“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, November 26, 2007

the ontogenesis of the critic

When LI was a child, we were particularly prone to nightmares.

I developed a remedy for the nightmares that would wake me up in a fright. I would compose a happy ending scenario – often involving shooting a bad guy – with which to go back to sleep. I don’t know how common this is – obviously, if you are small, need sleep, and are at the same time afraid to go to sleep, you need to develop some method to negotiate between those two enormous pulls, panic and metabolism. I am not one of nature’s insomniacs, like Nabokov – before the age of thirty, I don’t recall having much of a problem getting to sleep. Now, of course, I sometimes have whole weeks of insomnia, in which I experience vast patches of shallow or no sleep interspersed by blurry days of a tiredness that haunts me like a guilty conscience until I decide to give into it – at which point it disperses, leaving me wide awake and facing the horror of another night. I know intimately the moment of cock crow, when Hamlet’s father flees back to hell, the garbage truck shakes the dumpsters, and the cars bearing people from various night shifts ease back into the parking lot with an oddly muted sound, as though the cars were on tiptoe. The quickly stifled bits of radio or music that come out of the windows. The sound of the door slamming, and the sound of footsteps.

But outside of the shadow of insomnia, I am still bothered, perhaps more than most people, with nightmares. Last night, for instance, the Nosferatu lookalike who carved up a woman in my dreams and stalked me and a friend (who I didn’t really know – the man in my dream was as familiar as a film star, but I didn’t know his name), had a good time spooking me. Eventually, as the Nosferatu looking man came at me with a gun and had me good and cornered, I woke up. Just enough to know that I had to go back to sleep with another dream plan. In that plan, I jumped Nosferatu from behind, or did something – the events get cloudy here. But I cheated the nightmare’s ending.

I sometimes wonder if this habit betrays the salient characteristics of a born critic. Helpless to direct the narrative in which I am caught, I nevertheless have the power, at a certain point, to get out of it and go back into it – there is a little back door in my dreams. I am not even sure that the ending of the dreams that I contrive are really dreams – they may not have the true sleep seal on them, but exist more in the twilight between waking and sleeping thoughts. But they are often followed by another dream – and sometimes, the next dream is also a nightmare, but of a significantly lesser degree of virulence.


Praxis said...

Jesus, Roger. Sorry to be a obsessive little cyberstalker - but this is the best blog ever. Cars on tiptoe - fucking brilliant. Nabokov would've loved it...

roger said...

Thank you, praxis!
It is curious that I've drawn a blank looking for parallels to my dream engineering, although I would bet a lot of people do this. Although when you ask people about their dreams, I've noticed a certain shifting about, like the topic is boring, or too personal, or too weird. Funny, I love to talk about dreams.

Praxis said...

No - people don't discuss dreams enough; nor the strange half-waking moments before and after sleep; nor the countless little dream-like irrationalities of our half-submerged mental processes. We're all animists beneath the skin, giving objects personalities and intentions. Sometimes I know I'm dreaming - I can't influence events, but some part of my mind comments on the dream's success: applauding inventive imagery; deploring some short-cut taken by the dream authority. Most vexing, though, are the dreams in which I wake up, shave, shower, get dressed - and then wake up for real, to find I'm late for work.

Ray Davis said...

Apologies for the tardiness of this response -- I'm still a month behind on my not-so-Limited Inc. reading (and again being surprised by coincidences such as your November 24 and my November 10) -- but as insomniac and critic, I owe you my testimony:

Since age seven or so, I've dealt with sleeplessness (including the post-nightmare variety) by deliberately focusing on the visual phenomena sensed behind shut eyes in a dark room: intensifying colors, sharpening dirt and edges, like applying a series of Photoshop filters to a flat field of matte black. Of course, since this probably isn't far removed from mechanisms that manufature nightmares in the first place, I often end up literally re-engineering their worst imagery. Your intervention in the storyline sounds far more sensible, akin to the comforts of lucid dreaming. And yet the shallowness of my method -- the fetishing of surface -- does still soothe, and obviously suggests just as much about a particular critical turn of mind.