English 391W: Dreams

Woodpecker Treat

March 1, 2010 · 2 Comments

In the dream, I was going about my business–cleaning the house, stoking the fire, etc. I looked out the window and saw that the birds had eaten the entire suet cake I’d put out for them a few hours earlier. The metal cage it sits in, next to the bird feeder, was empty. Somehow I knew the birds had eaten it and that a bear hadn’t gotten to it. This was part of a larger dream, but this is all I remember.


I’m at our place upstate, and I did put out a new suet cake (flavor: “Woodpecker Treat”) yesterday. To do it, I had to trudge through very deep snow and balance a ladder carefully so it wouldn’t tumble into the snow when I climbed it. I love watching the birds go crazy at the bird feeder when it’s snowing (as it was much of yesterday). When I awoke, I was pleased to see the birds had hardly made a dent in the suet.


The fact that I can only remember this single image reminds of of Ernest Hartmann’s point that dreams are not clearly “delimited.” It’s nearly impossible to trace their beginnings and endings. We talk about individual dreams as though they are texts, but in fact our dreams stream in and out of each other, and we only know about the details we happen to remember–or take pains to remember.

There’s something interesting about the image itself: the empty little cage. It wouldn’t be hard to turn it into a symbol, but is it? I’m tending to think it’s not.

But, it does represent an emotion. I was pleased with myself for trudging through the snow to put that suet out. It was a minor accomplishment. That empty basket–or little cage–represents hard work that seems to be wasted. This is how Hartmann would see it, I think.

But when I woke up, I was reassured. Indirectly, my dream gave me that reassurance. Is this Jungian compensation?

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Reading Jung

February 21, 2010 · No Comments

For Wednesday’s class, be sure you read Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” carefully. Then, choose two of his “elements” and find examples of them at work in Jung’s “General Aspects of Dream Psychology” or “On Dreams.” Be prepared to explain Harvey’s defiition (and why it’s importnat for writing) and to discuss how Jung uses that element to develop his argument about dreams (in response to Freud’s).

When you’re reading Jung, you should be attentive to his key terms. If you understand these, you probably understand his theory pretty well. Here’s a list of the major ones:

collective unconscious
archetypes (motifs, mythologems)
imago (projection)
“taking up the context”
exposition, development, culmination, solution

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Reading Freud: Some Advice

February 4, 2010 · No Comments

We’re reading key passages from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams–chosen because they are the sections that are most memorable and capture what’s influential about his theory of dreams. Here’s some advice to help you make sense of it all:

1. Read the section entitled “Freud’s Argument,” from Ritchie Robertson’s introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition (pp. xi – xvi). Pay particular attention to his discussion of the four elements of Freud’s “dream-work” on page xiv.

2. Enjoy the stories Freud tells about dreams; pay attention to his style of writing; think about what kind of narrator he is.

3. Read with a pencil, pen, highlighter, or set of post-its in hand. Mark anything that seems interesting or strange or confusing; mark any terms that seem important or that are new to you.

4. Pay careful attention to Freud’s argument about “wish-fulfillment” and ask yourself if his evidence for this argument is convincing.

5. Finally, pay careful attention to his discussions of “the dream-work”: 1. condensation, 2. displacement, 3. representational resources, and 4. secondary revision. Do your best to figure out what he means by each of these terms.

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Dyad: “Two individuals regarded as a pair”

February 3, 2010 · No Comments

We’ll begin each class meeting with a dyad, a ritual designed to focus our minds and start us thinking together. (Hopefully it won’t be too corny! Bear with me.)

For each class meeting, the two students doing presentations will decide on a topic. Each of us will pair up with another person in the room. Each person in the pair must talk about the day’s topic for a full minute, not stopping until the minute’s up. When the first speaker is done, the second will speak.

The topic for our first class–borrowed from a class of Professor Roger Sedarat’s–will be “A Memorable Stranger.”

For future weeks, the day’s two presenters must consult in advance and decide on a topic. They can announce the topic at the beginning of class. I’ll time the conversations.

Note: The last presentations take place on April 14. As that date approaches, we’ll decide who will come up with topics for future weeks.

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Oral Presentations: The Nuts and Bolts

February 3, 2010 · No Comments

The Assignment

Your job is to introduce your assigned reading and suggest some creative ways it might be used to help craft a research project on a dream-related topic. The idea is to help other students decide whether they might use your material in their projects. You should speak for five minutes and cover some combination of the following:

  • a summary of the text, its arguments, its methods, its tone, its evidence, etc.
  • some indication of what’s interesting about the text (or what might be challenging about it)
  • some suggestions for research topics it might inspire
  • some background about the author
  • connections to some of the reading we’re doing as a group


1. You must consult with me the week preceding your presentation, to tell me about your plans, ask questions, and get my suggestions. I strongly suggest we do this in person, during office hours or at another scheduled time, but if that doesn’t work out, we can do it by email.

