Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter Three: Quem Deus vult perdere, dementat prius

The Late Doctor Martin Hesselius

It was his honest opinion, and, to my mind, absolutely true. None stood upon the same promontory as my friend, which he alone had fully ascended and saw as far. Schopenhauer was ultimately a morbid Romantic with Eastern fancies. He had learned all there was to know from the late, great Hesselius and had ventured to explain what the former could only describe. Of Hesselius he was a deeply respectful pupil, but he had surpassed him thus: Hesselius, he remarked, had this unfortunate way of using the word “mesmerism” as though it explained something. When challenged as to what he, Aislyn, meant by this, Aislyn would ask what about walking was explained by “ambulation,” adding that sleepwalking was manifestly not explained by turns by sleep and walking.

A Noted Classmate at Wien

There were only two other pioneers in the unknown of comparable rank who had seen as much in the unexplored kingdom of dreams. He was closest in native genius and insight as that notorious Viennese alienist; he had studied alongside him under Charcot and found they shared a similar ability to remember their dreams and observe their own mental processes with dispassion. However, Aislyn had gone on to advance his skills considerably with the practice of arduous and esoteric Eastern disciplines, whereas, the amateur Hellenist (in Aislyn’s opinion) had only developed a smutty imagination and a perverse talent for simply saying the worst about himself and other people, which, by its very unacceptability, had a cunning and irresistible attraction for hysterics, neurotics and poor sleepers generally.

The Unfortunate Irving Klaw

That only left the esoteric Klaw, but poor Morris was no more. With Klaw, too, he shared methods. Klaw had observed what he called “the cycle of crime” and its relation to dreams; he, too, slept at the scene of the crime, only fastidiously bringing his own “odically sterilized pillow.” Both Klaw and the Hebrew doctor suspected much from the fact of dreaming, from the presence of patterns wholly external to cause, action at the distance of dreams, but both had finally turned their back on philosophy, the Viennese to his conviction that what he did was medicine, and Klaw to the ultimately incoherent doctrines of that afflicted philologist from Basel: Klaw believed in the Eternal Return and thought this explained the patterns he saw. “Poor fellow,” Aislyn said of him, “he was an idealist trapped in a materialist’s body.”

No sooner had we exited the Baroness’ carriage, as it started up again, leaving us deposited before a grand and unfamiliar entrance. Once we ascended the steep steps, there was only the faintest sashay of a maid to let us in.

“Baroness, where are your servants?” piped Aislyn “there are some things I should wish to ask of them.”

“You will forgive me gentlemen,” said the Baroness with a soft tremolo, “I have sent most of our staff away. Under the circumstances…”

I reassured her that we were here in our professional capacity and did not require waiting on. For my gallantry I earned the briefest flashing glare of irritation from my friend, which our long familiarity allowed me to detect. At the top of the magnific stair we were addressed by the apparition of a fantastic herald: an enormous lion stood before us, defiant and waiting. Only, instead of a head, great billowy white clouds poured forth from the neck. It was one of the Baron’s trophies, an African. Aislyn moved to ascend the stair.

“Quite a creature,” I remarked as we climbed.

“Where is the head?” asked Aislyn.

“Back to the taxidermist’s” said the Baroness, “the Baron had the worst trouble with his head –something about the expression of the creature. Something missing. Without the expression, he used to say, the whole thing might as well be cotton. He eventually took to having our whole household sit for busts and portraits to capture the expression, so that it might be translated into feline terms.”

“Death? Defiance?” I asked.

“Only the Baron knew, only the Baron saw” said the Baroness.

Splinters of wood and bent iron announced that we had reached the Baron’s chamber. Aislyn stepped through. The Baroness looked away. I entered.

The Baron’s room was warm as a den. Present was the close sleepy linen smell of a bedchamber, and the discernable note of the Baron’s male vigor. Behind that, perfume. The room was done in a grand, yet personal style that suited the Baron, a mix of fine and utilitarian objects, well-crafted chairs showing signs of the Baron’s easy athleticism and familiar ill-use. Some casual saber marks were practiced into the flocking. The bars in the windows were indeed deeply set; they permitted passage neither in nor out. There was no other point of entry into the room; no fireplace or vent. The room was in the disarray of an insomniac or sleepwalker. An unusual deck of cards spilled over a table. Aislyn flipped one to reveal the face of a disapproving moon. Unfolded and miscellaneous papers lay about, as well as books, put down and picked up in the halting course of some unknown investigation. A massive samovar sat on a table, and the makings for coffee, several cups for which marked out the Baron’s paces. Finally, there was the bed itself, enormous and rich. The sheets were an over delicate and prurient satin that slipped like fine sand from my fingers.

Aislyn had not moved. He was surveying the remains of the doorframe. Presently he turned about and moved about the room quite casually. Aislyn’s manner never seemed very thoughtful, but rather distracted; he often seemed less like a detective rather than a small child that had been let into his father’s study -and not necessarily the most keen or promising child at that. He began to play with a series on animal horns he found on a table, putting them on his head and stroking them. I spoke up, “It seems, Baroness, that the Baron was determined, on this last night, to resist falling asleep and defy the oneiromantic prophecy of his doom. How could he have fallen asleep then?”

Aislyn nearly dropped the coffee cup he had been toying with. I took the cup from him like an indulgent parent. Yet as I did, I noticed a flowery odor over the silt in the cup: laudanum.

"Perhaps the Baron changed his mind," I reflected, "and decided to fight the dream on his own ground, as it were."

Aisyln yawned. He loosened his tie and sat on the bed quite familiarly, slipping out of his shoes. He took out a series of postcards and looked at them idly. He began to scribble inscrutably on the back. As some of the postcards were of quite questionable taste, I hastened to explain.

