Poetics of Dream Translation 3

This was the last part of my conference, see during which a handful of people from the audience shared recurrent dreams.

Rene Magritte – The Explanation

When I translated the dreams in that chapter of SLF, nurse which were collected years later for the book, my only intention was to write for the sake of writing. I have a habit of reflecting upon my dream content to better understand my current state of mind in my waking life, so this exercise of writing down dreams was a way of doing so. Since I had been publishing them online, friends and readers reacted to them, which was a source of positive reinforcement. I never expected, however, to be explaining any of them.

About dream analysis, Freud says:

The first thing that becomes clear to the investigator when he compares the dream-content with the dream-thoughts is that a tremendous work of condensation has been accomplished. The dream is meagre, paltry and laconic in comparison with the range and copiousness of the dream-thoughts.

The dream, when written down fills half a page; the analysis, which contains the dream-thoughts, requires six, eight, twelve times as much space.

As you have probably observed, the time it took me to explain only 3 aspects of the dream sequence “Daisy” and “Recollection” took nearly as long to have narrated the events in their entirety.

Literary analysis of poetry will probably result in “six, eight, twelve times as much space” as well.

Dreams, if you are able to remember them, are an excellent source for creative material. As a writer, you are able to exploit, through writing them down (or write based on them), what Freud calls the dream-content (what you perceive with your senses) and your condensed dream-thoughts (what you felt and thought in reaction to the dream-content). Both dream-content and dream-thoughts, as played out by your unconscious as you dream, are fragmented, disjointed.

The act of re-arranging this puzzle, to join the loose ends, is the act of translation. As with all translations, original meanings might be lost, but new meaning will be gained, and perhaps even deeper levels of meaning will be revealed through word choice.


The words we choose to name what we see might be clues to what we were really dreaming about – though wordplay and puns, homophones or homographs, or even rhyme. Language structures our very way of thinking, so the relationship between images and language does not go in only one direction.

As an example, I will quote Freud re-telling a dream to illustrate this point, that “one scarcely finds a dream without a double meaning or a play upon words.”

Photo credit unavailable

C in a dream sees a girl on the road to X bathed in a white light and wearing a white blouse.

The dreamer began an affair with a Miss White on this road.

After translating your sequence of dream images to words that are comprehensible to yourself (as well as your potential readers), you will probably have achieved effective poetic prose. By effective poetic prose I mean a combination of words that conveys sensorial experiences as well as emotions with minimal explanations about their particular symbolism (which is what “good” poetry should do – though it’s a matter of opinion).

And if you aren’t a writer, you have poetry within you. Some people might think dreams are a waste of time discussing or even bothering to remember, but the exercise if recalling, wording and sharing what we’ve dreamt can help us cope with the frustrations or questions that bother us in our waking lives. Dream interpretation, which is almost identical to literary interpretation, has much to teach us about ourselves and those around us, but only if we are aware. Like an oracle, or like Shelley’s figure of the poet as a prophet, dreams allow us to look inward and relate to the world outside our minds, therefore providing glimpses of the unknown.

We may never fully understand it, but, as we look out into the ocean and up the sky, there is a promise in all that is uncertain.

Poetics of Dream Translation 2

This part had lots of digressions, discussions and explanations, as well as examples Freud used in The Interpretation of Dreams, tons of Magritte’s paintings (more that I included here), and some passages from SLF. If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to go forth and google (and refer to SLF).

Photo by Angel Huertas


Now, why call it “translation” and not transcription? Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of language as a social agreement: there is nothing natural about it. We learn it growing up as a means for communication, but there is a wide gap between sensory perception and language.

From Introduction to General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure

From Introduction to General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure

Rene Magritte – Collective Invention


Signifiers (words, whether spoken or written) are common among members of society, yet signifieds (meanings or conceptual images) are subjective.

Rene Magritte - Clear Ideas

Rene Magritte – Clear Ideas


The process of becoming overwhelmed by sensory images is very similar to recalling dreams, or to dreaming itself.We normally have little to no control over what we dream; we might enjoy a dream, or we might be shocked or disgusted by it.

Henri Fuseli – The Nightmare


If we decide to tell someone about a dream we’ve had, we normally have to really try to put events in order, to make sense out of a sequence of sensory images that would otherwise not make any.  We might also change the events as they occurred because they are too disturbing to recall.Most of the time, objects and characters in our dreams are not recognizable, yet, when awake, we try hard to associate them with images from our conscious memory, sometimes changing the memory of the dream altogether.