2. You may want to consider distributing a handout or displaying materials on the smart board in class.

3. You will speak for five minutes and no more. Be sure you time yourself in advance. I’ll have to cut you off if you go over the alotted time.

4. You should be prepared to take questions, for five minutes after the formal presentation.

5. You must post a written version of your presentation on your blog within two days of delivering it. I will assign your grade and send you my comments after you post the written version. (The idea is to give everybody in our class access to the materials as they think about their research projects.)

Some Questions to Consider as Your Prepare

  • What are the motivating questions at the heart of your theorist’s work? (See Gordon Harvey.)
  • What is your theorist’s primary argument (in a nutshell)?
  • How would you describe your theorist’s style? What’s it like to read his or her writing? Does the style of the text relate to or reflect its arguments in any way? (Give examples.)
  • What are the most convincing (or interesting) pieces of evidence your theorist offers? What techniques does s/he use to analyze this evidence?
  • What ideas or evidence fail to convince you? Or what ideas do you have more questions about?
  • How might  theoretical texts “speak to” or illuminate literary texts that represent dreams?

Performance and Style
You’ll want to be prepared, but not over-rehearsed. The best public speakers make their audiences feel they are speaking directly to them, about something that matters to them both. Be yourself. Be as clear as you can be. You might choose to be funny or very serious. Your goal is to get people’s attention and then teach them something. Divide up the work of the group fairly. After you finish with the presentation, you will take questions. Be prepared for anything.

You don’t need to address by questions above one-by-one. Just use them to help you think about your texts and to help you structure the presentation. The structure should feel logical, or organic.

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Skipping on Pink Ribbon (A Resonant Dream)

January 25, 2010 · No Comments

I’m skipping on a road made of pink ribbon winding through outer space, in the body of the kid in a painting that hangs in my grandma’s house. My hair is long, thin, and green like hers.

I skip along the ribbon at a clumsy glide, wearing the smock-dress, purple in the painting but green in the dream. I have her skinny legs and expressively still face. I’m fragile but tenacious. I’m Christopher Robin. I’m the Little Prince. Keep reading →

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Oral Presntations (#1): The Schedule

December 14, 2009 · No Comments

For your first oral presentations, you will introduce a dream-related text to the rest of the class. The aim is to introduce other students to material that might inform their research projects–and to add a dimension to class discussion, by making connections between your assigned text and the reading we all do together.

The texts are listed below, by title. You can find the full texts under “Course Readings” above. Read through the titles. Then, take a closer look at the texts of titles  interest you. Once you’ve done this, send me an email (by February 5 at midnight), ranking your top four choices. I’ll use these rankings to assign the texts and dates for the oral presentations, which I’ll send you before class on February 10.

February 17
Aristotle, “On Dreams” (Kathleen)
Daniel M. Wegner, Richard M. Wenzlaff, and Megan Kozak, “Dream Rebound: The Return of Suppressed Thoughts in Dreams” (Hasina)

February 24
Jane White Lewis, “Reflecting on a Dream in Jungian Analytic Practice” (Jessica)
Robert L. Van de Castle, “Dreams that Have Changed the World” (Melissa)

March 3
Bert O. States, “Dreams: The Royal Road to Metaphor” (Danabelle)
Winsor McKay, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend (Alison)

March 10
Barbara Tedlock, “The New Anthropology of Dreaming” (Fotini)
Wendy Doniger, “Western Dreams and Eastern Dreams” (Jocelyn)

March 17
G. William Domhoff and Adam Schneider, “Studying Dream Content Using the Archive and Search Engine on DreamBank.net” (Eileen)
Tracy Kahan, “Consciousness in Dreaming: A Metacognitive Approach” (Elyse)

March 24
Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book, Chapters 1 – 5 (Shane)
Patricia Kilroe, “The Dream as Text, the Dream as Narrative” (Michael)

April 7
Kelly Bulkeley, Dreaming in the World’s Religions, Introduction – Chapter 5 (JoAnne)
Kelly Bulkeley, Dreaming in the World’s Religions, Chapter 6 – Conclusion (Sara)

April 14
“Nebachudnezzar’s Dream” (Daniel 4) and “Joseph’s Dream” (Genesis 37 – 41) from the Old Testament of the Bible (Brett)
Steven Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages, Introduction – Chapter 2 (Serinh)

April 21

Serinity Young, “Buddhist Dream Experience: The Role of Interpretation, Ritual, Dreaming” (Chris)

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