Some authors treat dreams—so to speak—wantonly, as the amusing playthings of the subconscious. Others take them very seriously, with a particular brand of reverence, as signs or signals aiding in the understanding of the world and the self, or evidence of an encounter with transcendence; this is the case of Krystyna Sakowicz, author of "The Book of Salvaged Dreams".
In fact it is difficult to define the book, in terms of genre. It is a work bordering on the essay, the esoteric treatise, and prose-poetry. It could not be otherwise, as the author has set herself the goal of guiding the reader through dreams to another dimension of reality, making it possible to look underneath the world’s lining and recall the fundamental truths and laws that human beings tend to forget completely in the turmoil of the present.
Sakowicz chooses guides who lead her down a winding road through the land of dreams, as distinctive as their dreams were different. She writes about Karen Blixen, who dreamed a fascinating but simultaneously cruel dream of Africa, which allowed her to come to a better understanding of her own desires as well as—perhaps above all—to become a world-famous writer. About Vaslav Nijinsky, the acclaimed dancer from the turn of the twentieth century, whose entire life was a continuous dream about emotion, art, and God—a dream that ultimately drove him mad. Not only about them, but also, among others, about Maria Dąbrowska or Jan Lechoń. Sakowicz introduces their intricate biographies, cites their work heavily, provides commentary, and adds handfuls of descriptions from her own experiences. At times these pieces are moving and striking, as if the author wished to shake her readers.
Sakowicz writes, “The world’s dreams contain something the world doesn’t want, that it doesn’t recognize, doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, doesn’t pay attention to, that it takes lightly or the opposite, and it has no intention of tolerating this.” This new book from the author of After Pain is really difficult to understand at times, demanding not so much a reading as contemplation. But it is powerful—as powerful as dreams can sometimes be.
Krystyna Sakowicz (born 1950) graduated in psychology and is a novelist, essayist and poet.
Man as a Dream
Some people are the dreams of this world. They break through reality at various points and times, appear and disappear, leaving behind them a reflex of surprise or a fog. Their life is reminiscent of a play composed according to dream principles. Meanwhile we are cast into shadow by dreams, where figures similar to them keep turning up. Then we say: a nightmare. We say it’s only a dream. But those incantations do not change the fact that some people are to us exactly what dreams are, an unsettling lesson in truth. The world’s dreams contain something that the world doesn’t want, that it doesn’t recognize, doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, doesn’t pay attention to, that it takes lightly or the opposite, and it has no intention of tolerating this. As a whole, it can’t get rid of anything, remove anything from its premises, as there is nothing beyond the world and everything that is brought into the world is the world itself. This is why there are dreams. Osama bin Laden is the world’s dream of revenge. Mother Theresa of charity. The depressed are our dreams of despair. People who live -on garbage heaps are our nightmares of dispensability. We all dream of each other seen right through. Everyone dreams dreams belonging to everyone else, as the limitless space of the world renders the privacy of dreaming impossible. Dreams create fields of meaning that are unknown while awake, where what is distant and close, and what is understandable and incomprehensible remain intimately connected.
Dreaming leads to that unknown and solemn portion of fate before which we all tremble. Vaslav Nijinsky would often tremble “like an aspen leaf.” He was a great dancer. He was born in 1889, and in 1919 he became a dream, dying in 1950 and leaving behind a few photographs and three notebooks filled with black script in Russian. Two of them contain a volume entitled “Life,” one describes “Death,” and there was also supposed to be a Volume of “Feelings,” which however it turned out to be impossible to delineate from “Life” and “Death”, both are thus a volume of feelings, so that life is life, and death comes unexpectedly. Nijinsky said of the coming of death: “They say I am mad. I thought I was alive. They won’t give me any peace. I said to myself I didn’t want to live anymore.”
Nijinsky’s Volumes were released to the world in their full version and without alterations only in 1995. Before they had to be altered, trimmed and distorted, because otherwise no one would have understood them, as people don’t trust dancers, especially those who have lost their minds and say they dance like God. Nijinsky wrote in his own hand: he wrote his volumes with a pencil, the stub of a pencil and a penholder with a nib dipped in ink. From the beginning he used to promise himself that he would invent a better fountain pen, and he really did invent it, and in the distant future it would be patented in the real world. The eternal continuity of the fountain pen, the gold of nibs, their keen ends that gnawed and frayed the paper, these he describes numerous times in the volumes. Blue-black Stephens Writing Ink is a cheap ink, but it was with this very ink, these pens, these too-short pencils and this trembling of the hand, which was reminiscent of a much greater, more perfect movement, that the history of life and death and human feelings was recorded. Aspen leaves sit atop long, flat, delicate little hooks of stems, which is why they tremble at the lightest breeze. Trembling is a small movement, but let us simply try to shake more and more, and a great dance will develop out of it. In trembling the outline of a movement lies hidden that for various reasons waits a while to display its true strength. Movement is the language of the body. A language like that does not require sounds or letters. It requires sensation and expansion. It is a feeling in the body, not a mind in the body. But writing is also a movement. There is a lot of feeling in beautiful writing. I want to write in order to explain to people the habits that kill feeling, says Nijinsky. He is a performer who loves every body type and every kind of beauty. He says, “I love feeling, and that is why I am going to write a lot.”
