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- Author: Emily-Rose Baker x
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Between 1933 and 1939, Berlin-based Jewish journalist Charlotte Beradt undertook a clandestine project to collect the nightmares of the German nation, which were eventually published in 1966 under the title The Third Reich of Dreams. Demonstrating the deep psychological reach of the Third Reich, which penetrated even the unconscious minds of its subjects during sleep, this extensive archive boasts over three-hundred dreams of German citizens, both Jews and gentiles, yet has received little critical attention since its publication over fifty years ago. This chapter critically examines the political potency and collective nature of dreams of Nazi fascism in Beradt’s archive alongside an analysis of Arthur Miller’s play Broken Glass (1994), in which a Jewish woman living in 1938 New York is inexplicably paralysed by reports of antisemitic violence in the Third Reich. By uniting these real and fictional episodes of the collective interwar unconscious, this chapter demonstrates the ability of dreams and other psychic modes to not only reflect but respond to the otherwise latent fears of the collective interwar imaginary as a reaction against the ways in which totalitarianism seeks to colonise the psyche. Bringing Michel Foucault’s early work on the dream as constitutive of the imagination into dialogue with Cathy Caruth’s notion of the ‘life drive’ central to traumatic dreams, I build on Sharon Sliwinski’s convincing notion of dreaming as an expressly political act to elucidate the decolonising logic harnessed by dreams.
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.