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
History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soulby Rodger Kamenetz
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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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The History of Last Night's DreamDiscovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
By Rodger Kamenetz
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Rodger Kamenetz
All right reserved.
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.
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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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