Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What I Do All Day, It Seems

From the IASD group on Dreams, Creativity and the Arts:

I mostly haven't answered on this stuff, because I'm not sure what Juan is asking about. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the fact that Juan is asking a question from the standpoint of critical scholarship on the analysis of film, while most of the users of this list are practicing artists. If critical theory bores you, p l e a s e skip this message.
Another issue may be that Juan is, I think, in South America, where the critical discourse in humanities scholarship has a very powerful influence from Lacan, whereas in the United States, while that influence has been very significant in film theory, it has also much abated in recent years. I also hesitate to start recommending books etc. when I have no idea whether Juan is already thoroughly familiar with them. I can't tell whether he is starting out in this topic or already steeped in it.
Juan speaks of the interpretations of psychoanalysts, and that can mean a lot of things. I suspect he means the interpretations offered by psychoanalytically-oriented critics of fictional dreams in artworks, and of the artworks themselves as wholes. In South America particularly, these are likely to be the statements of Lacanians, which may be very different from what a traditional Freudian would say--and on top of that there's the fact that it is entirely legitimate and may even be clarifying to refer to Jungians and objects-relations therapists as "psychoanalysts," as it is not a proprietary term.
As for actual psychoanalysts' interpretations of actual dreams, most of us simply have no experience of them at all--very few people inthe United States see a psychoanalyst, and you are much more likely to encounter a Jungian than a Freudian, and almost never encounter a Lacanian, whereas there are many Lacanians in practice in Central and South America. I wonder if what Juan means by psychoanalytic interpretations, then, are those offered in books, and especially by Freud himself. I have been considering the relation between psychoanalytic theory, dreaming, and film for a long time now, and I have almost never encountered anyone who uses, or feels content with, the projection of any orthodox psychoanalytic theory on to real people's actual dreams. I think there is a consensus among therapists in the US that into the 1960s, the use of dreams in classic Freudian therapy was a means to convert the analysand to the Freudian system rather than a helpful means of addressing the analysand's issues, and thus dream analysis was to a large extent abandoned in actual psychoanalytic practice.
The use of psychoanalytic theory as a tool to explore a fictional dream--as Juan says, either a dream sequence, or an entire film or novel that structures or portrays itself as a dream--is almost always, in something like the same way, simply a use of the artwork as rhetorical support (illegitimately, pretty obviously) for a concept in psychoanalytic theory. A good example is Zizek's use of Hitchcock movies to make a claim for Lacan's theories; I'm not sure even Zizek would insist that they teach us something about the films and how they work, as opposed to making clever illustrations of theoretical points which are actually about the culture that produces and consumes films, rather than the films themselves.
Again, I'm only guessing and I'm not sure what he is asking about, but academic film theory in the United States, Europe, and I suspect elsewhere, has been very much influenced by two authors, Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, who take a very narrowly Freudian/Lacanian approach to art. What is interesting is that they do not offer "interpretations" of fictional dreams, or films, at all; they offer a whole view of cinema that is based on Freud's dream theory. I'm kind of partisan about this, but I certainly think many, many film theorists would agree with me: the application of Freud's theory of dreams to art has been very misguided, and Metz and Baudry, though influential, are just wrong in a variety of ways. (For example, they are mistaken about the empirically verifiable responses cinema audiences have to being in a darkened theater--as Freud is mistaken about patterns of dreaming.) The classic objections to Metz and Baudry are in Noel Carroll's book, Mystifying Movies. Another book very much influenced by them is Roger Eberwein's Film and the Dream Screen, a fascinating curiosity which summarizes a lot of psychoanalytic theory about film, and which I also happen to think is very mistaken. I emphasize though that Eberwein does not offer "interpretations" of either dreams or films; he writes about the phenomenon of cinema.
My feeling is that Juan wants to explore further the phenomenology of dreams, but I am not sure what exactly, in his view, this has to do with the phenomenology of cinema. For what is "dreamlike" in cinema, generally, the first classic statement was by Suzanne Langer in "Feeling and Form," but it's pretty rudimentary. Filmmakers like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage have written about how their work tries to approximate or learn from the dream state; Parker Tyler's writings on experimental cinema are very smart about the same topic. Gaston Bachelard's book, "The Poetics of Reverie," is a good guide; as is, as Richard W. might have mentioned, Bert States' book, The Rhetoric of Dreams. (Richard, by the way, put together a formidable introduction to a lot of relevant matters at the Postmodern Dreaming site.) I think Gestalt psychology and object-relations theory still have a whole lot to teach us about what happens when we experience a film and enter a state much like dreaming, reverie, or fantasy (and understanding this better might undermine a tremendous amount of sloppy politically or morally-oriented criticism). I do not know ifJuan has mentioned or is familiar with Medard Boss and existential psychiatry's view of dreaming; George Devereux kind of applies it toGreek tragedy in "Dreams and Greek Tragedy," and more centrally, Ludwig Binswanger does in "Dream and Existence." Finally, Michel Foucault's introduction to Binswanger, "Dream, Imagination, andExistence," is something I think Juan would enjoy if he's not already thoroughly familar with it. I apologize if I am rehearsing material that is already familiar.
By the way: I also think Wittgenstein's criticism of Freud's theory is very much to the point, and his general comments on Freud are witty and insightful. Interestingly, Jung's criticisms of Freud are very similar to Wittgenstein's. I think people may overlook this because they do not expect Jung to so rational.
And I think Mario Levrero has not been translated into English.

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