"The Dream of Reading" by James Richardson
Throughout The Dream of Reading, James Richardson creates an analogy between the act of reading and what happens while we dream. He does not claim that they are exactly the same; he, however, believes that they parallel one another in many ways. Richardson also examines the two in relation to each other in order to discuss the difficulties one has when actually trying to read while dreaming. This includes the examination dream, teaching dream, and other attempts to read while sleeping. Lastly, he categorizes the two different types of dreaming that we do to the different reading experiences we can have - “pure” and “borderline”.
Richardson states the connections between reading and dreaming: both the reader (with a few exceptions) and the dreamer are essentially motionless; when doing both, the eyes are constantly moving. While sleeping we enter in and out of stages of Rapid Eye Movement, and when reading, our eyes are always scanning the words on a page. Aside from the obvious, there are many other similarities. During reading, even when not moving, there are “electrodes placed on the facial muscles”. While dreaming, those “cortical impulses are also sent out to the body”. When awake, the body is able to control them and when sleeping most of our senses are shut off. Dreaming and reading both “involve the postulation of narrative in partial or total sensory isolation from the stimuli of the real world.” While reading, the reader is only “vaguely aware” of their surroundings and the dreamer is completely unaware.
You may be asking yourself, if reading and dreaming are so similar, why is it that we have so much difficulty trying to read while dreaming? Richardson pays particular attention to the examination dream, which can happen in a “zillion variations”. This dream is when we find ourselves about to take an exam and we have no knowledge of the subject or, for whatever reasons, are unable to take the exam. Dreams of reading also include the teaching dream (when we have nothing to teach or seem to be failing miserably at it) and also the actual act of reading (dialing a phone number, reading a sign, or trying to write a poem or letter). Part of the reason is that our memories compete with reading. We cannot read “much or well when sleeping because certain parts of the brain necessary for reading aren’t accessible, because the dream itself is a kind of reading …completely occupies the mind.”
Lastly, Richardson categorizes the two types of reading with the two different types of dreams we have. The first type is the “borderline” dream. This is when we are on the border of sleeping and waking. During the “borderline” dream, we are susceptible to distraction. This is compared to “borderline” reading when the reader is only skimming or scanning for a particular purpose (think of the phone book or a required reading). On the other hand, we have “pure” dreams. During these dreams, which are less typical, the dreamer is completely engrossed. When having a “pure” read, the reader is “ideally carried away unconscious, unaware of the limits”. Because of the difficult language and obstacles one faces while reading it, poetry is classified under “borderline”. Prose or fiction, which requires less strain and can be done with speed, is classified under “pure”.
1.Do you find yourself in opposition or in favor of Richardson’s theory that dreaming and reading are very closely linked?
2.Have you experienced one or all of the dreams of reading Richardson discusses? If so, what is your intake of trying to read during a dream? 3.Richardson labels poetry as “borderline” reading and prose/fiction as “pure” reading. Do you find yourself in agreement or disagreement with this assertion?