Dreams & Synesthesia
How are you all doing? Hope you’re taking care of yourselves. I’m going to kick off this week’s Tape with a question which is a partner question, in a way, to something I asked in a Tape months ago. I think I once asked you all to tell me something you didn’t dream about last night. I’ll be honest, I can’t for the life of me remember why I did that. A thought experiment or something. Anyway, this week’s question is a logical continuation of that one:
Tell me something you DID dream about last night. Once you’ve typed that out, do you feel like what you just typed out does much in terms of expressing how that dream actually FELT to you? Are you able to express to me what, if anything, got lost in translation? Or is it impossible?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and takes on that if you’d be happy to share them with me! Because of the thing I’m currently writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams and dream logic lately, and have been chatting to some experts in dream literature about how they manifest in people’s writing throughout history. I’ve also been trying to keep track of my own dreams lately, and to talk to Miranda about hers, to get a better handle on what sort of tropes and structures crop up again and again. (I know, I know, “there’s nothing more boring than talking about other people’s dreams,” but personally I’m with Liam Williams on this – as he said in this tweet, if you don’t find other people’s dreams interesting then it maybe means you’re just not very interested in that person).
The thing I’ve noticed most often, in myself and in the people I’ve spoken to, is that the second you successfully express something that happened in your dream in language, a significant part of what the dream actually felt like or meant to you has been completely lost, and even when trying to think about it in the privacy of your own skull, some of the potency is no longer there – the words you used to describe it have replaced the feeling of what it was actually like to dream it. The act of converting the experience of the dream into words causes the dream itself to become more grainy, more impossible to retrieve – it’s now locked in language, in the form you gave it. Dreams are by their nature formless, there are things about them – sensations, associations, qualia (lovely word) etc – that are synesthetic and are felt more than they are consciously understood, hence why discussions of dreams so often lapse into such unhelpful nonsense as “It was my house, but it also sort of wasn’t my house.” These are sensations that other people will have felt, but which can’t possibly be communicated.
Language & Synesthesia
This week we watched the documentary Fascinating Fungi on Netflix. I recommend it, it’s nuts. It starts out as a sort of nature documentary about fungi and mushrooms, but by the end has morphed into essentially a propaganda film lobbying for the legalisation of magic mushrooms, centring on what seems to be an eccentric cult of mushroom-hunters who are convinced that altered states of consciousness can help with depression and anxiety (willing to indulge that theory) and that turkey-tail mushrooms cure cancer (sceptical, to be brutally honest). It’s bonkers and quite interesting and fun, and has a great CGI sequence (pictured above) where early hominids eat magic mushrooms and get high and that causes them to develop consciousness. Could be true, who knows? Who am I to judge?
Anyway, the one bit that leapt out at me from that documentary was the idea that language in itself is a form of synesthesia – it involves taking a constant, experiential, infinite idea or concept, like rain, or sky, or hunger, and mapping it onto a certain sound, something artificial and rigid and limited. In the end, language develops in quite a Pavlovian way so that we can hear the word “table” and see a table in our minds, or we can see a table and hear the word “table” in our minds (why is “table” the word that’s always used in these discussions? I dunno, but I’m not gonna rock the boat). Something amorphous that we experience as a sensation or an idea has come to be trapped inside something separate from itself, inside a word, in a sort of synesthetic crossing-over of idea and form.
I think I’ve also talked about it in a previous Tape, but I’ve always believed that art, and absurdist comedy and nonsense in particular, is an attempt to overcome the synesthetic gap between the world as we experience it in ourselves, and the world we are able to give form and voice to. It’s an attempt to say “There are parts of myself that I feel very strongly that I know I can’t ever show you, but to me they look and sound and feel like this, and I hope you can see and hear and feel that and maybe relate it to the parts of yourself you can’t give voice to either.” Somewhere in between is something close to a universal feeling, but until magic mushrooms are legalised I suppose expressing ourselves through abstract nonsense is the closest we’ll get to really sitting in it together.
Anyway, please do let me know what you dreamed about last night, and what goes missing when you try to talk about it, I’d love to hear from you!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Bit late, but I’ll give this to Sophie Willan’s Alma’s Not Normal – it came out a few weeks ago now so it’s not a particularly fresh recommendation, but it’s very good and I only watched it recently, and I’ve not plugged it here yet, so go watch it!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This guy’s Google Review of Pembroke Castle.
Book Of The Week – Still in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which continues to be great. “You recommended that last week!” everyone shouts, frothing at the mouth. I know, but it’s very long, give me time, you guys!!
Album Of The Week – How Dare You! by 10cc. We used to listen to 10cc’s Greatest Hits in the car all the time when I was a kid, and they’ve long had a place in my heart. Only recently started listening to their albums, and oh wow, they were nuts. Their hits are sort of eccentric, sure, but they’re basically radio-friendly pop singles. The album tracks are bizarre. Zappa-esque, almost. There’s a song on this album where someone just starts screaming halfway through. It’s great fun. Also, “I’m Mandy Fly Me” has been, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs of all time since I was about 10, and it’s nice to hear it in its original album context. Those silly guitar solos!
Film Of The Week – Fascinating Fungi, obvs. Ridiculous film.
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you wanted to send this newsletter to a friend, or encourage other people to subscribe, then I’d hugely appreciate it. There might not be a newsletter next week as it’s quite a busy one, but we’ll see. Until next time, anyway, and take care of yourselves in the meantime!
PS Here’s another picture of one of the new Regent’s Park sculptures, because I haven’t really taken any new pictures of stuff this week, so hey, more of this. Art’s fun, innit?