Elliot R. Wolfson


On his book A Dream Interpreted within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination

Cover Interview of December 19, 2011

The wide angle

To elucidate the oneiric phenomenon, I have applied theoretical models from psychoanalysis, phenomenology, literary theory, and neuroscience to a vast array of biblical, rabbinic, philosophical, and kabbalistic texts.

In my judgment, no one morphology of the dream phenomenon is either sufficient or comprehensive. Rather, I propose a linguistic archaeology of the dream, a philosophically inflected excavation of a psychological phenomenon that celebrates the contingent and ambiguous as signifiers of truth conceived as proportionate to, but not prescribed by nature.

As such, the dream is classified as the experience of transcendence under the sign of the imaginary. However, this classification in no way implores one to posit a supernatural world in order to flee from the cognitive implications of naturalistic approaches to the human predicament.  Rather, the transcendence associated with the dream is intertwined with the configuration of the world, the immanentizing transcendence that enframes the visual field of human experience.

The writing of this book is a natural stage on my path. Since I was a child I was immersed in the study of Jewish texts, and then in college I began to master the field of Western philosophy, with a particular emphasis on phenomenology and hermeneutics. I decided after completing a degree in philosophy to pursue the study of Jewish philosophy and mysticism, focusing on medieval kabbalah. In my scholarly research in the history of Jewish mysticism I have availed myself of my training in philosophy, literary criticism, feminist theory, postmodern hermeneutics, and the phenomenology of religion. Perhaps my most significant contribution to the field is challenging the rigid disciplinary boundaries separating philosophy and mysticism, and, in addition, my attempt to use contemporary theoretical models to study classical and medieval texts.

I have also expanded the study of Jewish mysticism by drawing analogies and comparisons with mysticism in other religious cultures including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism. I have been particularly interested in the role of the imagination and the hermeneutics of esotericism, as is attested in many of my publications, including Through the Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (1994) and Language, Eros, and Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and the Poetic Imagination (2005).

The two themes converge in this book on dreams wherein I argue that dreaming is a genre of maximal imaginality revealed in the image concealing its character as image.

The dream, on this score, fosters the appearance of the inapparent, disclosing thereby the limit delimited and yet breached by the imagination in unveiling the image whence it is disclosed that the substance of the dream can be phenomenally present only in being absent.

The dream, in other words, is the phantasm that allows us to see the chimerical nature of the phantasm, the speculum through which we perceive the speculum as that through which we perceive the speculum. In piercing through this prism, we discern the invariable and unsettling truth that the image is true to the degree that it is false and false to the degree that it is true.

In a Platonic reversal, therefore, we can speak of the dream as the semblance of the simulacrum par excellence wherein truth is not opposed epistemically to error, since the appearance of truthfulness cannot be determined independently of the truthfulness of appearance.