Electric Dreams

Postmodern Dreaming Series

Becoming Intense, Becoming Dream


Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

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    Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 September). Becoming Intense, Becoming Dream: Part of the Postmodern Dreaming Series. Electric Dreams 8(9). Retrieved on August 26, 2001 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

Electric Dreamers: You may notice that this essay challenges some of the most precious assumptions in contemporary dreamwork. The primary one is that dreams "represent" something. I love representations and working with dreams and association. I don't plan to abandon this path either. But this process also needs to be challenged. I often get lost in my representations and forget about the thing itself. These essays in postmodern dreaming are an attempt to liberate habitual thinking and allow what is most essential in dreamwork to emerge and thrive. - Richard

Note: I plan to publish here a variety of essays taken from a longer work in progress, _Postmodern Dreaming_. In general, I find that dreamwork practices are far ahead of the theories used to describe them. This is unusual, as in most fields, the theory precedes the practice. Postmodern Dreaming is an attempt to correct this situation by bringing out some of the more outlandish and flexible theorizing of post-structural theorists.

"Analysis is paralysis."
Martin Luther King

"Who speaks and who acts? It is always a multiplicity, even in the person who speaks or acts. We are all little groups. There is no longer representation, there is only action the action of theory, the action of practice, in relations of way-stations or networks"
Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze.

When interpreting the meaning of a dream, or deciding the value of a virtual event, there is always the issue of organization and representation of this meaning. Whoever gets to implement and organize information also gets to control the systems by which we understand the world. As we have seen in the simulated realities of Jean Baudrillard, the organization of information can lead to experience that is dominated by systems of cultural signification that lead us into interactivity with models of reality rather than reality itself. As postmodern theorist Francios Lyotard has noted, this is the sign world of the grand narrative, a world where we are taught stories that attempt to explain and control everything.

Psychotherapists, sociologists, cultural theorists, social activists and others in the later half of the twentieth century have challenged these grand narratives and sought alternative paradigms. Nowhere is this the result more clearly seen than in the development of the Internet. The nomadic packet switching distribution system of the ARPANET ruptured the monopoly of direct connection telecommunications systems and created the Internet. The World Wide Web was a creative response by a scientist Tim Berners-Lee to find a laterally distributed information system based on relations rather than linearity. Instead of the hierarchical tree model of knowledge where one slowly follows from a root to the various branches, there is now a lateral rhizomatic model of knowledge where every piece of information is virtually connected directly to every other piece of information. A rhizome is an extended, partially underground system that connects plants in a living network. It provides not so much a new model or new grand narrative, but a rupture in whole notion of models and grand narratives.

Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were postmodern theorists who extensively explored this rhizomatic paradigm shift in the decades before the Internet. Their concern was how even the most radical and anarchistic of organizations eventually begin slip into a controlling pattern of self-organization and become as repressive as the state dominated institutions they originally set out to undermine. One of their goals was to create concepts of liberation that could be used to subvert repressive authorities and create productive alternatives. These concepts not only predict and define much of the early 21st century online culture, but also offer extensive conceptual resources in navigating the nomadic virtual terrain of decoded flows, deterritorialized space and multiplicity of interactive bodies. In short, they create guerrilla tactics for rupturing repressive concepts that inscribe our lives.

In nature, the rhizome layer is generally an amorphous subterranean set of complex relations, but it can also form eruptions in the forest floor, tubers and bulbs, flowerings and carpets. The rhizomatic Internet exhibits traits of multiplicity, connection of heterogeneous elements, transitory becomings and indeterminable territory. Web sites erupt through the digital ice and form complex relations with neighbors. The length of the relationship is no longer a measure of its success and may even be the cause of its loss of dynamic and productive energy. Groups form, they do what they need to do and they disband. Programmers in Silicon Valley talk about themselves not as working for companies, but working for the Valley. Individuals pop up here, then there, and a complex, mutable network can at times be seen. Just what is above and below the ice is no longer clear as organic beings merge with the virtual being. If a group stays together too long, layers of self-referential signification accrue and the central organizing principle will inscribe itself in the body and mind of the participants.

