So what then is this journal all about?

September 22nd 2011

Saturday, Bucharest, Romania

N.B. The two little paragraphs below are lifted from my journal which I have oftentimes been happy to share with you. They were drafted on a pleasant September afternoon in Bucharest in 2011. I hope one day to publish it if I can manage to get it into some controllable order. Here I was struggling with the definition of the journal which is a commixture of various literary types ranging from: autobiography, to memoir, to confession, to a history of surveillance, to travel journal, to dream analysis, and to storytelling. But the real question then, as indeed still is now, what is its authentic purpose and what are my true motivations?

… … … … … … … … …

Truth is the correspondence between language and reality, a simple definition which probably sits well with most. Then what of truth in literature?[1] How are we to understand metaphor, myth, or even fairy tale for instance? Is there a better example of the evident stresses that this ‘correspondence’ will often elicit than the battle over the exegesis of the biblical account of creation in the Book of Genesis? What is the cognitive value of this universal ‘story’ and what kind of ‘truth’ is it meaning to convey? And what of the ‘spiritual truths’ put in the mouth of the Starets Zossima by Dostoevski in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov? Or how ‘true’ is Plato’s famous allegory of the cave? An autobiography, a memoir, a life-journal, for example, to what extent are they both literature and science? And how long does a text or document maintain a stable and determinant meaning before the deconstructionists get to it and challenge its structures and propositions? These questions became especially problematic for me from the moment I made reference to method and hence appealed to one of the great canons of science.

One way to arrive at some kind of practical resolution is to think in terms of context.[2] In this specific instance the style and genre framing the journal (whether the narrative as a whole or its smaller constituent parts), would determine the exegetical approach that the reader is being asked to follow in the quest to interpret the text. That would assume, of course, that we have come to some agreement as to what we mean by text in the first place![3] As a case in point, it could mean that if the author makes reference to a “dream” then it is a “dream” and not a “vision”, this might seem to be a subtle distinction for some, but in-between a dream and a vision lies another world. So when Samuel Johnson writes “[t]he value of every story depends on it being true”,[4] it all comes down to how we comprehend ‘story’ and what we expect each time we turn the first page of a book. From the moment I reference this document as a life-journal the reader comes to it with certain well founded expectations. First of all, that it is a ‘true story’ which can be tested and weighed up against its fundamental expositions and that it is not a work of fiction (though there might be elements of fiction scattered throughout, i.e. segments of ‘magical realism’).

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/truth-lies-and-literature

[2] https://www.etymonline.com/word/context

[3] http://kontur.au.dk/fileadmin/www.kontur.au.dk/OLD_ISSUES/pdf/kontur_07/jan_ifversen.pdf

[4] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=GFtVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq

The huge dragon and the little boy

Gerringong, NSW

It had become a second skin and went deep into the blood. This spectral dream from my early childhood refused to go away. Sometimes I would think of it in terms of Leibniz’s speculation of an “unconscious psychic activity” or as Freud might have supposed a result of some “repressed childhood memory”. But what it did was to indelibly mark the start of my pilgrimage and to cast its shadow on almost everything connected to my life. I prayed it might empty of itself and let me alone. Decades later when I was to become keenly interested in Jung, I would also understand it as the beginning of my “individuation”. It has re-visited me in varying manifestations since that Christmas Eve of 1969. I was eight-years old.[1] From this night onwards I would be drawn into another reality of the light’s interminable vibration.

We were now living in the outer suburbs of middle-class Kingsgrove where my parents had bought our new home with its own backyard. To a little boy used to the inner city sprawl it seemed an impossible thousand miles away. I can still remember an ancient looking Mrs Moorefields with her big twist of white hair and thick rimmed magnifying glasses. She lived directly opposite with her motley crew of cats in a large cottage blanketed by beautiful native flowers. Here was a character who could have stepped right out of a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale. The road was named for her family and she would make sure to let you know. One day the feisty old lady was quick to rap me over the knuckles for ‘decapitating’ one of her wild Correas.

 

In the background I could hear my parents’ voices. They were on the telephone speaking to Uncles and Aunts in Greece exchanging the customary seasonal greetings. In those days speaking to somebody overseas was a special event and could take hours, if not days of preparation. The prototype of the first handheld mobile produced by Motorola (who beat Bell Labs to the race) was still four years into the future and the first-generation (1G) of wireless telephone technology more than a decade away. There was something mysterious and sacramental to the voice back then, there was preparation and ritual to most of our communications. The telegram, too, held its own unique fascination.

