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Wagner and Dreaming

Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 11:28 am
by alberich00
Dear stalwart Wagnerians:

Apropos of our prior discussion re Wagner's notion that his special music has an influence upon the mind similar to that of dreaming, I've been reflecting lately on my hyperbolic devotion to Wagner and its possible origin in my perhaps idiosyncratic experience of dreaming.

To dramatize this problem, I lay the following peculiar personal experience upon you: starting perhaps at the age or 3 or 4, I had the strange experience of vividly remembering dreams, each of which were saturated with a peculiar, highly distinctive mood or feel (a bit like the scents which identify flowers), a sort of music peculiar only to a specific dream. By my 20's I could recall at will literally thousands of dreams, each of which had a definitive mood which distinguished it from all others. To this very day I can scroll through hundreds of such dreams from my distant past by recalling their mood, and then experiencing the images and events of these dreams. The special quality of these dreams is that these moods associated with them are more potent, more real to me, than waking life-experience. The only thing in waking life which parallels this experience is the effect of major works of art, particularly Wagner's music-dramas, and the moods which came over me the couple of times in life in which I was in love.

Another peculiarity of these dreams is that they tended not to have a plot, not a beginning, middle, or end, and no individuals known to me in waking life. In general, I would simply find myself in the midst of some mysterious sequence of events, taking place in a geography and architecture based on my waking experience, but so saturated with a powerful mood, a sort of musical mood, as to be totally transfigured. I'll give a specific example: when I was six years old my family moved from Greenbelt, Maryland (today just outside the Washington, DC, beltway) to Annapolis, MD, where my grandparents lived. We moved to a newly developing subdivision along Weems Creek (perhaps two miles from the US Naval Academy), which was mostly wooded. I wandered along the creek's wooded banks and occasionally found the foundations of older buildings and homes. Starting perhaps at the age of 7, I had a series of thematically related dreams which took place in a three story brick home located on a small hill overlooking the Creek. In the dreams, I would approach this broken-down brick home and enter a very large and imposing doorway located up a flight of stairs, a door portentous with "Mood." Upon entering, the interior bore no relation to what one might have expected looking at this three-story home from outside. The interior was many stories high, each story consisting of a circular balcony looking down on a circular floor. As one walked around any give balcony there were a series of closed doors. If I entered any given door, and wandered about, I might find myself without rhyme or reason suddenly walking out through another door and coming out onto the central circular balcony at a completely different level, in spite of the fact that I couldn't recall having walked either up or down any flight of stairs. The curious thing about this series of dreams is that they weren't inhabited by people, though the building gave a very powerful impression of being inhabited. For instance, I always had the impression when entering any room that someone had just walked out of it through another door. Though there was no plot, no real events, nonetheless there was a palpable feel of life more real than life itself.

This sequence of dreams ended when I reached the topmost balcony, and found a ladder which rose up through a skylight into a sort of attic. I climbed up the ladder into an attic filled with brick-a-brack of all kinds. I experienced there the most potent of the moods or feelings I'd yet experienced, of unutterable sublimity. You may recall that scene in Hitchcock's "Psycho" (important to point out here that my parents didn't allow me to see that film until long after these dreams had ended) in which someone (I forget who) walks into a room and finds what looks like an older lady sitting in a swivel chair, but then discovers to his horror that this is the corpse of Bates's mother. In any case, I caught a glimpse of an old crone which was so horrible that I fainted and fell down from the skylight all the way to the bottom of the multi-story building. I tried to catch myself and awoke to discover I'd fallen out of my bed. I never had another dream in this setting, though I had thousands of others or equal portentousness in my youth.

I mention this because I can experience that dream today in memory almost as vividly as the original. I mention it also because it seems to me that the infinite portentousness and allusiveness and evocativeness of the music of Wagner's music-dramas seems to lend to their dramas something like the same sort of enhancement as the mood of my dreams did to the images and events in them, transfiguring them. This is something impossible for me to share with you if you haven't experienced it yourself, but I believe Wagner discovered the means to share his unconscious experience with others, through his music-dramas. This, it seems to me, partially explains why they seem so spiritual.

I'd love to hear any reflections you may have on my experience, or on your own experiences of dreaming in relation to Wagner and the arts in general.

