Lately in my dreams my teeth have been coming out. They are not falling out like they are in most people’s dreams, but they are crumbling and breaking like buildings do in movies or like sugar cubes being muddled. Like all dreams I never know how anything gets started, and so I don’t know how they start to come apart, but in these dreams, like most others, I am lucid, which has a strict technical meaning for science but for me means that I’m awake without waking up. All of a sudden I hold my hands to my face and my heart sinks. I never feel any physical pain and I never discover what happens after. When I wake up I think my teeth are still broken, and the feeling I have is eerily similar to one I have when I wake up after a romantic dream, except of course that it’s dread, not pleasure. The dread lasts longer, but the hollowness that follows the pleasure is more disconcerting.
It’s easy for me to understand people who suggest that when we’re in our dreams we’re touching the unknown, or the more deeply known, which has been obscured for one reason or another. But I’ve never felt that way. All my dreams are all too familiar. Their ecstasy, or ambivalence, is never surprising. Once I dreamt I was Jose Mourinho and I was baffled, for what seemed like hours, only because someone had written out my notes in English, which was then illegible to me. Some time well before that I dreamt I’d struggled through a Kierkergaard lecture before I’d read anything he’d written. I woke up mulling over arguments and went to the library. His words didn’t sound old or common or easy but essential and automatic and after, even before I’d read long passages, they never seemed foreign. Once, while in Rome, I realized that I was dreaming and so I walked over to a motorcycle, which I don’t know how to drive and which always overwhelm me, and I grabbed it, straddled it and turned the throttle, tearing off through the city. Even though I knew what I was doing I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. In that sense it was as commonplace as anything else.
The literature of dreaming, just like the regular, commonplace discussion of them, never comes across as false. But both can come across as embellished and disingenuous and unnecessary. Dreams don’t come across as false because they are false to begin with (practically speaking and in terms of literary technique), which is not at all to say that they don’t have any truth in them but that falsity is in their nature. Falsity isn’t an evil in itself, but it makes the bed where evil sleeps.