Research Project Proposal: Analyzing Dreams Across Genres

For my research paper I plan on using Lathe of Heaven and The Other Wind, both by Ursula Le Guin.  Lathe of Heaven is a science fiction novel that explores the possibility of dreams which alter reality along with the moral issues which accompany this power.  One of Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, The Other Wind, is a fantasy novel in which one man’s dreams are used by mages to reach the realm of the dead and prevent an uprising of the dead.  These two novels, written by the same author, but in different genres suggest a parallel which can be used to explore the concept of dreams in fiction.  One question that immediately comes to mind is whether dreams are a heightening of fiction, or merely an alternate form of fiction?  Another question concerns Le Guin’s differing approaches to dreams in these separate genres.  It is interesting to note that she also addresses dreams in two other genres, which I will be referencing as secondary sources.  Another possible question is why do we need proof of the potency of dreams in a science fiction setting while it seems possible to suspend disbelief in a fantasy novel?   It is also notable that the dreamers in both novels have such negative perceptions of dreams that they try to prevent sleep.  Another question is what does a writer need to sacrifice about the non-linear nature of dreaming in order to write a coherent scene?

My secondary sources will be comprised of both literary criticism and Le Guin’s own works.  Le Guin has written an essay entitled “Dreams Must Explain Themselves” and a picture book entitled “Cat Dreams”.  It should be elucidating to read how Le Guin addresses dreams in these additional genres.  I plan on using the text of her essay as a lens through which to view her works of fiction.  I also plan to use works by literary critics on the nature of dreams in writing.  One author I plan to reference is Bert O. States.  I hope to find other pieces of literary analysis of dreams as well as any literary criticism of Le Guin.

I find the idea and process of writing about (or in) altered states to be problematic and fascinating.  I hope to bring light to what we are actually experiencing when reading about dreams.  I also hope to analyze the relationship between genre and the treatment of dreams.  Le Guin is a perfect author to investigate because she has successfully written about dreams in four different genres, which makes an analysis of her work a scientifically-sound study.

The Disappearing King: Bolen and Woods and Courtly Manners

I like legends.  They generally move at a fast pace, have lots of action, quick speech, and are sort of the equivalent of a Marvel film (I can’t wait to see Dr. Strange).  At the same time, just as a Marvel film can be seen as just an action movie, I feel that poems such SGGK are often shrugged off as superficial.  As I’ve noticed in my latest reading of SGGK and through the reading of Bolen (and LOTS of essays from the back of the Norton’s Critical Edition.  Got to love those supplemental readings!  I’m serious), the plot is anything but simplistic, and Gawain is a lot more complex than he originally appears.

Gawain is a creature of his trope.  He is a courtier who knows how to work a crowd.  His quick thinking saved both the life and the dignity of King Arthur, as outlined in Bolen’s reading of the five lines in which Gawain begs for the honor of combating the Green Knight.  Gawain is not just a warrior, he’s an expert politician.  By helping Arthur save face, the Pearl Poet paints a perspective that few Arthurian artists dare try: he shows flaws in the supposedly golden rule of Arthur.   Arthur is seen as flustered.  He doesn’t respond to a challenge, and gets angry.  Gawain’s treatment of Arthur suggests that he might not be very open to the opinions of others.  King Arthur of the Round Table sits at the seat of honor.  What happened to him?  I think that perhaps Gawain takes over for Arthur in more than just the contest.

Usually, Arthurian legends follow Arthur and his great deeds.  We hardly hear anything of Arthur throughout the poem.  Gawain is in the spotlight.  The action focuses strongly on Gawain and his moral, religious, and psychological  struggles.  The plot of Morgana didn’t even concern Arthur.  She was ultimately trying to bother Guinevere with her actions.  So what happened to Arthur?

In the article by Woods, the colors and nature motifs are explored in depth.  Gawain must battle the Green Knight, who very possibly represents nature or jealousy.  This power or force of green is arguably more powerful than Gawain.  It is only by his mercy that Gawain lived.  He initiated the combat, and is the visible challenger throughout the poem. Gawain, the finest Arthurian knight, is not even a match for Morgana or Nature’s challenger.  This seems like foreshadowing for Arthur’s kingdom’s fall.

I realize that I meant to discuss Sir Gawain’s diplomacy, and ended up talking about the downfall of the Arthurian age.  I don’t believe that the two are unrelated.  When a country stand on political correctness, it generally means that the society is about to collapse.  It’s a sign of a discontented people.  Arthur, in his little bubble at X-mas time, next to his grey-eyed Guinevere, is part of a dying world.  The intricacies of his castle are seen as colorless in comparison to the Green Knight’s castle.  Even Guinivere’s eyes are colorless.  As a symbol of her kingdom (as seen in the Bolen article), she reads as closed off, colorless, and possibly empty.  If Guinevere is representative of the people of Camelot, it’s no wonder that Arthur’s reign is coming to an end.

I Wish He Hadn’t: A Rant on Murray on Melville on Too Little Sleep


This is in response to prompt one, but I was a little bit upset at Murray, so it’s more of a rant.  Sorry, unfortunate readers!  I’m usually much nicer.

I tried.  I honestly tried.  I read Murray’s thoughts on Melville, and I just can’t see Bartley as anything but Bartleby.  Even if Melville was writing about a person who had an ASD, I think I still would have had a problem with Murray’s classification.  And that’s the issue for me, I think.

