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NARRATING DREAMS: FROM LITERATURE classics TO OLIVER SACKS’ “AWAKENINGS”.

Every summer, we propose readings that can be of inspiration and reflection. This year, we suggest some titles of literature classics that contain tales of dreams.

The themes of dreams and the separation between what is real and what is not, has always been at the heart of science fiction literature and – declined towards nightmare and darkness – of horror literature. Even the great classics, however, have long talked with dreams. The best known is perhaps Alice Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, which we have already discussed here; dreams are also recurrent in War and Peace, by Lev Tolstoy:

She hummed a scrap from her favorite opera by Cherubini, threw herself on her bed, laughed at the pleasant thought that she would immediately fall asleep, called Dunyasha the maid to put out the candle, and before Dunyasha had left the room had already passed into yet another happier world of dreams, where everything was as light and beautiful as in reality, and even more so because it was different.

and turn out to be rebuses, made of desires and fears, like Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities:

With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.

Other works that contain dreams that have remained famous in literature are:

But not only the narrative genre has dialogued with dream states. The last tip we want to bring to our readers comes from the medical literature of Oliver Sacks, recognized as one of the figures to whom we owe the practise of Narrative Medicine. Between 1917 and 1927, a severe epidemic of lethargic encephalitis (sleeping sickness) invaded the world, affecting almost five million people. A small percentage of the sick survived, in a sort of torpor, until L-dopa, in 1969, allowed them to awaken. Oliver Sacks, between 1969 and 1972, administered this drug to the patients admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital in New York: Awakenings tells the stories of some of these people, who share the fact that they spent most of their lives in an unexplored and language-independent area:

And yet – it is the most enchanting of subjects, as dramatic, and tragic, and comic as any. My own feelings, when I first saw the effects of L-dopa, were of amazement and wonder, and almost of awe. Each passing day increased my strangenesses, whole worlds of being whose possibility I had never dreamt of – I felt like a slum-child suddenly transplanted to Africa or Peru.

This sense of worlds upon worlds, of a landscape continually extending, reaching beyond my sight or imagination, is one which has always been with me, since I first encountered my post-encephalitic patients in 1966, and first gave them L-dopa in 1969. It is a very mixed landscape, partly familiar, partly uncanny, with sunlit uplands, bottomless chasms, volcanoes, geysers, meadows, marshes; something like Yellowstone – archaic, prehuman, almost prehistoric, with a sense of vast forces simmering all round one. Freud once spoken of neurosis as akin to a prehistoric, Jurassic landscape, and this image is still truer of post-encephalitic disease, which seems to conduct one to the dark heart of being.

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