From the perspective of cognitive psychology and clinical neuroscience, when it comes to treatment, a good nightmare is a dead nightmare. Since the days of Freud, we have been hell-bent on eliminating all varieties of bad dreams equally without discrimination and as a result, we know surprisingly little about ordinary nightmares. That’s a problem that isn’t going to go away by itself.
My own life has been sculpted by the gritty winds of horrible dreams, leaving me confused about how to work with the dark energies that are stirred up for days afterwards. For example, for years, I was tormented by dreams of being chased by wolves and packs of angry dogs. Usually I would wake up from fright, but sometimes not before one of them sank their teeth into me or scratched at my hands and face. In waking life, I’m a dog lover who raised and trained several dogs. In particular, I helped raise a beautiful German Shepard mix named Bandit who was also a quarter wolf. So my nightmares do not come from a fear of unknowing, but rather a legacy of love, which always confused me further. What am I so scared of?
A few years ago, I told a psychotherapist friend about my wolf dreams and my inability to proceed when the animals attack, despite often becoming lucidly aware in the dream. As with many lucid dreams, my self-awareness seemed to bungle the dream rather than provide clarity. There are no guides in the lucid dreaming literature besides a somewhat pedantic attitude that eliminating fear will shift the dream. I didn’t want to eliminate the wolves, though. I wanted to work with them somehow. Should I fight them off? Allow myself to be devoured as some sort of initiation rite?
She suggested a different approach: “Reach into your pocket and pull out a gift for them.” I was struck by the simplicity of this action. I asked how would I know what to give them and she answered, “That is up to the dream, not you.” Read the rest of this entry
Richard’s theme and thesis will be of pointed interest to Teeming Brain readers:
[What I call] Nightmare Horror is any work so steeped in the uncanny and the darksome that it manages to pierce through our logical safeguards, providing us with an experience akin to our most intense nightmares.
. . . If most horror truly is the literary equivalent of a roller coaster ride that ends with us being delivered to the same platform we departed from, Nightmare Horror is an elevator to Hades. Its creators offer no upward return. They simply seduce you inside, and once the doors are shut they cut the cable.
. . . In these stories even the most banal of objects radiate a numinous energy, and all the gauges we use to test a story’s believability (convincing dialogue, real-world locations, plausible character motivations, etc.) are insidiously turned against the reader. Everything sweats menace. We also find no moral-of-the-story. Nightmare Horror offers neither consolation nor closure. The normality we perpetuate has irretrievably sluiced through the sewer grates at the edges of sanity, washed away by a high tide of resurgent atavisms from a cellar of consciousness.
Perhaps one of the main distinguishing traits of Nightmare Horror is its willingness to meet the monstrous on its own terms, rather than employing the monstrous as a convenient metaphor for some all-too-human purpose. The armchair Freudian analyst sheds precious little light here. Any post-reading autopsies will not decipher the “meaning” behind the terrors. Some of our nightmares truly are nothing more than encrypted messages that, once decoded, provide personal insights that can make us better citizens. Other nightmares are simply . . . horrors. No point in trying to shoehorn one of these latter specimens into your self-improvement plan. Its teratisms have no regard for your ambitions. Their true value is simply the experience they offer: that rarefied state of shock and awe when the snug walls soften and the water spins the wrong way down the drain.
MORE: “Nightmare Horror” by Richard Gavin
Here’s a description of the book Nightmare: From Literary Experiments to Cultural Project (Brill, 2013) by Russian-born literary and cultural scholar Dina Khapaeva, who is currently serving as chair of the School of Modern Languages at Georgia Tech:
What is a nightmare as a psychological experience, a literary experiment and a cultural project? Why has experiencing a nightmare under the guise of reading a novel, watching a film or playing a video game become a persistent requirement of contemporary mass culture? By answering these questions, which have not been addressed by literary criticism and cultural studies, we can interpret anew the texts of classic authors. Charles Maturin, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Howard Philips Lovecraft and Victor Pelevin carry out bold experiments on their heroes and readers as they seek to investigate the nature of nightmare in their works. This book examines their prose to reveal the unstudied features of the nightmare as a mental state and traces the mosaic of coincidences leading from literary experiments to today s culture of nightmare consumption.
And here several interesting passages from a section of the book titled “The Culture of Nightmare Consumption.” The latter term, note, refers to Khapaeva’s contention, or rather observation, that today we live in and with “a consumer culture for the nightmare,” where the nightmare is “a staple consumption concept upon which today’s culture is extremely dependent.”
The works of J. R. R. Tolkien and H. P. Lovecraft, which directly influenced contemporary fiction and the visual arts, can hardly be overestimated, and represented a new landmark in the formation of the Gothic Aesthetic. Their works laid the foundations of the contemporary culture of nightmare consumption and facilitated the nightmare’s penetration into everyday life, allowing it to exert a huge influence over the minds of millions of readers, viewers, and video game users.
. . . Tolkien and Lovecraft most probably had no idea of each other’s existence, at least while they were writing their main works. However, being united in the space of contemporary culture, their quests have merged into the single project of the Gothic Aesthetic.
. . . The rise of the Gothic Aesthetic in the 1990s occurred through a coincidence of several trends and factors that had started to emerge in the late 1970s. The birth of Gothic rock coincided with the peak of Tolkien’s popularity due to the translation of The Lord of the Rings into most European languages. These events had clear social consequences: Gothic rock produced the Goth youth subculture, while The Lord of the Rings inspired the rise of role-playing games. The writings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whose prose was instrumental in promoting a fascination with nightmares, were also used as a model for role-playing games in the early 1980s, but his works gained true popularity in the late 1980s-early 1990s, when contemporary computer games were developed. Works by Tolkien and Lovecraft made a unique contribution to the rise of the Gothic Aesthetic, influencing the minds of millions of readers, users and viewers.
In the 1980s the nightmare gradually began to transform into a necessary drug for the mass consciousness; the public was not aware of its addictive effect until it began to require equine doses of direct and vulgar nightmares in order to achieve the desired effect. Over the last 20 years the nightmare has become the most desirable psychological state, and indeed any product on the pleasure market that does not imitate it seems to the contemporary consumer to be insipid and unreal.