On the evening of July 17, 2014 I had the following dream:
I am in the city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is evening (“The long day’s task is done.”). I am watching a performance of The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare that is being performed in the streets of the city. I am enthralled. The affect throughout the dream is one of elation. I don’t understand the dialogue, but I am able to follow the action. There is incidental music, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream composed by Felix Mendelssohn. I am enchanted by the music. I know I have heard it before, but I am tormented by the thought that I can’t identify it. There is a procession through one of Amsterdam’s canals, which ends the performance. I find this enchanting. After the performance I go to a bar. An attractive Dutch serving girl approaches me. I say, “English.” She responds in Dutch, then walks off. She has another server (female) who speaks English take my order. I order a bottle of beer, Heineken, a Dutch beer. After I finish the beer I walk through the streets of Amsterdam and again experience enchantment and elation. I think, “My sister has to visit Amsterdam!! It’s beautiful.”
1. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 MH17 MAS17) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that crashed on 17 July 2014. It is believed to have been shot down with a surface-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine as a consequence of ongoing hostilities involving Russian separatists. I learn of the disaster on the CBS Evening News. I responded to the report with annoyance. I thought “When will all this fighting stop?” I might have condensed thoughts about the Ukrainian air disaster with thoughts about the fighting in Gaza.
2. Earlier in the day I had been rearranging books on a bookshelf in my apartment. I noticed a paperback copy of The Merchant of Venice. The copy dates back to January 1970, when I was an 11th grade student in high school. We read the play in David Rosenbaum’s English class. (Jay Berman was a student in that class. The Egyptian leader Nasser died in 1970. Berman said facetiously in another class, “Should I say Kaddish for Nasser?”) (Perhaps the name Rosenbaum is related to thoughts about Dutch tulips, even more tenuously to tulip mania, a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed (like the Malaysian jet). At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It is generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble (or economic bubble)).
3. On July 16, 2014 I posted an excerpt from my book, Significant Moments. The excerpt talks about Wagner’s death in Venice and concludes with a quote from Shakespeare.
Like Venice, Amsterdam is a city of canals. Perhaps the canals represent the vagina, while the procession through the canal represents the sex act.
4. I visited Venice in September 1978 when I was 24 years old. I was proud of myself for going into a restaurant and ordering a pizza and beer in Italian! Upon returning to the United States in early September 1978 I entered a drug study at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Depression and Anxiety Clinic. The study was conducted by Jay D. Amsterdam, M.D. The study was for an experimental anti-anxiety medication.
5. I note the overdetermined theme of “incomprehension” in the dream. The dialogue of Shakespeare that I don’t understand; the music that I am unable to identify; the Dutch serving girl who doesn’t speak English. Perhaps the dream relates to prerepresentational experience when language was incomprehensible to me.
6. I suspect that an important issue in the dream is annihilation anxiety and that the affect of elation in the manifest dream masks unconscious anxiety centering on fragmentation, loss, and death. Annihilation anxiety may have been triggered by the event of the previous day: my learning of the crash of Malaysian jetliner MH17. My trip to Italy in the late summer of 1978 was the first time I had ever flown on a plane.
7. Uncannily the dream parallels an earlier dream I had in August 1995, nearly 19 years ago: The Dream of Milton’s Successor. An important triggering event of that dream was a New York Times story about the fiftieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. That afternoon I attended a continuing legal education course for the Pennsylvania Bar that featured a discussion of The Merchant of Venice. These facts support the view that the current dream expresses concerns about annihilation anxiety.
Annihilation anxiety emerging in infancy may be seen as a precursor of castration anxiety (arising in the Oedipal phase) as encapsulated in the symbol of “A pound of flesh.” The child has a projected fear of retribution for hostile wishes against a parent — or in Klein’s view, the breast.