The Realm of Dreams: Impressions from a Journey through its Cultural, Literary and Artistic History

Manfred Engel

From The MHRA Centenary Lectures (2020), doi:10.59860/cl.c69adf6

Part of the book: The MHRA Centenary Lectures

Edited by Graham Nelson


Modern Humanities Research Association

Full text.  This contribution is published as Open Access, and its full text is given below.

The Realm of Dreams

Impressions from a Journey through its Cultural, Literary and Artistic History1

Professor Manfred Engel

Saarland University, Department of German, Saarbrücken

‘sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality’
— Lord Byron, ‘The Dream’

Let me first present to you a rough map of our destination, which shows that the realm of dreams consists of three continents: Oneirica, Theoretica and Artistica (fig. 1). Obviously, Oneirica is a very dark continent, always covered by a dense fog. And although we travel there every night, our knowledge of it remains restricted to the poor and distorted memories of dreams which we bring back from there. At least some of these memories are engraved on the scattered mountains which alone rise above the dense fog. So Oneirica is the continent of dreams and dream-reports.

Fig. 1. The Realm of Dreams

Theoretica is the continent of the dream-discourse. Here we find all the theories about dreams which human beings have developed throughout the ages to explain the origin and function of dreams and to find ways of understanding them. And Artistica is, of course, the continent of all artistic representations of dreams — dreams in literature, in the visual arts, in comics, in movies, in photography, in music, etc. Our time-travel — starting somewhere in the 18th century BCE and ending in the year 1945 — will lead us mainly through Artistica but we will also catch a few glimpses of Theoretica and of the mountains of Oneirica on our way.

Before we begin we should, however, consider at least for a moment the origin of the continents Theoretica and Artistica as well as of the Dream-Report Mountains in Oneirica. All of them are the result of the cultural dreamwork.

To understand this I suggest embarking on a thought experiment:2 Let us imagine a grown-up person — whom we will simply call ‘A’. A (improbably enough) has never dreamt nor even (still more improbably) heard other people talk about dreaming. Let us watch A when he/she has just woken from a first dream.

A’s feeling will probably be one of disorientation and insecurity as all of a sudden much has changed: place and time are different now (unless we assume, tediously enough, that A has dreamt of lying in bed and sleeping); people and objects that were present in the dream have disappeared; even A himself will probably look and feel different now.

When reflecting more thoroughly on the differences between the waking and the dream world A will soon understand that their divergence is not an absolute one: Both share a considerable set of common elements — persons, objects, actions, situations, feelings, etc. — even though in A’s dream some of them may have appeared in a strangely distorted, ‘bizarre’ form. The categorical difference between these worlds, however, is an ontological one: Many of the basic laws of our waking world have obviously been suspended in the dream — such as the laws of identity, of cause and effect, of spatial and temporal continuity, etc. The realm of the dream is a strangely ‘fluid’ world in which everything seems to be possible. It is very important to note, however, that these are the considerations of a person who is awake — the dreamer will (at least in most of our dreams) unquestioningly accept all of these differences. So the primal scene of all cultural dreamwork is not the dream itself but the moment of awakening.

Pondering these differences between the waking and the dream worlds, A will soon realize that more must have happened than an unusually sudden switch of time and place. While dreaming, A has been in a fundamentally different universe. This two-world experience is the most basic reaction which a dream will provoke when it is viewed by the waking mind — and it is the crucial skandalon which all cultural dreamwork tries to defuse. Thus my basic suggestion is that all cultural dreamwork can be understood as an attempt to explain, lessen, or close the gap between our common daily world and that other one which has suddenly opened up in the dream. Narrating or writing a dream, interpreting it, theorizing it or representing it in art — all of these activities are part of the cultural dreamwork, are attempts to cultivate the dream and mitigate the skandalon of the dream-other, while yet preserving, in greatly differing degrees, at least parts of the dream’s ‘otherness’.

So much for an introduction. Now let us start with the beginning — the historical beginning, I mean, at least as far as written texts are concerned.

18th/8th century BCE — Gilgamesh has a prophetic dream

The standard Babylonian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh dates from the 8th century BCE, but the origins of the text reach back at least to the 18th century BCE. My first example will be one of the many dreams in the epic,3 the first of two dreams of Gilgamesh in which the arrival of Enkidu is announced, a hero as mighty as Gilgamesh himself who will soon become his comrade and closest friend:

245 Gilgameš arose to reveal4 a dream, saying to his mother:
246 ‘O mother, the dream that I saw in the course of this night —
247 the stars of the heavens appeared before me,
248 like lumps of rock from the sky they kept falling towards me.
249 I picked one up but it was too much for me,
250 I kept trying to roll it but I could not dislodge it.
251 The land of Uruk was standing around [it,]
252 [the land was gathered] about it.
253 A crowd [was jostling] before [it,]
254 [the menfolk were] thronging around it.
255 They were kissing its feet [like a little] baby’s;
256 [I loved it] like a wife and I caressed and embraced it.
257 [I picked it up and] set it down at [your] feet,
258 [and you, you] made it my equal.’

The dream is then interpreted by Gilgamesh’s mother, the goddess Ninsun — Gilgamesh is a demigod with a human father — who is well versed in the art of dream-interpretation. First she repeats the dream, then she discloses its meaning:

268 ‘A mighty companion will come to you, the saviour of (his) friend:
269 he is the mightiest in the land, he has strength,
270 his strength is as mighty as a lump of rock from the sky.
271 You will love him like a wife, caressing and embracing him,
272 he, being mighty, [will] often save you.
273 [Favourable and precious] was your dream!’5

Though the origin of the dream is not explicitly mentioned it is obviously a supernatural dream, quite probably sent by the gods who had created Enkidu with the intention of mitigating Gilgamesh’s uncouth and unruly nature.

The supernatural dream is undoubtedly the oldest dream-type. Here the two-world-experience is simply related to current cultural two-world-theories. Dreams are sent by gods or demons, later by God, or angels, or the devil. These supernatural dreams can appear in two versions: as message dreams or as symbolic dreams. You may remember a typical message dream from Homer’s Iliad (ii: 5–84): The god Zeus sends a dream to Agamemnon — that is: he literally sends a dream in the form of a person who enters the dreamer’s bedroom, takes the disguise of a respected friend and delivers his message. Here the reduction of the dream’s otherness has obviously reached its most extreme: No oneiricity is left, the dream simply consists of a logical and coherent speech. The other version, to which our Gilgamesh example belongs, is the symbolic dream. In varying degrees it may still be oneiric: remember for example the meteoroid which has fallen from the sky and is then treated in a very strange way by the crowd and by Gilgamesh. This will, however, immediately make sense when we substitute the signifiant by the signifié, that is: the meteoroid by the giant hero Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s future best buddy.

Ninsun is a goddess and has obviously no difficulty in interpreting dreams. But if you had a troubling dream and no goddess was at hand you would have to look for professional help — and this is what we will do in the following section, which will introduce us to the cultural practice of oneirocriticism, which is closely linked with the belief in supernatural dreams.

