History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul


A third of our time on earth is spent sleeping, yet our dreams, if we remember them at all, have been relegated to nothing more than curious anecdotes. When Sigmund Freud awakened modern interest in the dream a century ago, his theory of interpretation undermined the potential insights dreams had to offer. For Freud, dreams were little more than fragmented puzzle parts made up of events from our waking lives. Most of us today still live under Freud's far-reaching influence. When we wake up after experiencing a ...
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The History of Last Night's Dream

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A third of our time on earth is spent sleeping, yet our dreams, if we remember them at all, have been relegated to nothing more than curious anecdotes. When Sigmund Freud awakened modern interest in the dream a century ago, his theory of interpretation undermined the potential insights dreams had to offer. For Freud, dreams were little more than fragmented puzzle parts made up of events from our waking lives. Most of us today still live under Freud's far-reaching influence. When we wake up after experiencing a powerful series of images, we too readily explain them away or simply ignore them all together. Whatever emotion or insight the dream evokes slowly fades. But what if Freud was wrong? Unless we challenge his deeply-ingrained assumptions, we will forever lose the gift of our dreams.

International bestselling author Rodger Kamenetz believes it is not too late to reclaim the lost power of our nightly visions. Kamenetz's exploration of the world of dreams reopens all the questions scientists and psychologists claimed to have settled long ago. The culmination of decades of research, The History of Last Night's Dream is a riveting intellectual and cultural investigation of dreams and what they have to teach us. We discover how the age-old struggle between what we dream and how we interpret our dreams has shaped Western culture from biblical times to today. Kamenetz introduces us to an eighty-seven-year-old female kabbalist in Jerusalem, a suave Tibetan Buddhist dream teacher in Copenhagen, and a crusty intuitive postman-turned-dream master in northern Vermont. He fearlessly delves into this mysterious inner realm and shows us that dreams are not only intensely meaningful but that they hold essential truths about who we are. In the end, each of us has the choice to embark on this illuminating path to the soul. But one thing is certain: our dreams will never be the same again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Kamenetz's newest work continues his exploration of the Jewish tradition down yet another path: that of dreams. Like Jacob, who wrestles with God in the famous biblical dream, a leitmotif in the book, the author of the bestselling The Jew in the Lotuswrestles with personal, religious and cultural history in an ambitious quest to revivify the language of dreams. Kamenetz offers a psychological-cum-mystical version of Susan Sontag's watershed Against Interpretation. Don't "interpret" dreams, he cautions, as he lays out another way to meet and greet the nightly messages of human brains. Kamenetz offers a post-Jungian, semiarchetypal, image-centered view of dream meaning. He does so in the context of a historical overview of dream interpretation that also locates dreams in the realm of Jewish mysticism. Narratives of encounters with spiritual teachers are also part of this amalgam of a book that seems to have changed shape over time and through personal discovery. This is a disarming, hard-to-summarize, well-written and idiosyncratic book that will find a distinct audience that appreciates its reflective quirkiness. Readers who have enjoyed Kamenetz's other journeys through Judaism will follow with surprise and pleasure his next steps along a winding spiritual path. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Los Angeles Times
“Rodger Kamenetz writes in this fascinating book that words, too many words, stand between us and our dreams.”
The Christian Century
“Rodger Kamenetz’s vividly honest and well-reswearched book on dreams in Western culture is extraordinary-- in part for its defiance of genre...Before I read it had heard Kamenetz refer to it as a memoir, but it as much an argument for a paradigm shift in dream interpretation.”
The Forward
“The History of Last Night’s Dream is at once affable and audacious; Kamenetz is a reliable narrator in unreliable territory.... Kamenetz’s poetic eye is alive and well.”
Andrei Codrescu
“Kamenetz has written a manual for living the dream of life through the real dreams of an individual.”
Jonathan Kirsch
“A profound, affecting and deeply rewarding book from a charismatic teacher.”
Brian L. Weiss
“Kamenetz’s new book brilliantly combines dream and soul and offers an accessible understanding of both. I highly recommend it.”
Robert Olen Butler
“An enchanting and provocative book exploring a subject with profound implications about our very humanity.”
Stephen J. Dubner
“[A] powerful and beautifully written book.”
Susan Larson
“Kamenetz’s fierce honesty and unflinching self-revelation inspire both admiration and awe [...] [A] smart, funny, and revolutionary book...”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060575830
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/9/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of the landmark international bestseller The Jew in the Lotus and the National Jewish Book Award winner Stalking Elijah. He is a professor of English and religious studies at Louisiana State University. He currently lives in New Orleans with his wife.
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Read an Excerpt

The History of Last Night's Dream

Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
By Rodger Kamenetz

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Rodger Kamenetz
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060575830

Chapter One

The Descent into Dreams

New Orleans, January 2007

A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely.