In both dreamwork and virtualwork there is the project to un-terraform the world of signifying systems and simulated reality. But how do we shift from an arborescent, tree-like hierarchy of sign systems to a multiple, rhizomatic level of becoming? Enter the a-signifying rupture and the dislodging the sign in favor of expression. Roland Barthes refers to this notion when we focus on the cutting of the tree instead of a discussion about the tree and it's cutting. Here there may be a moment where there is a disruption in the hegemony of the representational language, though eventually this too will be covered by advancing sign systems. Susan Langer also notes the difference between representation and presentation. A represented event is one which the focus of the expression is referring to something else that is know, like a billboard for a product. The presented event may carry signification, but is more a rupture in this sign game.

Others create asignifying rupture by proliferating the meanings in an attempt to create a space where new pathways might emerge. A model for this might be the improvisational jazz group where a repetition with creative difference is continually introduced into the main melodic flow. These multiple intrusions revision the single melody into a swarm, a pack of animals, an assemblage that is situated but also de-situates the central theme.

This notion also emerges in parts of Jung's dreamwork. I have a dream where I die, but I want to live forever. Here the tension of a problem is not directly addressed with an overlay of a system of interpretation, (this represents blah de blah) but rather the systems of interpretation are themselves subverted and held away until something utterly new can emerge. In some Jungian dreamwork this is done through explorations of the opposites that create a polar tension through which the new path can emerge. I don't try to resolve the issue of both wanting to live forever and knowing I will die, but make it worse, encourage the multiple conflicts and tensions to come to a boil and overflow any ability to contain them. For Jung, this rupture could only occur productively within some kind of containing field, usually the sanctuary of the psychoanalytic hour. The sick travelers to the ancient dream temples of Asklepios would also seek an ecstatic healing experience, but within a confined area of the sanctuary. The boundaries of this singular containment were to allow a polymorphous nuclear reaction, a core ecstatic experience that could not be contained, that overflowed the life of the single individual. The patient at the dream sanctuary falls asleep and enters a dream and waits to be touched by an animal/god, a snake, Asklepios, a dog, a daughter. Jung speculates that at the core of the experience the seeker's grand narratives collapse. The old stories fail. Attempts to channel desire into accepted old paths (sublimation) fail. One is confronted by just too many things to keep it all together. All the state and family sign systems dissolve into deterritorialized flows. The gap between stimulus and response spreads out along an infinite plane of becoming. In this rupture of cause and effect, the desublimated subject experiences a moment of freedom in the emergence of an unpredictable and overwhelming encounter. In ancient Greece, these visions were then interpreted by the priests and the deterritorialized subject re-positioned or reterritorialized back into society. The same thing can occur in modern psychotherapy. The asignyfying rupture of illness deterritorializes the line marking the physical, mental, emotional and imaginal space of the subject. Reterritorialization re-inscribes the line, often a different line, but always restoring some kind of subjective space fitting to the current culture.

Yet every day there is a new rupture in my life. I go to sleep and a dream begins to deterritorialize me and my identity. I am reterritorialized along a new assemblage within the dream narrative. When I wake up, the dream is ruptured and it is reterritorialized along my dayworld axiomatic. During dreaming, I am the content, and the dream is the expression, but when I wake up, I claim the dream to be the content, and I am the expression. Even an unremembered or suppressed dream is an expression of content. A dream each night may be seen as an assemblage through which one finds the novel mutant becoming of the following day.

Finding asignifying rupture in Cyberspace is more difficult than it would first appear. While the Internet supports a rhizomatic layer of intense becoming, it also raps space within a virtual fold of representational consumerism. In this fold e-commerce and dot com capitalization thrive. Anyone who has used a search engine to look up information and found only a commercial to purchase a product at the end of this search knows the drain of libido created by this economy. Meaning and value are stripped from the event and recoded in the marketplace. Hackers may break into the flow of code, but the result is rarely a paradigmatic shift where rhizomatic connectivity and heterogeneous elements can dance and play. More often it is simple destruction, an imposition of negative field where nothing can grow and little productivity occur. Asignifying rupture is not an explosion, but a fountain.

