Dream, Poetry, Lacework And The Great Congenial

I can almost hear Gellu Naum saying: "I fell on the pavement on account of the old tree roots which have heaved it. There was a smell of putrid leaves. And of putrid earth. I could not lift myself up. From somewhere, came a cur of a dog. 'You want grass,' I asked."At times I did not know if he was talking about a poem, a dream or something that had passed in reality. But to what avail should I have asked him, "make it clear"? It was fine as it was. In a few days he would read me a poem in which I acknowledged what I had heard. He was speaking of a familiar dream (in fact, he used the phrase: "in the reality of the dream") or he was saying what had happened to him the previous week, when he had fallen and could not stand up and there was a smell of decayed soil in the air and a cur of a dog… "What are you dreaming these days," I asked once. "I'm not dreaming anything," he replied. "I have the impression that everything floods into what I write. Or, at any rate, in the outward boundary of the so-called 'dream'. Sometimes I wake up in the dead of night. I always keep seeing curtains of lace, plentiful of lace. I stretch out my hand and try to draw them apart…" Years before (according to his confession in the 1992 interview), matters had been quite the opposite: "For several years," he mentions there, "I am able to write exclusively in my dream, in exhaustion of the unending struggle between the need to sleep – dictated by soporifics, and the need to write – dictated by the state of poetry. This is one of the greatest torments one could imagine. I struggle sleep, forced upon me by medicine, as a night watch would struggle to keep awake while on duty. In the beginning, several years ago, during my first hospitalization, poetry always prevailed. I would scribble down a few hieroglyphs and doze off. Thereupon, because my private experience advised me so, from the era of a healthy heart, to insinuate myself into my dreams to a certain extent, I have set out and managed to rid myself of the preliminary stage where the battle between the need for sleep and the need for poetry was fought. In other words, I started to dream out my poems."I shall now refer back to what he said on another occasion when we were polemizing on the issue of the "automatic dictation" – which to me raised suspicions as an authenticist method. He contended then, that I regarded dictation as a dogma, as a mere literary exercise, whereas I should have seen its liberating effect. "Never mind literature! It frees you. You (yourself from yourself, if need may be). It all depends how you do it. One day I will write about the automatic dictation. Because nobody understands anything. It is always different," he said. And, on another occasion: "From a certain point onwards, my automatic dictation, or call it what you may, has moved, has transferred to my dream world. In order to dream, it is required that one have something in the unconscious; similarly, in order to write from dictation, it is required that one have something in the conscience (mind you, I have not termed it 'conscious'). Therefore, a type of nocturnal 'conscience' is the co-author to some of 'its' poems. There, in the vortex of dream, lie unknown forces, frightening at times, which can be tamed only by looking them in the eye and which are 'domesticated' in the unselfconscious 'paradigms' of dreams or poems. Several times before he had told me about a certain destructive, or, au contraire, redeeming, inward force, the equivalent to the force which 'is awakened' during dream. It pertained to what he called 'the inward man' (suffocated, suppressed by the conscious). He also had a name for the 'inward man', a name invented by him and that he did not wish to pronounce, out of superstition. Once, he jocularly called him The Great Congenial ("who, trust me, is also very fierce!") Conscious man is not at the standard of that inner force – hence, the human limits; hence, a type of perpetual discontent, of irrational fear solved only in appearance, only for a limited amount of time, by reason. Another time, he spoke to me about the difference between 'the inner man' and 'the cultural man'. "The first is a creator, experiences, in his specific way, the archetypes, pursues his own rituals, is confuse and poetic, the other one theorizes, knows everything about archetypes, talks about Jung or God-knows-who, sits in his armchair with his legs crossed […] and thinks he's the wise man of Gotham… He may even put you in your place by bringing up a book with an ext-h-ensive literature on the subject." I think that 'dictation' to Gellu Naum (be it exercised in his dream or in his diurnal existence) is more of a medium by which his 'inner man' is voiced, a means of dissolving the totalitarianism of the I, of dissolving the conflicting forces which hinder the unifying direction pursued in life.Dictation, dream, poetry are but forms of expressing these unifying powers. Gellu Naum dwelled very much on the idea that he had struggled all his life to become one. That, one needs 'strength' to achieve it and that this 'strength' had been given to him by poetry. On the being as duality there are a few lines in Poeticize…, written at a time when he was 'fighting the double'. I will not insist on this, nevertheless. In actual fact, it was not so much the experience of the dream or of diurnal un-reality that took his interest, as it were those strange moments when the two stages which segregate us create, at their confluence, the sense of unity. "The equivalent to the seconds of sleep and awakening, in which dream and wakefulness cease to exist separately, I have only found in love." And, I would add, in poetry.To Gellu Naum, his dream is part of his existence. In dream-related democracy, everything becomes of equal importance and everything is a dare. 