“Dr. Aislyn notes all the relevant details of the dream and the event on postcards. This assigns an arbitrary image to each fact. During his dream, the images may reappear, transform or supervene, and this new series of relations and the order in which they appear may prove to have bearing on the facts of the case. Aislyn will also randomly shuffle the cards during a predordained and regular walk and use them to recall or contrast with the dream he has. The relationship between all the elements is quite arbitrary.”

“No more arbitrary than any other language or system,” interjected Aislyn pedantically (paraphrasing Abelard). “Elements of a dream appear episodic, irrational and fragmentary to our waking mind, but even so they often strike us with the appearance of meaning. The sounds we make or characters we write have no organic or conceptual attachment to their meaning –and yet they signify. The situation is not unlike staring at the glyphs of an unknown language. By assigning an arbitrary value to the elements of the dream and contrasting them with a determined walk, I try and find a common term, to solve the cipher.”

“I understand your methodology,” said the Baroness, “but not its rationale.”

“There is none to understand, Baroness. Imagine if you were to come upon a hieroglyph depicting an eye, a body of water and a tree. You might puzzle over the meaning of the things depicted, thinking perhaps that the sentence means that a sea and forest were seen. But the whole thing is really just a child’s riddle in a language you already speak, a rebus: I-sea-yew; ‘I see you.’ This is the sort of transformation that dreams make and it cannot be deduced or reached through any geometric reasoning.”

“I believe I understand what you describe and yet,” interjected the Baroness “why should aspects of your dream have any bearing on the real facts of the case?”

“A very acute question, Baroness,” replied Aislyn with some pleasure, “and one with no answer except useless metaphysical speculation. It has been my observation that the syntax and order of dreams and the order of things in the world obey a curious parallelism. And not only dreams, but stories, too. If one looks for it, the world seems written through and through with the same melody. Why this pattern should exist? That is the question.”

The Baroness bit her lip, yet a grieved look still surfaced.

“Do you think, therefore, that he knew?” she asked.

“A lot, my lady, hinges on the sense you wish to put to the word ‘know.’ He dreamed it and he knew that he dreamt it,” said Aislyn.

“The description of my method has been highly sensationalized,” announced Aislyn, turning to me, “but understand that it is purely rational and scientific in orientation. It is, in principle, a practical exercise, not that different from the dogged efforts of the Yard’s Tam Fetch.”

“I would not count on Inspector Slainy to find a lost dog if he were the tail," announced the Baroness, inexplicably.

“Nor Hyde, if even he Jekyll,” I shot out.

“You are unjust to our capable Inspector. In this particular case, I have a specific gift and a subtly that Inspector Slainy lacks, that has a special application here,” said Aislyn with another jabbing look in my direction.

“Inspector Slainy probably dreams of ham sandwiches,” giggled the Baroness.

“Or a tossed stick, or big red ball,” I snorted.

“Or finally catching his tail,” laughed the Baroness.

Please, my lady -Doctor," pleaded Aisyln, "there is no reason to ridicule the good and serviceable efforts of the adequate Inspector Slainy. He does a great service in eliminating the blindingly obvious and when it comes to catching the common blackguard or a sailor’s escaped orang, there is no better.”

The Baroness stopped giggling suddenly.

“Well,” said Aisyln.

With this Aisyln took off his jacket and dove into the Baron’s bed. He paddled around somewhat to get the feel of it turning this way and that. Finally, he curled up and looked at me with the unaffected enthusiasm of an infant.

“The game is a foot,” he yawned.

The Baroness made a last effort.

“Do you intend to dream his dream?” asked the Baroness.

"It would be more accurate to say I intend for my dream to dream his dream, or his dream to begin dreaming me. Dreams have no criterion of identity, you see. We could say that the same dream can be dreamed by many men. Dreams are not unusual in this; they are like number, given ideally to us. We know prior to any actual physics, without inspection, that two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In dreams it is quite otherwise. We could, of course, say with equal justification that no man can dream the same dream as another, or that one cannot dream the same dream once for the same reason a man cannot step in the same river twice –or more accurately, even once. Mutatis mutandis, we could say that no one dreams the same dream, or that everyone does. Such matters are for the schoolmen,” said Aislyn sleepily.

“Is his dream still here?" asked the Baroness.

“It is here. It is everywhere. It is still being dreamed. Dreams are oblivious of and immune to time. The dream does not know if the sleeper has awoken or ceased exist. Dreams and dreamers do not learn. Waking, we learn. Dreams continue, in place, forever, flowing over and into each other like the streams that compose a great river, flowing into an infinite ocean…” said Aislyn, and here he trailed off into silence, followed by a big dreamy boyish smile that I knew from his sleep.


Jordan said...

Does this story continue on another blog or is this the end?

Van Choojitarom said...

I wasn't sure whether or not to continue with this particular story, because I wasn't sure how people felt about oneiric detective stories. Also, I wondered if the mystery of the story was too obvious. What do you think?

Irving Klaw is Sax Rohmer's creation; his "dream detective" is quite different than mine. Martin Hesselius is a protagonist of Sheridan Le Fanu and his namesake, at least, shows up in a later story of mine. Freud was the creation of a young doctor named Josef Breuer.

Jordan said...

Heh, I just googled Irving Klaw (the best stuff is in Google images), and he is definitely not a dream detective, at least not in the sense that you meant. Perhaps you meant Morris Klaw?

As for the mystery, I haven't figured it out yet, but I'm not an avid reader of detective novels either.

Van Choojitarom said...

Ahem. Yes.

Jordan said...

Heh, I think that's what one might call a Freudian slip ;)