Friday, June 6, 2014

On a Dream Narrative

Although it is seductive to think that dreams can be adapted into literary form, in general, this is untrue.  Most dreams resist literary adaptation and can’t be successfully converted into narrative.  When I have used a dream as a source for a story, my writing has been unsuccessful.  Why should this be so?

We should start with a dream that presents itself as particularly – even aggressively – narrative.  Here is a dream that I experienced around dawn on May 25, 2014:

1. I am walking my dog on a customary route that takes me by a very nice house, apparently built in the nineteen-fifties surrounded by tall and stately trees;

2. Some sort of a altercation is occurring on the front lawn and so I hurry over to investigate;

3. Two older men with gentlemanly demeanor are engaged in an encounter with a small fat woman wearing a sweat-suit;

4. The small woman is vulgar-looking and she moves swiftly when the men try to detain her;

5. I am given to understand that the encounter has something to do with a large pet spider that is missing;

6. I am familiar with this pet spider and have a memory of having seen it before.  Someone in the neighborhood owns the spider and it has been prominent in an earlier dream, but one that I can’t exactly recall in these circumstances;

7. The house occupies a hill overlooking a neighborhood inhabited by immigrants and poor people who have shops there on sunny urban streets;

8. I enter a meat shop that is long and narrow;

9. I recognize the proprietor of the meat shop as someone that I encountered in the earlier dream;

10. The proprietor of the meat shop and I speak about the missing spider.  I tell the man that the last time I intervened the spider was someone’s beloved pet, but, now, no one really wants to admit owning the creature;

11. The proprietor of the meat shop tells me bitterly that the wealthy people on the hill come into his place from time to time inquiring about the spider but that they don’t think his market is worthy enough to patronize when they are buying groceries;

12. I feel that I should buy something at the shop;

13. The shop is long, with a counter and glass display cases containing cuts of meat along the right side.  There are some bagged sausages with natural casings on a shelf running along the meat counter;

14. At the far end of the shop, there is a work station where a buxom, dark-haired woman is standing over a grill.  The grill is on the left side of the shop, across from the meat counters that run along the side;

15. I approach the woman and speak to her.  She replies in a heavy accent that makes it hard for me to understand her.

16. Sizzling on the grill are little strips of dark colored meat.  They are dark black and have a disreputable appearance.  I understand her to be preparing some kind of jerky;

17. The woman accompanies me along the counter and I look at the meat with the intent of purchasing something;

18. The woman suggests that I buy ribs.  But my recipe for ribs is complicated and takes nine hours slow cooking and I don’t want to go to all that trouble.  I also don’t want to have to carry the big package of ribs back with me;

19. I decide to buy some natural-casing hot dogs although I am very embarrassed that she will perceive this purchase as merely a “token” and think that I am cheap and ungrateful;

20. Throughout this conversation and my tour of the meat shop, I am wondering why the spider was considered a beloved pet when I previously was involved with it, but now is missing and no one will admit ownership;

21. A friend appears in the store.  I am relieved.  He will give me credibility in this place.  He says:  “Now that Beckmann is here, he will bring the kink.”

This is the extent of the dream.  It is highly unusual because this dream cites an earlier dream – one that I can recall only as involving a spider that someone regarded as trusted, loyal, and beloved pet.  In transcribing this dream, I have followed several rules.  I have not “naturalized” the dream by inventing transitions or providing other narrative integument.  In recounting a dream, one tends to clarify – I have not tried attempted to impose clarity where none existed, nor have I supplied any descriptions; rather, I describe only those things that my recollection of the dream allows me to treat descriptively.  Where the dream is vague, I have been vague as well in my transcription.  For instance, I have only impressions of the woman in the sweat-suit or the men remonstrating with her.  I don’t have a visual image of those characters.  By contrast, I have an almost photographic visual memory of the meat-shop interior and, as I write these words, can recall in detail the layout of counters, the spicy bacon smell of the jerky cooking on the grill, and the peculiar sepia-toned yellow light in the charcuterie.  Finally, I have avoided interpretation.  When narrating a dream, the boundary between what was actually dreamed and interpretation of the dream is porous.  In the numbered paragraphs, I have not interpreted imagery, and, therefore, fixing or clarifying imagery on the basis of what I think it means or the waking memory to which the dream makes reference.

