Week 3: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

114: Pelletier dreams of his hotel toilet, viagra 40mg which has a large chunk missing (which can only be seen to be missing when you lift the seat). The toilet is in fact broken (outside the dream). In the dream, a muffled noise wakes Pelletier and he gets up naked and sees from under the door that someone has turned on the bathroom light. At first he thought it was Norton or Espinoza, but somehow he figures that it can’t have been either of them. When he opens the door, the bathroom is empty, and there’s blood smeared on the floor and shit crusted on the bathtub and shower curtain. The shit bothers him more than the blood does, and he wakes up as he begins to retch.

114: Espinoza dreams a desert painting in his hotel room. The people on horseback in the painting are moving almost imperceptibly, “as if they were living in a world different from ours, where speed was different.” There were also barely audible voices, and he recognized just a few stray words (“quickness,” “urgency,” “speed,” “agility”), which “tunneled through the rarefied air of the room like virulent roots through dead flesh.” One of the voices says “Our culture. Our freedom,” and Espinoza wakes in a sweat.

115: Norton dreams of herself reflected in dim light between two mirrors across from one another in her hotel room. She was dressed in a retro suit of the like she hardly ever wore in real life. She hears a noise in the hall and thinks someone may have tried to open her door. She suddenly realizes that the woman reflected in the mirror isn’t her, though she looks just like her. The woman has a swollen, pulsing vein in her neck. Norton tries to figure out where in the room the woman is standing but can’t. She notices that the woman’s head is turning almost imperceptibly and reasons that if her head keeps turning, they’ll eventually see each other’s faces (compare to Morini’s dream much earlier in the book). As she waits, watching the woman’s head turn slowly, she thinks of her comrades and of Morini, of whom the only image she can conjure is an empty wheelchair and a huge forest that she finally recognizes as Hyde Park. When she opens her eyes, they meet the gaze of the reflected woman at an indeterminate point in the room. Norton begins to cry in sorrow or fear and realizes that the reflected woman is just like her but is dead. The woman smiles and then displays a grimace of fear, causing Norton to look behind her and find no one there. A sequence of “expressions of madness” begin to appear on the woman’s face, and Norton begins taking notes in a notebook “as if her fate or her share of happiness on earth depended on it” until she wakes up.

118: Bolaño teases us by wondering what might have happened had the three not been met by Amalfitano the next morning and had shared their nightmares instead. It lends a particular significance to this series of nightmares, which do seem oddly linked and disturbing. Yet the notion that something of real significance might come to light out of their discussing the dreams seems curious.

130: All three have nightmares again attributed in a vague way, as if not really with any conviction, to the barbecue they had eaten, reminding me of Scrooge’s gob of mustard or whatever before his trio of nightmares. Individual dreams described below.

131: Pelletier dreams of an indecipherable page.

131: Norton dreams of an English oak that she picks up and moves from place to place in the countryside. Sometimes the oak had no roots and at other times “it trailed long roots like snakes or the locks of a Gorgon.”

131: Espinoza dreams about a girl who sells rugs and whom he wishes to tell something important and to rescue from St. Teresa, but her ever-moving arms prevent him from doing so.

146: In her long letter to Pelletier and Espinoza, Norton makes reference (without mentioning the dream) to the mirrors in her hotel room. She then says that on the night of her arrival home, she had no dreams at all, which statement suggests that the lack of dreams was an oddity or that dreams and nightmares had become a common enough thing that their absence was worth noting.

155: Espinoza is worried about Pelletier and has his hotel room broken into. Pelletier is sleeping deeply. It turns out he was having a dream about being on vacation in the Greek islands. He rents a boat and meets a boy who dives all day in water that was alive.

155: Norton has joined Morini in Turin, sleeping in his guest room. A thunderclap wakes her up, whether real or in her dream she doesn’t know. She thinks she sees Morini and his wheelchair silhouetted at the end of the hallway, but then she realizes that she actually sees Morini in the sitting room with his back to her and his wheelchair in the hallway. She wakes and goes to Morini’s room to find him sleeping. She’s very upset and insists that what she had seen in her dream was real. She seems especially upset that his back was to her (recall Morini’s very early dream, in which he’s afraid to turn around to face the woman looking at him from behind). After hashing the dream out with Morini, she finally lets it go and laughs it off. This dream, with its components of uncertainty as to what actually took place and how much of it took place within the dream and how much without (the thunderclap), reminds me of Morini’s blind spell earlier in the book that I recorded as somewhat dreamlike and as possibly in fact (though not explicitly described as) a dream.

