Both in sleep and in wakefulness, dreams are the indispensable components of survival. Histories of victories are the creations of dreams – by individuals, emperors, queens and mad men. The survival instincts can never find their expressions without this magic web in which all one’s pre-histories are enmeshed like the tentacles of an octopus. Sigmund Freud, the father figure of psychoanalysis, gave meaning to these colours. But the post-Freudians rejected the meanings as they were fixated with the changing patterns of the socio-cultural and historical conjunctions of humanity. With structuralism and developments in anthropology, new dimensions came up that gave dreams the language of infinite interpretations. Perhaps, Theodor Adorno’s Dream Notes reveals another side to all such blatant and empty theories. This Frankfurt School genius has too much verve and vivacity in jotting down the threads of dreams – more than what he experimented with the musical notations. He was the product of the difficult times. So were his dreams. Adorno’s Dream Notes offers us a world of rejection, dilapidation, decadence and sorrow.
Dream Notes comprises a set of dreams written down by Adorno from 1942 to 1969. This is neither a diary of dreams nor a document of visions. The dates are not repeating. There are several missing links and loopholes of remembering. Places are not properly charted out and sometimes the names – the personal and the second person’s are conflated and confused. It is important, therefore, to look at the historical and sociological conditions of the writer’s time along with these dreams. Each dream finally is a journey. A journey towards a theatre, brothel, a castle, police station or towards a river. The best parallel of these dreams would be Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street. As what Benjamin used to say ‘a dream came to me, I dreamed’, Adorno engages himself in the act of ‘dreaming’ to recover something.
In one of the fragments Adorno jotted down in 1944, we see Trotsky sitting at a party. There is a voting going on and Adorno votes for him. Would this be an explanation for his anti-Stalin stance? In another dream he finds himself in a brothel surrounded by men and women, both German and French. He sees Anatole France there and realises that he was clinging to his ‘shabby, unmodern velvet’. Sometime in 1948, he again dreams of a child given to him by somebody to torture. He kicks on the buttocks of this child and later hits hard at his testicles. The child’s non-responsiveness frightens him. However, there are no remorse feelings recorded nor a note given subsequent to this gory dream. Sometime in July 1945 at Los Angeles, he dreams about an execution scene. The dreamer makes it clear that he cannot distinguish if the victims are fascists or anti- fascists.
Unlike what we read in the diaries and notebooks of Kafka, there are no underpinnings of fear and torture in his dreams. Yet, the fear of being someplace is clearly evident in most of these dreams. Most of them are written while he was in Los Angeles. The reference to the concentration camp is rather rare in this book. Adorno, despite all his genius, wrote very little on the camps. The movement of the guillotine is compared to a gymnastic exercise. This is a sufficient proof of his journey towards a cultural field; where he became famous all over the theoretical and philosophical sphere of cultural studies.
The relationship between dreams and voyeurism is clear in some of the names he consciously jots down and in some names that are evaded. Towards the end of his life, Adorno’s dreams were filled with the dead people. His past rebuts with a hammer, not with a flying broom as in the wizardly tales.
Adorno’s dreams have bourgeois elements. Reading culture and context in this phalanx of visions may be a difficult task. There is very little intertexuality in these dreams. The author hardly talks about any author or a particular text. The dimensions of space and time, though difficult to conjoin, can only be retraced by looking at Hitler’s Germany and the stories of people fleeing Germany, both in search of freedom and normal life. Music, Adorno’s favourite passion, also stems up at times though the dreams are not musical. The act of recollecting some of them seems to be the link of the personal with the interior as far as these visions are concerned.
An afterword to this book, written by Rodney Livingstone, is an important document to understand the personal of Adorno. In a situation when we debate the personal, political and the public, this may help us realise how in the trajectory of modernism, particularly from Kafka , Hermann Broch, Robert Musil to Adorno and Benjamin, how much is left for us as the ‘personal’ to speak for. Dreams Notes are the testimony for an ever recurring ‘personal’.