Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Dreams of Other Worlds

I got chased by a zombie in a dream last night. It made me think of how misinterpretation of nightmares might have a lot in common with misinterpretation of fictional worlds. Just like in a nightmare, where a person can often identify himself as one character among hostile others, an author may believe he manifests his voice only through the protagonist, who is, usually, in some trouble, too.

In nightmares, otherness of others is felt strongly since we feel their intent to harm us. How could we not feel our different-ness from pursuers and chasers of various kinds, be it real people in our life, imagined, compounded strangers, or zombies and shadow-monsters. Similarly, when identified with the alter-ego of the protagonist, the writer can see the obstacles put before the character as obstacles inherent in the world. He then moves the protagonist through the problems as if moving her through an obstacle course.

What is hard to imagine is that obstacles put before our protagonists in the novels, and zombies and monsters lurking in shadows of our dreams, are not inherent in our world but in our minds. They are us. That is, only insofar as they create a conflict in our minds do they begin to have reality. So, as we are told by psychoanalysis, all dream characters, yes, all – including zombies – represent a part of ourselves in conflict with other parts of us with which we tend to identify more. So, if obstacles put before a protagonist are obstacles inherent in author’s mind, the other, more villainous characters, are just writer’s sub-personalities too, that spin themselves out in the process of writing.

All this theorizing is nice and well until I have to get back to writing or dreaming. Then, I don’t want to think I am the zombie or the villain. So, I’ll conveniently let it slip my mind, and give my therapist something to do.

2 comments:

emmadarwin said...

"So, if obstacles put before a protagonist are obstacles inherent in author’s mind, the other, more villainous characters, are just writer’s sub-personalities too, that spin themselves out in the process of writing."

I think all writers know this is true, if only in the sense that, being human, what we most hate in others are those things which we most hate and fear in ourselves: to write convincing monsters and villains we project out from that. But to convince the reader, when we write them we must find some kind of sense and coherence about our baddies as well as our goodies, which means understanding what makes them tick. And tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner.

Directed here from Help! I need a publisher blog. Terrific blog. I wish I'd found you earlier, before I reached the "I don't want to know anything new" final stages of my creative writing PhD... Ah well, if I do ever write my monograph I'll know where to come.

Keith Oatley said...

Thank you, Emma, for this comment. I think that the idea that characters are parts of our personality is interesting, but there is also, don't you think (and you mention it with your tout comprendre) the complementary idea one can become, or at least become sympathetic with, people and characters from whom we are very different.

We're really glad you like our blog and glad, too, that we can be of help.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...