by Janice Brooks and Jay Vogelsong
The Mystique of Madness
Perhaps the most harmful extrapolation from the theory of the unconscious involves the considerable confusion that any striking dream image or hallucination, stray impulse, strange association or strong feeling must somehow be deeply meaningful.  This elevation of the irrational and exciting to the level of the articulate and profound can lead certain people to flirt with conflict and mental illness, the reductio ad absurdum of the emotionalism surrounding psychotherapeutic ideas.  Some contemporary neoshamanic "psychology," influenced by a perspective on schizophrenia that the British psychiatrist R. D. Laing promulgated beginning in the 1960s,11 romanticises madness as a route to wholeness and encourages people to cultivate inner chaos in a supposedly spiritual effort to "transform" and "integrate" themselves.  The widely read and respected mythologist Joseph Campbell, for instance, described a schizophrenic breakdown as essentially the same thing as the initiatory journey of the shaman or mystic: a symbolic death and rebirth that one can learn to go through time and again in order to incorporate unconscious psychological energies.12

Such ideas downplay the challenges of humbler means of self-development as well as the serious nature of mental disorder.  While some cultures' belief systems may legitimize what ours would consider pathological syndromes or behaviors, this does not make them any less pathological.  People need to be wary of imaginatively making an "initiation" of a nervous collapse, or of giving impressive names like "inspiration" and "intuition" to mere misperceptions and rationalizations.

Lucid dreamers are not immune to this kind of distortion.  Psychiatrist and lucid dreamer Andrew Brylowski has pointed out that some members of the dream community wax rhapsodic over dreams featuring strange kinds of "higher" awareness that may be only transient psychoses, things real psychotics, who struggle for normal awareness, wish they could do without.
13 Making a more reasonable estimation of dreams could be a useful step towards rectifying this tendency.
The Process of Creativity
The psychoanalytic model of the mind has also permeated modern culture in the realm of the arts.14 Many of the writers, painters and poets of the twentieth century revered the unconscious and attempted to allow it to dictate their output.  In a sense the unconscious supplanted the assumed role of muses and other supernatural sources of creative inspiration much as it supplanted the gods and demons once thought to inspire dreams.  The surrealist painter Salvador Dali, for instance, an avowed Freudian who depicted the fluid images of his own actively encouraged dream life, considered his artworks so profound as to defy understanding.15

We personally once fell under the sway of such beliefs to an extent, but now that we no longer put credence in the unconscious model of dreaming we feel that a new model of the process of creativity may be in order as well.  This is not to say that interesting works cannot be created by automatistic methods, but rather that the terminology applied to the creative process could be improved, and perhaps the resulting creativity as well.

As a case in point, writers sometimes feel like they do not so much compose their material as receive it full-blown or only see and describe what "really" happened in the realm of their imaginations, which they may equate with the unconscious.  The fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin, for instance, has asserted that she discovered the imaginary world of Earthsea in her own subconscious.
16 Yet composing a story or song or making an artwork may feel more like discovery than invention for several reasons.  For one thing, that is at once a fun pretense and a tacit disclaimer of responsibility.  Whether the work supposedly sprang forth from the unconscious or was dictated by the ghost of Beethoven, if the source of inspiration lies outside the artist he or she cannot be blamed if the work fails to be appreciated.  Janice recognized these motivations years ago when thinking over some of her own early creative endeavors.

More to the point, when anyone taps a common structural pattern, for a short story, a musical passage or a character type as much as for a dream narrative, ideas can start to flow associationally from the initial setup so that they seem to take on a life of their own.  The nonverbal, right-brain pattern recognition involved in such expression may be hard to articulate and so seem somehow mysterious.  Even when creativity involves halting stages of hard work and intellection, at the end of the process the final product may look so skillfully wrought that the individual feels almost as though he or she could not have created it, since all the intervening steps that went into the making of it will no longer be observable.  Much the same thing may happen when reviewing a dream after awakening; its construction almost always disappears in its reconstruction.
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