Yours from Wagnerheim,


Re: Wagner and Dreaming

Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 10:17 pm
by Brun-Justine
I think the reason why Wagner seems to lend himself so well to the topic of dreams is that he uses simple ideas so describe complicated feelings and concepts. This is what dreams do, I think. I never thought that dreams really serve a purpose; they are just the product of a mind that has Fall-en in the Alberich sense. We can't un-Fall, even when we're asleep. Something will always be being analyzed, picked over, and synthesized into a feeling. Dreams are just what happens when we turn off the most superficial of our cognitive functions, our conscious mind. The Ring, likewise, is just Wagner playing with toy figures of people whose actions just stand for something that we might pass by in our contemplation of those simple, mundane events that seem to consume our conscious selves. Wagner has created a dream on paper, on the stage, in our iPods, that can be reread, reviewed, re-listened to, reexamined at will.

Re: Wagner and Dreaming

Posted: Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:33 am
by alberich00
Welcome to the discussion forum, Brun-Justine:

Wagner undoubtedly regarded his artistic creations as waking dreams, by which I mean that though their origin lay in his personal unconscious, his conscious mind shaped the inchoate product into a transmissible work of art which then became a collective waking dream, like the various religious faiths. When he describes his art as "deeds of music made visible," he was effectively saying the same thing. I feel that the subject of the relation of the unconscious to the conscious mind in Wagner is a subject worthy of a thousand-page book in itself. It is certainly a key theme in "The Wound That Will Never Heal," to which is dedicated. You'll find, as you gradually parse the pages you're reading, that this will become more and more clear (I hope).

Some scholar devoted an entire essay to the subject of the hundreds of Wagner's personal dreams which Cosima recorded in her diaries. Needless to say those dreams are different in kind from the waking dreams which Wagner is able to share with us in his artworks. This ability to share with the historical collectivity of humankind is what suggests to me that Wagner was not only tapping into his personal unconscious, but into what we might call the collective unconscious of humanity, which, for my purposes, is more or less represented, I believe, by Bruennhilde in the "Ring" and Elsa in "Lohengrin," not to mention Venus in "Tannhaeuser."

This is a fascinating an inexhaustible topic. More from me later!

Your friend and spiritual ally from Wagnerheim,


Re: Wagner and Dreaming

Posted: Thu Aug 18, 2011 4:06 am
by alberich00
Dear meaning-seekers in Wagnerheim:

In discussing the peculiar and melancholy-sublime moods characteristic of my deepest dreams, in relation to the spell of Wagnerian music, I forgot to mention the following:

Though I have remembered thousands of my dreams from early childhood onward, there must be many thousands more I've forgotten. But these dreams, both those I've remembered, and presumably those whose images I can't recall, have colored every waking moment. In other words, throughout a lifetime of privileged dreaming I've acquired an extravagantly rich anthology of moods which innumerable scenes and scenarios from waking life can call up in an instant. While traveling, for instance, either in places well known to me, or entirely new arenas of experience, I swim in a spellbinding brew of impressions which are hugely enhanced by their association with my dreams. I have, for instance, on many occasions driven through a forested area and was suddenly struck by a mood called up by a scene before me as I passed, causing me to stop the car, turn around, and try to capture what it was that halted me in my path. You'll recall Proust's effort to unearth the cause of his felicity (perhaps Henry James's favorite word) after tasting the madeleine soaked in tea.

It's for this reason that I was always uncomfortable as a child when riding in a bus with classmates on a fieldtrip which, no matter what the destination (usually Washington, DC, museums, or some natural area), provided me innumerable impressions, while they, presumably bored out of their wits, sang one of those inane and repetitive songs to keep themselves from dropping dead with ennui. I recall as a child being driven by my parents down the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians, a drive which always offers the richest material for the imagination, and constructing inchoate and vague yet poignant epics inspired by each new scene of mountain ridges receding into the distance. It is for this reason that I've taken most of my vacations by myself, because I have to follow up each impression and try to grasp its essence. The point here is that each scene from life offers not only beauty or the sublime in itself, but also an endless array of associative material which magnifies every impression.

I suspect this explains some instances of deja vu. For instance, we may already have experienced something in dreams, perhaps in dreams we have forgotten but which some scene from waking life calls up to memory. This I believe is at least one of the sources of the power of Wagnerian "Wonder," i.e., the astonishing associative power of Wagner's musical motifs.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias Alberich00