Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Dreamwork in Rimbaud's Illuminations: The Scene of the Other in Bottom

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Dreamwork in Rimbaud's Illuminations: The Scene of the Other in Bottom

Article excerpt

I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream ... The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath hot seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. (1)

Shakespeare's character Bottom, often cited as an intertextual source for Rimbaud's text bearing the same name, poetically relates above a dreamer's estrangement from the scene of the unconscious Other in which s/he unwittingly participates. As dreamers, we observe ourselves in scenes staged in an inner psychical theatre that we cannot fully re-cognize upon waking. Just as a dreaming subject is estranged from the psychical scene that s/he unconsciously desires, so too the self is constructed in relation to its otherness. Whether dreaming or speaking, the subject is alienated thus from desired identity in and through its discourse. For discourse writes the self in terms of signifying relations which reveal the dialogic relation between the unconscious subject of identifications and the speaking subject, where "the moi reveals itself in the present speaking through je by which it is not recognized." (2) My analysis traces this discourse of the split self in Bottom. While Rimbaud erased the text's original title Metamorphoses, its trace remains operative in Bottom where an unconscious play of signifying chains structured like dreamwork configures the desiring subject as the object of its desire.

Bottom calls to mind a dream text, not because we assume that Rimbaud transcribes therein an actual dream, but rather because the semiotic practice that its writing exemplifies follows closely the primary processes of dreamwork, displacement and condensation. (3) Corresponding neither to external reference nor to consistent psychological themes, the imaginative writing at play in this poetic text constructs emergent meaning at the level of the signifier where metaphoric and metonymic modes interpenetrate. (4) This creative strategy of dream construction informs our reading of the Other scene in Bottom.

We recall that Rimbaud's creative artist, like a dreaming subject, "assiste a l'eclosion de [sa] pensee, ... la regarde ... l'ecoute," "la pensee accrochant la pensee et tirant" (15 mai 1871). When read as a model for creative mental activity, "la pensee accrochant la pensee et tirant" implies association along a syntagmatic axis. This mode operates by contiguity, as dream construction does, selecting and combining significant day residues with memory representations into associative networks or signifying chains.

One may question framing Freud's theory of dreamwork in semiotic terms because of his analytical aim to read in a binary fashion the manifest dream content as a metaphor for a latent wish. Such interpretation of dreams having recourse to universal symbolism is not, however, entirely representative of his methodology. (5) To interpret a dream, Freud theoretically began by analyzing its writing, i.e. its text, mapping the metonymic network(s) of signifying chains to construct relations therein. These poetics of free association imply that reading a dream does not reconstruct, but rather constructs connections which subsequent readings may in turn deconstruct. In a recent revision of dreamwork, Stanley Palombo substantiates this view on the basis that "Freud produces no evidence that these connections had once been present and then later destroyed by the dream-work" (194). (6)

In reviewing Freudian dreamwork, Palombo supports the affinity assumed here between primary processes (displacement and condensation) and creative mental activity. He states with reference to condensation which works in conjunction with displacement that

   comparison by superimposition is still the most effective method
   for identifying the common features in what may appear to be
   unrelated experiences. It provides a method which permits us to
   go beyond the limits of our logical categories to construct new
   connections without having to know the full meaning of those
   connections in advance. … 
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