Volume 6, Number 1 (January, 2009)
Author: Richard Catlett Wilkerson
This essay is part of the Postmodern Dreaming Series
We used to live in the imaginary world of the mirror, of the divided self and of the stage, of otherness and alienation. Today we live in the imaginary world of the screen, of the interface and the reduplication of contiguity and networks. All our machines are screens. We too have become screens, and the interactivity of men has become the interactivity of screens (Jean Baudrillard, Xerox and Infinity).
Jean Baudrillard, like Carl Jung, became concerned about Western Culture’s abandonment of the symbolic and over- involvement with the sign. Unlike Jung who responded by developing an individual psychology for exploration of the *symbolic* in the personal realm, Baudrillard took on a McLuhan-like media probe and analysis of the *sign* in contemporary culture. His startling results take us into a hyperreal world where models of reality dominate and reality itself has given way to simulations of the real, and eventually to simulations of simulations that have no anchor, nor interest, in the real whatsoever.
II. Can Cultural Analysis be Applied to Dream-work?
The extension of humanity into computer mediated communications, as well as the general rise of technology and media has brought out the ever increasing importance of the technological interface and extension of our species. Not only will we extend the practices of dream-work into new area, but we will continue to observe the effects and transformations in dream imagery that these organic-digital combinations produce.
Although the dream resists direct commodification and digitalization, (just try to sell a dream, or even get someone to listen to your dream with interest), the transition from symbol to sign is an essential turning point according to Baudrillard in our culture becoming sign dependent. There is some marketing around dreams and dream-work, but it is a very insignificant part of the economy of the sign, money or politics. Even Freud remarked with sadness late in this life that psychoanalysis had abandoned dreams and had added nothing to his original theory in over 40 years, an this was for the sake of the capital that could be made from developing long term transferential therapies (I included the capital reasoning here). James Hillman might have developed a way to see commodification in dream-work. He has warned against turning dreams into objects for use in the day-world, but this would be a very metaphorical use of commodification. Generally speaking, dreams resist being quantified, and in doing so may offer us an alternative to being swept up in the endless march of mass media, consumer advertisements and what Marx called primitive accumulation that dominates capitalist societies that focus on the exchange and use value of objects rather than their deeper meanings.
Perhaps more interestingly we might look at our dreams for clues to our own cycles of consumption. A kind of Marxian Dream-work that exposes the places in our life we have turned into objects and been turned into objects, were we are the repressed workers and where we repress the worker. For Baudrillard, himself once a Marxist theorist, the world has moved past both Capitalism and Marxism into a Fractal economy where all meanings and options have fully extended and played themselves out and now just circulate the pieces around by means of a code that no one controls. The use we make of the dream relates to capitalism as much as the exchange value might. In this sense, the symbolic goes beyond the uses we can make of the dream, and any dream-work that favors the dream over the function we make of it needs to gather this sense to continue. Still, we need to begin somewhere.
III. How Far Have You Personally Moved into the Hyperreal?
Baudrillard offers us an image of the four revolutions that he sees having occurred in the shift from the real to the hyperreal. These four orders can be applied to the dream world as well as waking cultural horizons. By reading our dreams for the dominant order, we may be led to insights about our relationship with the signs and symbols that make up our world and inner world. When are we more like a feudal caste society were any variance in the interpretation of an event is considered a transgression? When are we so involved in the simulatory experience of the dream that its relationship to the rest of the world is no longer important? When is our desire shifted and manipulated by the objects in our environment and where do we rebel and consider creative, subversive alternatives?
IV. Sign Revolutions: A Sound Byte
The fixed and referential symbols of the Feudal/caste societies were shaken by the Renaissance theatrics which put their meaning(s) into question. Just what signs were suppose to refer to anymore was up to debate. The industrial revolution made possible the serial replication of these signs, exterminating any reference, producing an explosion of referents.. In the post-industrial era, metaphysical models of the code create a world of simulation without any reference to the real, an order of simulation that has no interest in the real whatsoever. Finally, in the fractal order, the simulations implode into a viral proliferation infinity extended and exhausted in all directions. All distinctions and differences are interwoven, cross-bred and played out to an extreme.
V. Levels of Image
Level 0. Aboriginal symbolic exchange cultures.
