A friend sent me this link to a recent piece by Pico Iyer in which he asks why he so often dreams of Paris, a City he has rarely visited.
'Paris is always bright shopping streets, at Christmas time, at night; I’ve just flown in and, jetlagged, quickened, I race out to roam along the river, past the festive windows, through the dark.
'The content of my dreams has long ceased to interest me; but their proportions, the way they rearrange the things I thought I cared about, the life I imagined I was leading, won’t go away. Why do I almost never see my mother in my dreams, although, alone in her eighties, she fills my waking thoughts so much? And why, conversely, do I return again and again in sleep to Paris, a city I haven’t visited often in life, as if under some warm compulsion?
'I went there in life not long ago, to try to chase the connection down, but of course my search yielded nothing. Why, as I keep revisiting Paris in the night hours, do I very rarely see Santa Barbara, where I’ve been officially resident for almost fifty years? In my dreams, when it does appear, it’s simply a wilderness, a blank space in the hills next to which I stay, through which some cars are edging, tentative and lost.'
Why Paris? Well, for American writers, Paris has a special importance. Oscar Wilde said 'When good Americans die they go to Paris.' Henry James explained why this might be when he remarked- 'To be an American is an excellent preparation for Culture'. For Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, Paris was a finishing School. What aleatory alethia or dismal deontics might Paris represent for Pico? His oeuvre is unusual, for a man of his generation and profession- he taught writing at Harvard in the early Eighties- in its lack of engagement with French Post Modernism. Is Pico's Jungian unconscious trying to tell him that there is some trick he has missed in his training as a writer? After all, at Eton & Oxford, he could scarcely have been unaware of the traditional English feeling of of inferiority with respect to the Philosophically, Politically and Culturally synoecist quality of Parisian literature and thought. Pico was 11 in 1968- i.e. at the time when a child becomes politically conscious. What was happening in London was a pale reflection of the student unrest in Paris. Tariq Ali scarcely caused Harold Wilson a moment's disquiet. De Gaulle almost fled before Cohn-Bendit. In other words, Paris represents everything Pico and his Global Soul has refused to engage with, Intellectually, Politically and Culturally. At about the same time, of Pico's 'two fathers', one was throwing in his lot with the Club of Rome while the other continued to contribute to Vatican II. Spiritually, Pico rejected the latter and clove to the former thus making himself as irrelevant as his father. Irrelevant but armoured, irrelevant for armoured, in an unmeaning and mean spirited impassability. Perhaps this was the telephone message the father, voice choked with tears, left for his son shortly before he died.
Pico writes-My dreams are simply bringing forth what I think but don’t admit to myself, perhaps; they’re not revealing any truth so much as reflecting my projections back at me.
In other words, Pico is saying 'my Jungian anima has no intuitive knowledge of the Truth about me. It's just an echoing chamber for my own insecurities which- precisely because they are mine- aren't true at all because I can change them. There is no Man within me who is angry with me- it's just a projection on my part and so doesn't mean anything. But, then, why should anything mean anything at all? '
Thus Pico feels able to go on to say- 'Yet the way they (i.e. my dreams) upend what I think I think speaks for some intuitive truth: the least important moments may transform our lives more radically than crises do. I stopped off for an overnight stay at Narita Airport in 1983, and those few hours moved me to relocate to Japan. Meanwhile, the times when I have watched people go mad, try to take their lives in front of me, or die, seem barely to have left a trace.
So Jungian synchronicity- i.e. spooky chance happenings- is important but not because it is linked to the search for wisdom, the yearning for wholeness, the project of individual metanoia but because, in a sense, one's life is preordained and has a seamless quality which makes the sufferings of other people irrelevant- even if they 'go mad and try to take their lives in front of me, or die'
Pico carries on- 'Perhaps it’s the very chanceness of a chance encounter that suggests to us that it’s observing some secret logic deeper than the one we recognize? Certainly, my subconscious—doesn’t every writer find this?—returns again and again to an idle morning along the Malecon in Havana and never seems able to do anything with all the real Shakespearean drama of my, or any life.
Perhaps we impute too much to dreams precisely because we cannot control them; we infer that they come to us from some larger or at least external place that knows things that we don’t. Certainly my interest in their reapportioning of the dimensions of my life began to rise when I recently spent eight years writing on the kinship I felt with the unmet novelist Graham Greene. The fact that there was scant basis for my sense of affinity was precisely what gave my presumed connection potency; what one can’t explain away keeps echoing inside one as the explicable never does.
Trent Parke/Magnum Photos
From the "Dream/Life" series, Sydney, Australia, 2002
That, I felt, was the basis of Greene’s own faith, hedged and reluctant though it was; he may not have allowed himself to believe in God, but he certainly had a strong belief in the inexplicable, in mystery (even in the devil), which made it hard for him to rule out anything and be as skeptical as he would have liked. His life as a novelist, a professional conspirator with the subconscious, only deepened this sense of the dark places around him (or inside him): he wrote in a story about a dead woman found in a British railway station and, four months later, a woman was actually found dead in a British railway station; he dreamed of a ship going down in the sea, again and again, and, again and again, awoke to find out that a ship had truly gone down in the night.
Let us compare Greene and Pico. What do we find? Everytime Greene wrote a book about a far away place something awful happened there. Greene's dreams were prescient nightmares. Pico's dreams and books are the reverse. Does Video Nights in Kathmandu predict the massacre of the Royal family and the Communist Revolution? No. It's a silly magazine fluff piece. Does 'Lady & the Monk' predict the Japanese economic malaise? No. It's superficial tosh. What about Greene? This is an extract from my book 'Tigers of Wrath'
Pico dreams, Pico travels, Pico writes- Greene did the same things. Why is Greene an artist and Pico a shit-head? Greene cares for poor people. His Heraclitean fire is a Patripassian flame. Worldly injustice is the Passion of Christ. What about Pico, pal of the Dalai Lama, and meditator in a Benedictine Monastery? What keeps him awake at night? Nothing. He dreams. But his dreams have nothing to say to him. This Brown Man is just so goddam superior to Greene- gotta bless them Iyer genes.