Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A neo-Jamesian folkmeos

{Ford Madox Brown, The Dream of Sardanapalus, 1871}

When I started this blog a bit more than two years ago, I didn't specify that I would only write about reading I did while awake . . . so today you get a post about a dream. There was actual reading in the dream, and it included some figures who've figured prominently in this blog already, so it seems relatively justifiable, but I still feel as if I should apologize to the large percentage of the population that has the good sense not to share its dreams.

The origin of the dream is simple: before bed, I spent an hour or so engrossed in Richard Stark's The Man with the Getaway Face (1963), the second of his many novels starring Parker the bank robber. The Parker novels are essentially novels about work, wrapped up in mundane detail--but because most of us readers work office jobs, we enjoy watching Parker go through all the planning and overplanning that underlies a successful heist.

Because I tend to take the tone and language of whatever I'm reading before bed straight into my dreamlife, soon after turning off the light I found myself in the midst of planning a heist. I was working with Parker, who was his usual hyper-professional self, and we were ticking off all the set-up elements that were incidental--yet crucial--to our heist. We had created false names, rented cars, stolen license plates, bought unregistered guns, timed police shifts and guard routes. More unusual, though, was that for this heist to work we'd had to create and produce an issue of a highbrow literary magazine.

Parker's every action in Stark's novels demonstrates that he knows what any conscientious worker learns at some point: that one cuts corners, however seemingly minor, at one's own risk. Rushed or incomplete efforts have a way of coming back to bite you--and in the case of a bank robbery, those unpleasant surprises are likely to lead to prison or death. It should therefore be no surprise that under Parker's direction our heist team produced a first-rate literary magazine. No faking here. It was well-planned, well-edited, well-designed, and full of interesting articles.

Which was good, because our heist went sour in the planning stages, and we called it off. Dejected, I sat in what ought to have been the getaway car, and my only consolation for the wasted money and time was the thought that I could at least read our magazine. So I opened it to the lead article, a double interview in which Anne Carson and a male contemporary American novelist (whose name I knew during the dream, but whose identity was lost to me on waking) walked through a forest and talked. Though I remember flipping through the magazine hoping to find a photo of the notoriously camera-shy Carson--to no avail--I recall nothing about the article except for the following passage, which I reproduce more or less as I read it in my dream, editorial notes as they were in the dream magazine:
CARSON: So in what way would you say you're most nineteenth-century?

MALE NOVELIST: [Chuckles sheepishly] Well, to be honest, it's probably my belief in a neo-Jameseian folkmeos. [A neo-Jamesian folkmeos is a belief that a male artist's domestic concerns naturally ought to be addressed by the women of a household. One can surely assume that the Alice Jameses, especially were they alive today, would have had some sharp comments about that belief.--Eds.] And how about you? How are you most nineteenth-century?

CARSON: Oh, goodness--I never even quite make it to the end of the eighteenth century!

"Folkmeos" appears to be a wholly made-up word--what it has to do, really, with William or Henry James I have no idea. More interesting is that despite the fact that I concentrated very hard on remembering all the details of the dream--and in particular that word--and even described the whole dream to my coworker Carrie, highlighting "folkmeos," by early afternoon I couldn't recall the word without Carrie's assitance. The mind really does want--and, presumably, need--us to forget our dreams.

I don't know that there's any other lesson here, other than to be careful what you read in bed. I do, however, promise not to turn dream reading into a regular feature of this blog.


  1. It's rather astonishing that you were able to transcribe a long passage of text you read in your dream. Text is notoriously fluid in dreams, to the point that one of the techniques for entering into a lucid dreaming state is to read text, look away, and immediately try to read it again. Upon the second attempt, the text will invariably not read the same.

    With practice, one can develop a habit of checking text in ones dreams and recognizing this discrepancy, and upon recognition, then lever oneself into lucid participation in the dream world.

    Me, the one or two times I've brushed up against such a state, I usually get so excited that I wake up instead of maintaining dreaming awareness.

  2. Joe,
    I was surprised, too, but I really focused, both in the dream and after I woke up, on remembering it--and I still almost lost the word I'd made up.

    I dream in written words a lot, and maybe that's given me practice in holding on to them?