The image is a reflection of basic reality. Note that dream imagery in aboriginal cultures is where the image is like almost a sacrament. Even in our de-sacralized society, dreams are often vaguely see as reflecting reality. Jung was interested in returning the dream image to this level, though he often wanted to bring it up into the day-world for our personal use. In aboriginal culture, the dream can completely undermine the exchange value system, shifting the flow of gifts and counter-gifts, marriages, taboos and status.
Level 1. The image masks and perverts reality.
Here is more a level of Freudian dream-work level, with the dream functioning to both express the basic reality of desires in a disguised form just enough to let off steam, but not enough to wake the dreamer.
Level 2. The image masks the absence of a basic reality.
The dream masks the fact that it is a dream and that there are things we don’t want to dream about. “…Power is no longer present except to conceal that there is none.” (Baudrillard, 1994:181). In dream-work, we teach people who are haunted by specters of power – shadows, bears, wolves, muggers, monsters – that these figures are involved in scenarios of empty power and can be confronted.
Level 3. The image bears no relation to any reality whatsoever, it is its own simulacrum.
Here we have moved into lucid and proactive dreaming where the dreamer doesn’t care that there is any connection with reality, the event itself has become the reality of concern.
VI. Portrait of a Dream-worker
When she was young, her dream interpretations carefully reflected the life and reality of the dreamer, almost like she was a landscape artist. Later, her own versions of reality began to appear in her interpretations. Some saw this as her distortion of reality phase, others as drawing the world through her own reality. The interpretations often seemed to mask and pervert the reality of the dreamer. Then a desperation began to emerge, and her interpretations masked the absence of reality, as if to protect herself and others from a flaw at the center of the universe. Finally, her interpretations bore no relation to any reality whatever and reproductions of images that had no original began to proliferate.
VII. Dream-work and Levels of the Sign
A way we might use these ideas in dream-work is in recognizing the different levels of power scenarios that play themselves out in dreaming. Baudrillard speaks about the orders of appearance of simulation: pre-simulation feudal/caste societies, counterfeit pre-production societies, production societies and re-productive simulation society.
|0 Feudal/caste societies – signs and their meanings are pre-determined|
The Feudal/Caste Society
Have you ever had a dream that felt like you were at the Round Table? Or how about another type of cast of class society where everyone’s roles were set and fixed? Typically we like to romanticize the symbolism of such a dream. Perhaps we might see our dream knight as an indication of our relationship to the Higher Self, pre-figured as the king or head lf the society. Our knight and his or her behavior becomes a symbolic singular indication of our ego’s relationship to wholeness. Baudrillard’s work may offer an alternative view.
In these caste/feudal societies the representational systems; the codes, the symbols, the signs carry clearly marked, commonly held and limited numbers of meanings. One knows immediately another’s caste or rank by the garments one wares. The status is clearly indicated and there is little hope of changing one’s class. Anyone who tries to change the meaning of a sign is risking punishment for the transgression. Signified and signifier are fixed. Transgressors of this reality, dragons, heretics and infidels, must be hunted down and slain. All unstable reference must be punished and free interpretation is prohibited. In our dreamland we may find concerns about taboos and transgressions. Concerns about one reality dominate. Dreams in this style may indicate a part of personality that runs a very rigid yet meaningful game.
The Counterfeit Renaissance
There is a period of time before production society sets in and after the feudal/caste society which we often refer to in the West as the Renaissance. Now the signs begin to loosen and what they signify are more arbitrary. Does the bible mean this, or that? Protestant movements demand that each man must make his own interpretation of the bible. But why stop there? Everyone begins to have his or her own interpretation of everything. The particular meaning of a sign is freed, and an abstract code analogous to money is born. Theater is born and there is a destruction between a thing and what it represents. Psychology can begin as we can now question who we really are. Nature becomes important because it is lost. In the Renaissance we find stucco floral outpourings everywhere, in fountains, in buildings in paintings, in clothes, in books and on weapons. Stucco was the first plastic. The sign is stripped of its original meaning, but still refers dimly to a time when it did mean something. Too late. The natural world unfolds in every form, but it is all on stage. It is the theater of appearance and disappearance and changing forms. I am reminded of the movie “Interview with a Vampire” where the vampire’s stage a show, a parody of their life which unfolds endless “real” scenarios against the background of vampirism, but unable to refer to anything outside of the play itself. Their reference to the real world was cut by their condition. So too this early production society feeds on the real but is really cut off from it.
