An abridged version of the Project Gutenberg version of Bergson H (2007) [1914] Dreams. E Slosson, Trans.

Abridged by Dave Harris (my asides in square brackets]

Introduction ( Slosson)
This is the idea that we can explore the unconscious substratum of our mentality, the storehouse of our memories, by means of dreams, for these memories are by no means inert, but have, as it were, a life and purpose of their own, and strive to rise into consciousness whenever they get a chance, even into the semi-consciousness of a dream. To use Professor Bergson's striking metaphor, our memories are packed away under pressure like steam in a boiler and the dream is their escape valve.[Pg 7]

The pragmatic character of his philosophy appeals to the genius of the American people as is shown by the influence of the teaching of William James and John Dewey, whose point of view in this respect resembles Bergson's.

 Certain useless recollections, or dream remembrances, manage nevertheless to appear also, and to form a vague fringe around the distinct recollections….the self may go through different degrees of tension—a theory referred to in his Matter and Memory.

Bergson himself

I have spoken of visual sensations [impressions of light through the eyelids –but they have to be transformed so there are Freudian mechanisms here – condensation etc?] . They are the principal ones. But the auditory sensations nevertheless play a rôle. [And touch] [The whole thing seems weakly determined by these sensations]. [Sensations lose energy, lose tension but gain extension].

Who will choose? What is the form that will imprint its decision upon the indecision of this material? This form is our memory…. In sleep, properly speaking, in sleep which absorbs our whole personality, it is memories and only memories which weave the web of our dreams. But often we do not recognize them…. may be fragments of broken memories which have been picked up here and there and mingled by chance, composing an incoherent and unrecognizable whole. Before these bizarre assemblages of images which present no plausible significance, our intelligence (which is far from surrendering the reasoning faculty during sleep, as has been asserted) seeks an explanation, tries to fill the lacunæ. It fills them by calling up other memories which, presenting themselves often with the same deformations and the same incoherences as[Pg 32] the preceding, demand in their turn a new explanation, and so on indefinitely...The memories that we evoke while waking, however distant they may at first appear to[Pg 33] be from the present action, are always connected with it in some way. ...But behind the memories which are concerned in our occupations and are revealed by means of it, there are others, thousands of others, stored below the scene illuminated by consciousness. Yes, I believe indeed that all our past life is there, preserved even to the most infinitesimal details, and that we forget nothing, and that all that we have felt, perceived, thought, willed, from the first awakening of our consciousness, survives indestructibly. But the memories which are preserved in these obscure depths are there in the state of[Pg 34] invisible phantoms. [But if I ] I become disinterested in the present situation, in the present action—in short, in all which previously has fixed and guided my memory; suppose, in other words, that I am asleep. Then these memories, perceiving that I have taken away the obstacle, have raised the trapdoor which has kept them beneath the floor of consciousness, arise from the depths; they rise, they move, they perform in the night of unconsciousness a great dance macabre [but] the only ones that succeed are those which can assimilate themselves with the color-dust that we perceive, the external and internal sensations that we catch, etc., and which, besides, respond to the affective tone of our general sensibility.[1] When this union is effected between the memory and the sensation, we have a dream.

The mechanism of the dream is the same, in general, as that of normal perception. {example is reading, usinghte cues to remember words etc]...Thus, in the waking state and in the knowledge that we get of the real objects which surround us, an operation is continually going on which is of quite the same nature as that of the dream. We perceive merely a sketch of the object. This sketch appeals to the complete memory, and this complete memory, which by itself was either unconscious or simply in the thought state, profits by the occasion to come out. It is this kind of hallucination, inserted and fitted into a real frame, that we perceive. It is a shorter process: it is very much quicker done than to see the thing itself….It is not necessary to suppose that they are in our memory in a state of inert impressions. They are like the steam in a boiler, under more or less tension.

In a dream we become no doubt indifferent to logic, but not incapable of logic. There are dreams when we reason with correctness and even with subtlety. I might almost say, at the risk of seeming paradoxical, that the mistake of the dreamer is often in reasoning too much. He would avoid the absurdity if he would remain a simple spectator of the procession of images which compose his dream. But when he strongly desires to explain it, his explanation, intended to bind together incoherent images, can be nothing more than a bizarre reasoning which verges upon absurdity.