2nd century — Artemidorus: Consulting an oneirocritic

Artemidorus of Daldis (his place of birth) lived and worked in the Ephesus of the second century as a professional oneirocritic. The reason that we still know him today, however, are his writings, the Oneirocritica, in which he laid down the sum of his professional expertise as an interpreter of dreams.6 The Oneirocritica are certainly not the only and not even the oldest dreambook of Antiquity but they are the oldest dreambook that has come to us as a complete text. After it had been rediscovered in the Renaissance, the Greek version was first printed in 1518, a Latin translation in 1539 — and soon translations into all European languages would follow (the first English version appearing in 1563). Artemidorus thus became the prime father of the genre ‘dreambook’ which you can today still buy in bookshops or find on the internet. As you will know, these books consist of a list of key dream motifs (mostly presented in alphabetical order) and their explanations — if you buy one you can become a do-it-yourself dream interpreter.

Fig. 2. Dream-books ancient and modern: left, the Oneirocritica, in a French edition printed in 1664; right, Theresa Cheung, The Dream Dictionary from A to Z, printed in 2019

Let us assume that you had the following dream: You were on board a ship in a terrible storm. The mast broke and tore a hole in the hull planking, the ship sank and everybody drowned. As the dream worries and troubles you, you decide to visit Artemidorus in his oneirocritic’s practice.

Of course, he will first ask you to sit down in a comfy chair and tell your dream. But after that he will not start simply with his interpretation but with a series of questions. The first one might well be: ‘Are you a seaman or do you plan to embark on a voyage or cruise in the near future?’ Why does he ask this? Well, simply because he has to exclude the possibility of a theorematic dream, that is: a dream which directly represents a future event. If you answer: ‘Yes, indeed, tomorrow I will go on a cruise to the Caribbean’, Artemidorus will probably yawn and say: ‘Don’t go, rather stay at home! Please pay five drachmae at the reception desk when you leave. — Next client, please!’

If, however, you answer in the negative the interview will get more intense and much more personal. Artemidorus might ask you whether you drank much before you went to bed, whether it was a very stormy night, whether your father died recently and whether he played a very important role in your family. He might even ask you whether you (or your husband) are suffering from erection problems. For all of these factors might have caused an enhypnion, that is, a natural dream, based on current physiological causes, on weak sensual perceptions of the sleeper or on current psychological affects (in which case the broken mast might refer either to your dead father or to the phallus). Though most people in Antiquity believed in the existence of supernatural dreams, they well knew that there were also natural dreams simply mirroring your present physiological and psychological condition.

If you answer in the negative again, Artemidorus will rub his hands and say: ‘Fine. So your dream was an oneiros (that is a symbolic and prophetic dream). Now we can get down to work!’. But even then he will not simply deliver an interpretation but ask more questions. For the exact meaning of a dream depends on the circumstances of the dreamer’s life and the way in which the dream-symbols relate to it. Only after this close interrogation will Artemidorus venture on an interpretation. As I have chosen a very simple example, the interpretation will be a simple one. In the Oneirocritica we can read:

a shipwreck, regardless of whether the vessel is capsized [or destroyed] or smashed upon rocks, harms all men [means harm to everybody] except those forcibly held by others and slaves. For it releases these men from those who hold them, for the ship resembles those who have a hold on them.7

So if you are neither a slave nor a prisoner you should expect the worst after your dream.

Theoretica is not only full of dream theories but also of related practices. Oneirocriticism – à la Artemidorus or in a psychoanalytical talking cure – is one of these practices. The writing practice of the dreambook is another one. And the incubation dream – that is a dream which is induced by undergoing certain rituals or visiting appropriate places – is a third one. At our next stop we will observe this cultural practice of incubation in its Greek (and Roman) version.

170 — Aelius Aristides: Hypochondriacs also dream

Aelius Aristides (117–81) was a great orator of the second century – and as he lived a fairly long life but spent many years as a patient at the Asclepeion in Pergamon I suppose that he must also have been one of the greatest hypochondriacs in Antiquity. For our subject he is important because he wrote down a comprehensive account of his incubation dreams in his Sacred Tales.8

Fig. 3. Ground plan of the Asclepeion at Pergamon in Hellenistic and Roman times (detail): Wellcome collection L0012431

An Asclepeion is a very peculiar type of a hospital built around a temple for Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. Many Greek and Roman cities had such a sanctuary which, as a rule, would consist of a temple to the god, an incubation centre (abaton), a holy fountain and buildings for the treatment and accommodation of the patients.

When you arrived there you would first undergo some purgation rituals and offer a sacrifice to the god. At nightfall you would go to the abaton and sleep there. If you were lucky, you had a dream in which the god Asclepius appeared to you and either cured you immediately or gave directions for your cure — the medicine you should take or the treatment you had to undergo. In the morning, you could discuss your dream with a priest and the treatment was started. And after the cure you would, of course, have to pay a fee.

Here is one of Aristides’ many dream reports. On his voyage to Pergamon his ship had almost sunk in a heavy storm and therefore he arrived in a rather bad state. In this incubation dream he was advised about his treatment — but in addition he also received some very clever advice for tricking fate:

When night came, the God [Asclepius] ordered me to perform my purgation, and showed me from what. And it was nothing less [effective] than by hellebore, as those who had experience in this said, since everything was stirred up by the waves. And he [Asclepius] declared everything, how it was fated for me to suffer shipwreck. For that reason these things [like the past near-shipwreck] happened; and now it would be necessary for my safety and in order to fulfil my destiny, to embark in a skiff and to arrange it so that the skiff overturn and sink in the harbor, and that I myself be picked up by someone and brought to land. For thus my fate would be fulfilled. Of course, I did this quite gladly.9

Now a big leap in time and space will transport us to the France of the 17th century — and to our first visit to Artistica.

1623 — Charles Sorel: Francion has a raucous dream

Charles Sorel (1599/1602–74) is today known to us primarily as the author of a picaresque novel, entitled Histoire comique de Francion.10 This includes a very long dream of the protagonist, told by himself, but never interpreted in the text. We might call this dream a parody of the old genre of dream vision, dating back to Antiquity and still very popular in the Middle Ages but also in later times. Famous examples are Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis, the Roman de la Rose or Chaucer’s House of Fame and Dante’s Divine Comedy. These dream visions would be barely oneiric, the dream frame being a mere technical device to convey visions of journeys to the beyond or allegorically presented philosophical or moral truths.

In his dream, Francion travels many bizarre regions, including heaven and the underworld. Here is a short excerpt from the underworld part:

The place was cover’d all over with delicate firm young breasts, fastned together in pairs, like Bowls; I took great delight in rowling my self over ‘em. And being supinely lay’d, a fair Lady came and kneel’d down by me, having a Vessel in her Hand, and Tunnel, which she put in my Mouth, telling me she wou’d make me drink the most delicious Liquor that ever was tasted: I open’d my Throat as wide as the singing Man that swallow’d a Rat instead of a Hop-Seed; and she getting up a little, piss’d above a Winchester Quart full in my mouth, and made me gulp it every drop down. I started up to be reveng’d of her, and but just gave her one Blow, and she fell all to pieces; here lay her Head, there were her Legs, in another place lay her Arms, and no two parts together; but what was more wonderful, every Member immediately afterwards discharg’d its own function; the Legs walk’d about, the Arms struck me, the Tongue revil’d me, the Mouth grinn’d at me.