Let’s imagine, though, that we are writing a volume on feelings, on life and death, on God, people, and infinitely important events, and it gets read as evidence of mental illness, treated as madness. Here begins the nightmare. In this dream, someone is passing judgment. Someone is determining. Declaring that what we are dealing with here are the typical ruminations of the split personality, that this is schizophrenia and delusions. Nijinsky’s Diary, in accordance with these judgments, is simply a so-called diary, the work of a madman, erroneous and full of “eccentricity… Formal disturbances of various kinds render it nonsensical. In the dream we would dream of something like this, we would cry the entire time. Nijinsky cries in his soul every couple of pages. ‘I can’t trust my wife anymore,’ he writes, ‘as I have begun to feel she wants to give my notebooks to Doctor Frankel so he can examine them. I’ve hidden them, and I will carry this notebook with me. I will hide all of my notebooks. I’m afraid of people, as I think they will slaughter me’.”
In the book lying here, at this moment, unhidden, Pascal Quignard writes, “There are ways of speaking that can cause shaking.”
And ways that can wound.
He says he seeks only those thoughts that shake.
If it were possible to read Nijinsky’s volumes without any warning of how and by whom they’d been written—and they were written in a rapid script, with a shaking hand that stiffens up again, in small rather than large lettering—it might turn out that their words do make sense, that their sentences are simple, although their thoughts go around in circles and touch upon matters that interest everyone and the entire World: I’m writing about things that interest the entire world, says Nijinsky, and he asks that he be corrected always and in everything. He is an uneducated man, a man that makes mistakes. He learned how to write in two schools in Saint Petersburg, and that should suffice for plain writing about things that interest the entire world, but we all make mistakes, we are not bad people, but we still make mistakes, that can and always ought to be fixed. You cry bitterly because of mistakes that can’t be fixed, I cried and cried bitterly, he says, I felt death. He doesn’t write memoirs, he writes everything that was and everything that is; he doesn’t write well, he writes what comes to him. Reading what got written then demands reciprocity. Some want thoughts that shake and feel movement. It is this movement that makes us reciprocate, that excites us, shakes us, runs away from us and starts over again from the beginning. Thanks to movement we discover that the lines dividing the known from the unknown, outside from inside, dreaming from waking—those lines don’t really exist. They are always changing their position, in any case. “I know that all movement is given by God,” says Nijinsky, and his last dance describes just a couple of movements, in just a few moving words. “I felt God the whole evening,” he says. “He loved me. I loved him. We were wedded.”
Others, describing that evening, always add something of themselves here, and now we have to do everything at once, noting the overlapping of different lines, conjectures, dances and layers. Vera Krasovska tells how that last evening Nijinsky was wearing “a long white tunic of soft, light silk, covered in black embroidery, and a short shirt, still thinner, also white with a black design, with sleeves tattered at the bottom”. The floor was covered in white and black velvet, which created a cross. “In the expectant silence of the auditorium, Nijinsky stood at the top of the cross, stretched like a chord with his hands spread, as if personifying that sign.”
Romola Nijinska recalls that he said something like, “I now present you with the war and all its sufferings, destructions, and death. The war that none of you prevented and for which you are responsible.”
Others say that he simply cried, “And here’s the war!”
A silence fell. Nijinsky froze. This lasted half an hour, a minute, or all eternity. Then he began to dance. He danced with gestures. He expanded. He became movement. He attacked. Ran. Was the battlefield. He leaped over corpses, was felled by bullets. He danced wounds. He danced death. And then he became rapt and the world beheld once more his famous leaps that defied earthly gravity; they were like flight. Those flights were never photographed. No one knew that this was the end. Now we can only dream it.
In his notebook that night Nijinsky wrote, “I was dancing terrible things…. The audience didn’t love me, for they wanted to leave. Then I started to act out happy things…. The audience started to laugh. I started to laugh too. I laughed in the dance. The audience laughed in the dance too.
“I was dancing badly, as I kept falling to the floor when I wasn’t supposed to. The audience didn’t mind, as I was dancing beautifully. I wanted to keep dancing, but God told me, ‘Enough.’ I stopped.”
Translated by Jennifer Croft