It was in November I had a recurring dream motif about a terrier. It wasn’t a recurring dream but a recurring terrier that appeared in dream after dream needing to be released. It did seem as if my unconscious was hard at work trying to tell me something I was repeatedly failing to grasp. A terrier is a good image itself for the work of digging up something still alive from under the ground, but I wondered whether I could hear terrier as a version of the word worrier, a worrier being not someone who makes you worry but someone who themselves worries, who worries away at things like a terrier might worry away at a sock. A terrier would be someone who allows themselves actually to indulge in the feeling of terror. I have a way of telling myself “I am not okay but I will be okay,” but maybe I need to stop saying that, or maybe the terrier is not myself but represents someone else’s terror which needs to be heard.
This kind of reading might seem to depend on Freud’s idea of dreams as the royal road to the unconscious, with the unconscious having all the answers that we consciously repress in order to carry on with our lives as they are. It is such a resonant idea about how the self plays out I am not going to entirely let go of it, but it doesn’t seem to be very accurate. What is now known of the unconscious is not the controlling, crafty unconscious that Freud distinguishes from the pre-conscious but something far more like that pre-conscious itself, unarranged, unobserved material that means nothing. Dreams as we dream them seem to be best understood as nothing more than a kind of preconscious array of images that are only assembled into any kind of meaning as we wake. What they mean has nothing to do with the unconscious but everything to do with our waking consciousness, consciousness being all about narrative.
It is Coleridge, not Freud, who comes closer to being the Freud for our times, Coleridge who a century earlier was exploring how the narrativizing, meaning-creating consciousness makes ghosts out of pre-consciously perceived phenomena. And it was not Freud, but Coleridge, who invented the term “psychosomatic.” Consciousness, in other words, is quite mysterious and powerful enough to be going on with. On the other hand, Coleridge also claimed to have dreamed the Kubla Khan poem, and Simon last night dreamed about zombies that were impossible to tell apart from humans. “Then how did you know they were zombies?” “Because they were chasing me.” “Did you get away?” “Yes. I tricked them.” “How?” “I told them to go that way” – pointing the other way.