Saturday, January 06, 2007


Dreams, they say, tell stories
To explain away our woes
And so we go on living.

D.J. Enright – Injury Time

It is intriguing to consider that as Enright suggests, our sleeping dreams may tell stories the purpose of which is to explain away our woes. Who amongst us has not experienced the surprise of waking from a particularly vivid and complex dream, amazed at the detail and sophistication of the plot line, only to have the entire story crumble and vanish before we can capture it in writing, like a pattern in the sand washed away by the tide? How many times have we been reunited in our dreams with deceased parents or grandparents as we vividly relive moments in our past?

In W.G. Sebald’s luminous novel, Austerlitz, he examines the phenomenon of memory through the eyes of his principal character, Jacques Austerlitz. Raised from the age of 5 by Welsh preacher and his wife, Austerlitz discovers in his teens that he was in fact born in Prague to Jewish parents. He spends the rest of his adult life trying to find out what happened to his parents and in so doing to discover the truth of his own reality and identity. Having found the woman who had once been his nursemaid, she shows him a photo of himself as a 5 year old just prior to his parents arranging his escape to Britain.

The photo unsettles him and that night he dreams of returning to the flat in Prague where he lived as a child. “All the furniture is in its proper place. I know that my parents will soon be back from their holiday, and there is something important I should give them. I am not aware that they have been dead for years. I simply think they must be very old, around ninety or a hundred, as indeed they would be if they were still alive. But when at last they come through the door they are in their mid-thirties at the most. They enter the flat…. they take no notice of me.”

This dream leads Austerlitz to conclude – “it does not seem to me that we understand the laws governing the return of the past, but I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like.”

Perhaps our dreams take us into those spaces. There's a thought to sleep on.