A couple of my close friends know very well that I have A PROBLEM with hearing about people's dreams. A friend will call in the morning and start in on some dream they consider mind-blowing and I will be listening in agony and distress, pulling anxiously at my sense of friendship. "And then the pink elephant turned into my mother, and started talking through its nose about mortgages, and meanwhile the sidewalk was made of chocolate and I broke off a piece and ate it, and it turned out to be a piano key." My problem is partly a matter of timing; people are often inclined to tell me their dreams in the morning, just after they have had them, before they can vanish in the fog of day, and this happens to coincide with the dangerous period of the day when I am ramping myself up on coffee to forget the unpleasantness of awakening (no morning person here am I). There is always a jittery, irritable period somewhere in the middle of the coffee cup and the dreams often come over the phone to me around that same time, when my feet can barely keep still, much less my mind. There's no narrative focus! I want to scream at them, before tossing something out the window.
So it is with no small dose of trepidation and hypocrisy that I offer this morning's dream to you.
...the ultimate cliche of Denk dreams: the concert. I am on stage with Joshua Bell and we are beginning to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Just as in Oberlin, nearly 20 years ago, I muff the chords just before the violin's entrance, and it seems the very same faculty members from 20 years ago are there, muttering amused, knowing disparagements. We are playing this piece (which we would of course never play in concert, never mind) and somewhere along the way, I feel a tug at my right arm, someone trying to show me how to play a series of chords better, with more arm weight ... more roundly. There he is on stage, interrupting the performance, a mystery man in a black trenchcoat (Death? Tchaikovsky?), offering trenchant remarks. I begin, while playing, to sense a general fracas. Someone tries to "take out" the mystery man, who evades the nameless tackle. Intermission is thereby called. Josh and I walk endlessly down a hallway to our waiting place. People are passing everywhere, talking to us, buying outfits (it seems our dressing room is also a mall), eating meals; there is no sense of a concert whatsoever. I keep begging people to start things up again, but they don't. Finally, inexplicably, we are walking back into the hall. But this time we are in the audience, and the stage is taken up with a giant television screen on which a football game is playing. In a detail which seems gruesomely true-to-life, people are suddenly much more enthused about the game then they were about the concert. Josh is watching very attentively; I poke his shoulder to remind him about the concert but he pays no attention. I begin to shudder. "Will this concert never end?" I realize with horror that this concert may never end, that it may continue for the rest of my life, and I am not at all in control.
And I woke up. Light was streaming through the steamy morning air of my apartment in Charleston. Reassuringly, I glanced at my DVDs of South Park on the bedside table, stacked atop poems of Eugenio Montale. Ah yes my life makes as little sense as always: this must be reality. I downed a glass of water, listening to echoing mental remnants of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. I tend to feel the intrusion of nonsense in dreams as a negative force, as a dangerous slippery slope, a dark destructive underside. But it seemed to me suddenly that dreams interpose a very tangible, useful nonsense, something like a surreal vitamin, into existence. Their deliberate undermining of the 1+1=2 school of life, to which we cling ... an antidote to logic's sadness and completion. The idea that concerts have definite time frames; that performers have a sacred realm onstage; that also the backstage area is a private, elevated zone; that there are spectators and performers, and they are totally separate entities: all of these "truisms" are questioned by the dream, beautifully, which replaces certainty in all these cases with a fuzzy interchange, a nexus of shifting meaning. At least that's what I think I thought. The very red curry before me on a white plate right in a delightfully cool dining room in Charleston, SC, is but the tip of an enormous strange iceberg, and as I gobble it down, I contemplate the surreality of existence with an uneasy delight.