Years ago I had heard, second hand, about a dream recounted by Hollis Frampton, the experimental filmmaker, that fascinated me. I’ve referred to it many times in posts on this blog, but hadn’t found the text of it until a few weeks ago when I started working on an essay for the acclaimed show FREE at The New Museum, curated by Lauren Cornell. It comes from an essay he wrote called A Pentagram for Conjuring the Narrative (.pdf). I will be referring to this text in my essay, which will be published on the Rhizome site, and hopefully here as well. This is the dream:
Lately, a friend has complained to me that his sleep is troubled by a recurrent nightmare, in which he lives through two entire lifetimes.
In the first, he is born a brilliant and beautiful heiress to an immense fortune. Her loving and eccentric father arranges that his daughterâ€™s birth should be filmed, together with her every conscious moment thereafter, in color and sound. Eventually he leaves in trust a capital sum, the income from which guarantees that the record shall continue, during all her waking hours, for the rest of her life. Her own inheritance is made contingent upon agreement to this invasion of privacy, to which she is, in any case, accustomed from earliest infancy.
As a woman, my friend lives a long, active, and passionate life. She travels the world, visits the moon, marries three men (amid scores of erotic adventures), gives birth to a daughter…becomes a Nobel laureate…In short, she so crowds her days with experience of every kind that she never once pauses to view the films of her own expanding past.
In extreme old age â€“ having survived all her own children â€“ she makes a will, leaving her fortune to the first child to be orn, following the instant of her own death, in the same city â€¦on the single condition that such child shall spend its whole life watching the accumulated films of her own. Shortly thereafter she dies, quietly, in her sleep.
In his dream, my friend experiences her death; and then, after a brief intermission, he discovers, to his outrage astonishment, that he is about to be reincarnated as her heir.
He emerges from the womb to confront the filmed image of her birth. He receives a thorough but quaintly obsolete education from the films of her school days. As a chubby, asthmatic little boy, he learns (without ever leaving his chair) to dance, sit a horse, and play the viola. During his adolescence, wealthy young men fumble through the confusion of her clothing to caress his own unimaginable breasts.
By the time he reaches maturity, he is totally sedentary and reclusive, monstrously obese (from subsisting on an exclusive diet of buttered popcorn), decidedly homosexual by inclination (though masturbation is his only activity), hyperopic, pallid. He no longer speaks, except to shout, â€œFOCUS!â€
In middle age, his health begins to fail, and with it, imperceptibly, the memory of his previous life, so that he grows increasingly dependent upon the films to know what to do next. Eventually, his entire inheritance goes to keep him barely alive: for decades he receives an incessant trickle of intravenous medication, as the projector behind him turns and turns.
Finally, he has watched the last reel of film. That same night, after the show, he dies, quietly, in his sleep, unaware that he has completed his task â€¦ whereupon my friend wakens, abruptly, to discover himself alive, at home, in his own bed.