The fear of coming to trouble, for the Death of this Woman, made me beat my Brains to bring her to Life again. For remarking every one of her Limbs, did its respective duty; I concluded they wanted nothing but placing, to recover her. Having gathered up several Parts of her, and put ‘em in order, I was so charm’d with her Belly, that I cou’d not forbear sacrificing to Venus, in hopes to expiate my former roughness to her; but as I was beginning the endearing Ceremony, her Tongue, (which I had not put on as yet) cry’d out, those are not our breasts, which made me look out for the right, which having found, and put in order, her Head, and Arms came of their own accord, and settled themselves in their natural position: Now the Mouth kiss’d me, and the Arms hugg’d me passionately, and all ended in melting Raptures and transporting Joys.11

Fig. 4. Martin Van Maele's 1925 illustration of Francion's dream

Unlike traditional dream visions, this is obviously a very oneiric text which, again unlike traditional dream visions, does not present philosophical or moral truths. Mikhail Bakhtin would immediately have claimed the dream as an example for his concept of carnivalization12 — and quite rightly so. Sorel uses the licences of the Baroque satirical literature which is freed from the laws of vraisemblance and bienséance and even increases them by telling ‘merely’ a dream. So he is able to present us with an anarchistic, sometimes ribald, sometimes erotic universe in which the imagination may run freely, overturning all moral laws and social conventions. Rarely before (and not for a long time thereafter) have authors presented us with literary dreams which so radically succeed in representing the ‘otherness’ of the dream. It is noteworthy that this innovation of the dream form is a product of the literary system; Sorel’s parody (or rather contrafactum?) of the dream vision may imply a critique of the supernatural dream (as part of an obvious attack on Christian metaphysics and its denunciation of the body) but it is not based on a new dream theory of the natural dream. The downright attack on the belief in supernatural dreams, based on a modernized and strengthened theory of the natural dream, was to become the domain of Enlightenment dream theory and dream poetics.

1761 — Rousseau: St Preux has a revealing dream

The Enlightenment was fairly successful in its fight against the belief in supernatural dreams. And it developed a very elaborate theory of the natural dream which tried to explain dreams as products of the imagination. In sleep, the imagination is no longer controlled by reason and outer sensual perceptions. Now its productions are freely inspired by weak perceptions, by workings of the body and by current psychological desires or fears. So the realm of the dream may still be a frightening one — but at least one which can be explained in every detail. This monopoly of the natural dream led to its adaptation in Enlightenment literature which — as later that of Realism and of contemporary literature — became a domain of the psychological dream.13

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) is certainly in no need of an introduction. And his Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse : Lettres de deux amans, habitans d’une petite ville au pied des Alpes of 1761 was the most popular novel of the 18th century before Goethe’s Werther. In a series of intertwined correspondences between different letter writers Rousseau tells us the story of the love between Julie and her tutor St Preux. After they separate at the command of Julie’s father, Baron d’Etange, Julie finds vertu in her marriage to Monsieur de Wolmar and, a few years later, invites St Preux to their manor in Clarens to help him overcome his lovesickness. Just before our dream, St Preux has set out on a journey with a friend and is spending the first night at exactly the same inn and even in the same room where he had stayed ten years ago after his first separation from Julie.

Fig. 5. A love-struck St Preux, engraved by Antoine Johannot (c.1840)

Here is the key part of St Preux’s dream as he reports it in a letter to Julie’s best friend, Madame d’Orbe:

I went to bed with these sad thoughts. They followed me during my sleep, and filled it with deathly images. The bitter pains, the losses, death itself paraded before my eyes, and all the ills I had suffered reappeared in my dream in a hundred new shapes, to torment me once more. One dream especially, the cruellest of them all, pursued me tenaciously, and from phantom to phantom, all their blurred apparitions always ended up with that particular one.

I could see your friend’s worthy mother, on her deathbed, and her daughter on her knees beside her, melting in tears, kissing her hands as she breathed her last breath. I saw again this scene you [Madame d’Orbe] depicted to me years ago, and which will never leave my memory. ‘O my mother’, said Julie in a voice that grieved my soul, ‘she to whom you gave life is taking yours away! Ah! take it back, without you it is to me but a baneful gift.’ ‘My child’, answered her tender mother,.... ‘we must fulfill our destiny.... God is just.... you will be a mother in your turn....’ she was unable to go on.... I wanted to lift my eyes toward her; I no longer saw her. I saw Julie in her place; I saw her, I recognized her, although her face was covered with a veil. I uttered a cry; I rushed forward to push aside the veil; I could not reach her; I stretched forth my arms, I groped desperately and touched nothing. ‘Friend, calm yourself’, she said to me in a feeble voice. ‘The fateful veil covers me, no hand can push it aside.’ Hearing this, I struggled and renewed my effort; this effort awoke me: I found myself in my bed, overwhelmed with fatigue, and drenched in sweat and tears (Part V, Letter 9).14

Indeed, St Preux will never see Julie again — and in death her face will in fact be covered by Madame d’Orbe with a veil. So, at first glance, this seems to be a supernaturally prophetic dream. Having first created this impression, Rousseau is, however, very careful to destroy it completely at a later stage. Julie’s death-scene has a footnote which is very explicit:

It can easily be seen that it is St. Preux’s dream, with which Madame d’Orbe’s imagination was constantly filled, that suggests to her the expedient of this veil. I believe that if we were to examine the matter closely, we would find this same relationship in the fulfillment of many predictions. The event is not predicted because it will happen; but it happens because it has been predicted.15

So the dream must be a natural one. And it is not very difficult to discover its psychological meaning — although St Preux himself will never do so. Before falling asleep, St Preux’s melancholy musings had included the thought: ‘Would she were dead! I dared to cry out in a transport of rage; yes, I would be less unhappy’.16 So the dream uncovers the abysses of passionate, selfish love. The love between St Preux and Julie had already killed Julie’s mother and now it leads St Preux to utter a death-wish which he himself will immediately forget — repress, we might say — but which will be fulfilled in his dream. As I said, St Preux will never be able to understand the psychological meaning of his dream. So Rousseau uses the dream as a device for a communication between author and reader behind the back of the dreamer — and such a device can, of course, prove particularly useful in an epistolary novel in which the position of the omniscient narrator is reduced to that of a mere editor and commentator.

For our next stop we will have to travel only 20 years in time — but we will also switch from literature to the visual arts.

