"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake." says James Joyce, through Stephen Dedalus, in Ulysses. This line has been quoted often, and all over the English speaking world it has been studied, commented upon, speculating on what Joyce meant by them, and what it means today. Karl Marx had put it another way. "The tradition of dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."
A blogger, identifying himself as Mack, comments on both statements on the point of contact between Marx and Joyce, that "History is the hinge upon which their dialectic hangs." He says, "for Marx 'History is Trauma, an unbearable weight which oppresses present generations in the form of the 'spirit of the past' that continue to haunt the living'....for Joyce 'History is equally traumatic'.
Marx is trying to awaken people, who have not realized they are in a nightmare, in the same way that Plato tried to get the people to come out of the cave.
Most of us are not aware that we are in a nightmare, because we perceive them as dreams and we hope for a happy ending. We are like the proverbial crab in the pot, dancing happily as the water in the pot gets warm, till it is too late to jump out.
The nightmare goes back into pre-history, or the history before history. History would have been pleasant, even after man began to walk on his hind legs and freed his forelegs to handle objects. This history began to change as man began to use tools, which later were also used as weapons, against all life on earth, including his own brother, and that is where the dreams gradually change into nightmares, as greed takes over.
There were many forces and agents who ensured that man would not wake up and also ensure that man continued to believe he was only dreaming. There were agents of the ruling elite, the agents of religious institutions, who used creative arts, alcohol, narcotics and other mind controlling methods, to ensure that man did not wake up from his nightmare. There had been many instances where some men in some parts of the world had been awakened, and when they were out of the nightmare they tried to waken others too. But it was never for long, because these men were put back to sleep, sometimes by the same people who awakened them, or by their agents.
It is really the written history that has become a nightmare, because all the records, writings, all the monuments are about violence, murder, plunder, torture, rape and destruction. Almost all written records and literature deal with the evil acts and evil thoughts of man, and there is hardly any mention of the good deeds done by man, or efforts to make this a better world for all of us to live. What we read in our fiction, what we see in our films and drama, are extensions of the nightmare, and we enjoy watching them. We enjoy watching how fellow human beings are robbed, molested, tortured and murdered, and then we enjoy when the villains or the bad guys are punished in the same manner, by the heroes and good guys.
Ever since weapon manufacture became a business, these manufacturers, their intermediaries and the users have continued to earn great profits, becoming the biggest business in the world. Manufacturers of toys for children too jumped at this opportunity and their best selling products are toy weapons, from bows and arrows and swords to machine guns and laser weapons. Many writers of children's books too have earned good profits by initiating children on their nightmare journey by writing about crime and war, showing criminals, plunderers, murderers as heroes.
Unfortunately, even about the time before history, before his story came to be recorded, it has been interpreted to show only man's violent nature. That is why our anthropologists still continue to talk about hunters and hunter/gatherers of prehistoric times, whilst there is sufficient evidence today that the early humans were gatherers, living on fruit and vegetables. It is when man began to get a taste for carrion and began to kill innocent animals that he started giving nightmares to the animals, and to their own children. For a man who could cut down an unarmed, helpless animal, could easily use the same weapon to cut down another man or even a child.
There have been many books written about particularly horrible nightmares in the history of mankind. Stevan Weine wrote 'Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina' (1999). Philip Short write 'Pol Pot, The History of a Nightmare' (2006). There are people who will try to sell anything to make money, even creating nightmares. One such movie was 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984) and a series based on this had earned $ 370 million. The idea had come to Wes Craven from a reported death of a young boy who had escaped from the killing fields in Cambodia, who had died in the middle of a nightmare.
New York Times reported in May 10, 1981, about the mysterious death of 18 Laotian refugees in their sleep, within a period of four years, believed to have been frightened to death by nightmares. There could have been many such deaths during the very dark periods in history, like in the nazi concentration camps.
Today doctors have given a name to it, SUNDS (Sudden Unexpected Nocternal Death Syndrome), or Oriental Nightmare Death Syndrome, and also Bangungut Syndrome, because many Filipinos had died of nightmares and their word for nightmare is bangungut.
Let us try to wake up from this nightmare. Wish you sweet dreams.