personal and Collective Shadows

This brings up the Jungian notion of the Shadow. Usually the Shadow is somewhat like Freud's unconscious, corresponding to things we are, but would rather die than admit and hate in others. Work with the Shadow involves not just admitting that we have this other dark side we keep repressed, but finding creative ways of engaging and expressing this side. But Jung also talked about Collective Shadow. It is almost like the Shadow is a cone or triangle that spreads out from the personal tip to the wider base of collective realm. With the help of therapists, friends and small groups we can deal with the personal Shadow, but it takes a whole society to deal with the Collective Shadow. Here we are talking things we don't like to talk about as a culture, like the production and use of atomic weapons, the continued repression of minorities, the marginalization of women, and the imperialistic support of regimes around the world that also support these and other repressive policies.

Clearly the tragic events of 9-11-01 have brought the United States and other societies together and offer us the opportunity to make large cultural changes. However, dreamwork teaches us that destroying the Shadow is not the best approach. It is a temporary solution to an eternal problem. We don't solve eternal problems; we come into relationship with them in a way that allows something better than the day before. The calls to war and the unity of the USA Congress don't comfort me nor show me a creative relation with the problem. Terrorism needs to be routed and dismantled wherever it is found, but turning our society into a lock box watched by Big Brother will, in the end, ruin rather than strengthen our security. Going beyond our own laws of justice and due process (such as attacking sovereign nations without an international tribunal) can only harm the larger projects of global tolerance, peace, ecology and equal opportunity for all.
As with nocturnal nightmare monsters, we do teach children to confront and contain them. But even more essentially, we teach them to find out what they want and why they are pursuing us in the first place.. With adults, we are called to deal with nightmares more maturely and profoundly, to begin to allow ourselves to suffer the depths of pain of the monsters after us, learning that the problem is not resolvable like magic, but only in participation at a deeper level. As Susan Sontag said about unity during this crisis " Let's suffer together. But let's not be stupid together." [ Let's Look Reality in the Face. By Susan Sontag Monday, September 17, 2001 (Le Monde )]

Speaking vs Doing

On many of the online discussion lists where people are discussing the current events, someone will inevitably appear and say "I'm sick of all this talk, what good is it, it doesn't change a thing."
While I understand the frustration in these kinds of outbursts, I feel they are completely incorrect. The division of thinking, speaking and doing is artificial. Thinking, feeling, speaking and acting are all ways of doing something, each have their own set of real forces, and each have a vital role to play in the creation of a viable psycho-social environment. When we engage the nightmare at all levels, we create the most productive outcome. When we restrict the processes we suffer from this repressive organization. And in democracies, discussion leads directly to voting.

Thinking in New Ways

In the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, there is a three part process in productive creation and all three parts need to be given legitimate expression for forces and desire to give their fullest expression to the world. In the first part of a process there needs to be conductive production of connections. We need to break into the old flows and create new flows. New flows of ideas, of dreams, of hopes, of cultural objects, of economies, of genes, of everything or anything, need to be produced. When these flows are restricted, as in singular interpretations, or the running of jets full of humans into buildings, the process may be said to be illegitimate and need to be subverted and transversed.

In the second part of the process, all these connections stop for a moment and blossom around the field created by the connections. Like an million points that contain the reflections of the moment as well as seeds of potentials for the future, they also register alternative connections, fractal variations, and multiply these relations to infinity.

Finally, in the last part of the process, consciousness and subjectivity are produced corresponding to the networks created in the previous parts of the process. This means that things can go awry. If restrictive codes are placed on the connections or their relational networks, the subjects that will be produced will lack breadth and width, and we will simply produce little soldiers, or repetitions of the same in our society. Rather, we need nomadic subjectivity that can traverse complex and disparate planes. We need people can that will help transform the nightmare into something we can all wear.

We have already the illegitimate use of the connective synthesis on a global scale. Terrorism which reduces rather than multiplies connections risks turning the target into a vengeful war machine with limited paths. The WTC has become a vortex of blackness which has collapsed in on itself and is sucking the world down with it. All connections now are being interpreted through its field. Nothing further can really be done at this level at this time. But after an illegitimate field of connections is made, there is a moment of anti-connectivity. All connections stop and a field of disjunctive syntheses are produced. During the second synthesis there is a chance for virtual relations to multiply the potential connections rather than close down and restrict them. We can see this happening in the discussions around the world. If Liberty is to ring particularly far, our discussions are needed to re-establish networks across which our nomads can carry its message everywhere. Here is a long quote from the end of an article by Slavoj Zizek, an advocate of French psychotherapist Jacques Lacan:

"We don't yet know what consequences in economy, ideology, politics, war, this event will have, but one thing is sure: the US, which, till now, perceived itself as an island exempted from this kind of violence, witnessing this kind of things only from the safe distance of the TV screen, is now directly involved. So the alternative is: will Americans decide to fortify further their "sphere," or to risk stepping out of it? .
Therein resides the true lesson of the bombings: the only way to ensure that it will not happen HERE again is to prevent it going on ANYWHERE ELSE." [From "Welcome to the Desert of the Real!"]

