Friday, May 24, 2013

Against Interpretation

In Susan Sontag's most famous essay, "Against Interpretation," she wrote,

Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can't admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning.

Most approaches to dream analysis uphold the idea that the dreamer, rather than the dream worker, is the ultimate authority on the meaning of the dream.  While leaving the interpretation up to the dreamer is on the surface a good way to avoid the biases or "projections" of the dream worker, it doesn't solve the underlying problem that gives rise to invasive projections. Sontag argues that the deeper fallacy is to  pursue interpretation in the first place. That is, she says that the real error is treating art (and dreams) as equivalent to their "content," and then setting about to reveal what that content is. The content is usually thought of as the dream's assumed "symbolized" meaning. For Freud, it was the disguised hedonistic desire to express some unacceptable sexual or aggressive impulses. For Jung, it was the individuation urge expressing itself through archetypes, or the compensating function of the psyche attempting to restore balance. For art, it's the artist's conscious or unconscious message that they intend to convey through the form. But regardless it has to be "revealed," and that's where interpretation comes in.

It is very hard to overturn two millenia of thinking about understanding dreams. The mind synthesizes what it sees and renders it meaningful if it can. But there is an alternative to the revelation of the dream's underlying content. It is simply put, an exploration of the relationship between dreamer and dream imagery. This dimension is already largely revealed by the story or narrative that the dreamer reports upon awakening, but is largely overlooked when the intent of the analyticial process is to reveal something that is not already manifest. By focusing on the relationship, we stay  tethered to what is actually there, and what is actually happening. When we add our associations to the imagery, using noninvasive methods such as amplification or Gestalt dialoguing in the larger context of exploring the dreamer-dream relationships, we arrive at a holistic approach that is phenomenologically congruent with the dreamer's own experience. We don't abandon the dreamer's story or alter it with our analytical brilliance, all in the name of "disclosing it's true meaning." To put it in Sontag's words again:

What the overemphasis on the idea of content entails is the perennial, never consummated project of interpretation.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Dreamer's Global Response Set--Very Important Concept

The distinction between content-focused dream work and process-oriented dream analysis that the former focuses on visual content, and latter examines the dreamer-dream relationship. Questions that were never asked now become central in the "cocreative paradigm." I have recently introduced the term "imagery change analysis" to describe how our work with dream imagery needs to reflect the constant changes in the content that are mirrored by the changes in dreamer response. Which comes first? Since the dreamer is our "client," not the imagery, we would do well always to make the dreamer's response the "first cause" in the creation of the dream. But, of course, in any real relationship, the circular or reciprocal dynamic between participants is in constant motion.

The dreamer's response is more than what he or she does in the dream. It's always everything that the dreamer brings to the relationship. I have recently termed it the dreamers' "global response set" in order to get beyond the connotation that the dreamer's responses are merely behavioral. What we want to do is to encourage the dreamer to examine his or her beliefs, feelings, fears, assumptions, etc. that predispose the dream ego to take a particular stance in relationship to what is emerging in the dream imagery. This is a fertile line of inquiry, because it opens the dreamer's eyes to how he or she "sets up" the dreamer-dream relationship. For instance, if a dreamer--once becoming lucid--always flies away from conflict (as one client once reported), the dream worker can examine the assumptions that give rise to this behavior. What fears, desires, etc. prompt her to do that? What experiences in her life form the backdrop to this predictable response? It may turn out that someone who reflexively avoids the dream encounter has been mistreated in some way, and still suffers wounds that have not healed. This analysis, rather than "blaming the dreamer" allows the dream work to assume a compassionate attitude toward any non-constructive behavior, since it seeks to find the reason that such action seems to still make sense to the dream ego.

I have written about "chronic adaptive responses" in a paper that is posted on the DreamStar site. It's titled, "Understanding Adaptive Responses in the Analysis of Dreams from the Standpoint of Cocreative Dream Theory," and forms part of the curriculum for the new Certificate of Dream Study program. Understanding how repetitive dream responses can be traced to early experience is a very valuable tool in helping the dreamer expand beyond a narrow range of relational capacity. Please take a look at this paper at

DreamStar Training Now Set Up in Moodle

I have been working for some time at setting up a comprehensive training program in Moodle, which is a learning management system used by countless universities. I have installed Moodle as a separate partition on my website, and will hereafter host all of my courses. The training program consists of two options--one leading to a Certificate of Dream Study, and another which is almost the same (except for the omission of a practicum) for students who want CEUs only. The program is almost complete, with only the quizzes yet to be constructed. However, the course ready for review if you'd like to see it at

When you get to the home page, just click on a course title, and then use "guest123" as your password. You can then open all of the modules and see the approach I'm taking to the DreamStar training.

The good new is that the Certificate of Dream Study training will only cost $495 now. The CEU-only version will cost $195, and can be upgraded later by simply paying the difference.


  I've just launched a new podcast, titled DreamStar Institute Presents "Dreamwork with Dr. Scott Sparrow." My first episode i...