We glimpse and barely remember. Or we don't understand what we've seen.

A third of our time on earth we've spent sleeping, with little to show: an image, a face. Only rarely does a dream come that wakes us to ourselves.

Will our lives someday be forgotten as we have forgotten our dreams?

I know there is a conscious mind and an unconscious. But I don't always think about what that implies—that more than half of who I am and what I am is completely unknown to me, except in fragments and glimpses, images and dreams.

Is it possible that all we don't know about ourselves includes also the most important thing? That our self-knowledge is trivial by comparison, and yet we use only our conscious awareness to guide our lives? And so we miss receiving great gifts that have been waiting for us all along.

To receive these gifts, we must learn how to dream, which sounds easy enough. But I mean dreaming with a purpose, learning to use dreaming as a way to depth. That proveddifficult, at least for me.

I had to make a wayward pilgrim's progress to the dream because I had so much to unlearn—and I am a slow unlearner. The progress falls into three parts, which I've titled "Images," "Interpretations," and "Dreams."

First I had to learn the true power of images. Then I had to unlearn the ancient reflexes of interpretation. Only then could I explore the world of dreams.

In part one of this book I introduce my first teacher, an eighty-seven-year-old Algerian-born mystic living in Jerusalem whom we students called Colette. My encounter with this powerful personality was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure full of strange, hilarious, and sometimes harrowing incidents, like the time she tried to lengthen my arms an extra inch. But she taught me the valuable ancient practice of directed waking dreams. This practice reverses the flow of ordinary thought, taking words back to images. By this reversing, I understood for myself, as she often said, that "images are sovereign in the mind."

Part one, then, deals with one obstacle to dreams, which is the habit of thinking in words; part two concerns the habit of interpretation, which is another barrier. I introduce Marc Bregman, my teacher of dreams as Colette was my teacher of images. We struggled together over a puzzling dream about reading a book, a huge blue book that seemed to be a commentary on Genesis. Before I could fully enter the realm of dreams, it seems, I had to unlearn the habit of interpretation. This habit is so thickly and deeply rooted in ancient history and religion and modern psychology that it feels like the only and natural response to dreams. But there is another approach to dreams, and this is what I needed to learn.

So in part two of my wayward progress, I dig up the roots of interpretation in Genesis and follow them where they lead: to the influential dream theories of the rabbinic sages and Church Fathers, all the way to Freud. I learned for myself how in every age, interpretation has repressed the power of the dream.

Only then could Marc Bregman teach me to undo interpretation and enter directly into the world of dreams, the journey explored in the third part of this book. Here he proved as shamanic a master as a contemporary American can be who wears red flannel shirts and hunts moose and drives a Chevy Avalanche.

What I experienced in dreams became not only real for me, but the touchstone for what is real.

But to explain that paradox more clearly, I have to back up and give a brief spiritual and personal history of who I was when I met him.

To all appearances I was awake the summer afternoon I first met Marc Bregman. But I was also unconscious in important ways. I had no awareness of my true predicament in life, though my dreams would soon demonstrate it vividly.

All I knew was, I needed a fresh start. Three frustrating years of work on a book project had ended in failure. It was a book about religion, and a major impasse was that I no longer felt sure in the truths I was writing about. The gap between what I wanted to believe and what I felt inside was wide; the empty space between belief and feeling troubled me.

I am very comfortable with words and metaphors, with books and ideas. I enjoy explicating religious doctrine. I love the stories and the stories about the stories, the commentaries and the traditions. But in the back of my mind, disquiet whispered: What if all this talk is about nothing? What if it isn't real?

I was not raised in a religious home. My extended family were good people; we loved our roots and tradition. The rituals we did were all about family, and warmth, and being together. Our grandparents had traded the Old World for the New, and they'd brought with them the warmth and the family closeness but had left the piety behind.

My family did not pray in a crisis; we worried. Our faith was in ourselves: in what we could see with our eyes and touch with our hands, in hard work, and, for the children, in school. Education was everything: with education you could become a doctor, a lawyer; you could be somebody. We were striving to fulfill the American promise: it was a story our grandparents began by immigrating, and we were completing it with our little triumphs. It was all very practical and obvious. This was how we lived.