1781 — Fuseli invents the iconography of the nightmare

As the dream is to a large extent a visual experience we might well assume that many painters will have painted their actual dreams as some sort of visual dream-reports. But this happened only in rare exceptions — Albrecht Dürer’s Dream Vision of 1525 is one of them. As a rule, artists would only paint dreams from the Bible, dreams by famous persons from history, mythology and literature, or dream allegories. And in most of these pictures the sleeper was painted together with his or her dream, whose figures appeared above or beside or around him.

One of the first to break with this tradition of painting only well-known and/or semantically clearly defined dreams was the Swiss painter and draughtsman Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825) — or Henry Fuseli, as he was called in England. His painting The Nightmare (fig. 2) was an immediate success when first exhibited at the Royal Academy summer show of 1782.17 And it immediately became very popular through the many engravings which were sold.

Although the painting was successful there was also harsh criticism. Some critics complained that the sujet was ‘too unpleasant [...] to be agreeable to anyone’ or called Fuseli ‘a libertine of Painting’ as he had painted a ‘mere waking dream, as wild as the conceits of a madman’, which ‘degraded’ ‘the dignity of moral instruction’ by employing the artist’s ‘pencil’ ‘on frivolous, whimsical, and unmeaning subjects’.18

Fig. 6. Henry Fuseli, ‘The Nightmare’. Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 127 cm.

This critique points to the painting’s intermediate position between Enlightenment Classicism and the Gothic or even Romanticism. We might call it a classicist representation of a definitely non-classicistic or even anti-classicistic motif. Stylistically, the painting is undoubtedly a classicist work of art — just note the careful composition with many correspondences, the many variants of the swinging S-line as the line of beauty, the highly artistic execution of all sorts of drapery. The uncanny horror of the painting, however, and its lack of a clear moral message break the chains of classicist aesthetics.

The same intermediate position can be observed in Fuseli’s treatment of the dream. Fuseli’s painting is not the direct representation of a dream — although it might well have been that. As I mentioned, it was a well-established convention in dream paintings to portray the sleeper and above or beside him the contents of his dream. What we see in Fuseli’s Nightmare, however, is rather the sleeper together with a mythological representation of the force which is overpowering her in her dream. In fact, we can even see two different explanations of the cause of her nightmare: a mythological one and a natural one.

For the mythological explanation — which, of course, is in itself also a tribute to classicist aesthetics — Fuseli used a northern myth which was, for instance, explained in the article ‘nightmare’ of Dr Johnson’s dictionary: The Mara is an evil spirit or goblin, riding on a horse, who comes to torment sleepers. And if you look at the shadow which the Mara throws onto the red curtain and in which his pricked-up ears very much look like the horns of a devil you will understand that the figure also implies the tradition of supernatural dream-explanation.

But the painting also presents a natural explanation of the nightmare — such as the physician John Bond had given in his contemporary Essay on the Incubus, or Nightmare.19 Here the nightmare is explained primarily by the sleeper’s supine position which leads to pressure of blood on the brain — note the sleeper’s position in Fuseli’s painting with her head clearly much lower than her body.

What I have described up to now is what a cultural historian of the dream could see in the painting. But this is, certainly, not what most viewers will have noticed when they first looked at it.

For the picture has a second side to it which is based on its management of the viewer’s gaze — which here, obviously, is a male one. Fuseli puts the observer in the role of a voyeur who is intruding into an intimate scene with both indications of horror and sexuality. This is caused not only by the erotic effect of the scantily clad female body which is being presented to us but also by the two viewer-figures within the painting. That we are intruding on an intimate and uncanny scene is mainly indicated by the gaze of the Mara which is focused on us, the external viewer, with an impression of discontent — looking like a person who is angry at being disturbed in his hidden misdeeds. The horse as the second viewer in the painting is staring — lecherously? — at the interaction between woman and Mara mirroring our gaze at the objectified female body. Only the woman’s eyes are closed — all male eyes are wide open. So, in a way, the nightmare of the woman is turned into a dream, a wish dream of the spectator, which is certainly a voyeuristic one with, quite probably, sadistic overtones. Of course, this does not mean that Fuseli anticipated Freud. (At least in my opinion, nobody ever anticipates anything — apart from, maybe, biblical prophets; these so-called ‘anticipations’ are nothing but projections by current readers or viewers.) But Fuseli certainly found a way to link the dream closely with hidden erotic desires and to evoke its darker sides. And this was certainly one of the most positive side-effects of the Enlightenment’s attack on the traditional belief in dreams: it greatly intensified the oneiricity of literary and artistic dreams.

We might well believe that the Enlightenment had successfully ended the rule of prophetic dreams and established, once and for all, the predominance of the psychological dream. Our next stop in Romanticism will, however, show that this is far from being true.

1802 — Novalis: Heinrich does not dream only of a blue flower

Novalis’ (i.e. Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772–1801) fragmentary novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen of 1802 includes three dreams — two dreamt by Henry and one by his father.20 The best known is, of course, the first one, which ends with Henry’s encounter with a blue flower whose blossom is just about to metamorphose into the face of a beautiful maiden, when Henry awakes. Before that, however, he climbs a mountain in a dried-up creek bed and enters a cave:

On entering, he [Henry] beheld a mighty jet of water, which, as though springing from a fountain, rose to the ceiling of the vault, and at the top dispersed in innumerable sparks, which gathered below in a great basin. The jet shone like flaming gold; not the least noise was to be heard; a holy silence surrounded the splendid spectacle. He approached the basin, which undulated and trembled with ever-varying colours. The sides of the cave were coated with this liquid, which was not hot but cool, and which cast only a weak, blue light onto the walls. He dipped his hand in the basin and moistened his lips. He felt as if a spiritual breath had pervaded him, and he felt most deeply strengthened and refreshed. An irresistible desire to bathe seized him, he undressed and stepped into the basin. It seemed to him as if a cloud of sunset surrounded him; a heavenly feeling filled his soul to overflowing; innumerable thoughts strove to mingle within him with an intense voluptuousness; new, never-before-seen images arose before him, which also flowed into each other, and became visible beings about him, and each wave of the sweet element pressed against him like a soft bosom. The flood seemed like a solution of charming maidens, who instantly embodied themselves on contact with the youth.21

In spite of the water and the maidens, this is certainly not a ‘wet’ dream telling us about the sleeper’s sexual wishes. In fact, it is not a psychological dream at all. It’s symbolism may seem cryptic at first glance but can be easily deciphered if we know Novalis’ philosophy — which is closely related to that of German Idealism in general, and of Schelling in particular —, his poetics, his theory of the dream, and his concept of the symbolism of nature.

Read in this context, the dream scene is the primal scene of creation itself in which an immemorial unity for the first time divides itself into the multitude of reality. In this primal scene of creation the borderlines between subject and object, mind and nature, imagination and reality are still permeable and fluid — as fluid as the dream world. There is as yet no contradiction between a ‘spiritual breath’ and a ‘feeling of intense voluptuousness’, and all imaginings of desire immediately ‘embody’, realize themselves. The events in Henry’s dream prefigure events from his future personal life but at the same time present in a mise-en-abîme the history of humankind or of creation as a whole.

