Nothing better than a dream to engendering the future.
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Zara and George. She is a historian, an expert on the geopolitical configuration of the contemporary world; he is perhaps the ultimate authority in the whole world in the vast field of comparative literature. They met in London, thanks to a shared daydream, but not between them. In 1952, both were ending their respective PhD at Oxford. Both of them are Jews; he, Parisian; she, Newyorker. Although they had studied their degrees at Harvard, they didn’t know each other. A couple of geniuses. Some teachers, who knew George and Zara, shared the following reverie: that pair was born for each other, and, the day that they shall meet, they will fall in love and end up in the altar ... There are always some unbelievers, so they ran a bet and then they introduced them ... George Steiner (1929) and Zara Shakow (1928) got married less than three years later: the waking dream of that group of academics was finally materialized.
Steiner has published dozens of volumes. No Passion Spent is one of them; a substantial tome of over 500 pages that includes billed texts between 1978 and 1995. In the piece I will refer to in this essay, "The Historicity of Dreams", Steiner states that at the threshold of its existence as a species, humans could have dreamed, even before we developed language —he bases his assumption in a unquestioned fact, especially notorious for those who have had pets: animals dream. “Language is, in a sense, an attempt to interpret, to narrate dreams older than itself." So, we should understand dreams as the source of our oldest myths, the primitive ones, and hence of language itself; since the evolution of mythology and human language is accomplished through a dialectical and simultaneous interaction. In this sense, the dreams of men and women do not escape from language: "all human reports on dreams come to us via the screen of language."
Steiner explains that the historicity of dreams is dual: on one hand, “dreams are made the matter of history”, and on the other, "there is also a story of dreams, or more precisely, a history of the phenomenology of dreaming."
Certainly, the king ´s dreams or the prophet’s dreams were issues that were addressed as part of the history of a community. Historical are also the dreamt horrors that people could suffer at the imminence of change of a millennium, for example, or nowadays against certain collective threats, real or imagined, such as a terrorist attack or the spread of endemic disease. Moreover, "revolutions, before being carried out are dreamed first by individuals, then by a social group; maybe charisma is precisely that faculty of conceiving a reveling dream, a force capable of arousing similar dreams in others ". Dreams, in words of Bloch, "print in history a movement toward hope."
Regarding the second side of the historicity of dreams, Steiner laments the lack of attention we give to the different ways in which man has dreamed over time, conditioned, like any other human activity, historically. Today, just as an example, "inventions, progress and the spread of artificial lighting techniques have changed the way psychophysiology of sleep acts." However, and knowing that the task is colossal, Steiner proposes "a single, but essential, transformation in the role of dreams and its manifestations, illustrated in documents of our Western cultures." Indeed, he shows how since the dawn of the Mediterranean ancient civilizations, "whether classical, semitic or 'barbaric'" - and until the seventeenth century, men tied their dreams to the "phenomenology of foreshadowing," in other words, dreamlike visions were assumed as "a visitation from the future or of the future" recovered when waking up through language. But from the Enlightenment and decidedly after Freud, dreams were no longer fed from prophecies but from memories. Sure, many people still look for clues in dreams to predict what will happen, but the "big shift" in dreams which deported them from the prophecy to memory category is undeniable, "at least in what concerns the philosophical and scientific sensibilities, "and so, this has been established as a hegemonic notion.
But today, as thousands of years ago, a group, to actually be one, needs to share dreams. The problem is that today is the future seems further away, and almost no one dares to dream it. The situation of atrocity that was revealed 36 days ago in Iguala has made many prefer not to see, not to hear, to act as if nothing had happened, or, worst, to assume the future as a nightmare. That’s why it’s so urgent that more and more people criticize and express dissatisfaction. Because George Steiner is right, "all criticism of the apocalypse is an utopia."