Writing on the New York Times site about anxiety dreams, Dick Cavett picks out two in particular: The Exam Dream and The Actor's Dream. In the first, you're in the exam room and find that you've forgotten to study; in the second, it's opening night and you've failed to learn your lines.
I know them both well, though in slightly different versions from his. For some reason, in my exam dream it's always the eve of the exam rather than the day itself. Maybe it's a way of preserving a little hope at the last minute. Still, I cannot fathom how I've allowed it to come to this; all that lead-time and I've done... nothing. The actor's dream for me is - understandably enough - the lecturer's dream. And my own experience of this one is more brutal than in the other: here there is no remaining time; I am actually in the lecture hall, on the podium, or (as it is occasionally) in the seminar room about to deliver a paper. And I haven't the remotest clue of what I'm supposed to be talking about. Or else I have some slight clue but repeatedly encounter obstacles in the way of getting going: I start and it comes out wrong; I try again but no one's listening; and so, worryingly, on.
Anyway, Cavett's thoughts about dreams of this sort are framed by the following question:
But who in hell is the author of the dream? How can it be anyone but you? But how can it be you if it's all new to you, if you don't know what's coming? Do you write the dream, then hide it from yourself, forget it, and then "sit out front" and watch it? Everything in it is a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant. And, unlike a book or film, you can't fast-forward to see how it comes out. So where does it come from? And who "wrote" it?
Cavett finds it 'mysterious', but I don't. These dreams are authored by our anxieties. Or, if anxieties can't be an author, then it's the dreamer as the bearer of them that is author of the dreams. The fact that we don't know what's coming is not a decisive objection to this; because, even awake, we have involuntary thoughts - things 'occur' to us, or 'dawn on' us, or we 'can't get them out of our minds'. But can one be the involuntary author of something, or does true authorship require conscious intent? Discuss. For now, let's just say that we ourselves are the begetters and originators of our dreams, through anxieties, fears or, as it may also be, memories, wishes and desires.