“Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.”–Jorge Luis Borges

As Jorge Luis Borges says, writing may be “nothing more than a guided dream,” but when one has issued this reductive-sounding remark about writing, a great deal more remains to be said.  What, for example, is a dream?  How does a dream inform and shape one’s writing?  And now, I’m going to babble forth another quote, which taken together with Borges’s, may tell us something of the true value of writing, if we are so disposed to see it:

C. G. Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, said of dreams:  “The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul long beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”  So, if and while one writes, one is in touch with “primeval cosmic night,” and is revelling in the “most intimate sanctum of the soul”?

Everyone of course has dreams, not just writers, but both writers and non-writers have often been curious about just what makes writers tick, and if we want to spy on our own writing souls and those of others, one of the best places to look, it seems logical to assume, would be the dreams writers report having.  In 1993, Naomi Epel compiled a series of writers’ dreams called Writers Dreaming, consisting of the dreams and attitudes about dreams which twenty-six writers consider noteworthy or relevant to their waking and writing lives.  Though this book isn’t one of the most recently published of the books I’ve reviewed, it’s still available from Amazon.com, in collectable, new, and used paperback prices ranging from $5.96-.01 (plus shipping and handling).  (Don’t worry, I’m not shilling for Amazon:  but I paid $12.00 for my paperback edition originally, and I’m amazed that a print version of this worthwhile book is still available for such a low price.)

From Isabel Allende, we learn that she has often had very surrealistic dreams of soldiers (due partly, she seems to suggest, to being in Chile when there was war going on), dreams which have as much to do with her inner development as a person as they do with actual outside events.  We read from her that she has “inherited” a dream from her mother which her mother also dreamed in times of stress,  a dream in which she might be forced to decide which child of hers to save.  As well, she seems to have had some prophetic dreams, although she also recounts that this ability is not predictable, since not all disaster dreams of hers come true.  About the importance of dreams, she says, “They say that if you don’t dream you go mad.  That even dogs, animals dream.  I don’t know.  I think that it’s wonderful that one can dream.  The first thing my husband and I do in the morning when we wake up is tell each other what we dreamt.  It’s not that we sit there and analyze our dreams at all.  We don’t have time for that.  But we learn a lot about each other in this way.”

Richard Ford is of another mindset entirely about dreaming.  He says about metaphor, which is so often at its most alive and well in dreams, “I never try to make metaphors.  My flag is staked on the turf of the literal….I am always trying to bring literature down to the level below emblem knowing full well that it will perhaps become emblematic as soon as it leaves my room.”  From this view of the way writing works (which is certainly manifested in the way Ford writes), so comes his view of dreams:  “I don’t like thinking that what I write comes from or is synonymous to a dream.  I’ve heard writers speaking about novels as being extended dreams.  I don’t like that because dreams, to me, mean selfish gestures.  I like the other notion that literature is a gift from the writer to the reader….The teller must tell you something which she or he thinks you can use.  Not just to let you be the receptacle for all of his ups and downs and sins….I can’t think of any reason I should tell a dream to anybody that could be anything more to someone else than watching cartoons on Saturday morning.”  This is a succinct statement such as Richard Ford usually makes, and reveals something about him willy-nilly, though it is in the negation of dreams rather than in the acceptance of them.

Jack Prelutsky, primarily a children’s poetry author (though he has written a book for adults, There’ll Be a Slight Delay, and Other Poems for Grown-ups) recounts various dreams which have lead to poems, whether for children or for adults.   A particularly gifted writer in his field, Prelutsky relates several specific dreams and how they are related to his poems.  For example, he one day was shopping in the store for boneless chicken breast.  “I asked myself, what about the rest of the chicken.  Was that boneless too?  Well as soon as I thought of that I started asking questions about chickens.  I mean can a boneless chicken walk?  Can it fly?  What do the other chickens think about it?  Where does it make it’s [sic] home?  Does it have friends?  Can it walk erect?  I played with those ideas when I got home.  I went to bed and I actually dreamed about this….[F]rom this dream two poems have happened.  One is ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens’ and the other is ‘Ballad of a Boneless Chicken.'”

