Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 4 (view annotations)

What are dreams? A random sequence of scenes, trivial or
tragic, viatic or static, fantastic or familiar, featuring more or
less plausible events patched up with grotesque details, and re-
casting dead people in new settings.
359.05 In reviewing the more or less memorable dreams I have had
during the last nine decades I can classify them by subject matter
into several categories among which two surpass the others
in generic distinctiveness. There are the professional dreams and
there are the erotic ones. In my twenties the first kind occurred
359.10 about as frequently as the second, and both had their intro-
ductory counterparts, insomnias conditioned either by the over-
flow of ten hours of vocational work or by the memory of
Ardis that a thorn in my day had maddeningly revived. After
work I battled against the might of the mind-set: the stream of
359.15 composition, the force of the phrase demanding to be formed
could not be stopped for hours of darkness and discomfort, and
when some result had been achieved, the current still hummed
on and on behind the wall, even if I locked up my brain by an
act of self-hypnosis (plain will, or pill, could no longer help)
359.20 within some other image or meditation—but not Ardis, not

[ 359 ]

Ada, for that would mean drowning in a cataract of worse
wakefulness, with rage and regret, desire and despair sweeping
me into an abyss where sheer physical extenuation stunned me
at last with sleep.
360.05 In the professional dreams that especially obsessed me when
I worked on my earliest fiction, and pleaded abjectly with a very
frail muse ("kneeling and wringing my hands" like the dusty-
trousered Marmlad before his Marmlady in Dickens), I might
see for example that I was correcting galley proofs but that
360.10 somehow (the great "somehow" of dreams!) the book had al-
ready come out, had come out literally, being proffered to me
by a human hand from the wastepaper basket in its perfect,
and dreadfully imperfect, stage—with a typo on every page,
such as the snide "bitterly" instead of "butterfly" and the mean-
360.15 ingless "nuclear" instead of "unclear." Or I would be hurrying
to a reading I had to give—would feel exasperated by the sight
of the traffic and people blocking my way, and then realize
with sudden relief that all I had to do was to strike out the
phrase "crowded street" in my manuscript. What I might
360.20 designate as "skyscape" (not "skyscrape," as two-thirds of the
class will probably take it down) dreams belongs to a subdivi-
sion of my vocational visions, or perhaps may represent a preface
to them, for it was in my early pubescence that hardly a night
would pass without some old or recent waketime impression's
360.25 establishing a soft deep link with my still-muted genius (for we
are "van," rhyming with and indeed signifying "one" in Marina's
double-you-less deep-voweled Russian pronunciation). The
presence, or promise, of art in that kind of dream would come
in the image of an overcast sky with a manifold lining of cloud,
360.30 a motionless but hopeful white, a hopeless but gliding gray,
showing artistic signs of clearing, and presently the glow of a
pale sun grew through the leaner layer only to be recowled by
the scud, for I was not yet ready.

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Allied to the professional and vocational dreams are "dim-
doom" visions: fatidic-sign nightmares, thalamic calamities, men-
acing riddles. Not infrequently the menace is well concealed, and
the innocent incident will turn out to possess, if jotted down
361.05 and looked up later, the kind of precognitive flavor that Dunne
has explained by the action of "reverse memory"; but for the
moment I am not going to enlarge upon the uncanny element
particular to dreams—beyond observing that some law of logic
should fix the number of coincidences, in a given domain, after
361.10 which they cease to be coincidences, and form, instead, the liv-
ing organism of a new truth ("Tell me," says Osberg's little
gitana to the Moors, El Motela and Ramera, "what is the precise
minimum of hairs on a body that allows one to call it ‘hairy'?").
Between the dim-doom and the poignantly sensual, I would
361.15 place "melts" of erotic tenderness and heart-rending enchant-
ment, chance frôlementsof anonymous girls at vague parties,
half-smiles of appeal or submission—forerunners or echoes of
the agonizing dreams of regret when series of receding Adas
faded away in silent reproach; and tears, even hotter than those
361.20 I would shed in waking life, shook and scalded poor Van, and
were remembered at odd moments for days and weeks.
Van's sexual dreams are embarrassing to describe in a family
chronicle that the very young may perhaps read after a very
old man's death. Two samples, more or less euphemistically
361.25 worded, should suffice. In an intricate arrangement of thematic
recollections and automatic phantasmata, Aqua impersonating
Marina or Marina made-up to look like Aqua, arrives to inform
Van, joyfully, that Ada has just been delivered of a girl-child
whom he is about to know carnally on a hard garden bench
361.30 while under a nearby pine, his father, or his dress-coated
mother, is trying to make a transatlantic call for an ambulance
to be sent from Vence at once. Another dream, recurring in its
basic, unmentionable form, since 1888 and well into this century,