We are taught in Intro to English that a character is never to be psychoanalyzed.  Characters are just characters.  To bring in a past work, Haddon’s novel about Christian- a boy who is known in the novel as simply a kid with some social problems, and is really good at math- shouldn’t be classified as anything other than a fictional character.  I mean, Melville wrote fiction.  Some argue that he is one of the best fiction writers of all time.  His characters tend to sound a bit…off…at times.   I don’t really know how else to put it, but I can’t imagine having a conversation with any Melville character that I’ve read about.  His people tend to be more symbolic ham realistic.

By taking a symbolic character and shoving a diagnosis on his head, Murray takes everything I learned from the tale of Bartleby and turns it on its head.  I probably should mention that I have read this work before, and kind of feel upset at the treatment Murray gives the piece.  I’m also really having a weird week, and I feel with Bartleby a bit (I feel like I’ve been  doing everything but sleep at QC.  I did two 14-hour days last week. Being stuck on campus for that long really could drive someone insane).  For me, Bartleby has always been something that represented the fight against establishment.  The quiet voice that dissents when it’s easier to just go with the flow.  He’s an idea that I sometimes like and sometimes dislike.  But he is an idea.  And ideas do not have neurological differences, because ideas aren’t people.

To be fair, I think that Murray has a valid interpretation of Bartleby.  If he feels comfortable making a statement about a disorder, I’ll entertain the idea.  So: Bartleby as an actual person. I can pretty much guarantee that this guy isn’t the strangest thing going down in that office.  If we’re making here characters human, I’all go ahead and classify everyone else as well.  Turkey is obviously a drunk.  But why?  Could it be genetic?  And that shifty guy Nippers.  Obviously not telling us everything.  Is his constant adjustment due to ADHD, or is he simply doing something a bit shady?  How about the Lawyer, though?  This guy is way too nice.  He goes out of his way for a squatter.  Is he super-religious, as he seems to claim, or is he this way because he has low self-esteem, as an article I once read about over-givers claimed?  If we’re going there, I suppose we can diagnose Bartleby as well.  I am realizing that I’m being a bit unreasonable.  I’ll probably feel a lot more forgiving towards Murray and his article tomorrow.  It’s a valid reading, but not one I would have written about in the first chapter of a book.  It seems a bit risky to put a whole diagnosis onto a single character from an old Melville story.

Olear and Bartmess: A Case Against Haddon

I will freely admit that I was not sure what to think of this novel.  It made me nervous, as I firmly agree with what Murray stated in his review of what autism literature and films do to society: the literature creates the illness.  By this, I mean to say that we, as readers and viewers, are presented with images of what an illness might look like on the inside.  From these images, we create what we think the difference or illness feels like or looks to the person with the difference.  Haddon opens a large can of worms when he begins to write as Christoper.  As a neuro-typical man, even one who has done a lot of work with disabled children, what right has he to decide how the world will look at a disorder?  Should anyone have that power?  Should we prevent people from writing who do not have lived experiences, or is this the height of fiction?  The reviews written on Haddon’s work ask and answer any questions such as those listed above in a frenzy.  I’ll get to Olear and Bartmess in a moment.  I just want to address one thing first.

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture given by Professor Tougaw about neuroscience and literature and his upcoming book, which does work to bridge the two.  About half the room was filled with neuroscience students.  The rest were English people.  One question I posed to the Professor was about hypothetical literature about illness.  Novels such as this one give me a morally itchy feeling (I love using this term.  I forget when I started using it.  I think I was wearing an uncomfortable sweater at the time), as they are simply hypothesis.  Are these novels valid?  What makes them ok to read?  are some of these types of books not valid or valuable literature?  I don’t think I asked the Professor all of these questions, but you get the idea.  His answer was a bit perplexing.  “It depends on how well it is done”, Tougaw answered (I think I got this word-for word.  Any mistakes are my own)  According to Tougaw, if it’s art, then it’s valid literature.  If it fails, then it’s possibly not valid.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  Even a work of beauty can make me feel morally itchy.  Or at least a bit uncomfortable.  But then again, I’ve never really been one who believes blindly in art.  Instead, I believe in people.  I don’t think that my thought is cohesive, but that’s the best way I can think to explain my philosophy.

To get back to the main topic: both Olear and Bartmess disliked Haddon’s novel, but for different reasons (sort of).  Both disliked how the book portrays autistic people.  Olear disliked the “inaccurate” nature of the novel, and claimed that it had little to do with the autistic experience.  He claimed, in a way that reminded me a bit of the Murray article, that we create autism with works like “Rainman” and Haddon’s book.  When the work is not well-researched (as Olear claims), then the book is detrimental to the way society views autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

Bartmess’s concern about the book stems not from the lack of accuracy, but about the way society will view autistic people in the wake of this novel.  The novel’s protagonist is a bit unnerving, with his dreams of apocalyptic silence, his violent tendencies, and his pretentious mannerisms.  In addition to how she fears autistic individuals will be perceived, the abuse in this novel came as a shock to Bartmess.  As the character makes no big deal of all of the bullying and household abuse, it gets normalized, Bartmess claims. I would tend to agree that the abuse was hard to read about.  I suppose that Haddon probably hoped to shock people into realizing how badly many with autism are treated, but unintentionally published a book that seemed  to claim that that autistic people can be hurt, and just won’t care.

While Olear is concerned with accuracy of the disease, and how this might affect how people view autism, Bartmess is concerned with the way this novel will affect the way that people will perceive actions towards those with autism.  Olear probably would have been ok with an extremely well-researched book being written about autism by a person without autism, while Bartmess is just upset at the story that Haddon wrote, and seems amiable towards the idea of hypothetical literature in general.  Or so I assume.