Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 3, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
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Louis René Beres
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Nick Catalano
Don Dewey
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Howard Richler
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Serge Gamache
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Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the big tell




The difference between a vision and a daydream
is the audacity to act.
Steven Furtrick

When you compare the sorrows of real life
to the pleasures of the imaginary one,
you will never want to live again, only to dream forever.
Alexandre Dumas


“What a day for a daydream,” croons John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful. In point of fact, everyday is a daydreaming day because all of us, everyday, indulge in daydreams; including that rare individual who has realized all of his dreams in respect to accomplishment and procurement. Like the number of zeros in a bank account, daydreaming knows no endgame. There is always something better, grander, a happier outcome, a bigger “bundle of joy for a day dreaming boy.”

When did man begin to daydream? When he became human (self-conscious), when he first uttered “I am, I exist,” when he understood that he was mortal, that one day he would no longer exist, when he understood that not only could he judge others but the other could judge him – all reasons enough to wish it were otherwise. Et voilà – enter the daydream and immediate rewards -- rescued (self-removed) from the rank and file of reality.

From his humble beginnings to the present, man has been his own best witness in respect to his historical inability to deal with the implications (the burden) of self-consciousness, which is why, without exception, every culture recourses substances that facilitate the numbing of the neo-cortex (the reversion to animal consciousness). At some very early point in his evolution he discovered that aside from its practical applications, daydreaming (idling in fantasy) was an effective and readily available means of temporarily escaping his condition (self-consciousness). To relieve himself of the anxiety produced by the hostage-holding, judgmental gaze of the other and the ever looming fact of his mortality, especially when survival was a day to day proposition, he resorted to daydreaming – a species-specific faculty that specializes in creating alternative realities.

The daydream served as a correction/vehicle that provided temporary respite from the hard realities of the hard scrabble life. If in 5000 B.C. the tribesman wasn’t the hunter he wished to be, he would daydream a more accomplished version of that hunter. If a rainfall shortage threatened a vital food source, the shaman or medicine man would daydream of having direct access and influence over the rain gods.

Our daydreams are windows into the souls of who we are in respect to what is unfulfilled or lacking in our lives or in the lives of our families and communities.

The evolutionary purpose of daydreaming is to communicate to the daydreamer through wishful thinking a better version of him or herself that would serve as an incentive to become that better, that more inventive, more achieving person. As an imaginative faculty, daydreaming is the means by which an individual or community attempts to meet a challenge or solve a problem. When men lived in tribes and hunted animals with spears, a spear fallen short might result in a daydream that prefigured the invention of a better spear, or the bow and arrow. If a tribe’s precious livestock was being stalked by a predator, the daydreamer, repurposing the givens of his immediate environment, might come up with a blueprint for the prototype of an enclosure that would secure the food supply.

It could very well be that all the civilizational advancements that mark man’s progress to the present age were first glimpsed in the form of a daydream or act of the imagination.

Daydreams are metaphysical constructs that link the dreamer to the unknown and unfamiliar. We best deal with the contingencies of life by imaginatively inserting ourselves into future situations (job interview, project deadline, move to another city) so we can better choose from the imagined variety of possible responses. While the future is an unknown quantity, the daydream allows the mind to temporarily disengage the body and slipstream into an ether-like future in order to not so much predict an outcome but to map out or familiarize oneself with a place or circumstance one has never encountered. Is it not an uncommon occurrence to daydream about a past event and try to imagine how it should have been in order to be better prepared if and when facing that same or similar situation or challenge?

What distinguishes daydreaming from the way we comport ourselves in real life is the total absence of editing: it is a wholly unselfconscious, no holds barred, no one ever-need-know activity which is its seduction. Daydreaming marks out a realm without borders or restrictions, and generally speaking it is a significantly (if not deliriously) more pleasant (enticing) space than the real world. In our daydreams we are the world’s best at everything: athlete, seducer, thief, world leader, inventor, assassin, polyglot, mathematician.

But daydreaming is not all about happy endings. Certain individuals (depressed, psychotic, suicidal) are vulnerable to negative or maladaptive dreaming. As a coping mechanism, people who resort to negative daydreaming or worst case scenario fantasies are often subconsciously preparing themselves for a real life negative outcome, so when it arrives it won’t hit so hard. In the majority of these cases the daydreamer fears that he won’t be able to live up to an externally imposed expectation that holds him captive until he is able to produce a positive, corrective daydream.

However a significant number of daydreams, if not most, have no practical purpose other than to idle away time or escape into an alternative, sugar-coated reality. If I’m wheelchair bound, daydreaming that I am a top athlete is more of an indulgence than an incentive to better myself seeing that the dream won’t have any practical impact on my radically restricted personal life. If in real life women don’t find me attractive, reinventing through daydreaming my physical appearance will have no purchase without the intervention of a handsomely paid plastic surgeon.

