Dreaming up an identity

In this post, I talk about two dreams I’ve had and analyze them. It’s all about me stressing over my scholarly identity. Good gods!

I am convinced that dreams provide a venue for the expression of psychological tensions. However, I do not subscribe to the simplistic notion that there is a specific vocabulary that be used to decode dreams. Neither do I think that dreams are specifically bringing to the fore purely subconscious tensions. Quite the contrary, dreams can recast in a theatrical setting problems that we are sometimes quite aware of.

Last night I had a few really strange dreams. Unfortunately, I can recollect only two of them and my recollection is rather fuzzy. In the first one, I found myself in the world of Half-Life 2 (HL2), with zombies, headcrabs, combines, etc. The whole thing was very tense, I was on the run, fearing for my life. At some point, I partnered up against the bad guys with Angelina Jolie. Yep, that’s right… Angelina Jolie. I suppose this is an echo of the teamwork with Alyx in HL2. Now I should explain that when I immerse myself in a game like HL2, I take on the personality of the character I am playing. When I played HL2, it was not “Louis against the bad guys” but “Gordon Freeman against the bad guys”. Louis would not want to get romantically involved with Alyx (since Louis is happily married) but Gordon is unattached and fighting the bad guys is a lonely job so if Alyx is interested, why the heck not? Returning to the dream now, I don’t know whether it was Angelina as Angelina or Angelina as Lara Croft. Angelina as Lara would make sense since Lara is the main character of another computer game, Tomb Raider, which I have also played. (Yes, Louis is a Religious Studies Ph.D. student who enjoys computer games. I’m sorry if this somehow does not compute for someone.) Is this complicated enough? Angelina appears as Lara playing the role of Alyx… Holy cow!

Anyway, she loaded up and jumped into the fray, blasting away zombies, etc. She was actually leading the charge, while I followed behind moaning and groaning that she was taking unnecessary risks. I felt she was wasting precious ammo on targets that were not strategic. She was diverting our energies away from our main goal. I was eventually able to get her to focus back on the task at hand. We found the guy we had to fight. Through some strategy I can’t quite remember, we were able to throw him down a very deep well in which he fell rather slowly. Because the well was so deep and dark, however we were not able to get visual confirmation that we had really despatched the villain. We decided we’d have to find a way to get to the bottom of the well and see for ourselves. This well was like a ventilation shaft running down into the ground under some sort of military complex. We knew there was a way to get to the bottom by going down into the complex and eventually down into underground tunnels. So down we went.

While on the way, Angelina/Lara/Alyx turned into a zombie. The funny thing though is that I knew she was not really a zombie. With my bare hands, I tore the zombie flesh away and found her underneath. She was crying and said she was sorry that she had turned into a zombie. I replied that this did not matter, that I loved her. A ha! Here’s something Louis would not do. I am happily married and do not find Angelina Jolie particularly attractive. I think attractiveness is a composite feeling brought about by the commingling of various feelings regarding a potential object of desire. For instance, we may find someone aesthetically appealing but having an irritating personality and thus not be attracted towards that person overall. So even though I’m not attracted to Angelina Jolie (and I don’t find her aesthetically appealing, even), there may be some aspect I unconsciously find appealing about her. (See Campaign for Real Beauty for my views on beauty.) For instance, she might be a good choice to fulfill some basic reproductive drive that seeks only the production of babies and thus is not very demanding in other areas. So this love for her in the dream may be the manifestation of a drive that ends up being drowned out by the other factors making up the composite notion of attractiveness. (I think classical psychoanalysis would talk of an unconscious desire being repressed but I don’t think this model works all that well.)

At any rate, while on the way down we ended up at her house. This is a break in continuity, I’m afraid. The response to my earlier declaration of love had been positive. We started talking about ourselves and what we want. She was able to get me to state that I did not want to have children. As soon as I said that, she looked troubled. She really wanted to have children and thought that this would be too much of an issue between her and I to pursue a relationship. That’s all I remember from that dream.

In the second dream I remember, I was sitting in the backseat of a moving car. My wife was driving. There was someone in the front passenger seat and there was a 20-something girl sitting in the backseat beside me. The stereo system in the car was controllable from the backseat. I was trying to find some good music to listen to. I don’t remember whether I was scanning the radio stations or trying to find a good CD. The girl beside me started to hit on me. She was saying flattering stuff (I don’t remember what exactly) and getting closer. As flattered as I was, I had to turn her down.

What does that all mean? I think it is all about my academic identity. In the past few weeks, I’ve had to fill out paperwork and make decisions that impact the image I project as a Ph.D. student and future scholar. The dreams re-present and recast the tensions I’m feeling in this identity creation process using a vocabulary which is not academic. The bad guys in the first dream are all the requirements I need to take care of to complete my Ph.D. So Angelina is in fact Angelina/Lara/Alyx/Louis. Her going off after secondary targets represents the tension I feel between Ph.D. requirements that are secondary and those that are primary. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not just working on things that may not be all that important in the end. I’m afraid the bad guy we throw down a well, our main target in the dream, is going to come back. That’s a fear that requirements I thought I have taken care of might return. I find that academic requirements are rarely spelled out with all the clarity a student would desire. For instance, towards the end of my M.A. at UPenn, I found out that I needed to be formally tested for Hindi since my classwork did not automatically fulfill the requirements. The language of the requirements was vague and at some point various sources were telling me conflicting things. Academic requirements have to do with identity in the sense that I have the latitude to fulfill them in ways that will label me as one kind of scholar rather than some other kind. For instance, my secondary classical language can be Classical Chinese or Classical Tibetan. The language I select will mark me as a certain type of scholar.

I’m not sure what Angelina turning into a zombie means… My allies may turn into enemies? I may turn into my own enemy (since Angelina is myself)? But I did not believe what I saw when she turned into a zombie and pulled her out of that fake zombie flesh. Or perhaps I feel that I am becoming something alien but that this alien persona does not really exist. The whole love and babies angle is pretty clear to me. This part is playing on the period of early courtship that happened with my wife. So Angelina is Angelina/Lara/Alyx/Louis/Debbie. Although children were not an issue between Debbie and I, it was one of the topics of discussion and the whole courtship period entailed a reevaluation and redefinition of my identity. In the dream, the relationship comes to a dead end. This may be a fear that somehow my academic identity will lead to an academic dead end.

The second dream’s meaning is obscure but it is clear in a few aspects, at least. Being seated in the back of the car evokes a feeling of infantilization. I’m not sure what this correlates to. Much clearer is the fact that this girl is hitting on me and I turn her down. I recently had to turn down a fellowship that was offered to me. Getting the fellowship was good for the ego, like the girl saying flattering things. My selecting songs on the stereo probably has to do with the selection of classes at school.

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