-- “What I have so often seen in dreams has been fulfilled to me – in the most fearful manner – crippled and ripped apart men.” Such was the entry in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s notebook about the 29th of August, 1813, when he ventured out of Dresden and toured the recent battlefield, upon which Napoleon had inflicted a defeat upon the Alliance. Napoleon’s victory didn’t save him - and it came at the loss of about 30,000 soldiers on both sides. Hoffmann, walking in a Dresden street on the morning of the battle, was nearly killed by a grenade.
“So often seen in dreams.” Hoffmann’s 19th century biographers remarked that their subject wildly claimed to see spirits and doubles outside of dreams. Our information comes from Hitzig, the curiously contemptuous first collector of Hoffmann’s papers. Georg Ellinger, later, saw Hoffmann’s statements as being the overflow of his spirit. His claims, Ellinger thinks, should be interpreted poetically, as metaphors. Although it is true that the short man, whose family in Konigsberg breathed upon him the noxious fumes of imbecility, was a rather peculiar character.
- We started this long thread with Freud’s notion of Projection because Freud makes the claim that it Projection that helps us understand animism. It exists, as it were, in the collective primitive imagination as a psychic machine that produces animism. This is an extraordinary claim. Freud wrote about Hoffmann’s The Sandman in his essay on the uncanny, but I want to examine another Hoffmann tale, “Small Zach, aka Zinnobar” because it involves not only a sort of convergence of projection and mental ventriloquism, but it also contains a story about animism and the enlightenment. I have not found commentary linking this story to Freud’s theory – and yet, I find it fascinating, for it seems to displace the moment of projection, both historically and psychologically, so that what is projected is, (a) literally, triangulated - that is, projection is literally materialized and made into a motif of fantasy, and (b) put in the service of enlightenment. Enlightenment, which chops down the forest, rids the land of fairies, and sees that a tree is a tree and a person a person. Enlightenment might be thought of as the anti-projective ideology – the ideology that gets behind superstition and discovers projection at the base of it.
It is from the viewpoint of a dream that I am thinking of the topic of animism and the enlightenment. The dream of Carpenter Shih in the Chuangtzu, which I have quoted once – and quote here, again:
“After Carpenter Shih had returned home, the oak tree appeared to him in a dream and said, "What are you comparing me with? Are you comparing me with those useful trees? The cherry apple, the pear, the orange, the citron, the rest of those fructiferous trees and shrubs - as soon as their fruit is ripe, they are torn apart and subjected to abuse. Their big limbs are broken off, their little limbs are yanked around. Their utility makes life miserable for them, and so they don't get to finish out the years Heaven gave them, but are cut off in mid-journey. They bring it on themselves - the pulling and tearing of the common mob. And it's the same way with all other things.
"As for me, I've been trying a long time to be of no use, and though I almost died, I've finally got it. This is of great use to me. If I had been of some use, would I ever have grown this large? Moreover you and I are both of us things. What's the point of this - things condemning things? You, a worthless man about to die-how do you know I'm a worthless tree?"