For the most part, daydreaming serves two masters: our productive life and the pleasure principle. In respect to the latter, one can become physiologically addicted to daydreaming like one becomes addicted to drugs that are used to address real or imagined pain or unhappiness. Freud speaks of “the human desire to alter the existing and often unsatisfactory or unpleasant world of reality.” How often have we heard is said of certain individuals that he/she is detached from reality. But whether or not we are productively daydreaming or escaping reality, nature wants us to daydream and rewards us for it. When we enjoy something, the brain releases a hormone (dopamine) that instructs the mind/body to keep engaging in that activity.

Facilitating and profiting from the universal activity of daydreaming is the world of advertising. Marketing professionals use their skill sets to convince consumers that the contents of their daydreams are not merely products of the imagination, but are concrete and readily available for purchase. Products are tailored to purposefully inter-phase with our daydreams, to bridge the gap (Gap), at a price, between the unreal and real world. I will probably never get to meet Jennifer Lopez but if I wear the same lipstick she wears, or brand name jeans she endorses, I will be convinced that I am experiencing something of JL’s real world.

In all cultures, the ubiquity of the super-hero, strongman, exceptional genius are all extensions and elaborations of our daydreams. In an earlier era, these super humans (Achilles, Hercules) were formalized in early Greek drama. Attending theatre we got to see our daydreams played out before us. Today we resort to comic books or cinema for the same effect. Like Superman, Spider-man, Ultraman, Wonder Woman et al, we all want to be idolized, imitated, emulated, and there isn’t one of us who hasn’t been a hero in his imagination.

As an empowerment tool, the daydream transformed into cultural artifact knows no eclipse. Including 2nd and 3rd hand transactions, over a billion comic book copies are sold per year, such is the importance we attach to our daydreaming life as a means of escaping the unpleasant facts on the ground, most of which revolve around our god-given mediocrity.

Daydreaming alters the chemistry in the brain such that we can, however temporarily, physiologically experience the feelings and elation associated with being famous or historically significant. The time and monies people spend on their comic book collections, fantasy literature and escapist cinema/TV rival the monies we spend on drugs and alcohol, which speaks to the addictive quality of daydreaming and significant alternative worlds it generates, now facilitated by computer technology (virtual reality).

From a psychoanalytical perspective, since there is no consensus on what is the purpose and meaning of the dreams we generate in our sleep, most of which are highly symbolic and other worldly, one would expect our medical professionals who claim to be able to plumb the mind’s deep would place more importance on a patient’s daydreams, but apparently that is not always the case.

Get a patient to reveal the content of his daydreams and in most cases the nature of the patient’s problems will become immediately transparent. A married woman, who can’t sleep, who suffers from loss of appetite, has spurned all her women friends, but who daydreams of exchanging nocturnal massages with another woman might be telling herself something about her sexual orientation. A subaltern in a large company who daydreams of being its CEO might not be happy working the night shift.

Daydreams are our confessions. The Catholic Church understood the importance of confession, but the weekly ritual cannot compete with the disclosures we make to ourselves via daydreaming. Most of us wouldn’t dare communicate the content of certain daydreams to anyone other than our selves, and that includes those with whom we are intimate.

Since becoming self-aware is universally regarded as an admirable pursuit, one of the major functions of daydreaming, a wholly unredacted activity, is to facilitate the disclosure of truth – the sighting of our real selves stripped of all pretense. At a public gathering, I wish my neighbour and ‘good’ friend all the best in his new job; in my recurring daydream I want him to fail. From a Gore Vidal interview: “Every time a friend succeeds something inside me dies.”

In other words if we’re looking to account for the world as it turns, we merely have to sing-a-long to know what everyone from Putin to the proletariat is daydreaming: “everybody wants to rule the world.”

Short of that winner take all scenario, today promises to be yet another perfect day among a succession of perfect days “for a daydreaming boy, dreaming of a bundle of joy.”



also by Robert J. Lewis:


Argument & Disagreement
Smashing the God Particle

The Decline of Reading

In Praise of Useless Activities

When Sex Became Dirty
Blood Meridian: (McCarthy): An Appreciation

Trump & Authencity

Language, Aim & Fire

One Hand Clapping: The Zen Koan Hoax

Human Nature: King of the Hill

The Trouble with Darwin
The Life & Death of Anthony Bourdain
Denying Identity and Natural Law
The Cares versus the Care-nots
Elon Musk: Brilliant but Wrong
As the Corporation Feasts, the Earth Festers
Flirting & Consequences
Breaking Bonds
Oscar Wilde and the Birth of Cool
The Big
Deconstructing Skin Colour
To Party - Parting Ways with Consciousness
Comedy - Constant Craving
Choosing Gender
Becoming Our Opposites
Broken Feather's Last Stand

Abstract Art or Artifice II
Old People
Beware the Cherry-Picker
Once Were Animal
Islam is Smarter Than the West
Islam Divided by Two
Pedophiling Innocence
Grappling with Revenge
Hit Me With That Music
The Sinking of the Friendship
Om: The Great Escape
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene



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