Easily interpreted as symbolic or premonitory

November 29, 2017

I’ve used dreams in my fiction in various ways. In order to keep from writing a long essay on this subject, I’ll provide only a few examples. In some of my stories the protagonist will have a dream that advances the plot, which is the simplest and most often used function of dreams in fiction. In “The Sect of the Idiot,” for instance, a dream turns out to be a vision of something fantastic that turns out to exist in reality. In this case, the dream prepared the revelation of a fantastic metaphysics. The inversion of this method is familiar to readers of ghost stories in which a character meets someone who is later revealed to be dead and therefore could only have been a ghost. In other stories of mine, a dream might explicate a concept, theme, or something that might otherwise come across as too cerebral in the waking section of the narrative. The dream in “The Sect of the Idiot” also serves this function. In “The Bungalow House,” I described a series of what I designated as “dream monologues” that were recorded on tape and intended to be works of art. The first dream monologue was a transcription of an actual dream I had and wrote down soon after I awoke, so it was also initiated my writing of the entire story. A second dream monologue in “The Bungalow House” was only summarized, while a third was simply given a title, because at that point I had established the nature of the dream monologues in their incidents and meaning. For my purposes, to describe each dream monologue in its entirety would have slowed the pace of the story. All of the dream monologues were used to characterize the peculiar nature of the main character’s psychology. Sometimes I’ll characterize the events of a narrative as being dreamlike in some specific way, because over the years I’ve noted qualities that characterize dreams, such as that they have no beginning, an idea that was recently used in the movie Inception to prove to a character that she was functioning in a dream and not in conventional reality. A very short story I wrote called “One May Be Dreaming” is pretty obviously a dream from beginning to end. The whole point of the story was that the protagonist was having a dream at the same time he was dying in real life. Usually, it’s not exposed until the end of the story that the whole thing was a dream. For his story “Where He Was Going,” William Burroughs employs this method, his use of which he credits to Ernest Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro.” “Man from the South” was Jorge Luis Borges’s rendition of this narrative structure. Perhaps I should say that I don’t think that dreams are anything more than rearranged experiences, sensations, and emotions. While they may easily be interpreted as symbolic or premonitory or whatever, I don’t believe that they are anything but intrusions upon what might otherwise be wholly unconscious hours of sleep.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview with Wonderbook

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