Dreamlife at the End of the World

This is a brief extract from Self and Unself, section 194 (of 212).

The collapse of Western civilisation can be traced through the artistic dreamlife of the people who slept within it. This dreamlife comprised two new kinds of myth, the technocratic dream-world—or science fiction—and the technocratic dream-man—or the superhero. These were, initially, happy, bright, optimistic and gaily coloured, reflecting an uncritical acceptance of industrial and then digital technology. Early sci-fi men and women lived in antiseptic capsules, ministered by friendly, almost-human, machines and cheerful, powerful godmen—while humans, either corporate functionaries or technicians in a strict martial hierarchy, became more machine-like. As the civilised party wore on, and the wine soured, the dreamworld became darker, literally so. The costumes of superheroes became more muted, their personalities more world-weary and flawed, their futuristic worlds more miserable and authoritarian. If anyone smiled, it was grimly, cynically, with effort. Finally, there were no positive visions of the future any more, no world saviours, no happy endings. The dreamer, trapped in an entirely egoic representation, was now desperate to wake up, but, hermetically sealed within the dream, he was unable to imagine waking, and so he projected his horror into the dream, creating a mythic nightmare in which the only goodies were those who wished to destroy the nightmare; baddies. The final stage of the mythos of the world was one in which the baddies were loved, in which they won, in which the world was not saved; it ended, and there was peace.

In the serious novel or art-house film, the kind that educated middle-class selves preferred, decadent man found that every tiny fragment of his experience deserved to be inspected, divided, further inspected and further divided until nothing remained but the vaguest hint of the vaguest tones and qualities, minute odours wafting from a body that no longer existed. Or he found there was no self at all, no meaning, no consciousness, no world, nothing but chaos, covered over with nice alliterative sentences or computer generated effects, or flesh, always flesh. These and like myths were those that postmodern man enjoyed, that, when he experienced them, something in him felt ‘yes, this is me’. But what kind of me? What kind of self was it that man discovered reflected back at him in the dreamlife at the world’s end? It was that of a child or, more specifically, a teenager; special, but an unearnt specialness, afraid, but of what? a self obsessed, but with what? There were plenty of answers, plenty of opinions, but never the solution, for there was nothing but the self looking for it.

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