Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

All I Do the Whole Night Through: On the Dreams of Gisli Sursson

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

All I Do the Whole Night Through: On the Dreams of Gisli Sursson

Article excerpt

IN UNDERTAKING a consideration of dreams and their possible meanings in the current and the previous century, the work of Sigmund Freud can hardly be avoided. Although it is perhaps assumed that there is little correspondence between the modern psychoanalytical approach in attempting to interpret dreams and the method of discovering their often covert meanings as represented in medieval Icelandic literature, namely--in the present context--the Islendingasogur or Sagas of Icelanders. (1) However, it seems that any such perceived differences may lie less in the manner in which the dreams are interpreted and the perceived notions of how they might provide insight into the lives of the dreamers and influence or determine their behavior than in the way in which the sagas portray fate and the characters' fatalistic view of future events that are contrary to the modern refusal to see aman or a woman's life as predetermined by any number of supernatural forces.

Freud's fundamental thesis that dreams carry meaning is, according to Paul Ricoeur, a polemical one, and it is defended on two fronts:

   Elle s'oppose d'un cote toute conception qui le tiendrait pour un
   jeu fortuit de representations, pour un dechet de la vie mentale,
   dont seul le defaut de sens ferait probleme : de ce premier point
   de vue, parler du sens du reve, c'est declarer qu'il est une
   operation intelligible, voire intellectuelle de l'homme;
   comprendre, c'est faire l'experience de l'ntelligibilite. La these
   s'oppose d'autre part a toute explication prematurement organique
   du reve; elle signifie qu'on peut toujours substituer au recit du
   reve un autre recit, avec semantique et syntaxe, et que l'on peut
   comparer ces deux recits comme un texte a un autre texte. (96)

   On the one hand, it is opposed to the notion that dreams are a
   chance play of representations, a waste product of mental life, and
   that the sole problem concerning them is their lack of meaning.
   From this first point of view, to say that dreams have rneaning is
   to assert that they are an intelligible, and even intellectual,
   operation of man; to understand them is to experience their
   intelligibility. On the other hand, the thesis is opposed to any
   premature organic explanation of dreams; the thesis signifies that
   one can always substitute for the dream account another account,
   with a semantics and a syntax, and that these two accounts are as
   comparable to one another as two texts. (88-9)

Dreams in the sagas always carry meaning and for the most part form pivotal and powerful moments in the narrative, if not as a whole, at least for the dreamer or for the one to whom the dream is directed. And although it is not always disseminated directly, in most cases the original account of the dream is either interpreted on the spot or through the account later in the plot, that is to say through the fulfillment of a particular prophetic dream's premonitory meaning. Although dreams seem to perform other functions within the saga narratives, sometimes they signal the presence of some metaphysical force behind the stage or reveal something of the character of the dreamer (Lonnroth 456). This, the prophetic or premonitory dream, is the most common class of dreams associated with the sagas. Thus there is little wonder that the modern dreamer finds generally little reflection of his or her own unconscious experiences in those of the saga dreamer's. However, in Iris discussion of dreams as the "disguised fulfilments of repressed wishes" (italics original), Freud writes that "it is interesting in this connection to observe that the popular belief that dreams always foretell the future is confirmed Actually the future which the dream shows us is not the one which will occur but the one which we should like to occur" (674). And, in his The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes,

   And the value of dreams for giving us knowledge of the future? … 
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