Coherence is the most significant problem that arises when a writer attempts to use a dream as a source for a story or a poem.  (Dreams engender “short forms;” although we may dream novels, we can’t remember them.)  The part of a dream that we can recall is coherent only on the basis that oneiric elements have been filed together by memory.  The dream’s coherence is purely formal and arbitrary.  In the case of the dream recounted, the experience as recalled may be likened to tossing several unrelated objects into a box.  This specific box contains a dog, a missing pet spider, a house of a certain description, and a meat shop where my friend appears.  These features of the dream do not cohere – they comprise a list of things that have as their unity one factor only: they all belong together in my recollection of the dream.  Narrative requires shaping facts and events into meaning.  The events that occur in a dream are haphazard; the only thing that unifies them is the frame – that is, their occurrence in the dream.  The things in the box comprise a unity in one respect only – they are all things contained within this one box.  Otherwise, these elements present no coherent unifying theme or meaning.

There is an egocentric way of making this point.  The components of a dream that I recall are unified only by the fact that the events and images all exist within my imagination.  In other words, a specious and trivial unity arises: everything in the dream is created by me, relates somehow to me, and, therefore, fits in the box that I describe as myself.  But, like everyone else, I contain multitudes of things and establishing a unity merely on the basis of the fact that several of these things occurred to me is unsatisfactory as an organizing principle.  After all, I can blurt out the words “icicle,” “top hat,” “Lithuania,” and “abstraction”.  Freudian analysis would suggest that these words all have some kind of association.  But I’m not sure that this is always true or plausible (as much as I might wish to establish meaning along these lines.)  Whether there is a deeper, pre-conscious connection between the four words mentioned is uncertain.  The only thing that I can say for sure is that these four words are unified because I wrote them down here in a sequence.  We know that’s true.  But whether any additional meaning can be ascribed to the sequence of utterances, whether they have some other narrative or thematic meaning, I think, is unclear and a subject on which we should express some degree of agnosticism.

To the dreamer, events experienced as a dream always seem to cohere.  And, in fact, I think that there is a kind of actual coherence in dreams – but a coherence that is not satisfactory as a narrative principle.  The dream recounted in this essay involves an emotion of curiosity and bemusement – why is a spider treated like a pet?  Where is the spider hiding?  This emotion carries the dreamer into a butcher’s shop.  In that place, the emotion becomes one of obligation – I must buy something.  This sense of obligation, and the pervasive feeling that I am unable to make a meaningful purchase, metamorphoses into an emotion of anxiety.  The emotion of anxiety is supplanted by a sense of relief when my friend appears and calls out my name.  In a conventional narrative, and, even, in a lyric poem, narrative events trigger emotions – things that I see and experience cause me to have certain feelings.  Wakeful consciousness is largely framed as emotional or intellectual responses to things that we encounter with our senses.  But a dream, I argue, reverses this process.  Dreams, I think, are often engendered by emotions.  An emotion exists and seeks imagery to explain or represent that emotion.  In dreaming, a mood creates a story to justify that mood.  In fiction and most poetry, something portrayed as objectively real interacts with someone’s consciousness to create a mood.

Of course, this formulation is not always accurate.  In our waking existence, mood doesn’t always arise from an objective experience of something seen or heard or expressed.  Everyone has felt “blue” or sad and, then, searched the world for evidence to support a mood that is, probably, merely a manifestation of a hormonal or metabolic imbalance.  Similarly, we sometimes feel irrationally happy, also on a physiological basis, and, then, inhabit a smiling world full of joyous people and things.  In other words, mood can certainly alter our perception of the exterior world.  Similarly, in literature, some artists have argued that mood or, as the Germans say, Stimmung should precede any artistic expression and the work of art should express that emotional state and seek words and images consistent with those feelings.  Edgar Allen Poe, among writers in English, probably expressed this notion most analytically – a poem, he thought, should be a vehicle for replicating certain vague emotions.  But Poe is generally not thought to occupy the first rank of poets.  (His prose works, which are indisputable great, don’t arise from vague and tumultuous emotional states, but are clearly examples of analytical narrative.)   In general terms, a esthetic theory that seeks to duplicate emotional states by seeking image or rhythmic correlates for those states independent of a narrative framework is unsatisfactory.  This is because the exact tenor of emotional states frequently can’t be communicated.  Every dream, in my view, contains a powerful element of the incommunicable and this feature defeats the use of a dream to structure a story or a poem.

