Hemingway, Harper, profiteroles and other dreams
In August of 2014 the Prime Minister spoke out for the third time in four months on the subject of Dreaming in Canada, a motif often deployed by politicians when they have nothing to say, and indeed there was little of substance in what Mr. Harper had to say in his dream counsels, which might be interpreted as a set of covering remarks intended to discourage any kind of dream discourse in the country. In August, for example, while the Prime Minister was in Whitehorse renewing his claim to Nordicity, he reached out in a speech to dreamers among the so-called liberal elite, whom he advised to “Close your eyes, dream, but don’t ruin it by asking any hard questions.”
But hard questions are precisely what dreams bring with them, as anyone who remembers their dreams can attest, and as it takes time for answers to form, so it can take even longer in dream logic for the hard questions to emerge. Among my own dreams I recall early one morning about a year ago hearing a voice speak out suddenly as if in a dream—and in fact I soon realized it was a dream, but there was nothing to see; the dream consisted entirely of a voice speaking in darkness—a familiar voice: authoritative, androgynous, authentic, not at all like the voice of the Prime Minister. This was a voice that would never fail to seize my attention: “Hemingway says there are six kinds of inhibitor sentences and six exhibitor sentences.”
Silence followed. For how long, I don’t know: I was still asleep.
Then the voice spoke again, in a milder tone, as if offering a hint: “Exhibitors are a kind of profiterole as well.”
I had never heard profiterole spoken aloud before, but I could see it spelled out in the air in front of me, in italics.
More silence and then the voice began to intone: “Inhibitors, exhibitors, profiteroles,” “Inhibitors, exhibitors, profiteroles,” “Inhibitors, exhibitors, profiteroles,” “Inhibitors, exhibitors, profiteroles…”
This incantation continued until I woke up repeating it myself, inhibitors, exhibitors, profiteroles, a chant or prayer that quickly lodged itself in that section of my memory that harbours the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer. I had no idea what a profiterole was, and let several weeks pass before learning through Google that a profiterole is a cream puff, an unlikely element in a dream of Hemingway, but perhaps not if we consider Hemingway in his infamous exhibitionist, or exhibitor, mode—in his autobiographical writings, for instance, or his performance as a public figure, where the cream puff might have supplied just the needed corrective for bombast (no cream puff needed, on the other hand, in the great inhibitor sentences in Hemingway’s best fiction).
In the wake of profiterole resolution, of course, more hard questions begin to emerge: what might the two sets of six sentences, inhibitors and exhibitors, signify, I wondered: could they be the first two hexagrams of the I Ching—Yang and Yin, Heaven and Earth, embracing the entire cosmos: from them all the sentences of life might be derived? And just to offset the medium-high seriousness of the exhibitors, they can be switched over into cream puffs as required. A hard question that may never be answered.
Hard questions are what dreams deliver. The same voice, in a dream set in a room crowded with busy journalists, once said to me: “It will be necessary to obtain the advice of Professor Vitruvius.” A few days later I learned (via Google) that Vitruvius had been a Roman architect whose writings inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s well-known drawing of Vitruvian Man—a metaphorical squaring of the circle (geometrically impossible) by referring not to the laws of geometry but to the proportions of the human form.
In Winnipeg in May the Prime Minister encouraged the children of Manitoba to dream of travelling through space and piloting jets: “I say you should dream big,” he said. “Dream big and pursue your dreams,” while omitting to point out that dreams tend to pursue the dreamer and not the other way around. Flying dreams and “inflation episodes” are frequent in the literature of dreams: egos and intuitions flying, floating, climbing, and of course falling, falling and falling, bringing one’s feet back to earth, as a recent episode in my own dream life illustrates: I was following two bellhops burdened with my excess luggage through the hallways of a vast hotel. The bellhops were young and strong, and they pressed on at speed; I struggled to keep up with them; at one point I looked down and saw that I had lost a shoe. Then the shoe reappeared and the other shoe disappeared; eventually both shoes had disappeared and the bellhops were setting out over a rough construction site to a distant wing of the hotel. I didn’t want to cross over broken ground in bare feet so I turned into an office and asked to borrow some shoes. There were shoes everywhere in the office, but no one would give me any until finally a surly clerk handed me a pair of inflated shoes the size of bed pillows. I managed to get my feet into them and then set out waddling toward the now-distant bellhops. Later that day, after waking up, I realized that even shoes, which keep me attached to the earth, can be inflated.
The heaviest burden of the dreaming life lies in the bottomless Shadow, as Hollywood well knows, and against it our hopes and conventions must be weighed. Such was the burden of another dream of mine in which I was putting on a clean white shirt in front of a mirror when I realized that the shirt was inside out, and then, as I began to take the shirt off, that it was smeared with—as they say—excrement. It was disgusting but somehow necessary; at least it was odourless. I considered turning the shirt right side out so that no one would see the shitty side, but that would put it next to my skin. I continued looking into the mirror as I pondered this dilemma.
The shitty side of the shirt is the great baggage of dreams: in his speech in Ottawa on Canada Day, the Prime Minister claimed that the so-called Fathers of Confederation had been dreaming of a “united country, prosperous, strong and free” (rather than dreaming of vast realms of real estate freed from its Native occupants). Today the dream has mutated, he claims, and in its place, “this is their dream: Canada a confident partner, a courageous warrior, a compassionate neighbour.” But on the shitty side of the shirt, so to speak, in the shadow of the confident partner, lie the multinationals bent on pillage; behind the courageous warrior lie butchery, rape, suicide and madness; and within the compassionate neighbour lurks the snivelling minion to the powerful. Dreams have at least one purpose: to wake us up.