But how can one transform a whole culture to be involved in re-making a whole world?

Cultural Akido

When a person fully confronts a nightmare, they end up transforming not only "Monster" but also themselves and the conditions in which both the monster and the self exist. Can this happen in the outer world? Some would say it has to, but not in all the way we would first expect.

On the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society <APCSLIST@LISTSERV.KENT.EDU> discussion list this theorist Gary Kucher suggested that instead of re-establishing the fantasy of re-balancing the world and the cycle of violence, instead of propping it back up the same old way, something else is called for. I agreed and feel we need something I am calling Cultural Aikido. Aikido does not focus on striking of one's opponent, but on using their energy to develop a whole new trajectory. Although the fantasy of "balance" is included this move, its not a fantasy of returning to the same, but of transforming the whole situation. I am thinking we need to use this attack to transform Western culture. We need to repeat our differences, not repeat the same cycle of violence.

I personally would like to see dream sharing as a kind of everyday activity practiced in social sphere instead of just the clinical sphere. But this is just one of the marginalized human activities that are involved in the transformation of a culture whose values are exchange values that align themselves across a wide and abstract market economy.

Just what would it mean to transform Western Culture? There is a monumental task here in even outlining the major areas of social injustice, ecological havoc, repressive political supports and wastes of time and money in the military industrial complex that might be candidates for reform and transformation.

For Carl Jung, the individual was both the culprit and its salvation. Thus we have all that stuff about the ego outlaw vs the ego aligned with the Self. Western culture becomes then the story of the ego going its own way (from the original godhead and out of the Garden Of Eden) and first creating havoc and then eventually being led back to the right path by various heroes, saviors, teachers, rimoches, gurus, sayhks, gnostics and mystic experiences of the Self and so on. Jung was, in my reading, heavily focused on the individual working out individuation through very introverted campaigns that might occasionally involve quite intense relationships with others, but only a very few and very intimate others.

I like this approach, but don't see it as very applicable to any but the most socially fortunate of individuals who live at the top of Maslow's hierarchy. Jung is more of an example of an achieved state than a means to acquire it. Fortunate people who have the time and leisure to pursue individuation may become leaders and movers in larger movements, but they are hardly likely to start an international movement where waves of Americans join the bandwagon and become troops of Jungian analysands.

My guess is that the transformation lays elsewhere. I think we saw it in its Anima/Erzatz enlightment form during the late 20th Century in the Utopias created by the cyber-generation. I say "Anima" form as there was a glimpse of Self Decending/Ascending which now seems to be a cyber-fantasy that failed. Not because the capital adventures failed, but because they were not exceeded. The [radical] hope of the New Economy was not to put cash in everyone's pocket as you hear on TV, but to be able to push capital markets off the charts and make capitalism obsolete as we accelerated the abstract exchange market into orbit and began to trade on real human potential.

OK, so the alchemical cyber-vessel couldn't sustain the heat long enough for this transformation to obtain. There wasn't enough of what was needed culturally in the way of working with very large projections and re-owning them before they failed and left the USA without an ideal. And it's a capital ideal that is still the god, as we know when we use rhetoric like faith in the markets and the trust and hope of its investors. OK, I accept that the hoped for Cyber-Utopia was only glimpsed and not fully constellated. But a whole generation of children and young adults got to see it for a second or two and like other generations that see their own collective visions, they will now have to work out just what that means, and what the Shadow of global communications means.

Cultural transformation in Western Society. How will we bring together all the things that make life meaningful, all those things that live outside of capital economy (dreams, loves, spirit, non-consumables) into a peaceable kingdom with a system that values things only in terms of their status and exchange value without one gobbling up the other? This is the problem, poorly stated. If Jungian Hegelian dialectics are applicable, then the answer is that we *don't* try to solve this problem, but go to the ends of these opposites and suffer them to the point that the transcendent third emerges. This is what Jung, as his best, did with dream symbolism. For Jung, symbols were the best possible expression of something that consciousness could not quite yet get. These living symbols, like dream images, held together opposites that the waking consciousness cannot yet tolerate or understand. The dreamwork wasn't so much about saying directly what these symbols were, but rather talking around them, creating contexts and relations that would be vessels strong enough to hold the emerging consciousness long enough for it to mature into full awareness and embodiment. If a vessel is not created, the meaning of the images sinks back into the unconscious, only to be acted out and projected onto others.

