Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Here's the opening passage of the book:
A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely.
We glimpse and barely remember. Or we don’t understand what we’ve
A third of our time on earth we’ve spent sleeping, with little to show: an
image, a face. Only rarely does a dream come that wakes us to ourselves.
Will our lives someday be forgotten as we have forgotten our dreams?
I know there is a conscious mind and an unconscious. But I don’t always
think about what that implies—that more than half of who I am and what I
am is completely unknown to me, except in fragments and glimpses, images
Is it possible that all we don’t know about ourselves includes also the most
important thing? That our self-knowledge is trivial by comparison, and yet
we use only our conscious awareness to guide our lives? And so we miss receiving
great gifts that have been waiting for us all along.
To receive these gifts, we must learn how to dream, which sounds easy
enough. But I mean dreaming with a purpose, learning to use dreaming as a
way to depth. That proved diffi cult, at least for me.
I had to make a wayward pilgrim’s progress to the dream because I had so
much to unlearn—and I am a slow unlearner. The progress falls into three
parts, which I’ve titled “Images,” “Interpretations,” and “Dreams.”
First I had to learn the true power of images. Then I had to unlearn the
ancient refl exes of interpretation. Only then could I explore the world of
Friday, July 20, 2007
Many of his poems center around dreams.
I recently reviewed his collected poems in The Forward,
Here's an excerpt:
Is it surprising that a poet who is musical also dreams of flying? Many of Shapiro’s poems are dreamlike and often based on dreams, including one very strange poem in which the lines of a sestina appeared before his eyes as a gift from his dead mother “in lines of/color like a magic marker on a lake.” In “Father Knows Best” is a dream of flying, and in flying dreams, there’s always a trick to get aloft:
Then Father realizes son must enclose but a few electrons of air in his fistThen son flies high above the family garage and trees, branch by branch
(“Father Knows Best”)
Dreams of flying are usually feelings of mastery, autonomy, self-sufficiency. But in this case, the trick of flying is not possessed fully by the son but is somehow in the hands of the father, too. The son can fly — but the father doubts it again and again.
This is the drama of the gifted child in hyperspace, the drama of the child of a very intense Jewish family with a peculiar set of demands: a) the child must be a doctor, b) the child must be a concert violinist and c) (this is the surprising part) the child must be a leftist fighting for social justice for all. With all these parental demands, no wonder the child takes flight — but is there any escape?
There are no umbrellas, there are only frosty parachutes,
Little angels who instruct him how to fly.
He must not struggle too much with his hands,
Which having practised the violin now dog-paddle in air.
The poet can fly — he can lift us up with his imagery. Or can he? There always seems to be some doubt in the poems:
The family now knows he can fly, but still father knows best.
Shapiro’s poems are levitations, magical and incantatory, or they are physics experiments that are also dreams, and so when they seem most airy or insubstantial (falling leaves, floating above the garage), they sneak up behind you and surprise you with meaning as if you had suddenly been illuminated from behind, or walked “at the bottom of a waterfall, awake in anechoic chambers.”
How lovely to learn that all the time we were reading him:
We have been sailing in a certain small fountain,
like physicists in toy boats
Each craft bears a candle on its deck.
We light thecandles and the boats puff by
As if you were real, delightful…
(“About This Course”)
You can find the complete review here:
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
Rodger Kamenetz. HarperOne, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-057583-0
Kamenetz's newest work continues his exploration of the Jewish tradition down yet another path: that of dreams. Like Jacob, who wrestles with God in the famous biblical dream, a leitmotif in the book, the author of the bestselling The Jew in the Lotus wrestles with personal, religious and cultural history in an ambitious quest to revivify the language of dreams. Kamenetz offers a psychological-cum-mystical version of Susan Sontag's watershed Against Interpretation. Don't "interpret" dreams, he cautions, as he lays out another way to meet and greet the nightly messages of human brains. Kamenetz offers a post-Jungian, semi-archetypal, image-centered view of dream meaning. He does so in the context of a historical overview of dream interpretation that also locates dreams in the realm of Jewish mysticism. Narratives of encounters with spiritual teachers are also part of this amalgam of a book that seems to have changed shape over time and through personal discovery. This is a disarming, hard-to-summarize, well-written and idiosyncratic book that will find a distinct audience that appreciates its reflective quirkiness. Readers who have enjoyed Kamenetz's other journeys through Judaism will follow with surprise and pleasure his next steps along a winding spiritual path. (Oct.)