• In this review, I want to open up the thought that acts as spiritus rector for this book. This thought is expressed by the authors in many ways: “Dreams offer glimpses of future possibilities; they hold the future as potential within themselves; they offer glimpses of the future, drawing from the unknown what is trending towards the future …” (Mitchell). Dreams give us a way to recover “something we have lost because we need it to find our way into a sustainable future; Dreams are a place of “inchoate anticipations” of what is coming, what cannot be held back; every dream is a portal to shamanic potential; every dream a portal to the hidden caves of imaginal reality…(Lockhart).

    This book reveals the kind of cultural practice that can unfold from this thought when it “lives” in the practitioner, here Russell Lockhart and Paco Mitchell.

    There is today a surfeit of cultural practices, oriented towards the future, that merely display personal beliefs or desires, or are utopian or, as we know through terrorism, are destructive in character.

    We can turn to sport, business, and politics, for example. The athlete is trained to mentally hold a picture of victory before her while she works to “catch up” to that image in her actual performance. Business acts on the basis of trends and futurists such as Faith Popcorn make a lot of money from accurately “forecasting” the future, or identifying “sweeping societal movements, or emerging consumer patterns.” She has been called the Nostradamus of marketing. Politics takes action on the basis of a constructed imagination of the future, particularly “worst case scenarios,” often making that imagination come true in actuality.

    But all of these practices are based on pasting an already-formed picture of the future, like a decal, on top of the unknown future, and then acting in ways to make that picture the agreed-upon reality. These widespread practices of addressing the unknown future, by imposing a constructed picture on the unknown future, and then building cultural practices on the “reality” basis of that preferred picture, have the calamitous effect of leaving us totally unprepared when the unknown future unfolds in a way that does not conform with that picture—the picture that was understood as the real future. We know this situation as “the end of the world,” because cultural practices built on a posited “preferred future” lose all meaning when confronted with the determining power of the Real. One powerful example of such an impending collapse lies in the frantic efforts to keep the financial system going according the preferred outcome of growth or profit maximization, while the resources that support such a picture of the future run out.

    Thus, the only ways we have at present for addressing the future are based on the twin operations of fear and power. We want a future that is secure and certain. Positing our own picture of the future, as the future, seems to guarantee such outcomes … but this is not working any more…

    We need another way to address the future, the future in its character of being always unknown and yet REAL! This future is the one that Russell Lockhart and Paco Mitchell address, offering us a method, a cultural practice that is synchronized to the quality of the future (as unknown yet real), and at the same time participates in its coming-to-be. The cultural practice or method they offer must therefore be one that privileges, not fear and power (control), but uncertainty and receptivity, surrender—a cultural practice that valorizes the accident, the synchronicity, the hint, the unexpected intrusion, the unintended detail, the peripheral, indirection, wandering, and more . . . Lockhart and Mitchell give us many examples of this method both in relation to dreams and to aspects of the empirical world, when taken up as “bearers of the unknown future”.

    A question of justification rises. How is a stance that claims that a dream is a hint of the unknown future, and thus a candidate for the method, justified? How can the claim, that an event in the real world constitutes the beginning emergence of the unknown future into the present, be justified? The answer to these questions will shock you and turn some cherished and established categories of thought that we all live by, inside out.

    Let’s start with Paul de Man, the “scandalous” literary critic who, at one time, rendered literary theory mute in terms of literature having something to say about reality beyond the text, robbing us of any chance of moral action in the real world. Listen to what he says about memory, via Jacques Derrida (Memoires: for Paul de Man).

    Let’s start with the inside-out concept (say it slowly to yourself a few times before you move on here) of “Remembrance of the Future” (29) and then move to:


    The memory we are considering here is not essentially oriented toward the past, toward a past present deemed to have really and previously existed. Memory stays with traces, in order to "preserve" them, but traces of a past that has never been present, traces which themselves never occupy the form of presence, and always remain, as it were, to come—come from the future, from the to come. Resurrection ... does not resuscitate a past which had been present; it engages the future. …

    In this memory which promises the resurrection of an anterior past, Paul de Man always saw a kind of formal element, the very place were fictions and figures are elaborated. …

    The power of memory does not reside in its capacity to resurrect a situation or a feeling that actually existed, but it is a constitutive act of the mind bound to its own present and oriented towards the future of it’s own elaboration. [1]

    These mind-bending thoughts on memory as oriented towards the unknown future are sufficient here to show that the cultural practice discussed here in this book, is not yet another practice merely based on personal beliefs about dreams, or utopian/dystopian ideals about the future. Rather it is embedded in a growing body of interest and deepening knowledge concerning the real relationship between memory and the unknown future. The key concept of “traces” within memory, for example, bears a remarkable affinity with Lockhart and Mitchell’s notions of “detail”, “hints”, etc.

    The title of the book, Dreams, Bones & the Future emphasizes this relationship. Dreams, as remembered by us, comprise familiar imagery from the sense-world and as such can seduce us into an interpretation in terms of some supposed external reference. In so doing we must overlook the trace, the detail, the hint, of the unfamiliar element in the dream. It is this element that “comes from the future” and it takes an entirely different cultural practice to attend to, and participate with this “fictional” element as it further elaborates itself through us into materiality.