It is still unclear if our culture is mature enough to handle holding this amount of tension, or if it will regress into one pole of violence or isolationism.

Yet in a way, the crazy media society we live in is attempting to do this in a way I have not seen before. More people than usual are trying to avoid quick answers, vengeful responses and polarizing characterizations. People are trying to educate themselves about Afghanistan in a hurry, about Osama bin Laden, about Islam and what others are saying, about what other countries are thinking and feeling, both allies and non-allies. Never before have we had an information center like the Internet to look up information about topics we normally wouldn't bother to research. And more, to immediately discuss these topics online.

For those of us interested in dreams, we are already aware of the benefit of sharing a person's dream, whether it is our own or someone else's. Many groups online, such as the Jung lists, Electric Dreams Dreamwheel, Dream Chatters, DreamShare, and the ASD E-Study groups are using dream images to talk about this global situation in unique ways. However, discussing politics via dream groups is still somewhat of an esoteric activity. Though I feel Jung will never obtain the status of general cultural awareness, I do hope that dream sharing will obtain this status someday. We all dream and it is a natural way that the mind explores options, often the unique options we need to create a sane global society.

Something like this aspect of dreaming is occurring globally in the virtual community of discussions. All the connections that have piled up on my body and psyche, or around this fantasy created by the media and senses, get rejected, pushed away, driven off the surface of thing/no-thing, get bounced off the wall of the limit. As they are rejected they stop connecting for a moment and begin reflecting, begin setting up a kind of network around the inner hidden theme and begin inter-connecting or at least registering the possible connections and multiplying the relations between them. The nightly dream, one might say, follows one or more of these alternative pathways and ends up a story in the morning. But during the night, the dream is replete with partial objects, not yet formed beings and pre-personal flows and breaks in the flow. Ideas, emotions, images and connections swarm.

This is even the definition of successful therapy in psychoanalytic jargon. Once the patient is able to free associate again without getting swamped, they are released from the complex. When PSTD combat trauma victims have repeating nightmares, they are caught in a cycle of horror and terror. When they begin working with their dreams, they eventually see changes, mutation, and differences in the dream. Along with these changes come changes in the terror until the dreamworld and individual psyche again begin to flow without the terrible repetitions of the same.

Can this happen at a cultural level, a cross-cultural level? Can a society be like a deeply wounded person and not be able to roll with the punches and transform the aggression without simply duplicating it?


Cultural Aikido and social transformation don't have a lot of models from the past to draw upon. Most modern societies are hewn from violent actions and reactions to other societies. But if we take these lessons from dreamwork, (holding the tension consciously and learning to multiply our relations) some suggestions appear. The first is that groups and individual's with answers for the whole world are likely to dangerous. This is a collective as well as personal issue. Governments are likely to be off target. Societies are likely to make the wrong move. In fact, any organization at this time is missing the point, the point that extracting one link from the signifying chain and allow that one link to determine the meaning for the whole chain exceeds the boundaries of its legitimate determinations and creates cycles of repetition of the same. We are in a period of transition, in passage. All the flux and flow, all the energy and planning, all the channeling of activity and talk that is taking place is most legitimate if allowed to expand and multiply. Premature closure on meaning, pre-emptive strikes on sovereign nations, hasty handing over of power to a few individuals closes down our power to make relationships and limits the expression we can give to the world.

During the Kosovo Crisis I was running an online grassroots dream sharing group. People share their recorded nocturnal dreams and follow various processes to give meaning to them. One of the participants was a Serbian woman. She was a pacifist, but many people signed off the list in protest anyway. For those of us who stayed and went through the process, something special emerged, a kind of field or plane, a portal through which we all passed that seemed quite different than strong Right and Left rhetoric infected individuals and groups. I think this came from being able to tolerate suffering and difference, being able to hold off reactive conductive connections that would simply repeat the patterns of behavior we were taught. Still, I feel we didn't do much for the victims. We changed something small in both cultures, but something in the small group process was still missing. This was only one group making a passage, not a whole culture.

There IS NO ANSWER I want you to accept about all this. The agenda I am pushing if for you to ~avoid~ having a single answer and to make networks of relations, create polyvocal channels of patterns, strengthen resolves to stay unresolved, to be able to tolerate as much of this horror as you can, to go to the ends of the problem and suffer their disconnections as long as possible.

Note this is not the same as despair, not the same as retreat, not the same as catatonia. It is an opus contra naturam, a work against the nature of regression. Avoid getting juiced by the military state war machine and blowing me up. Instead, blow my mind with the new relations we are going to create.

A horror/miracle portal has opened and we are not yet across. We are in passage.

Richard Wilkerson,
September 21, 2001

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