Last night I had an incredibly vivid dream. I recall it now only in bits and pieces. There may have been a larger context or narrative, but if there was, that part is gone from my memory.
Yet I do remember that there was much anxiety and a feeling of great urgency, combined with a tremendous sense of movement through space — along corridors, down spiralling ramps, through doorways into large rooms, balconies, atria. It was, one might say, a highly architectural dream.
When I awoke, I found myself contrasting this dream experience with the way literature operates. Our ability to lose ourself in a work of narrative fiction is predicated on our willing suspension of disbelief.
We are able to sit in a darkened theater watching a deadly velociraptor chase after somebody precisely because we know it is not actually happening. If we were to actually confuse the fiction and the reality, we wouldn’t stay in that seat — we’d be tearing down the street ourselves, running away as if our life depended upon it.
The same goes for all genres of fiction, whether comedy, tragedy, romance or farce. We know it’s not real, and that is what gives us permission to enter the magic circle — to vicariously experience the full gamut of emotions, be those emotions love or hate, loyalty or betrayal, hope or despair.
But dreams are not like that. When you are in a dream, you don’t generally know you are in a dream. To the dreamer, it all feels like it is actually taking place. It is not until the moment that you regain consciousness — perhaps startled awake from the vividness of what you have just experienced — that you understand it was all in your head.
So it appears that the dream state constitutes an entirely different category of fictional experience. There is indeed a sort of circle that is entered by the dreamer, but it is not really the “magic circle” of fiction. I guess it might be called the dream circle.