In Ursula Le Guin’s 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven, a seemingly unassuming young white male begins effective dreaming. Desperate to stop altering realities by night, George Orr borrows other people’s pharmacy cards (the world is overpopulated, resources heavily rationed) to obtain more than his share of dexedrine and barbiturates. Landing himself in the hands of an oneirologist, he becomes a tool—a proxy to make the doctor’s megalomaniacal utilitarian fantasies real. The doctor suggests, and George dreams. “This was the way he had to go; he had no choice. He had never had any choice. He was only a dreamer.”
Whose effective dreams are we living in now: A hoaxter, broker, autocrat, or warrior? A meal-replacement entrepreneur, or a pedophilic sculptor of language and form? A gentleman farmer, almanac full of pop-up weather events; a scientist who dreams of not detonating the germ bombs that he goes on crafting anyway? Maybe we’re caught in the dreams of somebody much more benign, or much more terrifying: cannibal, gallerist, curator, class warrior, populist, physicist, philosopher, artist, capitalist. Just wondering what phase of ideology’s public trade on the subconscious (art) market we’re in now.
It’s been said that talking about dreams is incredibly boring to the person who has to listen. But dreams bear repeating as reality shifts under the weight of them (some more than others). Surely the officially registered daydreams of certain ancestors resemble almost exactly the night terrors and centuries-long waking atrocities of others. Yanomami spokesperson and shaman Davi Kopenawa explains, “The white people, they do not dream as far as we do. They sleep a lot but only dream of themselves.”
There are no concepts without consequences. In The Lathe of Heaven, Orr’s psychologist, mad with power, commands the dreamer under augmented hypnosis to erase racial tensions. Twisted by Orr’s subconscious, this directive turns everyone’s skin dull, gray. Maybe soylent green is soylent gray—gray people. Travis Diehl pours into this issue the fact of soylent as rebranded substance, like so much science of former fiction, in the techno-creative-class present. Liquid removes the inconvenience of taste: gray, beige.
The present threatens to make hungry ghosts of anyone who survives to see the future. Certainly not all humans have had such luck. Whoever’s dreams we—the dead, the outsiders, the cosmists, the content producers’ content producers, artists—collectively find ourselves caught in, perhaps we can agree to enter tomorrow’s nightmare, this time more lucid.
If so, to what end? All we have is means…