Dream Elegies: After the Red Room

A year has already gone by since the first-ever Mammoth was published. Back then, I was given the honor of writing it: a wry summertime story about a doomed relationship. As a writer, you spend most of your time working on big projects, which is why it feels like a treat to write something small and experimental in between, and preferably, something completely different than what you are actually working on (a novel, a research paper). By now, no less than thirteen Mammoths have been published, the one by Shira Wolfe and Laslo Antal – see below – being the most recent. I hope that, in the coming year, just as many inspiring and varying Mammoths will be written as the archive currently exists of. I'm not really saying that to be sympathetic, but out of self-interest: in 2024, I will edit the first-ever Mammoth anthology. So keep experimenting, my dear colleagues, and hopefully, in two years, we will read your treats offline.

- Nadia de Vries, author of the first Mammoth (text translated by Fannah Palmer)

 

Dream Elegies

First Elegy: After the Red Room


Shira Wolfe Art by Laslo Antal


Listen to Shira reading her Mammoth out loud,

with Laslo's music in the background:

“These early dreams in particular are of the utmost importance because they are dreamed out of the depth of the personality and, therefore, frequently represent an anticipation of the later destiny.

- Carl Gustav Jung, On the Method of Dream Interpretation, p. 1


“Neither my childhood nor my future is growing smaller… Being in excess wells up in my heart.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies - Ninth Elegy, p. 17



she unearths

the deepest oceans

of my childhood dream


The dream


In my childhood dream

I am locked into place

by a spotlight in a red room.


My father’s friend tickles me

and he won’t stop,

so it becomes a torture.


In the next dream

I’m in my bedroom,

my sister sleeps.


I climb onto the windowsill,

I jump out the window,

I fall down into cold night air.


Before I hit the ground and die

I wake up.


One of my first memories

is this recurring nightmare

dreamt every night for a month.

I was about five years old

and I am 30 when I go to a dream analyst

to interpret the dream.


The dream which foreshadowed

the formation of my identity.


I learn that in the dreams of children,

we often find something

that anticipates the rest of our lives.

And my dream contains a key triad:

1. it was a recurring dream,

2. it was a nightmare, and

3. the dream is a first memory.


This triad implies that the dream

says something important about my personality.

It presents me with a life task.


*


“In dream series, the dreams are connected to one another in a meaningful way, as if they tried to give expression to a central content from ever-varying angles. To touch this central core is to find the key to the explanation of the individual dreams.”

- Jung, p. 3



Dramatis personae


We examine the characters in the dream.


Who is my father’s friend

and why did I dream him?


He shares my father’s first name,

he is Jewish-American like my father,

but unlike my father he has no family of his own.


He is funny and strange,

clown-like in character

and an editor by profession.


My father’s ancestors are Ukrainian-Belarusian,

His friend’s ancestors are Hungarian-Croatian,

and some of the Hungarians lived in Subotica, Serbia.


Subotica is the synchronicity

I discovered days before the dream analysis:

it connects his past with my present.


In early 20th-century Subotica his grandfather owned a bakery.

In late 20th-century Subotica my love was born.

In the early 21st century I’m a guest in this city.


*


“Time comes apart a little in the unconscious, that is, the unconscious always remains beside the passing of time and perceives things that do not yet exist. In the unconscious, everything is already there from the beginning. So, for example, one often dreams of a motif that plays a role only the next day or even later.”

- Jung, p. 9-10



The persecution


In my dream he tickles me,

and crosses the fine line

between pleasure and torture.


I feel persecuted.


Tickling becomes a torture

that drives me mad.


This man who is close to my father but not my father

may be my animus,

my father’s shadow aspect,

as children, it is said, often live

the unconscious and unlived sides of their parents.


It is likely that the second image, jumping out the window,

is the result of the first, the torture,

because it is unbearable.


It makes me want to throw myself out the window.


I wake up because it is horrifying,

I wake up in order to remember the dream.


*


“A persecutory dream always means: this wants to come to me. When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion, or a wolf pursuing you, this means: it wants to come to you. Working with such a dream in analysis means to familiarize people with the thought that they should by no means resist when this element faces them. The Other within us becomes a bear, a lion, because we made it into that. Once we accept this, it becomes something else.”

