The Labyrinth of Dreams


Víctor Montoya

Translation by Elizabeth Gamble Miller

The Swiss author Carl G. Jung, in his considerable contribution to the understanding of human psychology, contended that dreams are not only a storehouse of repressed desires, but also a world that is part of our real life, although not manifest through rational thought but through allegorical images. Sigmund Freud, in his writings, insists that dreams are important to people's lives; first, because they help resolve emotional conflicts accumulated in the subconscious, and second, because they serve the purpose of satisfying inhibited desires censored by the social environment.

Dream is the symbolic language of the unconscious, a room of mirrors where we look at our faces; sometimes younger, sometimes older, at times healthier, other times unwell. Dreams are like films of fiction, in which we are the directors and protagonists. In dreams everything is possible, including flying, loving, hating, dying, or surviving danger. It isn't accidental that some of our repressed instincts are projected into erotic dreams. In these the sexual act, as in surrealist paintings, may be symbolized by a key opening a lock, a hand holding a cane, or a battering ram knocking down a door –a kind of sexual allegory that allows us to satisfy repressed desires in the subconscious.

If dreams serve the purpose of alleviating existential reality, then it is healthy to dive into dreams to find the concealed coffer of the unconscious. And if the coffer, instead of containing riches, contains bad things, like Pandora's box, it will be best to open it to let the tormenting creatures escape, like Aladdin let the genie hidden in the magic lamp escape. Otherwise, you run the risk that the coffer of dreams will turn into a heavy load for the body and the conscience.

In spite of the analytical explanations intending to interpret our innermost self, some of us, trapped by a deep, suspicious fear of novelty and the unknown still hide and deny the message of dreams. It's worse still if the dreams reveal aggressive, demonic instincts, as is the case in this etching by Francisco Goya, where the owls and bats swarm over the head of the one dreaming beside the epigraph: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (The sleep of reason produces monsters), because a dream, like an aquarium, has its own life beneath the surface.

Dreams provide a laboratory of sorts, in which more than a few thinkers found the solution to certain ideas they had buzzing around in their heads. René Descartes derived several of his theses from dreams. Albert Einstein formulated the law of relativity in a dream. Isaac Singer, who understood the mechanism of weaving, invented the sewing machine from a dream in which, contrary to the wise warning of Christ, he saw camels going through the eye of a needle. August Kekulé von Stradonitz discovered the molecular structure of benzene after dreaming of serpents that were biting their tails, and Robert Louis Stevenson had the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde revealed to him in a dream.

Dreams are the voice of the unconscious, a useful key for opening doors to the past and perhaps smoothing the path for the future; some assert the existence of dreams that are premonitions, in which they believe they see, as in a crystal ball, the final destiny of their lives. Martin Luther King said he had a dream that one day the Africans would be free, while Martin Luther had nightmares, as if his unconscious world wanted to scream its way to the surface. And, although in his official life Luther was a reserved man and a priest who criticized himself before his congregation, in his dreams he saw himself passing through the catacombs of hell, just like Dante in his Divine Comedy.

The importance of dreams had already been explained in the biblical world as a form of putting yourself in contact with God and as a way of explaining causes and consequences of a history previously written. The prophet Daniel, seven centuries before Christ, had premonitions in dreams while in prison in Egypt, as in like manner Joseph discovered in a dream that his wife would conceive a child by divine grace. Therefore, dreams of premonition have the virtue of announcing events to us long before they occur in reality. Not in vain did Jung try to explain this dream phenomenon when he stated that dream not only functions as a way to reestablish psychic equilibrium, but also to warn of dangers while alive. "If the warnings in dreams are disregarded, he asserted, real accidents can happen."

This being said, if dreams of premonitions are true, I would like for someone to explain to me in clear, concise language, what is the future that destiny is offering me after my last dream in which I lost my life. In it I saw the image of a beast standing beside my bed, between the night table and the headboard. Covered with a black cape and holding an enormous knife, with eyes and hair like Medusa, and lips, red as poppies, and just a trace of a smile, giving a glimpse of the scorpions on her tongue.

I gazed at her entranced, and, although I tried to move and to scream, I was petrified between terror and shock. She tore open her cape and displayed her vagina, and from it white worms were streaming down her legs. Then apparently indifferent, she lifted the knife and stabbed me. She sliced my flesh and scattered the pieces. My head was in tact, and I had the sensation of being alive. I was listening to my panting breath and watching my heart, torn from my chest, beating on the floor, and the way my body parts were moving like the quartered tail of a lizard.

Having completed the task, the beast vanished into the shadows of the room, and I put the pieces of my body back together to run from the dream. Since that time I've not ceased thinking of this etching of Goya, who, without being a prophet or a psychoanalyst knew that in the labyrinth of dream dwelled monsters controlled by reason.

© Víctor Montoya, Elizabeth Gamble Miller (2007)

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Original en español de esta crónica

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* Iilustración artículo: Capricho 43 (El sueño de la razón produce monstruos), aguafuerte por Francisco de Goya, dominio público.

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