Henry’s dream is what traditionally would have been a supernatural dream vision — but which can now be explained naturally by means of the new concept of the unconscious which the Romantics would develop. Of course, this unconscious is very different from Freud’s version — although we certainly could draw a direct evolutionary line from the Romantic subconscious to Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘will’ and on to Freud’s ‘id’. For the Romantics, the realm of the unconscious is that of unconscious creation — either in the workings of nature or in the self-preservation and procreation of our body or in the workings of the imagination which unconsciously brings forth the world of representations. Dreams enable us to experience some sort of regression by which we return to a pre-individual state of unity with universal life — an experience which Freud would call an ‘oceanic’ one. For the Romantics this theory of the unconscious was empirically proven in the prophetic clairvoyance of persons who had been magnetized (or rather hypnotized)22 and physiologically based on the — newly discovered — existence of two autonomous nervous systems — that of the ganglia and that of the brain — which would interact in dreams only. Literary dreams repeat the experiences of dreams on a conscious level — so they can be both oneiric and perfectly comprehensible at the same time.

Enlightenment and Romanticism together opened up two paradigms of the dream — the psychological one and that of a trans-individual participation in the same creative and symbolizing power which brings forth poetry, myth and religion. Freud and Jung are just two of many examples in which these paradigms could be realized and modified.23

Finally, let us jump into the 20th century and switch, once again, to a different medium.

1945 — Hitchcock is asked to spread Freudianism but prefers to make a movie

Of course, the basic promise of film-dreams lies in the medium’s ability to combine moving images and sound. So film should be able to represent dreams in an unprecedentedly realistic way. We must not forget, however, that for directors — just as for authors or painters — the representation of dreams is not an end in itself. So, firstly, film dreams will also be part of the cultural dreamwork — therefore dreams will always be interpreted following the guidelines of an explicit or implicit dream theory. Secondly, directors — just like authors or painters — will always have interests which are preconditioned by the artistic medium they use. They may be interested in the medial innovations which the representation of dreams will open to them — but dreams will also have to fulfil a function within their works, a function which is quite often prescribed by the medium itself, as for instance in a genre film.

My example for all this will be the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899–1980) movie Spellbound of 1945.24

As I cannot show the film here I will quote, as a poor substitute, the voice-over of the dreamer’s narration:

I can’t make out just what sort of a place it was. It seemed to be a gambling house but there weren’t any walls. Just a lot of curtains with eyes painted on them. A man was walking around with a large pair of scissors cutting all the drapes in half. And then a girl came in with hardly anything on and started walking around the gambling room kissing everybody. She came to my table first. [...] I was sitting there playing cards with a man who had a beard. I was dealing to him and I turned up the seven of clubs. He said, ‘That makes 21. I win.’ But when he turned up his cards, they were blank. Just then, the proprietor came in and accused him of cheating. The proprietor yelled, ‘This is my place and if I catch you cheating again, I’ll fix you!’. [...] There’s a lot more to it. [...] He was leaning over the sloping roof of a high building. It was the man with the beard. I yelled at him to watch out. Then he went over — slowly — with his feet in the air. And then I saw the proprietor again — the man in the mask. He was hiding behind a tall chimney and he had a small wheel in his hand. I saw him drop the wheel on the roof. Suddenly I was running. Then I heard something beating over my head. It was a great pair of wings. The wings chased me and almost caught up with me when I came to the bottom of the hill. I must have escaped. I don’t remember. That’s all there was.25

In a way, the dream sequence was the result of a joint work in which four persons co-operated. The two obvious ones were, of course, Alfred Hitchcock as the director and David O. Selznick as the producer. But there were also two less obvious collaborators: the psychoanalyst Dr May E. Romm and the painter Salvador Dalí.

The 1940s were the decade in which psychoanalysis became popular in the USA. Selznick was undergoing psychoanalytic treatment at the time of the filming (so, by the way, was the film’s screenwriter Ben Hecht). So he suggested the subject of the film to Hitchcock, mainly because of its potential to include a treatment of psychoanalysis. And he even appointed his own analyst, Dr May E. Romm, as official psychoanalytic advisor. Hitchcock, who was always interested in filmic innovations, in his turn suggested the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí as some sort of an artistic advisor;26 the dream sequence should be based on drawings by Dalí, in order to

break with the traditional way of handling dream sequences through a blurred and hazy screen. I asked Selznick if he could get Dalí to work with us and he agreed, though I think he didn’t really understand my reasons for wanting Dalí. [...] The real reason was that I wanted to convey the dreams with great visual sharpness and clarity, sharper than the film itself. l wanted Dalí because of the architectural sharpness of his work [...] the long shadows, the infinity of distance, and the converging lines of perspective.27

Dalí, who was beyond his prime at that time but had become very fashionable in the US, was primarily interested in money — he was offered a generous remuneration of $4000 — and in establishing himself in Hollywood, the centre of the new booming film industry.

So if we were to interpret the film-dream in detail (which I will not be able to do here) we would have to consider it within a triangle of diverging interests: Selznick and Romm were interested in propagating Freudianism. The dream of the protagonist is told to and interpreted by two psychoanalysts, with one of them — Michael Chekov as Dr Brulov — obviously cast as a Freud look-alike. Before the dream-sequence, Dr Brulov even provides the protagonist (and with him the viewers) with a crash course in Freudian dream interpretation:

here is where dreams come in. They tell you what you are trying to hide. But they tell it to you all mixed up like pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit. The problem of the analyst is to examine this puzzle and put the pieces together in the right place – and find out what the devil you are trying to say to yourself.28

So Selznick and Romm primarily wanted a dream which had a clearly defined Freudian meaning.

Hitchcock, in his turn, was primarily interested in making a thrilling crime movie — in his own words: ‘just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis’.29 So he used the dream as an important plot device. The hero of Spellbound is John Ballantyne (played by Gregory Peck) who is suffering from amnesia after having watched a murder — a crime for which he will soon become the prime suspect. The dream — which Ballantyne tells to his girlfriend, the psychoanalyst Dr Constance Petersen (played by Ingrid Bergman) and her mentor Dr Alexander Brulov — is, when deciphered, the first clue for the discovery of the real murderer. In the final sequence of the film, Dr Petersen will be able to unmask the real villain by piecing together the remaining clues from the dream.

So for Hitchcock the dream had to be a medium which provided the characters (and viewers) with clues for solving a crime puzzle. And therefore he, of course, was equally interested in a dream which could be clearly deciphered — but not primarily by means of a psychoanalytic talking cure. Whenever May E. Romm would complain that Hitchcock was deviating from true Freudianism, the director would simply answer: ‘My dear, it’s only a movie!’ And it was, of course, Hitchcock who carried the day. Therefore the dream is not only shown but also narrated in a voice-over to highlight those details which the viewer was to note. Therefore the strangely deformed wheel (fig. 3, middle-right) is neither a phallus or vagina symbol nor a combination of both but simply a revolver — that is, the murder weapon. And therefore the mysterious wings which threaten the running protagonist and the valley-like landscape (fig. 3, bottom-right) will be deciphered as a mere rebus for ‘Gabriel Valley’, the ski resort where the murder took place.

