“A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream” (Elliot Wolfson – Seminar 1)

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In our first external seminar of the project, Elliot Wolfson (Harvard University) will present on his 2011 book, A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination.

All are welcome to attend this virtual seminar. To attend the event, please follow the registration link.


“In A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (2011), I grappled with the allusive and elusive place dreaming occupies in the panorama of human experience. Drawing on theoretical models from psychoanalysis, phenomenology, literary theory, and neuroscience, I set out to illustrate that the dream state and waking reality are on an equal phenomenal footing, that the sensory world is the dream from which one must awaken by waking to the dream in which one is merely dreaming that one is awake. By interpreting the dream within the dream, I articulate how a productive paradox emerges to reveal the wakeful character of the dream and the dreamful character of wakefulness.

Since no single morphology of the dream phenomenon is sufficient or comprehensive, I proposed a linguistic archaeology of the dream that celebrates the contingent and ambiguous as signifiers of truth. The dream, on this reading, provides an interpretive algorithm, a calculus of the incalculable, which provides a way to assess the rela­tionship of language to being that conforms neither to the familiar paradigm of idealism nor to that of realism. As such, following Foucault, I classify the dream as the experience of transcendence under the sign of the imaginary. I have sided with those who detect in the dream an imaginal propensity that cannot be subsumed under the stamp of scientific explanation, no matter how broadly the benchmark of empirical data is conceived. This is not to say that I deny that the contents of the dream can be explained as neural correlates of consciousness. On the contrary, I accept the neuroanatomical assumption that the cerebral activity of dreaming should be considered exemplary of the increased aptitude for abstraction and ratiocination that developed in the human brain as a consequence of multimodal sensory integration. Through a process of natural selection this augmented apperception, enhanced intelligence, and the ensuing refinement of the nervous system formed what has legitimately been called the numinous mind, a degree of mentation typified above all by the symbolic cognition that has endowed us with a myriad of incomparable traits, including the propensity to imagine the unimaginable. The emblematic language of dreaming, likely to have originated as a mechanism of social organization aimed at the preservation of the species, becomes a pivotal feature that distinguishes ape-like mentality from human-like consciousness. The hominization of primates eventuated in increasingly complex biopsychological adaptations that bestowed on humans the mental capacity to have eidetic dreams. The penchant to think the unthinkable should be granted as much integrity as other acts of human imagination conventionally judged to be nonpathological.

In my presentation for the Durham project on dreams, I will focus on three central aspects that may contribute to understanding the role of dreams as the specter of invisibility in the mythopoeic imagination: the dream as a site of transcending transcendence; the dream as fictional truth in which the veracity of the image consists veritably of its being false; and the dream as text and the corollary proposition that dream interpretation is a form of exegesis. ”

Elliot Wolfson, 2020.  

To register for this event please visit the following URL: https://durhamuniversity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_5La-5n1nRkyEiAZWcsyesw →


Date And Time

01-10-20 @ 16:00 to


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