Sometimes a Cigar is More than a Cigar: Allegory

EVEN IN THE MOST ORIGINAL AND IMAGINATIVE narratives, it is common to start somewhere identifiable and familiar to the reader. This is a universal element of literature, the establishment of a reference point, a commonality. As much as I would like to start the insanity with the first sentence, and I really, really would, it is inconceivable if you intend to be understood. If not…

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most famous sequences in cinema history (the star gate segment) is a long and kaleidoscopic montage of mutating images set to an otherworldly score. This [film] must have been a lot of fun for Stanley Kubrick after working in black and white on Dr. Strangelove, but it would have been impossible to begin the movie this way. People want to go to space, of course, but the operative word here is ‘go.’ As much as people would like to go to space, I doubt they want to wake up floating. They want to get into a familiar and conventional vehicle and travel there.

To develop a means to convey information without reference, one must first have a foundation, a platform, a link to reality. The need for the familiar is the reason Finnegan’s Wake was so divisive; Joyce started in the Twilight Zone without the decency to tell us something was on the wing. Writers begin with the familiar so the unfamiliar, when it comes, will be sensible.  So, here goes.

Allegory after the fact has always been a natural companion in storytelling and, in modernity, is perhaps too commonly used to interpret dreams. The most commonly analyzed and interpreted dreams is, arguably, the falling dream which, to explain it simply, is just a dream in which the sensation of falling is experienced. The imagery this conjures is itself artless enough, but it has been gifted a sort of unique symbolism and depth in pop-philosophy and psychology. The setting is unimportant and the dreamer’s association with falling is not in relationship to a place from which or to which they’re falling. The issue is that you are falling. There are many ways to look at this.

It is a popular view, or was when I studied psychology, that the falling dream is an unconscious representation of something that is bothering you consciously. Falling, in this sense, is synonymous with failing. I don’t think this is always true, but for the moment we’ll assume this is true. It is synonymous with losing, also, in most of these interpretations.

The psychological viewpoint that this is an unconscious response to a conscious crisis is limited and fundamentally flawed; a conscious assessment of the unconscious is possible only in retrospect when viewed as a scene from the perspective of the third person. For a person taking part in a rollercoaster ride, it’s often impossible for that person to explain it in sensible terms, in terms not abstract or expressionistic. For an observer it is a scene. Those within the scene can’t always derive meaning from it. To a third-person, the show can be evaluated in a way in which someone in the show may be incapable.

There are many types of falling dreams listed in Dreams and Their Interpretations: losing balance, pushed, location, lost grip, holding on, people, how did you fall, slipping, and somebody help. This purports to approach this from a subconscious perspective, but any attempt to consciously describe the subconscious with breadth and depth is usually doomed to fail. The concept of depth in literature is attached to depth within character. The modern conception of depth is based on surface and layers. The surface, in this instance, is the conscious personality.

The conscious personality reacts to stimuli and information. A modern way of explaining this behavior is based on the simple observation that people actively, that is consciously, choose what they know is bad for them. Statements like this aren’t intended to encompass the entire population, but a significant minority.

It’s rare in ‘lower’ animals for behavior to manifest that the animal knows is to its detriment. Evolution has worked so well because it works to maximize the viability of an organism. Since it is inconceivable to think that evolution, which favors the survival of the most successful groups of genes, would select animals that intentionally harm themselves, we built a human discipline to describe human beings in human terms.  Since this is rare in other, less intelligent animals, it is looked at in psychological terms.

Psychology and philosophy are branches of academia in which students attend college to learn questions instead of answers; like Jeopardy where, instead of winning money, you pay to play and you never get to be on television. The philosophy behind psychology is based on assumptions regarding the intent behind action and reaction. The most prevalent assumption is that behavioral patterns can be understood through profiling. The success of profiling is not a testament to the validity of the assumptions behind it which are often based on pattern recognition and inference. I’m not saying that profiling is based on incorrect assumptions: I’m saying that profiling doesn’t have to be based on correct assumptions in order to work.

This purports to be an explanation of a dream wherein the dreamer is losing balance:

“Dreams of losing balance suggests [sic] that the problem lays [sic] within you. You are not stable in this moment and need grounding in your life. You need to find more ways to become more confident with people and yourself.”

This is too broad to encompass the way everybody feels. The first suggestion is that the solution of the problem is within the subconscious. This is to suggest that the solution to the problem comes from the same source as the problem. You can look at this in a simpler yet more profound way. Emotionally, losing balance can suggest any number of real issues. Loss [the deprivation] of balance [stability] is a simple scene, without giving expression to what it ‘represents.’ Losing balance and falling is a naked idea. Most ideas in dreams are naked, unequivocal; when a dream is explained, there is an unspoken desire for meaning to be gifted to it. If you’re clever enough, you can take the loose association of images and impulses found in dreams and give it meaning; you can give it surface depth.

Losing balance, as defined by the dream dictionary, is a very superficial connection-correlation-conclusion approach to psychology. It is equally possible for something positive to make you lose balance; you could be falling in love. It can be a positive. Psychology seems to have more enthusiasm for negativity than positivism in their interpretations. Perhaps it increases the quality of drama in your personal life.

