Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Interpretation of Dreams

In her exuberant utopia The Female Man Joanna Russ notes that the Whileawayans ‘practice secret dream interpretation according to an arbitrary scheme they consider idiotic but very funny’.  The visitor from the future, Janet Evason, almost expounds this system to the teenager Laura, but alas does not, so we never do learn ‘the secret dream-system by which Whileawayans transform matter and embrace the galaxies’.  Janet’s dream that she was skating backwards and Laura’s that a beautiful stranger was teaching her how to shoot remain undeciphered.

Would that we possessed the secret of Whileawayan hermeneutics so that we could interpret in a suitably arbitrary and galaxy-embracing way Bob the weaver’s oneiric experience in News from Nowhere – ‘I dreamed last night that we were off up the river fishing’ – or even that dream of Morris’s own from May 1886:  ‘We were all together in the High-street near the end of River Court Road, and watching shooting stars which were red & green & yellow like the lights on the new Hammersmith bridge, when all at once one fell to earth in the middle of the road and we all bolted for fear it should burst like a shell’.

Asserting that ‘this is the one occasion where he tells of an actual dream of his’, Jack Lindsay interprets Morris’s account in terms of ‘imagery of what is called the birth-trauma’, thereby drawing silently on the work of Otto Rank.  I’m more struck by the near-science-fictional imagery here, as if we have an anticipation of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds.  Aliens landing on earth may be a scary prospect, as in Wells, but there is another way of telling that story, as Russ herself has shown: let a visitor from the utopian future descend to our world, rather than sending a William Guest from the bad old world to the transfigured new one.  So in my application of Whileawayan dream hermeneutics, Morris has distantly anticipated that great mutation in the utopian genre which comes about in the 1970s with The Female Man and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time.