Henri Fuseli – Queen Katherine’s Dream


The prose pieces in the second chapter of SLF are not, as you may have noticed, by definition, stories.  They are poetic prose, because situations and conflicts are hard to determine. Like many poems, they exist out of time and space because they consist, mainly, of metaphors.  They are all dreams recalled while I was awake, and they were my best attempt at weaving pieces of images together so that they would have some kind of logical sequence (for my readers as well as myself).The process of writing poetry and writing poetic prose are not too different: they are both a recollection of visions, through sensory perception, that need some kind of conversion from image to text.  Sometimes intentions and thoughts (in other words, ideas) were unclear when recalling the dream, in which cases I had to consciously add details that were not provided in the dream itself.

For example, “Daisy” is followed by a separate text, “Recollection.”

In the dream “Daisy,” which happened so many years ago now, I still remember my thoughts and emotions in the dream. In my dream, the girl was the embodiment of the flower…

The naked girl was a daisy, not visually, since she had a human(esque) shape. But the images of a daisy and this girl were simultaneous. As I transcribed the dream, explaining this seemed like too much trouble for the reader, so I settled for similes involving different flowers as an attempt to be understood. There is no signifier for the actual dream image of a girl-daisy, so translation through logical language (the similes) seemed necessary.

However, in retrospect, perhaps the girl’s lack of emotional expression had a lot to do with her being a plant. A fresh, cheerful looking daisy communicating no empathy whatsoever. And also the fact that plants are naturally naked…

In that same dream, I was suffering anxiety upon learning that “my image was to be desecrated” – I know much deeper, psychological interpretations may be given to this dream, which may be completely valid (though I don’t remember what I was experiencing in my life when I had this dream)… but my main association upon remembering the dream, then and now, was related to computers and, possibly, web design and the attachment I had to my html files.


The line: “every fiber of my flesh was disintegrating, blinking horrifically in pixels of colors I could only see in codes. […]” in this context, sounds less horrific… but the truth is, as a teenager, I spent hours upon hours a day designing personal websites that, at that time, I considered works of art. Dreaming in codes, (black letters, numbers, and symbols on a white screen) was commonplace and sometimes frustrating. I had lived the nightmare of losing all my files once, where the screen became pixelated and in the color codes in the “story” (yellow, cyan, fuchsia, black, white and red – I don’t need to check the codes I wrote in the text because I remember very well what this screen looks like).  It happened when I was 15 (it was my mother’s computer, but it was I who sat in front of it hours on end) and I have avoided that (living) nightmare ever since.  It seems like a trivial thing to worry about, but the nightmare is a symptom of a real trauma. In this dream, my work on my computer and my vision of self were one.

In the next dream, “Recollection” – which is possibly the same dream, a nightmare from I did not wake, but slipped from and into another sequence.

It is a reconciliation of a lost identity with a regained one. One of confusion that does not depend on concrete evidence, but on memory, even if a faulty one. Whether or not the poets I mentioned were actually mentioned by name, and whether or not the poetry I recited was poetry I had memorized from my waking life and not dream-babble, is irrelevant.

And whether or not these anxieties, the specific ones I mentioned about a computer breaking down and losing all files, hence losing one’s created identity, as well as the ones the dream sequence suggests – persecution, being lost and obliterated, then regaining composure and recalling identity in a particular way, reveal anything about me as a writer or person, should also be irrelevant. I like to think the images are about a universal experience among human beings, no a particular experience based on a memory. However, in the same way we decode symbols in poetry, we decode symbols in dreams: images not obviously tied to their literal meaning, but a meaning extracted through an exercise of subjective association. 

In Freud’s words, “That which is obviously the essential content of the dream-thoughts need not be represented at all in the dream. The dream is, as it were, centred elsewhere; its content is arranged about elements which do not constitute the central point of the dream-thoughts.”

To put it another way, we must decode and make an effort to interpret – to translate – what sensory images paired with emotions, as remembered from our dreams, mean to us (or to your psychoanalyst). Then we re-code them in language (thus, translating).

Rene Magritte – The Lost Jockey


As I mentioned before, what is important in dream interpretation is not so much the physical aspects of the dream, but the psychological relationships with these aspects (either of the reader, or the dreamer).  Much like considering Magritte’s titles when we look at his paintings. The image is secondary to the title, which gives the image an entirely different dimension, open to interpretation. In this case, the image is the dream content and the title, the dream thought.

Rene Magritte - The Entrance

Rene Magritte – The Entrance