A montage of the solar system, including the Galilean satellites. Image courtesy of NASA. Map pin courtesy of Kilroy 2525 (CC0) on Wikimedia Commons.
As the years passed, I learned to think of dreams as an integral part of life. There are dreams that, because of their sensory intensity, their realism or precisely their lack of realism, deserve to be introduced into autobiography, just as much as events that were actually lived through. Life begins and ends in the unconscious; the actions we carry out while fully lucid are only little islands in an archipelago of dreams. No existence can be completely rendered in its happiness or its madness without taking into account oneiric experiences. It’s Calderón de la Barca’s maxim reversed: it’s not a matter of thinking that life is a dream, but rather of realizing that dreams are also a form of life. It is just as strange to think, like the Egyptians, that dreams are cosmic channels through which the souls of ancestors pass in order to communicate with us, as to claim, as some of the neurosciences do, that dreams are a “cut-and-paste” of elements experienced by the brain during waking life, elements that return in the dream’s REM phase, while our eyes move beneath our eyelids, as if they were watching. Closed and sleeping, eyes continue to see. Therefore, it is more appropriate to say that the human psyche never stops creating and dealing with reality, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in waking life.
Whereas over the course of the past few months my waking life has been, to use the euphemistic Catalan expression, “good, so long as we don’t go into details,” my oneiric life has had the power of a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. During one of my recent dreams, I was talking with the artist Dominique González-Foerster about my problem of geographic dislocation: after years of a nomadic life, it is hard for me to decide on a place to live in the world. While we were having this conversation, we were watching the planets spin slowly in their orbits, as if we were two giant children and the solar system were a Calder mobile. I was explaining to her that, for now, in order to avoid the conflict that the decision entailed, I had rented an apartment on each planet, but that I didn’t spend more than a month on any one of them, and that this situation was economically and physically unsustainable. Probably because she is the creator of the Exotourisme project, Dominique in this dream was an expert on extraterrestrial real-estate management. “If I were you, I’d have an apartment on Mars and I’d keep a pied-à-terre on Saturn,” she was saying, showing a great deal of pragmatism, “but I’d get rid of the Uranus apartment. It’s much too far away.”
Awake, I don’t know much about astronomy; I don’t have the slightest idea of the positions or distances of the different planets in the solar system. But I consulted the Wikipedia page on Uranus: it is in fact one of the most distant planets from Earth. Only Neptune, Pluto, and the dwarf planets Haumea, Makemake, and Eris are farther away. I read that Uranus was the first planet discovered with the help of a telescope, eight years before the French Revolution. With the help of a lens he himself had made, the astronomer and musician William Herschel observed it one night in March in a clear sky, from the garden of his house at 19 New King Street, in the city of Bath. Since he didn’t yet know if it was a huge star or a tailless comet, they say that Herschel called it “Georgium Sidus,” the Georgian Star, to console King George III for the loss of the British colonies in America: England had lost a continent, but the King had gained a planet. Thanks to Uranus, Herschel was able to live on a generous royal pension of two hundred pounds a year. Because of Uranus, he abandoned both music and the city of Bath, where he was a chapel organist and director of public concerts, and settled in Windsor so that the King could be sure of his new conquest by observing it through a telescope. Because of Uranus, they say, Herschel went mad, and spent the rest of his life building the largest telescope of the eighteenth century, which the English called “the monster.” Because of Uranus, they say, Herschel never played the oboe again. He died at the age of eighty-four: the number of years it takes for Uranus to go around the sun. They say that the tube of his telescope was so wide that the family used it as a dining hall at his funeral. Read More