Saturday, July 18, 2009

Casting a Dream Net

Question for all of you: What themes or events recur often in your dreams? For about as long as I can remember, I've had dreams about weird things happening with elevators--doors not working properly, the car stopping between floors--usually ending in a cable/brake failure and a terrifying free fall. But lately it seems the dreamland lift engineers have figured out a way to put emergency brakes on those things, however, and I survived the two elevator-free-fall dreams I've had this month. Anyone else have recurring, evolving themes/events that have endured through the years? It's not the one-time weird dreams that are worth pondering; it's the ones that keep coming back that are intriguing.

Friday, July 03, 2009

C.S. Lewis is Alive and Well

In reading a mere twenty pages of Lewis's A Preface to Paradise Lost, I have discovered two rhetorical gems that are, today, as true and relevant as when he wrote them.

The first regards a recent debate in the literary world as to whether Shakespeare ought to be translated into Present Day English just as Beowulf and Chaucer have been. John McWhorter fired the first ghastly salvo, D.H. Lawrence fired eloquently back, and Alan Jacobs called in the air support. Both replies are well worth your time, but it appears that Lewis had seen it all before and planted this delightful time-bomb in his defense of the lost art of solemnity: "The desire for simplicity is a late and sophisticated one. We moderns may like dances which are hardly distinguishable from walking and poetry which sounds as if it might be uttered ex tempore. Our ancestors did not. They liked a dance which was a dance, and fine clothes which no one could mistake for working clothes, and feasts that no one could mistake for ordinary dinners, and poetry that unblushingly proclaimed itself to be poetry. What is the point of having a poet, inspired by the Muse, if he tells stories just as you or I would have told them?"

The second struck me because it explicates in a sentence what Charlie Kaufman demonstrates in his brilliant two-hour mind-scrump, Synecdoche, New York. "The attempt to be oneself," Lewis writes, "often brings out only the more conscious and superficial parts of a man's mind." Indeed, that one line comes close to summing up the thematic and artifactual whole of Kaufman's work; the thread of superficial self- and consciousness-feedback runs through all the films of his that I've seen. And yet I wonder whether Kaufman also understands what Lewis says immediately following: "working to produce a given kind of poem [or in the case of Synecdoche's Adele, a given kind of painting] which will present a given theme as justly, delightfully, and lucidly as possible, he is more likely to bring out all that was really in him, and much of which he himself had no suspicion."