Beyond the question of coherence lies another dream dynamic opposing intentionally artistic expression.  Narratives are stories.  Intrinsic to the notion of a narrative is the idea of “history”.  A narrative is a sequence of events in time – and these events have a past with present consequences and an implied future.  By contrast dreams don’t typically have a past or a future tense.  A dreams take place in a timeless “now,” a present-tense that, nonetheless, often has a sort of archaic, even, pre-historic inflection.  (Because of this timeless feature, the dreamer often experiences the dream as either prophetic – that is, about the future – or deriving from ancient, even, immemorial events, drowned, as it were, in a primordial past.  But I think this experience simply derives from the fact that dreams amplify the notion of “now” or the present in a way that confuses the mind when we recall the dream.  In our waking life, curiously enough, there is no real present – everything is either past, that is, a second or a minute or twenty years ago, or a future to which we look forward.  But, of course, existence is lived in the present that we know exists but, paradoxically, can’t experience.  A dream reverses these perceptions.  The dream takes place in a continuous present from which past and future are mostly excluded.)  The dream recounted in this essay has a peculiar feature.  In the dream, I seemed to recognize places and emotions and events depicted as deja vu – that is, recapitulations of things previously experienced.  But the dream’s citation of a past experience is simply one of the things in the frame of the dream.  It is not a narrative element because a dream has no past-time.  The dream can’t sponsor a “flashback” since it has no past.  The sense of something that has already happened in a dream is a false memory – that is, I am dreaming that something previously happened but can’t tell what that was.  The reason I can’t discover what previously happened is simple enough – there is no past-time in a dream and nothing previous to it.  The pet spider is a spectral object in the dream – it is imagined but never seen.  The jerky meat is a visionary object in the dream – I seem to see it.  The memories that the dreamer seems to have but can’t bring to mind – this is just another element of the dream like the jerky and spider.  The dreamer can’t recall the previous event because there is no previous event – the dreamer is dreaming that he can’t recall a previous event.  But this is a present-tense experience.

The preceding paragraph, perhaps, is not clear and maybe badly expressed.  But the difficulties abundantly evident in that paragraph are significant to the thesis of this essay – that is, that dreams make poor material for fiction or literature in general.  Any narrative description of the world and its people requires a past tense, that is, a history, and some kind of mechanism for causation – events lead to, or trigger, other events.  But a dream is devoid of this foundation.  Since there is no time in a dream, there is no narrative causalty (only the illusion of narrative) and, thus, dreams can’t be adapted into stories without radically falsifying them and, indeed, depriving the dream of its emotional force.

So, to summarize, dreams are poor fodder for adaptation as literary stories or narratives for three reasons.  First, dreams violate principles of coherence necessary for artistic expression – the question “why this thing and not another?” is meaningless.  Second, dreams characteristically reverse the relationship between mood and event.  In waking existence, our situation is ordinarily thought to induce our mood; in dreams, vague emotional states seem to precipitate narrative events seeking to justify those motions.  Finally, dreams proceed in a continuous, inexplicable present.  Since dreaming lacks a past or future tense, the experience can not be effectively adapted to media that propose to depict something that has happened with present and future consequences – that is, the essence of narrative.  (The continuous present tense in dreaming suggests that dreams are most effectively simulated by moving pictures, a media that also seems always present tense – this is a banal observation: Hollywood has always been called a ‘dream factory.”)  


For the waking mind, dreams come to us cloaked in interpretations.  The waking mind inevitably processes dream material as fodder for interpretation.  Indeed, I think it probable that every dream as recounted after awakening is primarily interpretation.  What we remember of dreams are those aspects that present themselves for interpretation and that have already been interpreted to some degree.  Waking may be defined, in fact, as the process that ends the dream and commits its imagery to hermeneutic operations.

The dream expressed in numbered paragraphs above is a dawn-dream and, therefore, an anxiety-dream.  For the greater part of my life, I have risen around 6:30 am, gone to the toilet, dressed myself, and, then, departed for work with the intent of arriving between 7:30 and 8:00 am.  If something threatens to disrupt this pattern, a dream alerts me to the hazard that my customary activities are imperilled – perhaps, I will oversleep or get to work too late or be prohibited from attending to bodily necessities.  These concerns express themselves as anxiety and tint the dream accordingly.

My imagination treats rising at my accustomed time as an obligation.  Another obligation is walking my dog.  I think it inhumane to deprive my large and active dog of her customary walk.  Accordingly, my dream draws this equation “waking on time and going to work” = “walking the dog.”  Hence, the dream initiates with me walking the dog and, indeed, along a route that is familiar to me.  The house in the dream and its neatly groomed lawn is a real place that I pass on the sidewalk when I walk my dog.

