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Breakaway Island

Dreamed 1964/11/5 by Vladimir Nabokov


In late 1964, inspired by J.W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time, Vladimir Nabokov started an experimental dream-journal, seeking examples of predictive dreams. His results were less conclusive than Dunne's (or mine, when I tried the same experiment in 1983) but sometimes impressive. Here's a dream whose core image made no sense--until next evening.

--Chris Wayan


End of a dream, but recalled rather long bit (the longest since I started to check):

Seeing my mother off. Ten minutes to 1 PM--her train leaves at 1 PM. We take a taxi and arrive at four minutes to one. By now the railway station idea has been dropped and she must walk up to a kind of téléphérique station [aerial cable lift] on the top of a hill. At one moment I am helping her with her bags--relieving her of the larger one of two--she carries a small old black attaché-case.

I realize that I have not paid the taxi and run back leaving M. and her bags, but the taxi has gone. I know, however, that he will presently come back with another fare--try to figure out how soon--realize it's quite a way, also realize that his method was to leave the small contraption or essential part of it, with running motor--all this securely attached and locked--I see the gap in the queue and take one of the empty cars at the taxi stand--a common procedure in my dream.

Meanwhile M. has followed a porter up the hill to the circular pavilion-like affair at the top. I have not kissed her goodbye and this bothers me, but as I start hurrying up the hill I become aware that the entire hill--or island-like hill--or island-like hill-like liner--is about to move away. I wonder how more people are not carried away since visitors are not warned to get off, and now decide to do so at once.

I scramble and slide down a kind of moraine slope feeling that I am taking a dangerous course on an unusual side of the hill-island. Still hope to glimpse my mother from some point before the whole thing moves away. Apparently it is moving already and I am worried by the possibility of a fissure opening under my feet.

I am now above a sheer drop of rock and there is water below, we are definitely moving, I must get off, but do not want to get wet. A jutting branch helps me to swing across the water and drop on the safe side without wetting my feet. I make my way along a scrubby path.

Young woman with little boy, older woman presently appears, and they walk towards the landing. The woman says to her aunt: "Tu sais, il sera si bon dormir bien au chaud là-bas" [It'll be so nice to sleep well in that warm place, you know."] The little boy raises some objection but smilingly, and I think he must be sort of bored to be with those two women to whom he is not related--but a polite, good-natured little boy.

I now see from the footpath along which they have wandered away the entire-receding-hill-liner with a lot of newcomers and their luggage and cars at the foot of the thing. But I cannot make out my mother among small silhouettes high up in the pavilion.


Watching a series entitled Cinq colonnes à la une on the French television programme [an evening news report] at around 9:30 PM (did not note the time and did not stay till the end), saw an island with "passengers" that broke off from the mainland, sailing out into the ocean--an illustration from a Jules Verne book shown in connection with a village built on water in South America.

Reminded me of the "island-full-liner" dream jotted down yesterday morning!

SOURCE: Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov (2018), compiled, edited & with commentaries by Gennady Barabtarlo; pp.57-61.


Barabtarlo first proposes the dream may be mulling over images not from Nabokov's next day but his deep past: travel passages from his The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and The Enchanter. But he's silent on Nabokov's claim the dream resembles the TV show the next day; instead Barabtarlo next jumps a decade ahead!:

"The mention of a téléphérique lift points in the opposite direction in time: in 1975, hunting butterflies in the Alps, Nabokov fell down a steep slope and lay helpless for some time while cable cars glided above him at regular intervals, their fares apparently taking an elderly gentleman, sprawling supine and gesturing for attention, for a jolly and drunken tourist."

It's a vivid anecdote, but the link is weak. Trains, ships, travel-anxieties, even sky trams are things Nabokov knew well; the unique image in the dream is the island-liner-hill breaking up under his feet. I have to side with Nabokov here.

Dunne's experiment demanded that you seek evidence a dream is "about" events of the preceding day, but then to fair-mindedly ask if the dream is "about" events from tomorrow too, despite our culture's assumption that's impossible. I've tried that reversal, and it's not easy; but Nabokov plays fair here. The unique element in the dream is on TV the next day--"impossible" or not.

We don't know what dreams are; we don't know what time is. Data first, theories later!

LISTS AND LINKS: epic dreams - trains - hurry! - ships - islands - oops! - dreamwork - predictive dreams & ESP in general - more Nabokov dreams - JW Dunne

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