In dreams, we often encounter these worlds as well. Sometimes they are joyously filled with creative and theatrical energy, oddly meaningful and yet free from meaning. Strange forms evolve, masks and mistakes in identity trick us and make us laugh. Reversals and getting back to where we once were becomes more difficult. We find ourselves marrying people we don’t know, making alliances with strangers and creating art forms we never imagined. On the darker side, this world can be uncomfortably unstable. Pets turn into insects, chairs are haunted with ghosts, hospitals become prisons. Mom just isn’t what she used to be. Reality refuses to stabilize. This is the first order of simulation, the corrupt symbol that no longer refers to what it used to refer to. At one level this validates the living symbol that evolves and wants to grow out of its old form. But what Baudrillard is suggesting is that these images that have outgrown their original reference will never be able to find a happy home to live. Desire has become grandiose and swirls upward in Baroque productions of a Heaven in process, cupids arrow spiraling ever upward and outward.
Modern Production Society
Here the sign produces neutral values can be exchanged in an objective world. Just like the free worker who is now free to make what he or she wants, but there is little meaning in the work. There is a nostalgia for ancient meaning, but it is all appearance. The Marlboro Cowboy is a billboard commodity used to sell cigarettes. The real meaning of the sign easily exchanged.
There is an expansion here of the production of goods, science and technology. There is an explosion of transportation, products to buy, and services as commodities. There is an explosion of science and technology, of national boundaries, of different social spheres, topics to discuss, money and value. In Modern society there is a constant proliferation of commodities.
In dreams we find modern images in the factory, the conveyor belt, the assembly line. But this is also the world of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Duplication proliferates. Dreams of serial duplication, hordes of animals without a queen or leader, clones and eternal returns may appear. The simulation begun in the previous stage now accelerates and a great deal of energy is put into covering up the loss of reality. I recall a Graham Wilson cartoon where a group of scientists were in discussion in a large astrolabe, above unnoticed, a piece of space had torn and several angels were trying to quickly pull it back together. Dreams where maps and territory are confused speak to this level. Baudrillard sites Borges’ story where the makers of a map had it laid out so perfectly that it covered the real territory, except in places where there were tattered corners. The busy activity of hiding the fact that reality has disappeared may take simple and less harmless forms like going to Disneyland, or stronger forms like Auschwitz where death is produced and reproduced.
Since the surface of things is now suspect and devoid of meaning, one Barbie doll as meaningful as another, the Modern turn was to depth. If the real can no longer be found on the surface, then in it must be found beneath the surface. Once the unconscious is revealed, then what you really feel, what you really meant, is re-discovered. Look for dreams where you feel that what is “really” going on, where is it “really” happening is somewhere else. We can say that psychoanalytically the self is in projection in this Order. It is in the group that won’t let your in, in the party that is just over when you arrive, in the gift and prize given to someone else. Just not quite “here”. Detective dreams, an inability to find your way home, all lost and found dreams are of this order. As are all equivalences, such as dreams of balance, or weighing and measuring. What is it worth? If there is even a hope of answering this questions, we are still in the Modern Order of Signs.
The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control– and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. It no longer needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against an ideal (Baudrillard, 1994).
Had the truth been that we remained in a production reality, Marxism may have continued to be a viable theory in the world. But Baudrillard sees that what Marx called the “nonessential” sectors of capital to be what the global process of capital is founded upon. Fashion, media, publicity, information and communication networks, cybernetic control systems, computerization, cyber-spatiality, digitalization and genetic code proliferation. The organizing principle is no longer production but re-production. In this society of simulations where it is more interesting to be involved with a simulation of reality than reality itself, a new social order establishes itself. With the collapse or implosion between image/simulation and reality, the ground for the real disappears. People write in to Robert Young, an actor who played Dr. Welby, for medical advice and Raymond Burr who played the lawyer Perry Mason and Ironside for legal advice. Now doctors and lawyers are expected to act like Dr. Welby and Perry Mason. The models are the pivot point of reference rather that reality itself. Simulations now determine reality.
The continual solicitations to buy, to consume, to work, vote, give opinions, and participate in social life consume meaning and value as distinctions become meaningless. Simulations have devoured reality, and models have taken over. The production of reality in the Modern phase resulted in saturation and explosion. Now we have implosion. Reality and meaning melt into a nebulous mass of self-reproducing simulation. Simulations have taken over for reality, and now generate nothing but more simulations. The boundaries between entertainment and news collapse. The news becomes spectacle, entertainment. Politics and entertainment implode. Polls turn the elections into image contexts, a war of signs.