My perambulation with my dog is disrupted by the men remonstrating with the small woman.  I know the source of his imagery.  A day or so before I had this dream, I happened to watch part of TV show called “Hardcore Pawn”.  That reality TV-show involves the adventures of a pawnbroker operating a sleazy establishment in the poor neighborhood in Detroit.  In the episode that I watched, a small woman with a hard, set jaw strode into the pawnshop and demanding the proprietors pay her 100 dollars for a ticket to rock concert.  The pawnshop proprietor refused to give the woman any money.  She demanded to be paid and refused to leave the pawnshop, thereby causing an altercation when, cursing and spitting, she was ejected.  The dream tells me that I should wake up and walk the dog – that is, discharge my obligations.  But sleep resists wakefulness and so the dream presents me with a spectacle to keep my asleep – the woman fighting with two men on the lawn of the nice house.

The spider element to this dream has an uncertain provenance.  My guess is that the spider refers to a German-language book that I read a year ago, Jeremias Gotthelf’s Die schwarze Spinne (“The Black Spider.”) The novella, written by Swiss author, is highly conservative.  Indeed, I suggested to someone that the book should be translated as an example of a right-wing art-work.  Shortly after I made this suggestion, the book was, in fact, published in a translation under the imprint of the NYRB (New York Review of Books).  This translation has a lurid cover that once seen is not easily forgotten – it shows the huge spider covering part of a person’s face.  The theme of Gotthelf’s novella is that pride and selfishness are monstrous vices.  These vices are embodied in the terrible spider that skitters like a pestilence through the book.  Thus, I interpret the “spider” as being punitive.  The spider represents the punishment that I will experience if I don’t rise on time, if I oversleep, if I don’t attend to excretory functions.

At this point, the dream trembles on the verge of waking consciousness.  The imagery becomes occluded by interpretation.  The house in Austin becomes the Hollyhock House, an elaborate structure in Los Angeles designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that I toured many years ago.  This transformation probably originates in a novel that I have been writing for the past year, a chronicle of homosexual devil-worshipers that takes place largely in Los Angeles and that, in fact, involves some scenes in a home modeled on the Hollyhock House.  The house occupies the top of a hill in an area that is, now, a neighborhood where Mexican and Central American immigrants live.  The quality of the light on the streets below the residence, the sidewalks, and the humble shops all derive from my memories of this neighborhood.  Of course, I have been concerned about the progress of this novel for some time, worry about whether I am working on that project diligently enough, and, therefore, experience a sense of anxious responsibility toward this novel.  Like walking my dog, working on this book is a duty.  Failure to work on the novel induces anxiety in me, the sense that I am shirking a responsibility, and so it seems plausible that the scene now shifts to Los Angeles and the neighborhood of the Hollyhock house to remind me that, instead of writing this essay, I should be working on the novel.

At this stage, the dream imagery is like an alarm clock.  It is telling me to wake up, go to the toilet, go to work, walk my dog, write my novel – that is, attend to responsibilities.  I am hungry upon awaking and the dream transmutes this sensation into the displays of meat in the butcher’s shop.  About the fecal-looking dark-brown jerky sizzling on the grill, the less said the better.  I have an excellent recipe for barbecue ribs (see below).  But this recipe requires that the ribs cook “slow and low” – for nine hours at 190 degrees.  To prepare these ribs for supper, you have to install them in the oven before going to work.  And so, now walking the dog, getting up and going to work, excretion, writing a novel about Gay devil-worshipers, and putting the ribs in the oven for supper after work are all entangled, all themes relating to something that is pressing, an obligation at hand, something that must be done.  The dream’s mood implies urgency and necessity.  I feel guilty about not making a purchase.  Wakefulness comes like an old friend and calls my name waking me up.  The dream dissolves into consciousness.

Twenty years ago, I would have resolved all this imagery into a complex Freudian scheme.  I am less certain about those hermeneutics today.  In all likelihood, the dream is simply an elaborate, imaginative alarm clock, a system of imagery that suggests that I should wake-up while opposing wakefulness with a vivid series of bright tableaux-like images.


Here is a recipe for “Ultimate 9 Hour Barbecue Ribs”.  The recipe was given to me by Linda Mullenbach, an excellent cook whose culinary skills are renowned throughout southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.  To enjoy these ribs for dinner, you need to get up early, eschewing the comforts of bed and dream, and make the sauce in which to lave the ribs.  The ribs cook for nine hours at 190 degrees.  If you follow this recipe, the results will stun you.