'The dream reality' is not a mere structure created by dream. To a surrealist, there is equally a 'diurnal dream reality' (a type of diurnal hypnobatia) in which objective happenstance, coincidence and other strange happenings become manifest. But the instant of real authenticity is to be found, Gellu Naum holds, rather at the fragile, volatile intersection of wakefulness and sleep: "I know that I was not he who, observed from a certain angle of the room, could be seen sleeping, as I was not the other, from the dream, who did this and that, kissed somebody's lips, went through a deserted corridor in the sound of his own steps, picked a flower or was proud to hold a maiden's eye on his heart. I know that I, the other one, that who am always I, cannot be found other than at the very moment of awakening." In his interview in Counterpoint, he also mentions the interval between dream and wakefulness, the genesis of hypnagogic visions which, in his case, appeared to him not prior to sinking into sleep, as is customary, but prior to the awakening moment. He had spoken to me repeatedly about these 'images' as of slides in a rapid succession. In-between, at a certain moment, one can recognize, with God-knows-which inner sense, the real image, emblematic for a certain disposition or state of facts, blended with the others, which are mere diversions. For instance, he told me how, one morning, he selected from the 'slideshow' one which showed an abstract pattern. It was thronged, with intricate arabesques. On the same day he would see his 'slide' in an album accidentally dipped into in a bookshop, showing photographs of Persian rugs.The dream is not superior to the wakeful state, as it is in succession of the poetic state, in another register. In fact, inferior and superior cease to carry a meaning here. "Dreams are neither bad, nor good. The dream is you," he told me once. "It is a superstition that dreams cannot be understood, that what happens in a dream is obscure and that what happens in day-to-day life is clear. As if diurnal occurrences could be understood? Does not lurk so much beyond 'clarity'? Shouldn't we also interpret our daily facts?"There is a continuous surreality (even if perceivable at times) of the same nature for dreams as it is for the diurnal. To a surrealist, the opposition between reality and dream is a psychological sophism. This distinguishes him from a romantic. For the first, the dream-life and the day-life equally contain trivial aspects and eruptive certainties – truths which do not need further explanation and arise naturally, which clarify troubled matters. To regard reality as a mere appearance is an act of superb cowardice, as 'the escape' from a dream is, in its turn, a mere illusion: "Still, we persist in recording our dreams with the outmost care, we cherish the sad habit of looking for signs of diurnal life in our dreams, translate God-knows-which symbol with God-knows-which desire, God-knows-which object with another object. Should we withdraw in dreams? Should we run from what is currently known as reality? It would seem a beauteous cowardice if I considered only the tramline which always takes me to the next stop, never into an abyss, to be real, if I would consider the woman who traverses the brightest sun, so bright that I can see every eyelash on her, to be the only real one, if I would disregard the genuine shadow which lurks in the most secret corner of my room, watching me sleep." ("Poeticize, Poeticize …")I often wondered how Gellu Naum writes his poems – which are a mélange of dreamful reality, fragments of diurnal life, colloquial and esoteric language. I would have liked to find the secret of this personal alchemy: what does it pursue, in actuality (not in the literature as such but in relation with himself). "How did you write this," I asked him. "I do not know," he would answer. "Is it a dream? Is it 'dictation'?" "It does not matter." From fragments of conversation I have concluded that he attempted in his poetry (as it also unconsciously happens in the dream) to interpret things which had happened to him in daily (and nightly) life. Better phrased, he tried an interpretation of his own life with the help of this mysterious combination between dream and poetry, his personal 'combination', the most appropriate for the incessant interpretation which, in any case, delegated itself as a necessity.

Excerpted from: The Redemption of the Species. On Surrealism and Gellu Naum, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, 2000

by Simona Popescu (b. 1965)