Dalí may have been primarily interested in self-advertisement but he diligently did what he was told to do, that is he closely followed the prescribed storyboard. As, however, he also followed the traditions of his Surrealist aesthetics and in doing so resorted to a lot of his stock motifs, his drafts had a truly Surrealist flavour. So it was actually Dalí who saved the film-dream from being a mere rebus with an obvious meaning. With his stock motifs — some of them dysfunctional, that is without a clear meaning in the context of the movie – he rescued at least some elements of the ‘otherness’ which is characteristic of dreams.30

The screenshots in fig. 3 will, I hope, give at least a faint idea of this dysfunctionally oneiric effect of Dalí’s designs. Note, for instance, the eye-curtain in the disturbing opening scene of the dream (top-left) — in which the connoisseur will, of course, immediately recognize a reference to the famous eye-cutting scene from Un chien Andalou; the strangely enlarged playing card in the card game (top-right); the roots at the bottom of the chimney (middle-left); the gigantic pincers in the background (bottom-left), another one of Dalí’s stock motifs, which has no semantic function and is never mentioned in the interpretation of the dream.

Fig. 7. Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Spellbound’: Screenshots from the Dream Sequence

In a way, the dream-sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound might well be considered as a mise-en-abîme of the cultural dreamwork which I have tried to present in the eight stops of my time-journey: It clearly demonstrates the constant and conflicting interplay between a desire to ‘cultivate’ and ‘appropriate’ the dream, to make it compatible with the understanding of the waking mind, and a desire to preserve its ‘otherness’; between dream-theories, cultural practices and dream representations; between the innovative impulse of the dream for art and literature and the habitual and traditional needs of genres and media. Of course, accents and results will vary greatly in these interactions (as my examples should have shown) — but these are the forces which are always at play in the cultural plate tectonics between the continents of Oneirica, Theoretica and Artistica.

Given at the Queen’s Building, Exeter, 9 May 2018;
© Manfred Engel 2018


1In this online publication of the lecture, the form of the oral presentation has largely been maintained and academic references are kept to a minimum. My attempt at a broad survey of the cultural and literary history of the dream would not have been possible without drawing amply on the results of my previous research into the subject, published or still unpublished. So I will refer primarily to publications of my own (where other research on the topics is broadly documented). For prior attempts at similar surveys, to which this version is heavily indebted, cf. my essays: ‘Kulturgeschichte/n? Ein Modellentwurf am Beispiel der Kultur- und Literaturgeschichte des Traumes’, KulturPoetik, 10 (2010), 153–77; ‘Reise durch die Kultur- und Mediengeschichte des Traumes in elf Stationen’ in Traumwelten: Interferenzen zwischen Text, Bild, Musik, Film und Wissenschaft, ed. by Patricia Oster and Janett Reinstädler, Traum – Wissen – Erzählen, 1 (Munich: Fink, 2017), pp. 17–45. On more general terms, cf. also the three volumes of congress proceedings from the work of the ICLA Research Committee ‘Dreamcultures: Cultural and Literary History of the Dream’ (, edited by Bernard Dieterle and myself: Writing the Dream/Écrire le rêve, Cultural Dream Studies, 1 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2017); Theorizing the Dream/Savoir et théories du rêve, Cultural Dream Studies, 2 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2018); Historizing the Dream/Le rêve du point de vue historique, Cultural Dream Studies, 3 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2019); Mediating the Dream/Les genres et médias du rêve, Cultural Dream Studies, 4 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, in print)..↩︎

2Cf. Manfred Engel, ‘Jeder Träumer ein Shakespeare? Zum poetogenen Potential des Traumes’ in Anthropologie der Literatur: Poetogene Strukturen und ästhetisch-soziale Handlungsfelder, ed. by Rüdiger Zymner and Manfred Engel, Poetogenesis: Studien und Texte zur empirischen Anthropologie der Literatur, 2 (Paderborn: Mentis, 2004), pp. 102–17.↩︎

3For the dreams in the epic and for dream in Babylonic culture in general cf. Kelly Bukeley, ‘The Evil Dreams of Gilgamesh: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Dreams in Mythological Texts’ in The Dream and the Text: Essays on Literature and Language, ed. by Carol Schreier Rupprecht, SUNY Series on Dream Studies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 159–77; Annette Zgoll, Traum und Welterleben im antiken Mesopotamien: Traumtheorie und Traumpraxis im 3.–1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. als Horizont einer Kulturgeschichte des Träumens, Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 333 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2006).↩︎

4Zgoll suggests the translation: ‘to solve [lösen] the dream’ (i.e. interpret it); Zgoll, p. 394 f.↩︎

5The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, ed. by Andrew R. George, 2 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1, pp. 551, 553 (tablet I).↩︎

6Artemidorus, ‘Oneirocritica’: Text, Translation, Commentary, ed. by Daniel E. Harris-McCoy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Cf. Artemidor von Daldis und die antike Traumdeutung: Texte – Kontexte – Lektüren, ed. by Gregor Weber, Colloquia Augustana, 33 (Berlin, Boston, MA: de Gruyter, 2015); The Interpretation of Dreams: The ‘Oneirocritica’ of Artemidorus, trans. and comm. by Robert J. White (Park Ridge: Noyes Press, 1975).↩︎

7Artemidorus, ii: 23, p. 191.↩︎

8Charles A. Behr, Aelius Aristides and the ‘Sacred Tales’ (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1968), including an annotated English translation of Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi, pp.205–92. Cf. e.g. Janet Downie, ‘Dream Hermeneutics in Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi’ in Dreams, Healing, and Medicine in Greece: From Antiquity to the Present, ed. by Steven M. Oberhelman. (Farnham, Burlington: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 109–27; Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, Truly Beyond Wonders: Aelius Aristides and the Cult of Aesculap, Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).↩︎

9Hieroi Logoi, p. 225 f.↩︎

10First published Paris 1623, 2nd edn 1626, 3rd edn 1633. Cf. e.g. Florence Dumora, ‘Logiques du sens dans le songe de Francion’ in Charles Sorel, ed. by Jean Serroy (= Littératures classiques, 41 (2000)), pp. 133–52; Jean Lafond, ‘Le songe de Francion revisité’ in Saggi e Ricerche di Letteratura Francese 29 (1990), 47–76; Wolfgang Leiner, ‘Le rêve de Francion: Considérations sur la cohésion intérieure de l’Histoire comique de Francion de Sorel’ in La cohérence intérieure: Études sur la littérature française du XVIIe siècle. Présentées en hommage à Judd D. Hubert, ed. by Jacqueline van Baelen and David L. Ruben, Collection Œuvres et critiques, 1 (Paris: Place, 1977), pp. 157–75.↩︎

11Charles Sorel, The Comical History of Francion; Satirically exposing Folly and Vice in Variety of Humours and Adventures, Translated by several Hands, and Adapted to the Humour of the present Age, 2nd edn (London: M. Poulson, 1727), pp. 113–14. — French original:

La place estoit couverte de jeunes tetons collez ensemble deux a deux, qui estoient comme des balons, balons sur lesquels je me plus longtemps a me rouler. Enfin m’estant couché laschement sur le dos, une belle Dame se vint agenouiller aupres de moy, et me mettant un entonnoir en la bouche et tenant un vase me dit qu’elle me vouloit faire boire d’une liqueur delicieuse. J’ouvrais desja le gosier plus large que celuy de ce Chantre qui avalla une souris en beuvant, lorsque s’estant un peu relevée, elle pissa plus d’une pinte d’urine, mesure de sainct Denis, qu’elle me fit engorger. Je me relevay promptement pour la punir et ne luy eus pas si tost baillé un soufflet, que son corps tomba tout par pieces. D’un costé estoit la teste, d’un autre les bras, un peu plus loing estoient les cuisses: bref tout estoit divisé: et ce qui me sembla esmerveillable, c’est que la pluspart de tous ces membres ne laisserent pas peu apres de faire leurs offices. Les jambes se promenoient par la caverne, les bras me venoient frapper, la teste me faisoit des grimasses, et la langue me chantoit injures. La peur que j’eus d’estre accusé d’avoir fait mourir ceste femme, me contraignit de chercher une invention pour la faire resusciter. Je pensay que si toutes les parties de son corps estoient rejointes ensemble, elle reviendroit en son premier estat, puisqu’elle n’avoit pas un membre qui ne fust prest a faire toutes ses fonctions. Mes mains assemblerent donc tout excepté ses bras et sa teste, et voyant son ventre en un embonpoint aymable, je commençay de prendre la hardiesse de m’y jouër pour faire la paix avec elle, mais sa langue s’escria que je n’avois pas pris ses tetons mesme(s) et que ceux que j’avois mis en son corps estoient d’autres que j’avois ramassés emmy la caverne. Aussi tost je cherchay les siens et les ayant attachez au lieu où ils devoient estre, la teste et les bras vindrent incontinent se mettre sur leur place, voulans avoir part au plaisir, comme les autres membres. La bouche me baisa, et les bras me serrerent estroittement, jusqu’a ce qu’une douce langueur m’eust fait quitter cét exercice

Charles Sorel, Histoire comique de Francion, ed. by Émile Roy (Paris: Hachette, 1924), pp. 137–38.↩︎

12Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. by Hélène Iswolsky (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1968).↩︎

13Cf. The Dream and the Enlightenment/Le Rêve et les Lumières, ed. by Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, Études internationales sur le dix-huitième siècle, 7 (Paris: Champion, 2003); Manfred Engel, ‘Traumtheorie und literarische Träume im 18. Jahrhundert: Eine Fallstudie zum Verhältnis von Wissen und Literatur’, Scientia Poetica, 2 (1998), 97–128.↩︎

14Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, ed. by Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly, 14 vols (Hanover, NH, London: Dartmouth College, The University Press of New England, 1990–2009), 6: Julie or the New Heloise: Letters of Two Lovers who Live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps (1997), trans. and annot. by Philip Stewart and Jean Vaché. pp. 503–05. French original —

Je me couchai dans ces triŝtes idées. Elles me suivrient durant mon sommeil, et le remplirent d’images funebres. Les ameres douleurs, les regrets, la mort se peignirent dans mes songes, et tous les maux que j’avois soufferts reprenoient à mes yeux cent formes nouvelles, pour me tormenter une seconde fois. Un rêve sur tout, le plus cruel de tous, s’obstinoit à me poursuivre, et de phantôme en phantôme, toutes leurs apparitions confuses finissoient toujours par celui-là. / Je crus voir la digne mere de votre amie, dans son lit expirante, et sa fille à genoux devant elle, fondant en larmes, baisant ses mains et recueillant ses derniers soupirs. Je revis cette scene que vous m’avez autrefois dépeintre, et qui ne sortira jamais de mon souvenir. O ma mere, disoit Julie d’un ton à me navrer l’ame, celle qui vous doit le jour vous l’ôte ! Ah ! reprenez votre bienfait, sans vous il n’est pour moi qu’un don funeste. Mon enfant, répondit sa tendre mere,.... il faut remplir son sort.... Dieu est juste.... tu seras mere à ton tour.... elle ne put achever.... Je voulus lever les yeux sur elle ; je ne la vis plus. Je vis Julie à sa place; je la vis, je la reconnus, quoique son visage fut couvert d’un voile. Je fais un cri; je m’élance pour écarter le voile; je ne pus l’atteindre; j’étendois les bras, je me tourmentois et ne touchois rien. Ami, calme toi; me dit-elle d’une voix foible. Le voile redoutable me couvre, nulle main ne peut l’écarter. A ce mot, je m’agite et fais un nouvel effort; cet effort me réveille: je me trouve dans mon lit, accablé de fatigue, et trempé de sueur et de larmes

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Œuvres complètes, ed. by Bernard Gagnebin, Marcel Raymond and others, 5 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1959–95), 2: La Nouvelle Héloïse — Théâtre — Poésies — Essais littéraires (1961), Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 153, pp. 1–793 (p. 616).↩︎

15Rousseau, New Heloise, p. 606 (footnote to Part VI, Letter 11). — French original:

On voit assés que c’est le songe de St. Preux, don’t Madame d’Orbe avoit l’imagination toujours pleine, qui lui suggére l’expédient de ce voile. Je crois que si l’on y regardoit de bien près, on trouveroit ce même rapport dans l’accomplissement de beaucoup de prédictions. L’événement n’est pas prédit parce qu’il arrivera; mais il arrive parce qu’il a été prédit

Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse, p. 737.↩︎

16Rousseau, New Heloise, p. 503:

Would she were dead! I dared to cry out in a transport of rage; yes, I would be less unhappy: I would dare to surrender to my sufferings; I would embrace her cold tomb without remorse, my regrets would be worthy of her; I would say: she hears my cries, she sees my tears, my moans touch her, she approves and accepts my pure homage.... I would at least have the hope of joining her again.... But she lives; she is happy!.... she lives, and her life is my death, and her happiness is my torture, and Heaven having torn her from me, deprives me even of the comfort of mourning her!.... she lives, but not for me: she lives for my despair. I am a hundred times farther from her than if she were no more

French original, in Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse, pp. 615–16:

Que n’est elle morte! osai-je m’ecrier dans un transport de rage; oui, je serois moins malheureux: j’oserois me livrer à mes douleurs; j’embasserois sans remords sa froide tombe, mes regrets seroient dignes d’elle; je dirois: elle entend mes cris, elle voit mes pleurs, mes gémissemens la touchent, elle approuve et reçoit mon pur hommage.... J’aurois au moins l’espoir de la rejoindre.... Mais elle vit; elle est heureuse!.... elle vit, et sa vie est ma mort, et son bonheur est mon supplice, et le Ciel après me l’avoir arrachée, m’ôte jusqu’à la douceur de la regretter!.... elle vit, mais non pas pour moi; elle vit pour mon desespoir. Je suis cent fois plus loin d’elle que si elle n’étoit plus↩︎