This is the appeal of psychology. It allows for depth to be created in people who don’t have it; yet, for some reason, would like to think they do. Psychologists, in describing dreams, put them into the context of dressed ideas and naked ideas.

A dressed idea in aesthetics can refer to a painting of something that is a representation of something else. For example, most Caravaggio paintings work on the dressed ideas as representation level. The easy thing about allowing dressed ideas to represent naked ideas is that it circumvents the need for individual consideration; that is to say it negates what an individual might develop within themselves to give true meaning to the idea.

A revealed revelation is the literary equivalent of an author or artist putting a lot of time and effort into saying oh for you. This might not sound like much of a compliment, but it’s less reproachful for someone to think you’d enjoy saying oh for yourself than it would be to deliberately mislead you. It might take more time. It might cost you energy and effort. But—trust me—when you say oh for yourself, there is a level of understanding taking place that isn’t possible when someone is saying oh for you. ‘Oh’ is the noise our brain makes when something is understood.

To allow someone to understand for themselves, and think for themselves, is to respect the intelligence of your readers. And the most important part of being considerate requires you to first be less considerate—to deny the evaluator access to anything capable of defining the experience for themselves; the answer must be undressed. The reason an audio/video recording of a dream will never be recognized by the dreamer as their dream is because most of what is conveyed is conveyed without images or sounds, at least not images or sounds recognizable in waking life. If this recording was possible, the agreement on what it actually is intended to mean would never be agreeable to all; sounds and images mean different things to different people.

A dream can be as simple as the sound of a car horn, a repeating red number one, or a Barbie doll hanging itself. If you made the representation of this absolute, that is to say that it would be absolutely the same for everyone who dreamed it, I doubt it would be possible for any relevant percentage to ever agree on what it was they actually dreamed. Evaluating dreams as image/idea representation, or dressed ideas, is to take away the subjective nature of dreaming. Regardless of how we remember our dreams, while they’re taking place, trust me, they’re much different in our memory than they were in action. To me, the psychoanalytical approach to interpreting dreams is a type of convoluted incest wherein the only real meaning is individualistic.

The conceit that another person can mold your dream into a generalized pattern (based on representations that don’t mean the same to all evaluators) is unhealthy, lazy, and encourages people to look at their dreams in a way that presupposes depth and meaning because of novelty. This is the opposite process of wanting to see something in beautiful clothes without those beautiful clothes. A losing balance dream is a concept revealed for you based on simplistic image idea correlation.  It doesn’t matter how beautiful the clothes are. This is true for most, if not all, imaginative people: although a beautiful and elaborate costume may enhance someone’s beauty, what it enhances to an appreciative onlooker is the desire to see the beautiful and elaborate costume taken off.

Letting someone else dress or interpret the thoughts brought to life in dreams can sometimes lead to a false sense of understanding; but since it’s convenient and seems deep and meaningful, it is generally accepted. To say this simply: when someone uses clothes to enhance sex appeal, the clothes are best at enhancing someone else’s desire to see them removed.

Association begins after waking as we’re trying to make sense of what we just experienced. So we cast our dreams in the mold of allegory. This is a trick we use to make sense of something that makes no sense. It is something we do unconsciously, but it’s easy to see why we do it. It gives our dreams cinematic and literary quality. Description and meaning are not synonymous. In that context, imply and suggest are synonymous.

We have a rich literary and artistic history of parody, satire, irony, allegory, suggestion, and inference. When an inference is understandable, that doesn’t mean that it’s right or applicable. I can understand someone using their dream as a subconscious allegory for their lives. This sort of correlation between representation and meaning is weak, but it makes sense. When something makes sense, that’s all it does. Making sense is not synonymous with being correct.

Books and films and television programmes have a rich history of using allegory and symbolism. Allegory is a literary device that allows you to say one thing and mean something else. Symbolism as a literary device is most often used to echo or draw attention to thematic elements within a story. Being an evaluator of this naturally leads us to think about our own ideas in this way. The point we miss is how often the allegory being used is being used by the author with specific correlations in mind. The same is true of symbolism.

When symbolism is used in a story, the writer or director is using it to highlight an element within their story. It’s important to remember that our dreams are not stories, movies, or allegories intended by a ‘meta-mind’ somehow overreaching our conscience. Just because we can make them work this way does not mean this is how they function.

It is a modern symptom to feel cheated when it is obvious that something is being hidden. There are a number of reasons for this, but the deepest is suspicion. It is a distressing sign to see someone cover something you suspect would be more attractive uncovered. It is distressing because there is a disconnect between what you want to be the truth and what the truth actually is.

If we viewed our dreams from the third-person perspective, attaining that narrative ability, dreams would become sterile, plastic symbols; suggesting, but never approaching, anything that could be considered depth. When an artist relies too much on symbolism and equivocation, it is often the sign of a terrible artist. The job of the writer is to allow the reader to make the connections presented to them; to undress the ideas for themselves, to make connections to other aspects of the story and aspects of their own lives; this is the equivalent of communion among strangers, separated by space and time.

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