I don't recall God being taken seriously in anyone's mouth.

I wasn't gifted with a simple faith, like the man my father told me about once who never prayed in the community: while others worshipped, he walked in the park and talked to God.


Excerpted from The History of Last Night's Dream by Rodger Kamenetz Copyright © 2007 by Rodger Kamenetz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Descent into Dreams: New Orleans, January 2007     3
The Gate of Heaven in Newton, Massachusetts: Newton, November 1995     15
Colette and the Waking Dream: Jerusalem, Summer 1995     27
Kitchen Kabbalah and the Vault of Images     37
The Little Shocks     42
The Case of the Disappearing Dream     50
A Convention of Dreamers: Berkeley, June 2003     54
Marc Bregman and a Punch in the Gut: Morrisville, Vermont, June 2001     63
The Book of K de G     73
You Are a Dead Man: Dumuzi and Abimelech     80
Jacob, the Hero of the Revelation Dream     86
Joseph the Dreamer and Joseph the Interpreter     92
The Untimely Disappearance of the Dream: Numbers and Deuteronomy     98
The Rabbis Ameliorate the Dream     102
Peter Sees a Dream, and Jews and Christians Part Ways     108
The Gnostic Heresy and the Mystical Dream Journey     114
Sigmund and Irma: The Secret of Dreams Revealed     122
The Two Belly Buttons     129
Blind Spots Removed While You Wait, and the Book of K de G Speaks     139
How Dreams Abolish Time, and the Secret of K de G at Last     148
The Three Gifts of the Dream     157
Lost and Wandering Dreams: The Predicament     161
The Opposition: Gravel Grandma     166
The Opposition: Freud's Staircase Dream     174
The Orphanage Dream: The Situation of the Soul     182
Becoming the Boy: The Pins and the Desert     189
A Very Important Person     198
The Male VIP: The Second Gift of the Dream     205
Jung's Descent into the World of Dreams     211
Marc Bregman Meets the Animus     220
Return of the Orphanage Dream: The Father Archetype     225
North of Eden     230
Acknowledgments     241
Notes     245
Bibliography     253
Index     257
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2009


    I've read lots of books on dreams, in fact the first book on dreams I ever read was Signmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. I've also studied Jung and I spent a number of years doing Jungian dream work. More than that-- I'm a fan of James Hillman's work.
    Now I have a new book to place on my dream book shelf.
    What Mr. Kamenetz has done is to put dreams in a new perspective that is also an entirely ancient perspective.
    He's convincing, at least to me, that there was once in the West, going back to the book of Genesis, an understanding about dreams, a rather simple one in a certain way, that we have lost.
    Namely that dreams reveal our faults, they show us our feelings, they show us through their symbols and interactions, who we are at heart, in the deepest way.. and ultimatley, like Jacob's dream of hte ladder, our own dreams, connect heaven and earth. That is they connect our every day life and experience, with a higher. or deeper, doesn't matter which way you want to directionalize it--- with a much more profound reality than the everyday.
    And you don't have to be a patriarch in the Bible.. dreams have the power for all of us.
    That's the main takeaway form the book, but the beauty is in the details. Kamentz is quite a writer, and his prose is compelling. In times really it reads like a detective story.. a thriller as one of the reviewers said.
    I truly admire this book and I think it's the kind of book some readers will love and cherish and some might have reactions to.
    That's because is strong... Read it!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2009


