or, The Interpretation of Dreams
In those early days of the world we didn’t have words for many things we didn’t understand. For example we didn’t have a word for the thing that happened in our heads during the nightly unconsciousness. In fact the very idea of the nightly unconsciousness was frightening, and we had only recently invented a word for it that wasn’t frightening. Before that we called it the nightly death and thought the gods inflicted it on us to remind us regularly of our puny mortality. Then they allowed us to be reborn in the morning and we were expected to be grateful.
Nobody can remember the name of the genius who thought of the word which allowed us to believe that this periodic unconsciousness was normal. That was another new word, “normal.” The idea behind that word, the idea that there were norms, yardsticks against which things could be measured, was also new.
The word we made up for the nightly unconsciousness was this: ù. Once we started calling it the ù, it began to feel comforting, even something to look forward to.
But we noticed that during the ù we weren’t absolutely absent; there were things happening, sometimes to “us,” sometimes us as we were and at other times us at different ages or in different circumstances or with totally different characters – “us” but unlike ourselves… or, alternatively, things might be happening to complete strangers about whom we knew nothing. These things that happened were usually not sequential and frequently made no sense, except that sometimes they were sequential and made a kind of sense, although we only remembered a few of them, and not in full. Only fragments remained after we awoke.
We wondered if we were all living two lives, a day life and a night life, and we thought that each life might be the ù of the other one. Maybe our ù-selves remembered only fragments of our waking lives and tried to make sense of them, too.
In the end we needed two words to describe the things that happened during the ù, one word for the meaningless things and another for the seemingly meaningful.
We called the meaningless things mamu. “Dreams.” We called the meaningful things mashngi, “visions,” and we also used that word to mean “omens.” Every day at breakfast we revealed our latest mamu and argued about whether or not it was really a mashngi. Nobody knew how to win these arguments at first, and so we had to agree temporarily that the words “win” and “lose” did not apply to a discussion of mamu and mashngi.
Then we invented the idea of translators, who would interpret the mamu and mashngi so that we would know what they meant. We do not now remember why certain persons were thought to have the power of interpretation, or on what basis they made their judgments, but we all accepted what they said, however crazy it sounded.
If the interpreter said, the mashngi says you’re in love with your sister, we said, uh-huh, okay.
If the interpreter said, the mashngi says you hate your father, we said, yeah, probably.
If the interpreter said, the mashngi wants you to break up with your partner, we did that, and if we were told that the mashngi wanted us to kill our neighbor, we did that too.
If the interpreter said, the mashngi wants you to build the E-ninnu temple to the glory of the god Ningirsu, and the presence in your mashngi of those noisy tigidlu birds twittering in the ildag trees means that they will not let you sleep, that there will be no ù for you until you have built it… well, then, we said, we’ll get right on it, just watch us get that temple built.
After a time there was a new development. This took the form of a rebellion against the translators.
It turned out that many people did not want to break up with their partners or kill their neighbors or build temples, and these rebels came up with the idea that there was no such thing as a mashngi, that the gods would not communicate with us in a manner that was so difficult to understand, and so it followed that there were only mamu, meaningless things, that happened during the nightly unconsciousness, the ù, and that we didn’t need to pay any attention to these mamu or their interpreters.
From there it was a short step to the next idea, which was that there were no gods anyway, that even Ningirsu didn’t exist, but was just a figment of the dream-world, the mamu-world, which wasn’t real either; and that meant we were on our own, without mighty invisible beings to guide us, and therefore we were obliged to make our choices without omens or visions or meaning instructors. The universe was unexplainable, it was simply there, and didn’t have to be explained – it didn’t have to mean anything. And all human life, waking or sleeping, was a kind of absurd mamu.
When that appalling idea was born, it split us into two camps, and a great civil war began, which has never ceased to this day.
We need somebody to come up with a word that persuades us that the idea of gods and the idea of no gods are both norms. That if some people think of life as mamu, and others want it to be filled with mashngi, well, that’s pretty normal.
If we had such a word we could agree to differ and our endless civil war would end. We could shake hands and accept the idea that the world of E-ninnu temples built to glorify the god Ningirsu and the world of no temples at all could exist simultaneously, side by side, without a problem.
We are sorry to report that as yet nobody has come up with that useful word.