You will need:

2 full racks of Hormel St. Louis-style ribs
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/ 2 cup (one stick) butter
2 ½ cups ketchup or chili sauce (a half and half combination of these sauces)
1 cup brown sugar
3 T. Spicy brown mustard with horseradish
1/ 2 cup dark corn syrup
1 / 2 cup honey
1 / 2 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 /2 cup of pineapple juice
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chili powder
3 t. salt
1 ½ t. cayenne pepper (or less to taste)
1 t. black pepper

Preheat oven to 190 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and cook garlic and onion until soft.  Add all remaining sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let cool

Cut the ribs in half, layer them in a large baking pan and cover generously with sauce.  Cover baking pan with aluminum foil and bake at 190 degrees (“slow and low”) for nine hours.  Discard the drippings and serve the ribs with the extra barbecue sauce.


Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Country Doctor,” is self-evidently the transcription of an early morning anxiety dream.  I can make use of interpretive methods established in the second section of this essay to offer a reading of that text.  Whether this approach to tje exegesis of this specific story contributes anything to an understanding this text is unclear to me.  But, I think, the perspective differs from most interpretations of this little story.

A summary is useful: the unnamed first-person narrator is a country doctor who makes house-calls.  In the middle of the night, he is summoned to the bedside of a sick patient.  The physician’s horse has died and so he doesn’t know how he will make the ten-mile trip in the blizzard that happens to be raging.  But, surprisingly, the doctor finds a pair of fine, powerful horses in a pig-stye.  The horses are tended by a brutal groom.  The groom assaults the doctor’s servant girl and she pleads with the narrator to stay with her.  It is obvious she will be violently raped if the doctor leaves her to the mercy of the groom.  But the duty summons the doctor and he departs in the snowstorm leaving the girl behind.  By the time, the doctor reaches the patient’s house, the snowstorm has ended.  The patient is resting in his bed surrounded by his family.  The patient seems very sick and he pleads with the doctor to let him die.  When he examines the sick youth, the doctor discovers a horrible wound in the boy’s side infested with wriggling worms with “many legs.”  The doctor feels that he is powerless.  The boy’s family members strip him and lay him in bed with the dying boy, chanting a little ditty suggesting that the physician is unable to cure himself.  The boy asks the doctor if his wound is bad.  The doctor lies and says that he has seen worse and that the youth will soon be better.  Then, the doctor departs.  As he drives the wagon home through the snow, he knows that his practice has been stolen from him, that the servant girl has been ruined by the groom, and that this house-call has destroyed him.  “Betrayed,” he cries out, “betrayed.”  

Kafka’s narrative, as long as he is transcribing a dream – probably the first three or four page of the five page text – is headlong, driven by a terrible, compulsive urgency.  In the original German, the first four pages of the text appear as one enormous present-tense paragraph that accelerates to the vision of the wound.  The wound is described as “rose-colored” and the servant girl raped by the savage groom is called Rosa.  Apparently, Kafka’s dream connects the hero’s guilt at leaving the girl to the brutal intentions of the groom with the wound.   The wound is a symbol for the doctor’s malfeasance, his abandonment of the woman.  In the symbolic economy of the dream-narrative, the wound stands for Rosa and, also, for the narrator’s anxieties with respect to her sexuality – the festering wound that will not heal is also a sexual cavity, a vaginal opening that both fascinates and horrifies the physician.  The doctor is impotent.  There is nothing he can do to help the youth.  He ends up in the youth’s death bed, a fellow victim of casualty.  The image of the doctor lying side-by-side with the wounded boy may suggest the narrator’s sexual failure with Rosa.  The story is haunting, once read never forgotten, but, also, unsatisfactory.  The narrative shifts meanings unexpectedly and the final peroration seems disconnected from  the events preceding it.  By contrast with the frenzied activity and sense of doom overwhelming the first two-thirds of the tale, the final part of the story seems “merely” literary.  The story is about failure and, of course, Kafka similarly requires that the narrative itself be defective, inadequate to the subject, a story about failure that is also a failure in literary terms.  With Kafka, the reader is never certain whether the defects in his writing are inadvertent or intended: writing about failure, the author contrives his texts to fail themselves in demonstrable ways.

A great writer, Kafka was also a hard-working Jewish lawyer.  Notions of obligation, duty, and responsibility are central to his literary production.  Kafka’s legal work involved casualty law – that is, accidental death and injury, a subject itself inflected by notion of duty, and breach of duty.  Initially, he was employed by an Italian insurance firm, Assicurazoni Generaii.  Kafka didn’t like that job, in part, because the hours were too long and required that the report to the office by 8:00 am.  After a year with the Italian insurer, Kafka began his career with the Worker’s Accident Compensation division of the Kingdom of Bohemia.  He continued working at that place until illness compelled him to retire in 1922.

