BEF 2011/21 – Dream Diary [Italy]
The Greeks called it ονειρομαντεία - the interpretation of dreams. Artemidorus, author of the five-volume Oneirocritica, was the ancient world’s chief adept. The modern age has handed the crown to Freud, whose cold clutch holds it still, at least in the popular mind. It is an ancient science that once divined from dreams as a source of prophetic vision, but now attributes to them the repository of repressed memories and urges. If the latter is truly their function, to house things we’d rather forget, then one night, when I am safely abed asleep, I shall once again have to endure reading Marco Candida’s ‘Dream Diary’.
Candida’s piece is split into two equal parts: the exposition of a dream and the thoughts that follow. The dream itself is bizarre and even a little grotesque, but it is also banal and not worth detailing, not least because it bears only the slightest connection to the sophistries that follow. ”My dream on April 6, 2006 reflects a thought of mine…” Candida writes halfway through his story. With the smallest of changes, even with none at all, this sentence could have been the first, and the dream excised, tightening and focusing the work.
Candida’s argument is that we are things and we exist. Things are tangible, are “something that heals, or something you can kill, or something you have to fight against.” He claims that because time and space are not these then they are not things and thus are nonexistent. It is a flat world Candida lives on. He argues, in addition, that what really makes us different from things is that we think. But can thoughts exist under his requirement that things are specific objects we can point to? What of emotions? Memories? Dreams? Candida’s materialism denies all that makes him unique and ultimately denies his own humanity. Well, it would if that were his intention, but he is playing at philosophy here, tossing about concepts like “time” and “space” in an effort to give his narrator the appearance of rigorous, analytical intelligence. In truth, the sophistic longeur makes the narrator seem only shallow and pathetic.
‘Dream Diary’ is an excerpt from the novel of the same name. And it reads as one. We could give him the benefit of the doubt; perhaps the piece fits better into his novel. (As it is, the excerpt works against the novel: given this bland bite, who could stand to make a meal of it?) But no. We can only judge what we have been given, and what we have been given doesn’t deserve a place in the Best European Fiction anthology. Is this Italy’s best? Truly? For those who are reading the anthology for a taste of European literature, as it is intended to be, don’t be too quick to dismiss the Italians. Instead, I urge you, pick up some Calvino or Magris or Carlo Emilio Gadda.
‘Dream Diary’ is translated from Italian by Elizabeth Harris.
This is a review of a story from Best European Fiction 2011, an anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press. There will appear on this website each Friday just such a review until the entire book is done. For another perspective see Damian Kelleher’s excellent and prolific website.