12. Dream and culture

Reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human all too human

Read the introduction here

You can read the aphorism I discuss, below the main article.

Synopsis and my take on it:

While dreaming our memory is “brought back to a condition of imperfection such as everyone may have experienced in pre-historic times, whether asleep or awake.” The dreams are “arbitrary and confused” like the mythologies they invented. People that visited “savage” people tell of their “short tension of memory, his mind begins to sway here and there from sheer weariness and gives forth lies and nonsense.”  But in dreams we are all like the savage, we misinterpreted our dreams and are alarmed if we recollect the dream clearly. The clarity of the pictures in a dream make us believe that they are real and “recall the conditions that appertain relate to primitive man, in whom hallucination was extraordinarily frequent, and sometimes simultaneously seized entire communities, entire nations. Therefore, in sleep and in dreams we once more carry out the task1 homework of early humanity.2

In one sentence:

Our dreams and myths are from the savages

1Zimmern translated the German word pensum with task and Hollingdale with curriculum. I personally like the definition from Collinsdictionary.com the best: “1. a piece of work or a task to be completed, esp a school exercise2. a piece of extra school work set as a form of punishment” I like the added punishment in these definitions. In the Dutch version its translated as “huiswerk” or homework.

2Hollingdale has a note for this aphorism:  In The Interpretation of Dreams, ch. VII (6), Freud writes: ‘We can guess how much to the point is Nietzsche’s assertion that in dreams “some primeval relic of humanity is at work which we can now scarcely reach any longer by a direct path”; and we may expect that the analysis of dreams will lead us to a knowledge of man’s archaic heritage, of what is psychologically innate in him.


Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I translated by Helen Zimmern 1909

  1. DREAM AND CULTURE.—The function of the brain which is most influenced by sleep is the memory ; not that it entirely ceases ; but it is brought back to a condition of imperfection, such as everyone may have experienced in pre-historic times, whether asleep or awake. Arbitrary and confused as it is, it constantly confounds things on the ground of the most fleeting resemblances; but with the same arbitrariness and confusion the ancients invented their mythologies, and even at the present day travellers are accustomed to remark how prone the savage is to forgetfulness, how, after a short tension of memory, his mind begins to sway here and there from sheer weariness and gives forth lies and nonsense. But in dreams we all resemble the savage ; bad recognition and erroneous comparisons are the reasons of the bad conclusions, of which we are guilty in dreams : so that, when we clearly recollect what we have dreamt, we are alarmed at ourselves at harbouring so much foolishness within us. The perfect distinctness of all dream-representations, which pre-suppose absolute faith in their reality, recall the conditions that appertain to primitive man, in whom hallucination was extraordinarily frequent, and sometimes simultaneously seized entire communities, entire nations. Therefore, in sleep and in dreams we once more carry out the task of early humanity.

Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80

  1. Traum und Cultur.- Die Gehirnfunction, welche durch den Schlaf am meisten beeinträchtigt wird, ist das Gedächtniss: nicht dass es ganz pausirte, – aber es ist auf einen Zustand der Unvollkommenheit zurückgebracht, wie es in Urzeiten der Menschheit bei jedermann am Tage und im Wachen gewesen sein mag. Willkürlich und verworren, wie es ist, verwechselt es fortwährend die Dinge auf Grund der flüchtigsten Aehnlichkeiten: aber mit der selben Willkür und Verworrenheit dichteten die Völker ihre Mythologien, und noch jetzt pflegen Reisende zu beobachten, wie sehr der Wilde zur Vergesslichkeit neigt, wie sein Geist nach kurzer Anspannung des Gedächtnisses hin und her zu taumeln beginnt und er, aus blosser Erschlaffung, Lügen und Unsinn hervorbringt. Aber wir Alle gleichen im Traume diesem Wilden; das schlechte Wiedererkennen und irrthümliche Gleichsetzen ist der Grund des schlechten Schliessens, dessen wir uns im Traume schuldig machen: so dass wir, bei deutlicher Vergegenwärtigung eines Traumes, vor uns erschrecken, weil wir so viel Narrheit in uns bergen. – Die vollkommene Deutlichkeit aller Traum-Vorstellungen, welche den unbedingten Glauben an ihre Realität zur Voraussetzung hat, erinnert uns wieder an Zustände früherer Menschheit, in der die Hallucination ausserordentlich häufig war und mitunter ganze Gemeinden, ganze Völker gleichzeitig ergriff. Also: im Schlaf und Traum machen wir das Pensum früheren Menschenthums noch einmal durch.

Sources:

I will read a Dutch translation that is based on the work of researchers Colli and Montinari. I also use a translation from R.J.Hollingdale and the Gary Handwerk translation from the Colli-Montinari edition. Both are more modern than the copyright free translation I use here. This is a translation from 1909 by Helen Zimmern, who knew Nietzsche personally, but there was no critical study of Nietzsche’s work done back then and this translation suffers from that. The same goes for the translation from Alexander Harvey. My German is not good enough to pretend that I can translate it better than the professionals do but I will use the original as a referee.

  1. Menselijk al te menselijk een boek voor vrije geesten, translated by Thomas Graftdijk, 2000. Buy it here
  2. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by R.J.Hollingdale, 1986
  3. Human, all too human a book for free spirits I V3, translated by Gary handwerk 1997
  4. Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909. Read it  here
  5. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908. Read it here
  6. Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80. Read it here

 

 

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