    I first heard about this book on Oprah Winfrey's XM Radio show and then saw the video Rodger Kamenetz did with Oprah on oprah.com
    I immediately bought the book and read it over a period of a week. It's a book that asks a great deal of its readers but also delivers an incredible amount of useful information.
    At one level, like Kamenetz's best known book, The Jew in the Lotus, the History of Last Night's Dream is an account of a spiritual journey. Kamenetz at first is interested in one question: what happened to the promise of the revelation dream, that we see in Genesis, that is what has happened in our own time to the power of the dream to reveal us to ourselves, and to reconnect us with our deepest spiritual yearnings?
    This question rose in part it seems from Kamenetz's encounters with Tibetan teachers. It's clear Tibetans make active use of imagery in their spiritual practices. It's also clear that once long ago, Jews were a "people of the dream", with such dreamers as Jacob and Joseph, and the well known stories of dream interpretation in Genesis. Yet somehow in the West, the dream has lost its place as a source of spiritual enlightenment.
    Kamanetz studies with a fascinating teacher in Jerusalem, Colette, and learns about visualization and its connection to long lost Jewish mystical traditions. He then shifts ground and turns to dreams, which he learns from an intuitive dream teacher from Vermont, Mark Bregman. Bergman is basically self-trained, but through thirty or forty years of experience, he seems to know how to work with dreams in a direct way. Kamanetz describes him as a "shaman" and from the stories in the book that seems clear. This Vermont shaman though teaches Kamenetz how to find a path in dreams how to learn from his dreams, how to recover the lost spiritual promise in dreams. I know that after reading the book, my dreams changed. I began to see patterns in them, and understand how they might be showing me my deeper feelings.
    So this ook has two aspects. in one sense it's a spiritual detective story, and in another it's a very powerful journey into dreams that gives you an idea of what it would be like to work with your dreams. It's not really a do it yourself or self-help book, though the book did help me clarify what was going on in some dreams I had that confused me. Kamenetz uses lots of examples, of his dreams, and also of some of his dream clients -- people he works with one on one.
    I got a real sense of excitement and inspiration from this book and I think most readers would enjoy not only the history Kamenetz builds into the work, but the teachers he encounters.
    I recommend the book very highly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2009


    THE HISTORY OF LAST NIGHT'S DREAM explores the gifts of the dreams that were first promised in the West in Genesis, but have been set aside, lost, forgotten: the hidden promise of the revelation dream and how we can access it in our daily lives. Most everyone has experienced the power of an occasional dream, but Kamenetz tells the story of how he learned from his dreams night after night. If you've ever wondered what promise dreams hold, or what it might mean to recover their power, this book shows us how to begin.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2008

    The ONE book to read on dreams

    I heard about this book on Oprah Winfrey's Soul Series and rushed out and read it. It's an absolutely incredible journey into the power of dreams to change our individual lives, as well as a complete history of how and when we went wrong with dreams.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2009


    Its apparent you are not really connected with Marc Bregman or you would have disconnected yourself by now due to his questionable practices. Your book is well written and your book only.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2009

    another perspective

    Rodger Kamenetz sings the praises of Marc Bregman. Let's be clear, first of all, about who this Marc Bregman is NOT. The Mark Bregman whom Rodger Kamenetz calls his "teacher" is not the respected Jewish scholar and author who resides and teaches in Jerusalem. Not by a long shot.

    This Marc Bregman is an ex-postman who has self-resurrected as an astrologer and "dream therapist" in northern Vermont. He has a BA in religion and a degree in special education. He has no - repeat NO - training in psychotherapy, and is not licensed (as a psychologist, clinical social worker, or similar professional) to do therapy. No license means that no professional body has vetted him - and more importantly, if something goes wrong, his clients have no recourse.

    Bregman claims to have created this feeling-focussed dream work methodology, but thirty years ago it was common knowledge that the feeling content of dreams was far more important than the imagery of the "manifest content." Bregman, who appears sadly ignorant of both Judaism and Christianity (not to mention other religions), has jimmied together a messy theology of a god and demons who send dreams, a pure soul to which we can return if only we shed our persona (with his confrontive help, of course), and a jargon built on Carl Jung's archetypes (anima and animus).

    But don't confuse his use of these terms with Jung's. And don't confuse his "String Therapy" with psychodrama, to which he compares it. Where a trained, skilled psychodramatist uses a scalpel - Bregman uses a pickax. And as much as he claims to emphasize feelings, he relies on a list of dream symbols for interpretation.

    Finally, having watched the napoleon-esque Mr. Bregman in action, I observed an autocratic leader ("Don't trust the dreamer," says he) - self-centered, manipulative, and insensitive to his clients and, in this case, his audience. Strangely, his followers seem to have exactly the dreams he predicts (or, perhaps, suggests?). When asked what they have gained from their dreamwork, they can only respond in rote terms, as if reciting articles of faith. He, on the other hand, has apparently gained a great deal of ego-gratification (and wealth) from his clients, many of whom he is now training as acolytes. This scenario has many of the classic markings of a cult.

    Dreams are invaluable psycho-spiritual resources for us; it's too bad Kamenetz has gotten mixed up in this scene, which can only give dreamwork a bad name in the long run.

    This Marc Bregman is no Dalai Lama.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 19, 2008

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    Posted August 22, 2011

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    Posted May 14, 2010

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    Posted March 26, 2010

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