17Cf. e.g.: Füsslis Nachtmahr: Traum und Wahnsinn [exhibition catalogue], ed. by Werner Busch and Petra Maisak (Petersberg: Imhof, 2017); Christopher Frayling, ‘Fuseli’s The Nightmare: Somewhere Between the Sublime and the Ridiculous’, in Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination, ed. by Martin Myrone (London: Tate Publishing, 2006), pp. 9–22; Nicolas Powell, Fuseli: ‘The Nightmare’ (London: Penguin, 1973).↩︎

18The critical reception of The Nightmare is richly documented in Frayling’s essay. Here are the two passages I quoted from in their full context:

The Nightmare, by Mr Fuseli, like all his productions has strong marks of genius about it: but hag-riding is too unpleasant a thought to be agreeable to anyone, and is unfit for furniture [i.e, as decoration] or reflection – Qui bono?

the dignity of moral instruction is degraded, whenever the pencil is employed on frivolous, whimsical, and unmeaning subjects... The Night-mare [no. 1], Little Red Riding Hood [exhibited by Maria Cosway at the Royal Academy in 1783], The Shepherd’s Dream [no. 101] or any dream that is not marked in authentic history as combined with the inspiring dispensations of Providence, and many other pieces of a visionary and fanciful nature, are speculations. If it be right to follow Nature, there is nothing of her here, all that is presented to us is a reverie of the brain, mere waking dreams, as wild as the conceits of a madman. [A recent commentator] very properly calls these persons “libertines of painting”, as there are libertines of religion, who have no other law but the vehemence of their own inclinations

Frayling, p. 11, 12.↩︎

19John Bond, An Essay on the Incubus, or Nightmare (London: D. Wilson and T. Durham, 1753).↩︎

20Cf. Manfred Engel, ‘“Träumen und Nichtträumen zugleich”: Novalis’ Theorie und Poetik des Traums zwischen Aufklärung und Hochromantik’, in Novalis und die Wissenschaften, ed. by Herbert Uerlings, Schriften der Internationalen Novalis-Gesellschaft, 2 (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1997), pp. 143–68; id., ‘Naturphilosophisches Wissen und romantische Literatur: Am Beispiel von Traumtheorie und Traumdichtung der Romantik’, in Wissen in Literatur im 19. Jahrhundert, ed. by Lutz Danneberg, Friedrich Vollhardt et al. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2002), pp. 65–91; Christian Quintes, ‘“A most strange and mysterious world”: Dream Theories in German Romantic Anthropology (Schubert, Troxler, and Carus)’, in Theorizing the Dream/Savoir et théories du rêve, ed. by Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel, Cultural Dream Studies, 2 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2018), pp. 233–47.↩︎

21My translation. — German original:

Wie er hineintrat, ward er einen mächtigen Strahl gewahr, der wie aus einem Springquell bis an die Decke des Gewölbes stieg, und oben in unzählige Funken zerstäubte, die sich unten in einem großen Becken sammelten; der Strahl glänzte wie entzündetes Gold; nicht das mindeste Geräusch war zu hören, eine heilige Stille umgab das herrliche Schauspiel. Er näherte sich dem Becken, das mit unendlichen Farben wogte und zitterte. Die Wände der Höhle waren mit dieser Flüssigkeit überzogen, die nicht heiß, sondern kühl war, und an den Wänden nur ein mattes, bläuliches Licht von sich warf. Er tauchte seine Hand in das Becken und benetzte seine Lippen. Es war, als durchdränge ihn ein geistiger Hauch, und er fühlte sich innigst gestärkt und erfrischt. Ein unwiderstehliches Verlangen ergriff ihn sich zu baden, er entkleidete sich und stieg in das Becken. Es dünkte ihn, als umflösse ihn eine Wolke des Abendroths; eine himmlische Empfindung überströmte sein Inneres; mit inniger Wollust strebten unzählbare Gedanken in ihm sich zu vermischen; neue, niegesehene Bilder entstanden, die auch in einander flossen und zu sichtbaren Wesen um ihn wurden, und jede Welle des lieblichen Elements schmiegte sich wie ein zarter Busen an ihn. Die Flut schien eine Auflösung reizender Mädchen, die an dem Jünglinge sich augenblicklich verkörperten.

Novalis, Schriften: Die Werke Friedrich von Hardenbergs, ed. by Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel, 3rd edn, 6 vols, (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960–2006), 1: Das dichterische Werk, ed. by Heinz Ritter and Gerhard Schulz (1977), pp. 193–369 (pp. 196–97).↩︎

22Cf. Jürgen Barkhoff, Magnetische Fiktionen: Literarisierung des Mesmerismus in der Romantik (Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler, 1995); id., ‘Romantic Science and Psychology’, in The Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism, ed. by Nicholas Saul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 209–25.↩︎

23Cf. Manfred Engel: ‘Towards a Theory of Dream Theories (with an Excursus on C.G. Jung)’, in Theorizing the Dream/Savoir et théories du rêve, ed. by Bernard Dieterle and Manfred Engel. Cultural Dream Studies, 2 (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2018), pp. 19–42.↩︎

24Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound, Screenplay by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, produced by David O. Selznick, Music by Miklós Rózsa (USA: Selznick International Picture, 1945), online video, YouTube, (accessed 12 July 2020). The dream sequence starts at 1:26:50. Cf. e.g.: James Bigwood, ‘Solving a Spellbound Puzzle’, American Cinematographer (1991), 34–40; Matthias Brütsch, Traumbühne Kino: Der Traum als filmtheoretische Metapher und narratives Motiv, Zürcher Filmstudien, 17 (Marburg: Schüren, 2011); Robert T. Eberwein, Film & the Dream Screen: A Sleep and a Forgetting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 104–12; Kristina Jaspers, ‘Der Stoff, aus dem die Träume sind: Szenenbilder surrealer Tagträume’, in Das Kino träumt: Projektion. Imagination. Vision, ed. by Winfried Pauleit et al. (Berlin: Bertz + Fischer, 2009), pp. 127–44.

25Spellbound, 1:26:50–29:35.↩︎

26Cf. Elliott H. King, Dalí, Surrealism and Cinema (Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2007); Dalí and Film, ed. by Matthew Gale (London: Tate, 2007). Today most of Dalí’s designs for the film can be found on the internet:;; (accessed 12 July 2020).↩︎

27François Truffaut, Hitchcock (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983), pp. 163–64.↩︎

28Spellbound, 1:26:04–31.↩︎

29Truffaut, p 164.↩︎

30For details of the complicated and rather twisted story of the actual filming of the dream sequence cf. the essays by Bigwood and Jaspers (note 24). The version which we see today is, in fact, not the original work of Hitchcock, but was, on Selznick’s orders, radically cut and partly re-filmed by a certain William Cameron Menzies.↩︎