    Russell Lockhart and Paco Mitchell are not merely telling us about a hobby of theirs, having no significance greater than that. To step into the vision they hold and engage its cultural practice is to radically alter the way one lives and many examples from the book show this way of life in action. Perhaps the most compelling one arises from a cultural memory of a Greek myth, that of Philemon and Baucis, an elderly couple that welcomed the gods and sacrificed their only goat for the disguised visitors, while the villagers turned their backs. This ancient practice is paradigmatic of the Greek virtue of hospitality that surely taught the Greeks how to behave towards strangers. But what trace, what hint, lies in this memory that may teach us how to turn towards the unknown future in our time? How is this memory “oriented towards the future constitutively?” as Derrida puts it? Lockhart sees in this memory, an implicit act of humility and submission, not to a god of a former time, but to the hints of “the many small dreams” that occur on a nightly basis. And in doing so we each may participate in bringing forth a future that puts us in the right relationship to the Real, rather than what is happening at present, a widening and terrifying gap between a collectively posited picture of the Real, taken as the Real, and the Real.


    John Woodcock

    [1] (Derrida 1989, 58-9)

  • Hi Char,

    Funny how so many things change us so drastically—"at the last minute."

    I realized that I had some of the Eliade passages already typed out. I don't know if his ideas will be of interest to you, but I always find his historical perspective illuminating, because of the reach of his scholarship and the depth of his understandings. These two excerpts are from the book I cited above, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, pp. 83-84.


     P. 83:
    "This mystical experience is related to the contemplation of his own skeleton, a spiritual exercise of great importance in Eskimo shamanism, but which is also found in Central Asia and in Indo-Tibetan Tantrism. The ability to see oneself as a skeleton implies, evidently, the symbolism of death and resurrection; for, as we shall not be slow to see, the 'reduction to a skeleton' implies, for the hunting peoples, a symbolico-ritual complex centred in the notion of life as perpetual renewal."
    P. 84:
    "Such a spiritual exercise implies the "exit from time," for not only is the shaman, by means of an interior vision, anticipating his physical death, but he is finding again what one might call the non-temporal source of Life, the bone. Indeed, for the hunting peoples, the bone symbolizes the ultimate root of animal Life, the matrix from which the flesh is continually renewed. It is starting with the bones that animals and men are re-born; they maintain themselves awhile in carnal existence, and when they die their "life" is reduced to the essence concentrated in the skeleton, whence they will be born anew according to an uninterrupted cycle that constitutes an eternal return. It is duration alone, time, which breaks and separates, by the intervals of carnal existence, the timeless unity represented by the quintessence of Life concentrated in the bones. By contemplating himself as a skeleton, the shaman does away with time and stands in the presence of the eternal source of Life."
    This may give at least a hint as to why the "bones and graves of our ancestors" are so important to so many traditional and indigenous cultures—not so much to European colonial and modern, technological cultures, where everything is just reduced to its chemical components.
    There still remains the question of how a modern individual experiences the "presence" of the dead, and, perhaps more importantly, what kind of moral burden such an experience places upon the receptive individual. Do the dead come to you? If so, what do they want? What do they need? What do they desire? These are questions each of us will answer according to our own visions, I suppose.
    How do you experience being affected by these presences?
    By the way, I am forwarding your dream commentary to a Native American artist friend of mine.

  • Hi all, 

    I'm excited to announce that Russ and Paco have agreed to be interviewed about Dreams, Bones, and the Future for the upcoming Spring/Summer issue of Depth Insights scholarly eZine! Keep an eye out for more details....

  • Hi Char,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful reply, and for the profound dream you sent. I'm stepping in for Russ at the moment.

    Your dream raises a vast issue that used to form the heart of earlier cultures—i.e., the relations between the living and the dead. And as if to reinforce the message of the dream, a week or so later one of the speakers at the NAGPRA presentation you attended echoed the concerns implicit in your dream: How do we regard the dead? How do we "treat" them? What responsibility do we carry toward them? This suggests to me that something in the psyche is pulling you toward a deeper investigation of what today is almost a forgotten element of being human: this mysterious life-death connection.

    I would like your permission to add this dream to what I'll call for now the Owl & Heron Press Dream Archive, for possible use in future posts or articles. For future publications, all dream-related materials will be held confidential, even though you may have posted yours on the DPA website. 

    Due to the nature of dreams and the amount of time involved in a careful consideration of them, we cannot go into detail in response to submitted dreams. However, I would like to direct you to two books that have given me much food for thought. You may have already encountered them. One is the recent volume by James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani, The Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung's Red Book ( Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung's Red Book (9...Hillman, Sonu Shamdasani: Books). The other is Mircea Eliade's Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities—see especially his comments on "bones," pp. 83-84.


    Again, many thanks for taking the time and trouble to tell your dream and your subsequent experience.

    All the best,

    Paco Mitchell

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