...we should watch the transition from sleeping to waking, follow upon the transition as closely as possible, and try to express by words what we experience in this passage. [his efforts disclose that]You accomplish, without suspecting it, a considerable effort. You take your entire memory, all your accumulated experience, and you bring this formidable[Pg 47] mass of memories to converge upon a single point, in such a way as to insert exactly in the sounds you heard that one of your memories which is the most capable of being adapted to it. Nay, you must obtain a perfect adherence, for between the memory that you evoke and the crude sensation that you perceive there must not be the least discrepancy; otherwise you would be just dreaming. This adjustment you can only obtain by an effort of the memory and an effort of the perception, just as the tailor who is trying on a new coat pulls together the pieces of cloth that he adjusts to the shape of your body in order to pin them. You exert, then, continually, every moment of the day, an enormous effort….You choose, and with extreme precision and delicacy, among[Pg 48] your memories, since you reject all that do not exactly suit your present state. This choice which you continually accomplish, this adaptation, ceaselessly renewed, is the first and most essential condition of what is called common sense. But all this keeps you in a state of uninterrupted tension.

To sleep is to become disinterested. One sleeps to the exact extent to which he becomes disinterested... It is the state into which you naturally fall when you let yourself go, when you no longer have the power to concentrate yourself upon a single point, when you have ceased to will. ...The dream consists of the entire mental life minus the tension, the effort and the bodily movement. We perceive still, we remember still, we reason still. All this can abound in the dream; for abundance, in the domain of the mind, does not mean effort. What requires an effort is the precision of adjustment.

[there are a further 3 points to explain] three points, which are: the incoherence of dreams, the abolition of the sense of duration that often appears to be manifested in dreams, and, finally, the order in which the memories present themselves to the dreamer, contending for the sensations present where they are to be embodied.

The incoherence of the dream seems to me easy enough to explain. As it is characteristic of the dream not to demand a complete adjustment between the memory image and the sensation, but, on the contrary, to allow some play between them, very different memories can suit the same sensation. [This is the bit cited in Deleuze’s 3rd commentary]  For example, there may be in the field of vision a green spot with white points. This might be a lawn spangled with white flowers. It might be a billiard-table with its balls. It might be a host of other things besides. These different memory images, all capable of utilizing the same sensation, chase after it. Sometimes they attain it, one after the other. And so the lawn becomes a billiard-table, and we watch these extraor[Pg 52]dinary transformations. Often it is at the same time, and altogether that these memory images join the sensation, and then the lawn will be a billiard-table.

[Time is  disrupted because]  When we are awake we live a life in common with our fellows. Our attention to this external and social life is the great regulator of the[Pg 53] succession of our internal states. It is like the balance wheel of a watch, which moderates and cuts into regular sections the undivided, almost instantaneous tension of the spring. It is this balance wheel which is lacking in the dream...{the dreamer is no longer capable of that attention to life which is necessary in order that the inner may be regulated by the outer, and that the internal duration fit exactly into the general duration of things.

[Third]  In normal sleep our dreams concern themselves rather, other things being equal, with the thoughts which we have passed through rapidly or upon objects which we have perceived almost without paying attention to them. If we dream about events of the same day, it is the most insignificant facts, and not the most important, which have the best chance of reappearing….The ego of the dream is an ego that is relaxed; the memories which it gathers most readily are the memories of relaxation and distraction, those which do not bear the mark of effort….It is true that in very profound slumber the law that regulates the reappearance of memories may be very different. We know almost nothing of this profound slumber. The dreams which fill it are, as a general rule, the dreams which we forget. Sometimes, nevertheless, we recover something of them. And then it is a very peculiar feeling, strange, indescribable, that we experience. It seems to us that we have returned from afar in space and afar in time. [but Bergson can go now further except to recommend further research by the British Society for Psychical Research from whom he has just accepted the presidency]

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