As I said before, twenty-six writers of varying styles and subject matter are featured in this book, along with their remarks on dreams and dreaming and some of their favorite, most frequently occurring, or most significant or threatening dreams.  Some of the authors are:  Maya Angelou, Clive Barker, Spaulding Gray, Stephen King, Bharati Mukherjee, Anne Rice, Anne Rivers Siddons, Art Spiegelman, and Amy Tan.  All of them have fascinating stories to tell about their dreams, daydreams, and creative impulses.  But this is not just a “game” for the great notables and well-known writers.  Do you have a favorite dream or dreams that keeps recurring, has some special significance to your life, or has helped you to be creative and innovative in your waking life?  Is there one that you just consider weird and quirky, without having a clue as to what it means?  Why not write in and share it?  As long as you’re not writing the whole of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I think I and my readers have plenty of time to hear it.  I certainly take a lively interest in dreams, so feel free to share.


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9 responses to ““Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.”–Jorge Luis Borges

  1. How interesting nad how uncanny. I have just started my Tabucchi week and dreams are a major theme in all of his books. And I own the book you reviewed only I haven’t read much of it yet – just the Allende one so far. I find dreams entirely fascinating in all of their forms. As an inspiration for writers or as an element in a book. One of Tabucchi’s books which I reviewed two months ago is called Dreams of Dreams. It’s very interesting.


    • Yes, I’ve been reading your posts about Tabucchi week, knowing that I will soon be exploring the library for his books which you are recommending–it’s just that I’m still playing catch-up from other books you and the two ladies at Shelf Love have already recommended! I know by seeing all the response you’re getting that your Tabucchi week is going well. I can’t wait to frolic among his works! Thanks for commenting.


      • I was commenting here while you were commenting on my blog. I really want to read this book on dreams but when I started it I liked it so much that I wanted to keep it for later. Such an annoying habit.
        Yes, I think the week is going well. There will be quite a few posts towards the end of the week.


  2. My big dreams seem to comment on what I am doing, at junctures of peak emotional intensity or significance—major life-stage changes. I have not had too many, but those I’ve had I remember. Thinking about them, about what my own mind at some level has created, deepens their mystery to me. I am grateful to those dreams and wish they had more, but suppose i must avoid—like most people—the intense states that spawn them.


    • I know what you mean. One of the lighter of my creatively-oriented dreams (dreams about being a writer, for instance) was when I dreamed that I was sitting at the very top of a sort of crater-like moutain, up on the edge, watching a series of little people dancing in the central valley down below. I can remember that I was balancing a word processor on my lap. Clearly, I was dreaming about being at a distance from my protagonists and other characters, or at least I tell myself that’s what the dream was about. I’d hate to think the distance implied anything other than narrative distance from characters–emotional distance from real people for example. But I find we usually know what our dreams are about ourselves, if we really think hard about it. The highly symbolic ones are always in our own private symbols (there is no such thing as a really accurate dream book, how could there be?), and all we have to do is brood upon them long enough in order to understand something about them (but sometimes, I just don’t have the time for so much introspection, you know?) Thanks for writing, Richard. Sorry that my response was so wordy. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.


  3. I just ordered the book from Amazon. Thanks for sharing this. Should be an interesting read.


    • Yes, it is. Thanks in your turn for taking my recommendation! Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book as a whole is the wide variety in the types of comments made. It supports the conclusion that the human beings, while very alike sometimes, are infinitely variable.


  4. Yes, really. I join told all above. We can communicate on this theme. Here or in PM.


    • Here will be fine. As you might imagine, after an interval of so many years (this post is 9 years old), I am older and needed to re-read the post and the comments to see what exactly you were referring to. And I’m afraid that in some respects, I may not be of much help to you if you want to converse about the book, because in preparation for a move which may take place soon, the great majority of my books are already packed and hence not accessible. But if you just want to comment on an interesting or particularly productive dream that allowed you to do some writing, for example, this is the place for it. I don’t use PM much on WordPress, since the comments should always be available for discussion of a sort which is most profitable to all readers (I only use such private communication channels as email or PM? as ways of contacting other bloggers who are reviewing me or whom I am reviewing, etc.).


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