The great dream of Alexander

The great dream of Alexander [1]

We've known, since Freud, that the dream of the night serves a function.  Our civilization seemed to forget this when it discovered that the dream sky is not home of any God, that its letters does not come from them. But it’s not because it comes from no one that the dream says nothing.   Besides, it does not talk, it is mute, but it writes, as we know. And it knows how to write and to make letters, so that one can think that the processes of the written words, that nourished the dreams of the speaking bodies, had something to do with the late invention of writing by successive civilizations at the beginning of the History. Indeed, how could we think that this intimate experience of each person's night, which is changed profoundly since man has been speaking, that is, since the images of the dream of the night also represent words, would not, over the course of time, have transferred into the common life of the day some of its writing processes, rebus, hieroglyphics, and others? And there, to the benefit of the speeches and the bond of the communities, they made it possible to inscribe, for all, letters similar to those of each one's dreams.  That's what we can presume, because plausible.

I proposed, after the Dream Equation[2], to show the evolution of our interpretation of the dream, using the famous dream of Alexander mentioned by Freud, that of a satyr dancing on his shield, while he struggles to conquer the city of Tyre, which is resisting until then. I, like all of us I suppose, have a particular attachment to this dream that comes to us from the depths of time. It is related in the second century by Artemidorus, a Greek of Daldis, but concerns an event dating back to 332 B.C., 400 years ago.

Alexander's dream is not only the dream of a man with an exceptional destiny, it is also the one that supports the discovery by Freud in 1900 of the modern thought of the dream. And reading it again, one can have an additional emotion when one realizes that another stage of interpretation is possible, even necessary. I propose it in terms that continue those of Freud, and using the Lacanian conception of ciphering.  Lacan only explained a few elements of it, notably with this equivocal sentence that the ciphering, which demands to be interpreted, deciphered, is made for jouissance. What does this mean?

When we read again Freud's interpretation, which was used to show how much the dream text was made up of writing processes, and how much the Ancients knew about it, we first find a play on words in rebus. Alexander's diviner and friend interpreted it by showing the dreamer that satyr, “saturos”, was decomposed into “sa and turos”, which in Greek means “Tyr is yours”. And it is said that this message, taken as a prediction of the gods, so encouraged Alexander, who then feared failure, that he redoubled his efforts and obtained victory. And of course, even if we no longer take the dream as a prediction, even if we no longer attribute it to any god but to a staged desire, we admire the fact that the diviner deduced that this was a good augury for a final success. Indeed, the siege of Tyre was particularly hard and inefficient until then, the failure had been repeated for months, when all the other cities of Asia Minor had already yielded to him, and Alexander was beginning to grow discouraged.  And it is quite possible that this dream and its interpretation may have led the conqueror into a redoubled efficiency that finally decided the victory. So we see again the jubilation that Freud must have felt when he met, so long afterwards, in the Satyr of the Dream, this "to you Tyr", a proof that the dream writes, as he was trying to demonstrate.

But is this enough to summarize the process of the dream? What it does as a work for the dreamer, and for his benefit? No, it is not enough, because we must also look at the very scene of the dream, the dance of the satyr on Alexander's shield. It is a particularly strong image, and indeed it evokes a jouissance that strikes at once, in this context of the dream, but it is not primarily that of the dreamer but of the satyr! This aspect of the dream, that Freud calls the manifest content of the dream, also has value, although he sets it apart in order to devote his attention to the letter, what we now call the cipher. It appears here as a phantasm that is at first rather unpleasant.

A satyr dancing on this shield, at a time when Alexander has been stopped for months in his conquest to such a point that he fears he may fail, a shield which according to legend was given to him by Athena herself, is by definition a very painful and anguishing grimace. It is also known that such a figure, the satyr, belongs to the numerous and laughing followers of Dionysus, the god who, according to legend, had himself conquered Asia. And it is known also that Alexander's mother was a fervent follower of this god, this mother who had for her son a desire of the greatest glory. We can therefore see how the scene of dancing on this shield at the moment when his conquest seems to escape him, necessarily takes on the meaning of laughing at the dreamer and his failure.

The satyr is presented here, first of all, as the incubus of the Middle Ages who in folklore was responsible for the nightmares by sitting on the dreamer's chest, to take jouissance of him in all senses of the word.  This jouissance of the Other, who makes the dreamer his victim in all nightmares, is clear in the first part of this dream.

Yet this dream did not lead to anguish, it did not become a nightmare that awakens, it even finally represented by its rebus the dreamer's dearest desire. What has become this anguish then, since the right interpretation has, on the contrary, reassured the dreamer in the fulfilment of his own jouissance, that assures him of his conquest and phallic strength?  In the scene that could have evolved into a nightmare, the dream work had chosen this play on words, this rebus, the satyr. It was doubly determined by its possible value as a rebus, but also as a figure of jouissance that traditionally accompanies Dionysus. Of this double value, the dream only chose the letter while leaving the image, so that the image of the dance on the shield does not remain a grimacing jouissance of this Other but became the rejoicing of the hero because of the assurance of his imminent victory.

How better to represent the jouissance of the Other who threatens to crush him than this satyr daring to dance on the Athena ‘shield, at the beginning?  But in the second phase of the dream, this nightmarish figure is tied up with the literal element that it already potentially contains, "sa turos" "tyre is yours", to be neutralized, to exert its symbolic impact, and transforming the Other's threat in victory for the dreamer. The satyr dances in the same way apparently, but he is no longer the Other, he is no longer this satyr enjoying the defeat of the dreamer and desecrating the conqueror's shield. The dancer is now equivalent to the dreamer himself who has repeated his desire to follow the path of the god Dionysus whom his mother celebrates, he dances joyfully on his own sacred shield, which Athena gave him, because of the now certain imminent victory.

You see the slippage that we can observe in this exemplary scene, of a dream occurred in the night after a hard and unsuccessful fight. It completes Freud's discovery by enlightening the work that the dream operates, not only on the symbol to be deciphered like a letter, but also on the treatment of this kind of danger that are for the dreamer all forms of a jouissance that one Other threatens to take from him, and that he must transform into victory from what sustains him. It is true of great things, such as the conquest of Alexander, and of the most modest ones. It is the treatment of this form of danger for the dreamer that are all forms of jouissance that an Other can take from him and that he must transform into a victory that sustains him. The question in this dream is not to repress an unconscious desire, because the desire at stake is completely conscious, but to develop a grammar that protects the dreamer from an evil desire of an Other.

[1] This dream has been analyzed in comparable terms in G. Chaboudez, Ce qui noue le corps au langage, Hermann, 2019, p. 151 and following.

[2] Gisèle Chaboudez, L’Equation des rêves, Erès, 2019.