To record an event by drawing the idea of it in your mind is simple so long as the idea is simple. If the idea is that the king of Assyria smote a certain city, you have only to draw the city, and the king smiting it. But if the idea is that monarchical government is bad because it brings to an abnormal focus certain necessary human passions that otherwise would remain diffuse and harmless, how will you draw it ? Simple ideographs are useless but there is a method that is used for depicting such ideas. It is the method of the cartoon, whereby form and thought find a plane of contact. The political cartoon of the week has some points in common with the dream. It is a product which is more or less meaningless save to a man who knows something of the political situation. It is a pictorial symbolism whose elements require a kind of interpretation, and it does not conform to the pattern of reality entirely. It drops continually into symbols, and where it drops is at the point where meaning escapes the power of simple direct portrayal. It is a mingling of focussed and unfocussed meaning, and by this mingling, according to the skill of the cartoonist, a significance results that requires a lengthy explanation. It covers a wide area of thought. It contains a condensation of meaning, and we have already seen that the language of unconscious gesture is a language of symbolisms that contain meaning in a latent and condensed form.
The idea concerning monarchical government could be rendered by this method. A king, with a burning glass focussed on Europe and the sun overhead with the name of his nation written across it, might, for example, form the main symbols of the cartoon. But what is apparent is that an immense number of ways offer themselves to the cartoonist when he seeks to portray abstract ideas. He is not governed by the laws of the ordinary artist. His only limitation is the necessity of remaining reasonably comprehensible.
This limitation does not operate in the case of unconscious activity, for even coherence is not typical in the dream. Some conditions certainly favour coherence. Times of great mental stress or moral conflict are frequently accompanied by vivid dreaming and in a general way it might be said that vividness and coherence in dreams go hand in hand. But this coherence is not relative to intelligibility, but is rather a coherence in the sequence of events, which are related to one another by a kind of naturalness. But when they are reviewed in the morning they present a clear, well-knit picture whichj unlike a cartoon, is unintelligible. It may profoundly intrigue the fancy, but how is it possible to handle it ?
If the analogy between the cartoon and the dream is pursued, a possibility of handling the dream is suggested by a consideration of the way in which a cartoon is approached. The cartoon is the result of circumstances affecting national life. To understand it, these circumstances must be known. Now if it be said that dreams result from certain circumstances affecting individual life, a prejudice must be examined first before the larger issue of these circumstances can be freely undertaken. For some people will say that the circumstances are well known, and that they consist in physical disturbances. A late supper, it may be contended, constitutes the circumstantial cause of much dreaming, and that is as far as one need look for the whole theory and explanation of dreams. The late-supper school—that is, the school of physical causation— does not, however, furnish a wholly satisfactory argument. There is no doubt that late suppers and other disturbances of physical equilibrium provoke dreaming; but if you were to say that they constitute the explanation of dreaming you might as well see in that recent shower of rain the whole explanation of that green tinge that now covers the desert plain. It is simply an example of a common confusion in thinking. Either the activities that underlie dreams are intensified by certain physical disharmonies, or the awareness of dreaming is increased by some lowering of threshold value; but the physical disharmonies do not, in themselves, explain the dream. The act as sensitizers. The developing solution that flows over a photographic plate is not the explanation of the areas of light and shade that appear on the white surface. It merely reveals what was already there, and what was already there depends on circumstances unconnected with the developer.
From what kind of circumstances, then, do dreams arise? In looking at a political cartoon, it is possible to imagine a great number of threads of interest, national, social, and personal, converging on to it and determining its symbolism. Now though the dream is infinitely more complicated than the cartoon, it has in the same way behind its symbolism a great number of converging threads of interest. This is very easily proved. The incidents of most dreams cover certain episodes, places, and people that are quite familiar. These elements, brought together in an apparently haphazard way in the dream, represent different threads of interest. Each one is, so to speak, a gateway that opens into a long avenue of recollections, feelings, and thoughts.
You dream that an acquaintance is sitting in your study wearing a khaki uniform. The acquaintance, your study, and the khaki uniform at once form three separate threads of interest. The dream brings these threads together for some reason. A dream, therefore, might be regarded as a patchwork pattern of interest. The formation of the pattern differs from the dispositions of interest in consciousness ; the acquaintance may never have been in your house ; he may never have worn a uniform. Yet the dream, according to its peculiar tendency, disposes these objects of interest in this new formation. It produces a new, and unthought-of, pattern, and this is a fact that people recognize instinctively when they say, in the presence of the unexpected or extraordinary event, that no one would have ever dreamed it possible.