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.

6 thoughts on “Research Project Proposal: Analyzing Dreams Across Genres”

  1. Hi, cool topic! I think it’s both cool and scary that you’re working with 4 texts by the same author in different genres. To me, that sounds like it could get a little messy and hard to follow, but if you’re able to do it successfully then it would be very interesting. You might consider analyzing the topic of nightmares. There’s a lot written on that and it would probably tie in with the literary criticisms you’re going to use. Are you also going to explore animals’ dreams? Also, you write that the genre is “problematic” why? What makes writing about dreams problematic? Also when you say “in altered states” are you talking about drugs? or like sleepwalking? It’s a little vague. Overall, I think you have a really interesting topic, and I can’t wait to see how you proceed with your research!

    1. Hi Zahava! Thank you for the critique! I’m a bit nervous at this point, but I think that the vagueness is partially due to a lack of the right kind of research. Nightmares would be very interesting to go into. I’m sort of trying to see if there’s any way to make dreams part of a discussion on the divide between genres.
      The animal dreams might only come up because there’s a parallel between how Le Guin writes about humans and dreams. Alder from Wind can sleep peacefully only while touching another living thing, which anchors him to reality enough to avoid going to the land of the dead. The cat in her picture book realizes that it won’t have nightmares if it sits on his human’s lap. I might not be able to tie it in, but it all depends on what research I can find!
      By problematic, I simply meant that writing about dreams is something that I don’t know how authors even do. How do we edit dream? Does writing about a dream take all the essence of dreaming away from it? I feel that this is where the problem arises. I suppose a better word would have been “puzzling.”
      Thank you again for going over my piece! Even trying to explain it helped to clarify what I need to do in my head. Be well, and see you soon!

  2. Hi Chani!
    I love your topic! Focusing in on LeGuin’s work to study dreams and other enigmatic brain topics works really well. I never read her, but when I just now looked her up, I see parallels to some other of my all-time favorite authors, especially Madeleine L’Engle. The study of dreams is very Freud-ish. Do you plan to reference his theories of the unconscious vs. conscious? I am not a Freud fan, but when I read the word “dream” his name (for better or worse) pops into my head. Perhaps it is my unconscious at work. Maybe I should just leave Id alone. (groan)

    1. Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for looking my proposal over! I love L’Engle as well, and can definitely see some similarities in style and subject matter. I can’t believe I never saw it before!
      Oh my goodness! The Freud jokes! I believe Freud is inescapable with my topic, but I’ve found so many sources that reference Freud, that I might be able to squeak by with very little from his actual works. I mean, why should he be the center of everything? Maybe I’m only trying to avoid him because I’m jealous or something. I think I need a lot more lit. crit. on both dreaming on paper and genre boundaries. Thanks again, Lisa! Be well!

  3. Hi Chani!
    You’re working with a very cool (and you’re right, complex) topic that’s going to be really interesting to hear about as you continue with your paper! Unfortunately I don’t know much about the novels you’ll be working with, but from what you’ve explained, it seems like they’ll work perfectly well with your topic. Your questions are very intriguing and will merit some great discussion. Analyzing the relationship between genre and the treatment of dreams would be a great thing to add into your discussion since you’ll be using novels of different genres.
    I was wondering if you were going to explore the idea animals and dreams, but it seems like you’re still unsure if you’ll be incorporating that. It’d be interesting, but considering you have a lot of books you’ll be working with, I think you’ll be just fine without it.
    Overall, looks like you have some awesome ideas to get started on your paper! Your proposal is very interesting and I think you’ll definitely add great insight to the conversation of your topic. Great job!
    PS: I think you’ll be totally fine without Freud 😉

  4. Chani! This topic is fricken cool as hell! I got excited just reading the proposal. There so many interesting things you can do here as you examine dreams. Since I’m in the habit of flipping things on their heads and I just like to question life in general, there a possible additional angle you could take (hopefully this doesn’t confuse or throw off your intended path). The idea of making dreams really stand out as distinct from the rest of the “fiction” and posing the question of whether it is “heightened fiction” or “alternate fiction” is a very interesting concept. Could it also be saying something about dreams and reality? The fiction of the overall novel when examined in the perspective of the characters themselves, the fiction is their reality. If it is an alternate fiction existing within fiction, and the fiction to the character is reality, would that make dreams an alternate reality? If there are texts that have ambiguous shifts between dreams and waking events, could this suggest an ambiguity between dreams and reality? Just some thoughts I got really excited by while reading your proposal, sorry if I totally threw you off. Dreams itself is fascinating and your approach to examining them is very engaging. I can’t wait to see what you write!

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