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- Author: Diane Otosaka x
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In Jean-Claude Grumberg’s 1998 play Rêver peut-être (Perchance to Dream), an actor rehearsing Hamlet suddenly faces accusations of murder, but not any murder, one he allegedly committed in his dreams. When questioned by a judge, the protagonist Gérard B. is unable to recall the name of his alleged victim. As a result, he faces a Kafkaesque trial in which his dreams are scrutinised to determine his humanity/inhumanity. Drawing on the notion of ‘souvenir-fantôme’ or ‘phantom-memory’ developed by French philosopher Henry Bergson, which refers to a type of buried memory only available in dreams, this chapter investigates the links between dreams, memory, history and spectrality. In Bergson’s philosophical model of the dream, the dream is associated with a widening of perception, allowing what remains otherwise hidden in waking life to become visible. Such a model proves highly pertinent for elucidating the dynamics at play in Rêver peut-être: as I demonstrate, it is in his dreams that Gérard is able to perceive what he had so far refused to see in waking life, namely that the spectral presence haunting his dreams is his father who was deported when he was an infant in Vichy France. Banished from waking life by concentrationary forces, the spectres, or unmourned victims of atrocities, find refuge in the oneiric realm. The act of dreaming thus ultimately becomes a subversive, rebellious act alluding to the tension between law and the kind of justice that is demanded by the spectre.
Exploring the status of the oneiric beyond psychoanalysis, Dreams and atrocity synthesises interdisciplinary perspectives from literary criticism, medical humanities, memory and cultural studies, history and art practice. The volume sheds new light on the relevance of dreams as modes of psychic resistance and historical witness as well as symptoms of trauma in modern and contemporary representations of atrocity. Central to the book is the articulation of the oneiric’s potential to awaken us to the pervasive violence of our contemporary world – providing us with the means not only of diagnosing but also of responding to historical episodes of atrocity, from twentieth-century genocide to contemporary racism and transphobia. The contributors develop new ways of reading the dreamlike in cultural works, foregrounding its power as an aesthetic mode and political tool. Organised into three parts – ‘Dream images’, ‘Dreams as sites of resistance’, and ‘Violent states’ – the book conducts a timely enquiry into the role played by the unconscious in processing and illustrating atrocity in an increasingly violent world. In so doing, it attends to the significance of dreams in dark times, illuminating the triangulated relationship between dream life, memory and trauma.
This introductory chapter explains the aim of the volume: to read dreams not only as trauma’s coded language but also as an imaginative escape from and resistance to the oppression and systemic violence of ‘dark times’. Central to the book is a reassessment of the faculty and function of dreaming, one that sees dreams as active and perceptive psychological episodes whose capacity for thought renders them inherently political. This approach liberates the dream from its psychoanalytic detainment and opens it up to other kinds of theorisations, applications and interpretations. It illuminates precisely why the dream is uniquely placed to rail against, or indeed remedy, modern and contemporary trauma.
This brief afterword returns to two questions posed by Max Silverman in his foreword to the volume: i) whether the dominating framework and vocabulary of psychoanalytic interpretation have obscured other ways of approaching dreams and their relationship to atrocity; ii) whether unconventional modes of reading dreams might offer a means of explicating how dreams are activated by historical, political and cultural phenomena. Positioning itself against a reductive understanding of dreams and narrow psychoanalytic frameworks, the volume has nonetheless retained the idea that dreams are a fundamental part of reality, with the capacity to bring to light what otherwise remains invisible. The afterword concludes by identifying the volume as a form of oneiric archive that brings lived dreams and dreamlike aesthetics into dialogue with moments of historical and cultural atrocity, thereby elevating the meaning and stakes of dreaming.