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Reviewed by:
  • The Dream of Writing
  • Peter Schwenger (bio)
Herschel Farbman, The Other Night: Dream, Writing, and Restlessness in Twentieth-Century Literature. New York: Fordham UP, 2008.

A profoundly "other" concept of writing is unfolded in Herschel Farbman's The Other Night–other than the commonly accepted notions of writing, and other than the subject from which writing is presumed to emerge. Rather, writing comes out of the night: not the night of rest that serves the needs of the day, but the "other night" described by Maurice Blanchot: a night that exists within the one that holds sleepers secure in their beds. Associated with dreaming, it delivers not rest but restlessness. Farbman argues that this restlessness is not only the subject of writing, as in Beckett's trilogy and in Finnegans Wake, but that it is ultimately the very movement of writing itself.

Blanchot, who supplies the book's title, is also at the heart of its thinking. The book's second chapter, devoted to Blanchot, provides the terms for Farbman's extended meditation on the relation between dreaming and writing. For Blanchot, the dream is a waking within sleep--indeed, as Farbman points out, it is this waking-within that prevents the sleeper from succumbing to an all too final rest. In this sense the restlessness of dream maintains a liaison with the waking world. At the same time the restlessness of dream moves, interminably, away from the presumptions that govern the state of waking: the subject's coherence, the connectedness of thought, the stability of the world's objects. In the dream, nothing is wholly itself; rather, in Blanchot's words,

The dream touches the region where pure resemblance reigns. Everything there is similar; each figure is another one, is similar to another and to yet another and this last to still another. One seeks the original model, wanting to be referred to a point of departure, an initial revelation, but there is none. The dream is the likeness that refers eternally to likeness.

(Space 268)

This description of dream has a likeness, as well, to the movement of writing, whose point of departure can never be pinned down; it is always already in motion before pen is set to paper. That is to say, writing is never just words being set down on a page. It is not even the idea of the "work" that precedes the attempt to physically transcribe it. It is, rather, the mind's restless movement between associations and possibilities. At the same time it is the continual ruin of any attempt to hold those connections steady; the restlessness of too many possibilities leads to the impossibility of the work fulfilling itself as an achievement of the day. This goes for both ends of the unstable middle that is writing. The readers of the finished work (of which the author has now become one) find in it not stability but restless movement. Farbman quotes Beckett:

Here everything moves, swims, flees, returns, undoes itself, remakes itself.

Everything ceases, without cease.

That's what literature is.

(Le Monde 35)

On the other side of this unstable middle, the side that Blanchot calls (not without irony) "inspiration," there is likewise no rest to be found. The work emerges from a restless welter of thoughts, to which it is fated to return, with or without the writer's consent or complicity. "Thoughts," in fact, is scarcely the right term for what one experiences in the other night, to the degree that it implies a conscious articulation, like that of words themselves. For Blanchot, though, not words but an interminable "murmuring" is to be found in that restless night. Out of that murmuring words may emerge, in somewhat the same way that symptoms may speak of an unconscious content. But no dream interpretation is wholly adequate to that content. Farbman quotes Freud's famous admission that there is always a "navel" of the dream beyond which analysis cannot follow, a point where the dream joins with the wider world of the unconscious. He might have gone on to the metaphor with which Freud immediately follows this one, a more restless one to be sure, literally dissolving the...

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