Pandemic Dreams

The farmers market at Prospect Park is still open on Saturdays. The supermarket is very stressful at the moment so I decided to shop there this week. I was waiting in line to get eggs when a large, brown dog lay at my feet, fell asleep, and started whimpering. A man came to retrieve it shortly after. He had an orange bandana covering his head and then another yellow bandana cover his mouth and nose, leaving only slits for his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with her,” he said to me, coaxing her awake by rubbing a piece of bacon fat on her nose. “She’s a just a bit of a baby and has been having nightmares all week.”

During the first week of lockdown I dreamt that I was helping set up a large marquee for a medieval reenactment festival. The festival organizer, dressed as a court jester, was adamant that the marquee be put up only using medieval tools. My task was to hammer wooden stakes into the ground, but each time I finished hammering one in another would become dislodged. As punishment, the court jester made me drink copious amounts of “honey flavored beer”, which made the task increasingly difficult. 

A friend, who has been micro-dosing mushrooms since the beginning of the quarantine, has been recording his dreams. This is one from the other night. He and his partner find a beautiful, Victorian house in New York to live in. The rooms are large and square-shaped. The garden is expansive with a mysterious bright red structure in it. They love the house and want to move in but decide that staying in New York is too dangerous. Before fleeing, he devizes a plan to take the house with him, rolling it up room-by-room into little cylinders. He gets on a small plane with his rolled up house but realizes, once it's taken off, that he’s alone. "Nobody came with me,” he wrote to me in a Facebook message. "I am filled with terror and immediately regret my decision. Why did I roll up our dream home?” 

In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, he recounts how in the months before the epidemic of 1665, troubling, premonitory dreams visited the citizens of London, warning them of the coming calamity. The dreams were so powerful that they soon started creeping into waking hours and eventually became collective hallucinations. Defoe describes seeing a crowd of people in the street staring at the clouds—they could see an angel clothed in white holding a fiery sword over his head. “One woman endeavoured to show it me, but could not make me confess that I saw it,” Defoe writes. “She turned from me, called me a profane fellow, and a scoffer; told me that it was a time of God’s anger, and dreadful judgements were approaching, and that despisers such as I should wander and perish.”

Michel Foucault suggested that plagues bring two types of dreams. The first type is “literary”. These are the dreams that regular citizens have, which are wild and disordered. They contain, as Foucault writes, “suspended laws, lifted prohibitions, the frenzy of passing time, bodies mingling together without respect, individuals unmasked, abandoning their statutory identity and the figure under which they had been recognized, allowing a quite different truth to appear.” The second type of plague dream is “political” and it is more like a waking fantasy of a society transformed by fear of disease into a system of total surveillance and control. This dream, Foucault writes, it "not the collective festival, but strict divisions; not laws transgressed, but the penetration of regulation into even the smallest details of everyday life through the mediation of the complete hierarchy that assured the capillary functioning of power; not masks that were put on and taken off, but the assignment to each individual of his “true” name, his “true” place, his “true” body, his “true” disease.”

At a Zoom passover seder I attended earlier this week, a friend told me that a recurring dream he used to have as a teenager has, bewilderingly, returned. In the dream, Paul McCartney is his father. Paul McCartney takes him to the Apple store to buy whatever Apple product he wants. “Seriously, man, whatever you want. An iPod, a computer. Just go for it,” Paul McCartney says. My friend asked his psychoanalyst why this dream might have returned at this specific time. His psychoanalyst, who is usually a swift and adept interpreter of dreams, was stumped. 


What else I’ve been reading: George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, for some reason. A profile of Weird Al Yankovic. The Haggadah. Brooke Jarvis on why old growth trees will save us