- Jung, p. 19


Binding together what is falling apart


When I dreamt this nightmare

our family foundations had started to show cracks,

and I knew nothing,

sensed everything,

but didn’t know what everything was.


So as happily as a tragic clown

I tried to bind together

a family that was falling apart.


Children unconsciously

want to help their parents

make things better.


I took the elements of fun and laughter

from my father’s friend

to make my family happy.


But in my dream

my subconscious also tried to warn me

that this role would torment me over time.


It tried to tell me to break with it.


*


“Important psychical occurrences in the environment can be perceived. Moods and secrets, too, can actually be ‘scented’ unconsciously.”

- Jung, p. 14



To kill the childhood model


I often felt

that feeling bad was abnormal,

my dark side was a mystery to me.


The model I found

when I was a child and faced my first problem

was caring for others

and making things right.


But in the second part of my dream

I turn to suicide.


It means killing this model that was given to me

because it is impossible to contain it

as time goes by.


I have to kill my father’s friend in me,

so that I can live normally.


My childhood dream

showed me my life’s task:

to learn not to live for others.


Or else I will be like the clowns in fairytales,

suppressing depression,

unable to face reality,

and losing themselves in the service of others.


*


“The dream represents that tendency of the unconscious that aims at a change of the conscious attitude. These are very significant dreams. Someone with a certain attitude can be completely changed by them.”

- Jung, p. 5



The other side of me protests


In order to be free,

I should kill the side of me

that I learned to live with since childhood.


I have to learn to live for myself,

though living for others is my easy way out.


Wanting to live for my parents,

I’ve repeated this

in my relationships since.


But in my attempts to focus on me,

the other side of me protests:

she wants to reclaim her position.


And when I feel this inner struggle

I know my father’s friend in me

is torturing me again,

and I have to act.


As a child I was powerless,

but as I’m no longer a child

they say adults have power.


The other side of me must be killed

so that I can live.


I am asked to name the dream

and I answer:

“After the Red Room.”


*


“When we study the history of a family, and investigate the relations between parents and children, we can often see the red thread of fate.”

- Jung, Psychological Interpretation of Children’s Dreams, p. 110-111



I have seen the other side of me

she said she has always been there

asleep for 30 years.


Ik heb een moeder,

een vader,

een zus die meer van hun geheimen wist dan ik.


Ja sam bila lepak,

ja sam bila sreća,

i nepoznata laž.


The other side of me

is trying to get out,

is crawling through my throat,

my eyes, my wounds.


Ik heb een moeder die meer wilde,

een werkverslaafde vader,

een zus die teveel wist.


Mislila sam

da sam srećna

a sanjala sam istinu,

da moram da se ubijem.


I dreamt the other side of me

in my childhood nightmares

the same one every night.


Elke nacht droomde ik dat ik stierf

maar werd ik levend wakker,

en was ik weer gelukkig,

en was ik weer de zon.


The other side of me

is death itself.


Šta je tvoja druga strana?


 

Shira Wolfe is a Dutch-American poet and writer with a background in theatre. Since finishing her master in International Performance Research in 2016, with an experimental documentary about the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, she has been living and working between Belgrade, Amsterdam and Berlin. In Belgrade, she co-founded the dramatherapy organisation Talas Creative Therapies and worked on dramatherapy and theatre projects. Since 2017, she has been writing about the contemporary art world and art history for Artland Magazine. Between 2021-2022 she worked for Perdu, a foundation for poetry and experimentation in Amsterdam. Her first poetry collection, Wider Than the Sky, appeared in English, Dutch and Serbian in 2021. Her follow-up collection Wider Wings appeared in 2022. After the Red Room is the first part of Shira's new project Dream Elegies, a collection of some of her most significant dreams and the interpretation of these dreams.


Laslo Antal is a Hungarian artist born in Serbia (former Yugoslavia). He moved to Berlin in 2010, where he worked as a freelance visual artist, graphic designer, filmmaker and musician. He has been based in Amsterdam since 2021. After he finished his master studies at the UDK in Berlin, he collaborated for several years with the avant-garde theatre company Vinge-Müller, and released many albums and performed with his music projects Sixth June and Diesein – projects which combine music with visual art and film. He also frequently collaborates with writers, illustrating and designing their books. In 2017, he started the project Visual Diary. Every day, Laslo makes a collage artwork as a visual diary, a project that he exhibits in various forms and which he will continue for the rest of his life.


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