Visual Culture -or- Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

My very first dream in my notebooks (November 11, 1977) is a dream that I would in hindsight later interpret using Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". The essay would give fuel to the feminist political movement and criticism of the male dominated Hollywood dream factory. Mulvey exposed, the Hollywood dream factory's pleasures and politics of male gaze. From my own perspective, the epistemological desire to "see" and understand the cultural, social and natural world we live in, has been the primary driving force of all my dreams.

The Art of Seeing -or- Visual Ways of Cultural Dreaming

We all learn to see, (except of course those who were blind like Helen Keller). The eye registers visible light and the brain transforms the light energy and retinal image into sight. The visual channel of perception is dominant in the dreams of the sighted. Dreams play an important role in how we learn to "see". Color, movement, and depth perception can all play a role in how our dreams unfold. Dream research has not even scratched the surface of understanding the cultural "psychodynamics" of eye movements and vision. Visual culture was explored by John Berger in "Ways of Seeing". The International Institute for Dream Research is dedicated to make the visual culture and communication landscape of dreams visible for all those living in the "Global Village".

Doing a keyword search of words associated to vision, over half the dreams in the database have either "see", "seeing" or "seen". The dreams below chosen randomly testify to the fact that "seeing" is an subjective and culturally shaped process. Much as in the film "Inception", where Ariadne says the visual perception in the dream is more about the "feel", each dream below has its own "feel". The age range of the dreamers is from 14 to 53.

Jean, 14:

I had a dream last night, and we went to a grocery store. They get stolen from all the time, we thought we might have a chance to see things get stolen, so we parked in front, the robbers ran up to our car, and with a crowbar tried taking the tires off, so i told my mom to go, fast, and we drove away. Later seeing the same 2 boys in a restaurant, and we took pictures of them to show to the police.

In the first dream (Jean 14, above), photography extends our ability to see, identify and remember. This young girl's interest of the "cops and robbers" may grow into a career, in the police force or other crime fighting force. The dream reads like something from a Nancy Drew  novel.

John, 17:

I was in a dark building. I have been in this building before in other dreams. It was kind of like a log cabin. At night, me and a few other people were going to explore the building. We are scared to go in, but we go in anyway. I gathered up anything I thought we could use to defend ourselves. There were plenty of axes and sharp metal things. We got prepared and I remembered that it would probably be good to get some flashlights. So I got 2 or 3 flashlights from somewhere. My flashlight was odd and it confused me because it looked like a plunger. We went in and the 3 people without flashlights went back before we got in the first room.

Me and the other person walked around a bit the first room was huge, and dark. We were afraid but we continued. It looked like it had be searched and everything, tables, chairs, lamps, were thrown on the floor or broken. We walked around to the second room. it was very dark. I had a kind of axe/machete and my friend had a long hard plastic stick with sharp things on the end. Our flashlights began to run out and go dim. I remember seeing a few monsters in the cabin and I saw the reflection of a skinny man with tan skin and he looked like he was going to eat us. Kind of like the dark seekers on the movie I Am Legend. So we tried to run out of the building. I saw the exit and I felt some relief from my fear. I told my friend to stay behind me so he wouldn't trip over anything. The dream ends.

In the second dream (John 17, above), the darkness is given light by another technological invention the flashlight. As so many dreams influenced by media, this one is evidently driven by the film "I Am Legend".

Alexander, 21 University Law Student:

I have had this dream re-occur for the past month off and on.  It starts out that I am at my University.  I am in class completely naked and enjoying it.  Then my professor enters the class where upon seeing me in my birthday suit he is aroused, even though he is not gay.  He starts to yell at me, then my clothes re-appear on my body as if they were always there.  My class begins as usual and instead of paying attention my mind starts to drift of detailed thoughts of serial killing sprees.  The dream shifts to me acting out the murders where upon doing the actions I can see the flaws in the plan. When this happens I go back to my original plan and adjust the actions accordingly. 

In the third dream (Alexander 21, above) by a University law student, is somewhat more complex. First the student is in his "birthday suit" (naked). The meaning is clear, he is like a new born babe and is enjoying the experience. Too much authenticity and naked truth however can make for overexposure and discomfort, we live in a society strongly driven by visual appearances. Therefore, the clothes "as if" they were always there, reappear. Much like in "Criminal Minds" the mind of the murderer is examined and profiled. The fictional perfecting of murder is given a Hannibal Lector type treatment. Getting into the head of the murderer is the name of the game.

Silvia 23:

I was in a hospital with one of my best friends because someone we knew died, but I don't know who it was my dream didn't tell us. While her and I were waiting all of a sudden she drops down and looked like she fainted but a nurse ran over and she had died just right then and there. In my dream i became crazy upset and fell to the ground crying, I puked and just kept repeating "this can't be happening i need her in my life." Then I had to call her parents and I remember seeing them walk into the hospital, her mom first then her dad and I had to tell them that she died. I remember crying and feeling like it was all my fault and I just kept hugging her mother and crying. The dream felt so real. Probably the most real I have ever felt in a dream.