I was about to fall asleep looking forward to the next morning, the celebration of Christmas and to the red scooter with the silver bell. Santa Claus delivered that year! I must have fallen into a deep slumber for when I awoke, frightened in the middle of the night, it seemed to me that I had been sleeping for many hours. Yet the ‘vision’ remained clear in my mind, as if replayed on the light blue wall in front of me. It never seemed like a “normal” dream to me, even back then. Later I would read of lucid dreaming.[2] The discovery proved to be vital and would help me to not only better comprehend this particular dream but also a number of the others. Lucid dreaming relies on the cooperation between the conscious waking mind and the different levels of consciousness during sleep. Dream experts consider it a “very advanced type of dreaming” in which the dreamer is conscious of their dreaming consciousness. Theologians might speak of these experiences in terms of visions. And the eastern orthodox would warn with the concept of prelest (“a false spiritual state”). The question is then, to what extent is a young child capable of these advanced types of dreaming? That is, to spot the difference between the ‘canvas’ and the ‘window’.

I have no recollection of discussing this experience with mum and dad the next morning. It might have been the shock or an awareness that this needed to be kept secret. I am not sure. Though there was an acute sense of something going on in the inside of me, which I had not felt before. I could not know at that young age what this permeating mood was to prefigure and how it would touch my life. Not long after my initial encounter with OCD a year earlier, I am convinced that this was now the onset of the melancholia which I would continue to struggle with to the present day. Over the course of the next three or four years this dream would revisit. Still I would remain silent. This is near enough to what I saw that night on Christmas Eve in 1969. It was the year Max Yasgur’s farm near Bethel, New York, played host to Woodstock and Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon:

A little boy is standing some distance from the seashore, before him spreads a vast body of dark water. It is still. On the other side of this water, he can see a huge dragon. It is smacking its enormous tail on the land and then heaving it up into the night-sky as if trying to bring down the stars. On its head a big shimmering crown. The beast catches sight of the child. It opens its monstrous mouth and a great stream of fire spews in the direction of the terrified little boy. In the background there is sound like a humming, or an echo. Sometimes it sounds like a choir of voices. And other times like the ‘buzzing’ of a large swarm of flies.

In the times which followed only small bits of the dream would change. The more recognisable being the distance between the “little boy” and the “huge dragon” which appeared to be retreating. The “humming” also became increasingly audible resulting in equal amounts of joy and dread. When the dream stopped for no evident reason after my twelfth birthday, it would return some twelve years later. By now I had become familiar with the Book of Revelation (and had started to reflect on Rev 12-13) so I was in possession of vital clues as to what it could mean. The sense of relief would soon give way to long periods of trepidation. I prayed for enlightenment but my prayer was impure. A spiritual director of the kind I would later read about and seek out during my pilgrimages would have been very helpful. Of course, the archetypes and numerical symbolisms are striking.[3] One way or another, whether sacred or profane, they cannot be entirely coincidental.

 

Did I catch a glimpse of the “little boy’s” face? No, I did not. Only once do I remember seeing the face. And even on that rare occasion it was from a ‘distance’ when it seemed to me that I had carelessly startled him. This would be much later in a place far away from home and on the other side of the world (where I would meet the second of the three elders or “the three wise men” as I would sometimes refer to them). I needed desperately to distinguish and to discern between the “real” dream (Matt. 1:18-25) and the deceptive (Jer. 23:25-27). The Scriptures plainly speak of both.[4]

Above and beyond this dream was meant for me. It is a significant part of my story. That is all, and nothing else. In the meantime a soft drum inside my head, similarly to the heart, keeps to a regular beat.

Keep moving, Michael, do not stop… 12… 1234… 12… 1234… 12… Tap… Tap… Tap… Tap… Tap…

 

[1] When my son George was eight years old he stunned me when on the whiteboard of the children’s playroom he sketched a rough drawing of a large dragon with a huge crown on its head. The beast was being lassoed by a little boy.

[2] This is a good introduction to a difficult subject often misunderstood and exploited:  Laberge, S. and Rheingold, H., Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, (United States: Ballantine Books, 1990); the knowledge of such dream states is not new, Aristotle had noted much earlier on “...often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.” Andreas Mavromatis references the Greek philosopher in a detailed work on the subject:  Hypnogogia: The Unique State of Consciousness between Wakefulness and Sleep (United Kingdom: Thyrsos Press, 2010).

[3] For the “language of dreams” see: Jung, C.G. Dreams, (London: Routledge, 2002), Trans., R. F. C. Hull.

[4] http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/dreams.htm A very brief overview but on the dot for the purposes of this small post.