English 391W: Dreams

Course Description

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a
knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.
–Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

You must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were.
–William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930)

Are dreams the “royal road” to the unconscious, as Freud suggests? Or do they blot out the self entirely, as Faulkner implies? Are dreams mystical missives? Meaningless by-products of firing neurons? Do they consolidate memory? Drive artistic endeavors? Can they seep into or influence waking life? The elusiveness of dreams, which propel us to imagined worlds whose logic falters when we wake, has made them an inspiration to innumerable artists and an object of study for neurologists, psychologists, and philosophers. In this senior seminar, we will explore the art and science of dreaming.

We will read classic dream theories by Freud and Jung; examine contemporary theories by dream researchers such as J. Allan Hobson, Ernest Hartmann, and Stephen La Berge; read literary texts by writers such as William Shakespeare, Charlotte Brontë, Franz Kafka, and Kazuo Ishiguro; listen to music by Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, and The Postal Service; view two films, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life; and take a virtual tour of Dalí’s Dream of Venus, the surrealist funhouse he built for the 1939 World’s Fair (in Queens!). We will all keep dream blogs, documenting our dream lives and reflecting on them through the lens of our course readings and discussions. Students will also develop interdisciplinary research projects that address current questions in the field of dream studies.

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