In the fourth dream (Silvia 23, above) when the best friend dies, the melodramatic imagination (crying) evidently has been employed. After seeing the friends parents come into the hospital, there is a great deal of crying. Most likely something very emotional and/or traumatizing has happened that was "mortifying". Most hospital soaps and dramas, characters and plotlines emotionally play to this audience, pulling on their heart strings.

Samantha 28:

The only parts that I can remember is that I was with a man and child (the man is the person I am seeing, yet I never saw his face but I could feel his presence; and the child was mine in the dream but I do not have children).  We were at a zoo or an exhibit but instead of the animals being behind glass it was all open and of course they were large snakes (I always seem to dream about snakes).  At first they were non-active and then all of a sudden they began to come after the child and me; one came through a window from outside and started to lick the child in the dream.  Out of no where a large knife appeared and I was able to cut off its head.  When the snake was dead the child turned into my cat.

In the fifth dream (Samantha 28, above), the dream speaks about the man that the dreamer is "seeing", meaning most likely meaning "dating". She never sees his face, but feels his presence.

Zack 33:

I had a dream that my mother was setting me up with someone I didn't know to get married. In the dream I was out in the church parking lot waiting for the wedding.  I was thinking about how I could get out of it if she wasn't someone I would like, and hoping she was someone I do. I remember seeing members of the church, and thinking they were alot older. Currently, my mother and I are just starting to get close. I am married uphappily with 2 children, hoping it does work out.

In the sixth dream (Zack 33, above) the desire to "see" another woman despite being married is evident. The dreaded mother in-law figure seems to be facilitating perhaps even fueling the unhappiness? He states that he is unhappily married, yet also "sees" members of the church who in the dream are older. Perhaps he wants to wait until the children are older? Perhaps the church is stopping him right now from fulfilling his desire? Perhaps, all of the above.

Victor 36:

While sleeping I dreamed I was on a train with my grandmother whom passed away this year, we went into a tunnel, the tunnel wasn't circular but had straight walls with different designs, similar to lightening strikes (symbols), and I could see a big ball of yellow light, the farther we went I kept seeing the most beautiful white horses, and I would say grandma do you see you them? Yes she said. Then in the midst I of the tunnel I could see Jesus, he was saying go back, but grandma was asking me to stay. I forced my eyes open and I was awake.

The seventh dream (Victor 36, above) is one in which Jesus appears. Jesus says to go back, which he does by coming back to earth by forcing his eyes open.

Lorna 43:

In my dream I was trying to chase down a client I work with to arrange to pick her up and drive her to a meeting.  When I first tried calling her on my cell phone I had the wrong phone number.  When I had the right phone number I tried calling again on my cell phone but the battery died and I couldn't call her. So, then I tried to drive to her apartment but there was this huge storm, with wind and water, and I wasn't able to drive anywhere. I ended up having to abandon my vehicle and swim to safety.  My employer was in this dream, I remember seeing her face but I can't recall her exact role in the dream.

In the eighth dream, Lorna remembers the face of the employer. The sociological concept of "face work" coined by Erving Goffman "Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior" can be applied to understanding many dreams. Visual facial perception is important (also found in dream 5) aspect of dreaming.

Hans 48:

This dream was a disturbing dream. The location of the dream began in my childhood home. I was the age I am now and I found myself becoming very upset with my mother. She wanted me to get rid of my pet dog, Sheba. (Sheba has been dead for at least 10 years) I became emotionally upset and began to yell at her and said how she mistreats me. I wanted to know why she could be so cruel towards me??? The situation became so intense and I eventually cut my wrists in the midst of arguing with her. I remember seeing blood spraying all over the walls. The place of the dream changed and I was in my car, with white gauze or cloth wrapped around both bleeding wrists as I tried to drive myself to the hospital. I kept calling my youngest son's name Joshua and saying over and over again how sorry I was.  It was then that I realized I was dead and he couldn't hear me at all. I awoke in a panic and felt horrible. Recently my oldest son has married. I do live at home with my elderly parents and youngest son since my divorce, and at times it has been difficult to endure memories from my childhood.

In the ninth dream (above), is a "retrospective" of Hans looking back at evidently painful childhood memories. The dream illustrates visually "graphic violence" directed at himself.

Yvonne 53:

Monthly recurring dream for three years about seeing three (3) full moons in the sky and having the feeling that I have to get home to make sure family is okay. Each time I dream it, I am a little closer to home, but haven't gotten there yet. And also a feeling of time warp, where no matter how hard I try I can't reach home.

The tenth and final dream (Yvonne 53, above), is a dream reported by a career woman, who evidently has little time for the family, and therefore never quite gets home. She sees three moons, however, perhaps fails to see how her work interferes with her family life. Although she is always getting closer, this probably is meant to signify the ability to retire and stay home.



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.