Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review of Joseph Cornell's Dreams

Joseph Cornell's Dreams
Edited and with an introduction by Catherine Corman
Exact Change, 2007

This book is literally what the title says it is: a collection of assemblage artist Joseph Cornell's dreams. He obsessively recorded the details of his daily life; his journal runs into some 30,000 pages. From this massive work, Catherine Corman has selected 115 dreams as recorded by Cornell. The dreams range from a few words in length to about a half page. Each entry is disjointed, obviously jotted down when the dream was still fresh, and contains the same kind of illogical sequences and relationships one has in dreams.

In addition to these brief snippets of oneiric memory, Corman includes "A Guide to the Dreams," in which major themes are analyzed, "Cornell's Philosophy of Dreaming," taken from the artist's own musings on the subject, and "Observations by Friends," in which Cornell's familiars speak of how the artist made no distinction between his dream life and his real one. (The man, we are told, was prone to hallucinatory encounters in everyday life.)

Corman selected those dreams which seemed to closely correspond to the admittedly dreamlike nature of Cornell's surreal assemblages. Birds, toys, and antiques are prominent in both the dreams and the artworks. The shorter dreams--such as "child with chick in dream world"--capture a single image or emotion. Longer ones capture the combination of unrelated elements found in both dreams and Cornell's assemblages: "dream of pulling out brass chaining from clutter in bedroom closet + later on lawn seeing Eisenhower smiling at me."

These are not quite prose poems, of course, and they were never meant to be. But as the dream memories of an artist known for the dream images of his work, these writings are fascinating insights into the inner workings of the creative process and provide some understanding of the roots of Cornell's delightfully enigmatic creations.

--Thomas Wiloch

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