We still consume, even more feverishly. But now we buy status and presence instead of objects. Here in San Francisco, my neighborhood has filled with four-wheel drive wagons. We used to call them jeeps. I doubt most of these all-terrain vehicles have even been anywhere off the road beside perhaps a sidewalk. There are hills here, but never any snow nor weather that would warrant a 4-wheel drive. It is very cool to be part of this urban safari. In hyperreality what is produced and consumed are signs. The pressure on the individual is to be socialized. Production is irrelevant and secondary.
In a surreal mode, we find pleasure in finding the unnatural in the natural. Eruptions of moments of surreality break into the course of everyday life. In the hyperreal, the real and imaginary collapse together everywhere. Any moment might be a media event and we have a kind of sixth sense for this. We scan for fakery, montage and overlay. Absolut Vodka ala the latest artist, Absolut Mc Glynn, Absolut Philip, Absolut Goodman…. A kind of non-deliberate parody clings to everything. No one believes it is real, nor cares. Do you have political concerns about the integrity of the politicians? Get with it, its cool that Newt brings his laptop to congress!
In dream-work, we cover the full spectrum. Some people use dream-work to patch up the holes in their reality – or gaps in their illusion of reality – places where meaning and value have dropped out of their lives. Much of therapy is about patching up holes in the ego. Deeper work is statistically rare. Dream-work can go the other extreme as well and be a vehicle for promoting a particular singular reality. Here, the interpretations will always be the same, and the interpretive process determines reality. Just as vexing can be the dream as god approach, where the dream reality is determining all the reality and dream-work becomes a kind of religion, the dream an object of worship.
VIII. An Alternative to Signs – The Improv-erse
While Baudrillard exposes very well the simulated reality we are moving so rapidly into, his alternatives are somewhat lacking and under theorized. The gist is to enact scenes that return us to the symbolic and burn the sign. But his suggestion of becoming more real than real, more the worker than the worker, more the consumer than the consumer, seem to have little or no effect on culture and quickly play out to exhaustion in avant-garde art scenes. Big History may truly have ended and in our postmodern world all we can do is play with the pieces. While this may cause sadness for dictators, nationalists, classists and others desiring massive changes, for most of us exploring dream-work in cyberspace it offers the opportunity for play and experimentation.
A personal alternative is the Improv-erse, the intrusion of a symbolic exchange into sign value and exchange. In the improve-erse, reality is created out of the interaction of two or more singularities (dream, person, mood, sound in the distance..) intruding into the exchange value and signs. One might say that reality is co-determined by the participants on a local level. Avens once said about the dream, we give it meaning, then it reveals to us its significance. If we can hear it. Listening is as important as signing in this universe. Having an ear for the other and being able to play off of the song that comes from neither but from the relationship is much like the old technique of improvisational music. In blues and folk rock jams, the musician is called upon to listen while playing.
Improvisations lead to a temporary reality or song/jam world that includes all that are listening, musicians and non-musicians alike. Thus the subjective-objective world is crossed. On a Social-Political level, subversive activities often erupt in the same manner. On a larger scale we can see the effects in such events as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall coming directly from grassroots cultural exchange programs. On a more local level, Bikers, sick of Auto dominated streets began erupting into spontaneous Critical Mass bike-a-thons in the Bay Area in the late 1990’s during rush hour traffic. In dream-work we approach the dream without a sense of knowing, but of interest – we try a note. This boy in my dream is my own undeveloped boy. We listen and maybe we hear yes, maybe we hear no – but usually a whole intuition appears that leads us on. The improve-erse comes into being. It is a beginning.
About the Author
Richard C. Wilkerson holds a degree in Psychology from Antioch. He is the publisher on the On-line magazine Dream-work: http://www.dreamgate.com/rcw_home.htm
The International Association for the Study of Dreams is a non-profit, international, multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming. Its purposes are to promote an awareness and appreciation of dreams in both professional and public arenas; to encourage research into the nature, function, and significance of dreaming; to advance the application of the study of dreams; and to provide a forum for the eclectic and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and information.
Jean Baudrillard [©1981] (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.