When ‘locked down’ and confined, the human imagination is capable of some remarkable imaginative activity.
On a recent episode of RTE’s always soothing ‘Sunday Miscellany’ radio programme, which I have listened to since I was a child, a contributor mentioned a couple of literary examples.
Primo Levi – when a concentration camp inmate in Auschwitz – relished the physically demanding task of retrieving water in the camp, for when he performed this task he would recite the feats of Odysseus. Another example is Molly Bloom of Joyce’s Ulysses; while the male characters are busy romping about the town it is in fact Molly – confined to the house for the entirety of the day – who provides the most vivid account of life and loves in the book.
An excellent historical example is that of Hitler’s architect Albert Speer. When Speer was confined to post-war imprisonment in Spandau Castle in west Berlin, he would turn his walks around the grounds into a ‘walk around the world’: a methodically researched journey in which he tricked himself into imagining a rich and varied global landscape unfolding before him.
But what of the imaginative capabilities of the unconscious?
Last week I was emailed by a student support worker, who reminded me that I had spoken to a first year seminar group earlier this year about a remarkable book published in 1960s Germany – The Third Reich of Dreams by Charlotte Beradt – which is all about how people dream, or dreamt, under authoritarianism, in this case under Hitlerism in Germany. The book, summarised in this New Yorker article – https://www.newyorker.com/books/second-read/how-dreams-change-under-authoritarianism – is neither ‘serious’ history and nor is it heavy on the psychoanalytic theory, instead it’s somewhere in between. And it’s all the more readable for it.
The book outlines how dreams change under authoritarianism. How people’s unconscious reacts to their lived experience.
The student support worker told me that since the beginning of the current Coronavirus lockdown, she had been experiencing her most vivid dreams since she was a teenager. For years she had not been able to remember a solitary dream, but now the memorable and sometimes unnerving dreams and nightmares were coming thick and fast.
As a long-term author of a ‘dream diary’, I responded to her email by encouraging her to write down these dreams. I believe that ‘dream diaries’ – although recalling sometimes embarrassing or ridiculous themes – are valuable historical sources, as demonstrated by Charlotte Beradt’s book.
It seems apparent that she’s not alone. I have read several pieces on the enhanced vividness of dreams and nightmares since the start of the Corona crisis, the most recent being this one: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/19/last-night-i-was-james-bond-the-vivid-world-of-lockdown-dreams
The article contains the opinions of psychotherapists, who are debating why it is the case that dreams are becoming more memorable.
At this point, I’m not really interested as to the reasons why this is the case, but rather the small window of opportunity that we now have to record our dreams experienced during this extraordinary time as an historical archive.
This is because – as the Guardian article argues – humans have an amazing capacity to become accustomed to any situation, and the present state of vivid dreaming may not last long as we become more used to the new reality of lockdown.
That’s why it is important to point out a link to a project called Lockdown Dreams – run by a group of postgraduate psychoanalysis students – which is archiving all of this.
Why not contribute?
If not for peace of mind, for posterity.