EDIT: I highly recommend you read Daryl’s catalog of dream motifs and concepts over at Infinite Zombies.–Matt

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11 Responses to “Week 3: Dreams”


  • Comment from Rise

    The two mirrors in Liz Norton’s room and in her dream may be a nod (again) to Borges. There was mention of it in his story “The Aleph.” And also in his lecture on nightmares where Borges said something like, all it takes are two mirrors to construct a labyrinth.

  • RAWK. I love this. Thank you, sir.

  • Also: what about he whole issue of sleeplessness? There seems to be a lot of insomnia going around.

  • Comment from Daryl

    Thanks for the pointer (again) to Borges. I find that mirror dream so unsettling and dizzying, as I try to piece together Norton’s experience of it, all the turning and turning in both mirrors (and in the infinity of mirrors reaching back through each mirror, which she doesn’t mention, but which is either there and dizzying or is anomalously not there and thus all the more unsettling). I gather it’s relevant that Morini has a dream in which he imagines searching for his lost love in a labyrinth.

  • Comment from Señor Steve

    Bolaño also leavens the dream sequences and the poetic passages with the concrete, the mundane, and the humorous. Regarding the toilet:

    “The clerk told me they were planning to replace the toilet but they couldn’t find the right model. He didn’t want me to leave with a negative impression of the hotel. A nice person, after all,” said Pelletier.

    Bolaño knows Mexico.

    • Comment from Susan Zenger

      Warning: Silliness to follow: The toilet detail may imply that Pelletier is a “crack pot”, but you wouldn’t know it just to look at him, you have to lift the lid! OK, sorry, I just had to say it.

  • Comment from Daryl

    Ah, I’m glad you mentioned the toilet detail. I think that’s an oblique reference to Duchamp via Pierre Pinoncelli, whom some take to be the real life figure on whom Johns is modeled. Pierre broke two of the eight copies of Duchamp’s Fountain (a urinal turned on its side with the name R. Mutt written on it) with a hammer. It’s not the sort of detail that I think means anything. It’s just a little inside joke, maybe, or a (to some, myself included until I read Brooks’s character list of last week) hidden detail that reinforces a given set of associations.

    That aside aside, I agree that this is a funny detail balancing the more surreal bits the urinal is otherwise associated with.

  • Comment from Susan Zenger

    The Santa Teresa section of the part about the critics just seems jammed with symbolism. With Liz I see it in mirrors and the Medusa, in two separate dreams. In the myth of Perseus, Medusa is always linked to the “mirror” of Perseus’ shield which turns her to stone when she sees herself. The association of the two mirrors with Borges, as mentioned above is also very cool, I keep thinking of the mirror, the labyrinth and the implication of the infinite twists and turns of the human mind. Not aimless wandering as in a vacant wasteland, structured and organized wanderings of one’s own creation.

  • Comment from Daryl

    Susan, although I had thought of the Medusa myth as another example of a series of disembodiments in this section of the work, I didn’t make the connection about the mirror, which is clearly an important part of the myth. Interestingly, Norton, stuck between the two mirrors in her dream, has been turned to stone. In Morini’s dream, a figure whom he thinks to be Norton in the bottom of the pool walks toward a stone outcropping and Norton herself appears behind him, maybe a weird sort of reflection of the Norton in the bottom of the pool. Pelletier also dreams of a stone statue that appears as Norton has receded into the background of his life within his dream. Very interesting connections. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of the mirror in the Medusa myth.

    • Comment from Susan Zenger

      Daryl,

      I also keep noticing the imagery and association of high cliffs and water. This is featured in Morini’s dream of the pool as well as Pelletier’s dream where he has a beach house high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Liz is associated with both men in both their respective dreams (Is it too much of a stretch to point out that after decapitating the Medusa, Perseus flies off to rescue Andromeda who has been tied to a cliff as a sacrifice to a sea monster that has been plaguing the Levant?) I believe the same word is used in the Spanish version to describe both of the cliffs: “barranca”. I have to double back and check, but I think it is also a “barranca” over which Edwin Johns “falls” to his death, a suicide as far as I am concerned. The Amalfi Coast, in Italy, is a promontory south of Naples which is, in essence, one huge sea cliff–Almalfitano in Italian would mean someone from the Amalfi Coast. Interestingly the Amalfitano can’t swim. I keep finding it odd that in the Spanish version that he is called simply “Amalfitano” and not “El Amalifitano”. Someone from the US might be nick named “El Americano” but not simply “Americano”, for example.
      The image of submersion in water in a perilous context crops up with Liz diving into the hotel pool in Morini’s dream and Amalfitano sinking into the hotel pool where Pelletier has to rescue him from drowning.


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