Productive ruptures are found online at three levels and all influence one another. The first is in the content and expression of code and texts. A document like the Declaration of Independence may be seen as a code that directs the flow of life, just as much as a computer program may direct the flow of interaction and transaction. We struggle over how and where online these codes will control the flows and breaks in the flow. When one of these texts begins to dominate an area of Cyberspace, the effects are dramatic. The notion of open source code, which is simply making public the blueprints of programs which support and create our cyber-ecology, has caused one of the largest legal battles of the 21st Century between Microsoft and the US Government. At simply the hint that the monopoly might be broken up, billions of dollars were exchanged on the free market in the matter of hours. At the level of micropolitcs, the key seems to be the proliferation of texts which continually offer alternatives. These may be alternative operating systems or the may be traditional articles and manifestoes. At Electric Dreams, we like to create exchanges of dream text. Whatever the texts or codes are, they now become part of our landscape while they remain in circulation. Finding the right amount of asignifying circulation, or break in circulation, becomes an ongoing task.

The second level of productive rupture in virtual reality is in communities that form to resist regimes of power and create viable alternatives, packs of cyber-nomads and swarms of marginalized assemblages. These repressors may be large monopolies, state domination or the most insidious repressor itself, ourselves. Cyberspace has provided a new field of interaction where ruptures in identity, gender, sex, age and other old notions of classification now occur. Dreamwork has been exploring these ruptures for sometime. At this level of rupture, content and its expressions easily change places. At one moment I am a part of group involved in expressing a community or social value, at another I am the content being expressed by the value. The goal is to create a dynamic set of relations that are flexible enough to survive when the central pole of the universe is removed.

The third is in the process of virtualization itself. The greatest difficulty in understanding and coming to terms with becoming virtual is best summarized by Marshall McLuhan's statement that the medium is the message. In this context, all our articulations about how we will live in virtual reality are already missing the point, just as our interpretations of dreams miss the point. Cyberspatiality is not a content we are giving expression to, but we are its content and it is expressing us. At one level it is totally out of our control. Virtualization is itself an asignifying rupture between potential and actual and can't be contained in categories such as the concrete, the material, the ideal, the abstract, the imaginal, the imagination, the emotional, text, code, sign or symbol. Each of these categories establishes a relationship with the virtual, but they do not replace it.

Just how to live in a kind of rhizome that undermines so many old notions and values is explored by Deleuze and Guattari in the concept of the nomad, a creature that can break into the territorialized flows of repressive regimes and offer new trajectories. The nomad is a free autonomous subject who exists momentarily in an ever-shifting array of possibilities. Combining the wandering nomad with Donna Harroway's cyborg, an organic-virtual creature, may produce a rupture in the homogenous self indulgence of virtual reality and take up alliances with novel assemblages.

The Electric Dreams community has explored this in the annual Swarm and the continual Dream-Flow. The Dream-Flow relies upon the notion that the distribution of dream reports in Cyberspace is an alternative to our involvement in the flow of normal sign circulations. Dreams are collected and redistributed across the network at all hours of the global day. The dream texts don't escape the use of cultural signs, but often offer alternative readings and ways of engaging the sign culture. The dreams are not held to be a privileged view of reality, but a productive rupture in dominant reality fantasies. The process mixes computer automation with personal relations, organizational alliances and dreamworld imaginaries. That is, people send dreams into the community and the community then distributes them around the Net. Comments and interpretations are treated more like literary criticisms and form part of the intertextual assemblage of the dream-flow. A woman dreams about washing blood off of Princess Diana after her death. A commentator notes the correspondence between this and the ancient ritual of washing our hands of the blood of sacrifice. One is not so much an interpretation of the other but a co-mingling of expressions and contents which may both produce a temporary pivotal point that is outside of the normal sign exchange economy.