My idiosyncratic analysis of “The Country Doctor” presumes that Kafka dreamed part of the narrative at dawn sometime in 1919, the year the story was written.  The anxiety that drives the first half of the story is that typical of an early morning dream.  Kafka has to get up and go to work, doesn’t want to oversleep, and, yet, the dream detains him.  The collision between muscle-memory (I have to get up) and the dream (tarry awhile as I amuse you) generates the sense of anxiety in the narrative.  This Stimmung, a mood of ever-increasing urgency and anxiety, in turns, generates the narrative events.  “I must go, but I can’t seem to move” – we must recall that dreams protect us by paralyzing the body to prevent the dreamer from acting in his sleep and possibly injuring himself and others.  Sensing this paralysis, some part of the mind is horrified.  At first, Kafka’s dream expresses this paralysis as the doctor’s missing horse.  He literally can’t go because his horse has died.  (I suspect an excremental element to the physician’s search for the horses in a pig-stye – that is, a surrogate for a toilet.)  Horses present themselves – “I must go.”  But, then, the dream-paralysis expresses itself more subtly as an insoluble (and paralyzing) moral conundrum: “If I go, my servant will be raped; but, if I stay, I will not do my duty.”  At this point, Kafka’s anxiety and paralysis assume symbolic and thematic elements.  The writer’s famously conflicted romantic life affords the dream with a theme entangling Kafka’s ambivalence toward women, his dutifulness, and his sense that if he does his duty, he will inevitably lose the object of his affections – Kafka seems to have thought that love and marriage were inimical to his writing.  All of this is expressed in the genital wound, the nuptial bed shared with the dying youth, the narrator’s sense that by doing his duty he has sacrificed Rosa, his servant girl.

Dream-paralysis is momentary.  We always wake up and go about our business.  The last part of the story seems to me be a literary construct.  Kafka, the writer, tries to make sense of what he has transcribed as Kafka, the dreamer.  For this reason, the last part of the story seems somehow inauthentic, a caption applied to the vivid nightmare that climaxes in the vision of the genital wound infested with wriggling worms.  In fact, I will go so far as to maintain that the vision of the wound was so terrible to the Kafka that it knocked him out of the dream, convulsed him with terror, and ended his paralysis – shaken, he could go to work.  After the doctor sees the wound, the energy leaks out of the story.  What follows is interpretation not dream.  One clue to this is the literary business involving the Pelz, the fur coat that the doctor wears during his trip to the sick-bed.  As he leaves the farm, someone tosses the coat into the back of the doctor’s wagon where it gets stuck on a hook.  The doctor can’t reach the coat dragging behind the wagon, nor will the country folk raise a hand to put the Pelz back in the cart.  And, so, the doctor returns across the snowy wasteland with the fur coat, like his tail, ignominiously dragging behind him.  This is a vivid detail, but it is carefully set up across twenty lines of prose and self-consciously literary – it’s the kind of detail that Dickens or Balzac might engineer.  (Deleuze argues that Kafka’s writing is always about a “becoming-animal,” a kind of abjection in which the narrator or the characters become beasts, bestial, less-than-human; the literary detail involving the Pelz dragged as a kind of tail seems an example of this theme.)  

As the conscious mind reasserts itself, interpretation predominates over imagery.  The dream fades into its exegesis.  This process is very clear in the last lines of Kafka’s story.  “Betrayed,” the narrator cries out.  This word, repeated three times as a kind of mantra, is a label.  It is the word that Kafka applies to label his dream.  The word is interpretive and protective – it banishes the bad dream.   The word “betrayed” attempts to characterize what we have experienced in the story.  And, as is always the case, the label is completely inadequate to the tale.   The unnamed narrator cries out that he has been “betrayed”.  But the “betrayal” is deeper and more pervasive.  The narrator has “betrayed” his servant girl by leaving her to be raped by the brutal groom.  The physician has betrayed his patient by failing to treat him and by deceiving the dying man.  The dutiful workers compensation lawyer has betrayed his employer, the King of Bohemia, by not getting out of bed and going to work on time.  The dutiful Jewish son has betrayed his father by scribbling stories instead making a legal or mercantile success out of himself.  Kafka has betrayed himself by writing a tale that is unsatisfactory and that must fail as a narrative.  “Betrogen, betrogen, betrogen!”

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