Matthew Moscicki Spellberg, *17

Department of Comparative Literature

Dreaming for Others in Culture and the Novel (2017)


This dissertation proposes a way of re-conceiving dreams and the dreamlike as ontological states with distinctive characteristics that play a crucial role in human social life and the literary arts. I argue that dreaming is best understood as a state of mind in which thinking takes on the shape of a world: in dreams the mind is a thick and complex physical reality. I argue against the prevalent belief that dreams are codes waiting to be deciphered, as in many hermeneutic traditions of dream-interpretation.

In the first part of the dissertation, I develop a theory of the dreamlike based on a principle of emergent aliveness, what I also call spiritual force. I argue that in the dream-state, the mind is continuously generating living presences, and imputing aliveness beyond the boundaries of the discrete self, and that this dream-state can be induced in waking life as well. The cognitive intensity of the dream-state has been used to cement social and spiritual cohesion in a range of different cultures, but such techniques for harnessing the emergent aliveness of dreaming were gradually lost in the history of the West. I suggest that the novel may have arisen in part as a compensation for this loss of dream-sharing protocols within western modernity.

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