The Dream Swarm extends these notions in an annual concentrated effort to create an intense becoming cyborg, becoming dream. The model is the Halloween trick-or-treat ritual and so we usually pick October 31st as the date to start the swarm. Participants attempt to break old circuits and distribute dreams and create dream events on as wide a basis as possible without spamming. That is, a dream can be distributed and break into the flow of other discourse beside dream discussion groups and sites, but it must be a productive rupture, not a destructive act. Dreams are introduced into the philosophy of literature discussion list as a rhetorical historic method, website are encourages to display dreams a important cultural objects, newsgroups are called upon to post dreams about computers and other contemporary events. The Swarm is not limited to the Internet. Telecommunications systems of all kinds are employed, dreams are introduced to Halloween parties and physical bodies touch and transmit dreams. The Swarm is really many swarms. Some people gather and move like bees without a queen from chat rooms to Usenet, to websites to mail lists to buildings, to streets, from city to city, from lip to lip. The center is not the person, the ego, but an assemblage of dream code and its transversals, a nomad and its tribe, a pack of wolves. Collections of dream circuits are initiated. One circuit might be a woman who left her child in a trash can which I see on the TV. I dream about a garbage truck dumping men into dumpster. I send the dream to Cassidy who is feeling dumped upon herself and needs to put up a collage of this dream on her website and is then contacted by an activists group who would like to use this as an image in a pamphlet giving attention to how the elderly are dumped in our society. Cassidy dreams that a garbage man is breaking into her house, but the phone won't work. The dream is distributed to the dream-flow and a housebound wife in Australia reads this and cries about being trapped without a connection and considers alternative. The dreams work by not-working, not quite fitting in and breaking into the circuits of everyday life.

No fixed constructs will serve for very long, cyber-nomadology continually seeks to undermine and subvert these fixed structures. It is more a question of intensity and positioning. The following suggestions are therefore offered as jumping off points, trajectories in the past that have broken into the flow and created new connections.

The cyber-nomad develops an attraction for the abject. Dreamwork borrows from Jung and calls this shadow work. This is turning one's attention to that which you least want to attend to and recognizing the other in oneself. Jung suggests we can identify our shadows by noticing the people and interactions that get under our skin, that we find morally inferior and we would die of humiliation to find out we were like that. Integrating everyday circuits with the circuits of the despised creates a powerful site of exchange and new flows of life. Nightmares are seen as the treasure-house of this aspect of dreamwork. Disaster sites, underground activism, marginalized groups and minorities are the site of shadows in Cyberspace, but those excluded and on the other side of the digital divide hold more than just a useful mirror to the cyber-nomad.

Conjugate deterritorialized flows. The cyber-nomad multiplies these sites by locating connections between heterogeneous elements, groups, and limits. Focus on the convergence and swarms of unique singularities rather than abstractions. Note the difference between talking about the body (an abstraction) and my body, (an infinite source of virtuality). The cyber-nomad's tribe shifts to new points outside the limit and in new directions. In dreamwork this means coming into relationship with dreaming as a swarm, a pack of animals, intersections of human and transhuman elements which temporarily form a particular state of things. The cyber-nomad is not unsettled by fragmentation and rejoining of partial objects, in fact she courts it.

The unconscious factory. It is seductive to think of subjective interiority and it boundlessness, but when interiority is seen as a destination instead of a source, it is literalized and becomes a prison, rocks in the sea of cyber-sirens. As Jung noted, we all have a relationship with desire and stand at the edge of its abyss. When we confuse this desire as a lack for an object we think will fulfill us, we throw ourselves over the side into its darkness, into compulsion, into possession. Andrew Feenberg has noted that technology is not a destiny but a scene of struggle. When we are able to see that desire is a creative, productive source and not a destination, desire creates deterritorialized flows to find new connections and we are led to unimagined territories. All virtual space holds attractions. These can be prisons or keys that unlock the door to new worlds.

Form a rhizome. The cyber-nomad can increase the range and scope of its activity though de-territorialization, though finding breaks and cracks in repressive regimes. These regimes always create their own cracks. Capitalism may strip the meaning and value from all cultures it touches, but this same deterritorializing action can be used to create new culture and new values. The freedom works both ways. In this freedom the nomad travels in the rhizome, extending links to as many diverse modes of coding as possible; biological, political, economical, psychological, technological. Through this interplay, whole new states of things emerge.