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contained an essentially triple and, in a way, tribadic, idea. Bad
Ada and lewd Lucette had found a ripe, very ripe ear of Indian
corn. Ada held it at both ends as if it were a mouth organ and
now it was an organ, and she moved her parted lips along it,
362.05 varnishing its shaft, and while she was making it trill and moan,
Lucette's mouth engulfed its extremity. The two sisters' avid
lovely young faces were now close together, doleful and wistful
in their slow, almost languid play, their tongues meeting in
flicks of fire and curling back again, their tumbled hair, red-
362.10 bronze and black-bronze, delightfully commingling and their
sleek hindquarters lifted high as they slaked their thirst in the
pool of his blood.
I have some notes here on the general character of dreams.
One puzzling feature is the multitude of perfect strangers with
362.15 clear features, but never seen again, accompanying, meeting,
welcoming me, pestering me with long tedious tales about other
strangers—all this in localities familiar to me and in the midst of
people, deceased or living, whom I knew well; or the curious
tricks of an agent of Chronos—a very exact clock-time aware-
362.20 ness, with all the pangs (possibly full-bladder pangs in disguise)
of not getting somewhere in time, and with that clock hand
before me, numerically meaningful, mechanically plausible, but
combined—and that is the curious part—with an extremely
hazy, hardly existing passing-of-time feeling (this theme I will
362.25 also reserve for a later chapter). All dreams are affected by the
experiences and impressions of the present as well as by memories
of childhood; all reflect, in images or sensations, a draft, a light,
a rich meal or a grave internal disorder. Perhaps the most typical
trait of practically all dreams, unimportant or portentous—and
362.30 this despite the presence, in stretches or patches, of fairly
logical (within special limits) cogitation and awareness (often
absurd) of dream-past events—should be understood by my
students as a dismal weakening of the intellectual faculties of

[362 ]

the dreamer, who is not really shocked to run into a long-dead
friend. At his best the dreamer wears semi-opaque blinkers; at
his worst he's an imbecile. The class (1891, 1892, 1893, 1894,
et cetera) will carefully note (rustle of bluebooks) that, owing
363.05 to their very nature, to that mental mediocrity and bumble,
dreams cannot yield any semblance of morality or symbol or
allegory or Greek myth, unless, naturally, the dreamer is a
Greek or a mythicist. Metamorphoses in dreams are as common
as metaphors in poetry. A writer who likens, say, the fact of
363.10 imagination's weakening less rapidly than memory, to the lead
of a pencil getting used up more slowly than its erasing end, is
comparing two real, concrete, existing things. Do you want me
to repeat that? (cries of "yes! yes!") Well, the pencil I'm
holding is still conveniently long though it has served me a lot,
363.15 but its rubber cap is practically erased by the very action it
has been performing too many times. My imagination is still
strong and serviceable but my memory is getting shorter and
shorter. I compare that real experience to the condition of this
real commonplace object. Neither is a symbol of the other.
363.20 Similarly, when a teashop humorist says that a little conical
titbit with a comical cherry on top resembles this or that (titters
in the audience) he is turning a pink cake into a pink breast
(tempestuous laughter) in a fraise-like frill or frilled phrase
(silence). Both objects are real, they are not interchangeable,
363.25 not tokens of something else, say, of Walter Raleigh's decap-
itated trunk still topped by the image of his wetnurse (one lone
chuckle). Now the mistake—the lewd, ludicrous and vulgar
mistake of the Signy-Mondieu analysts consists in their regard-
ing a real object, a pompon, say, or a pumpkin (actually seen in
363.30 a dream by the patient) as a significant abstraction of the real
object, as a bumpkin's bonbon or one-half of the bust if you see
what I mean (scattered giggles). There can be no emblem or
parable in a village idiot's hallucinations or in last night's dream

[363 ]

of any of us in this hall. In those random visions nothing—un-
derscore "nothing" (grating sound of horizontal strokes)—can
be construed as allowing itself to be deciphered by a witch doc-
tor who can then cure a madman or give comfort to a killer by
364.05 laying the blame on a too fond, too fiendish or too indifferent
parent—secret festerings that the foster quack feigns to heal by
expensive confession fests (laughter and applause).

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