Steven D. Martinson

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1668

What is important with regard to Träume is that Eich's dreams and "Warngedichte" are disturbing because an inexpressible and yet undeniable feeling for reality is aroused in the soul of the dreamer…. In effect, there are two levels of dreams. Those dreams which we call "pleasant" or "good" are similar to wishful thinking and daydreaming. Here we are content with a perhaps strange, but familiar world, the world of appearances or everyday reality. Those dreams which we call "bad" emanate from the very depths of the unconscious. They are the ones which project the true images of reality. It is here that the truth of the reality of things lies concealed. (p. 332)

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Throughout all five dream-dialogues, the existentialistic predicament of man is particularly graphic to the mind's eye. The four walls of a freight car in which a family is confined is symbolic of man's imprisonment. The slaying of a young child in the kitchen of a house, into which there is entrance but no exit for the child, is a glaring illustration of man's inhumanity to man and of the basic imprisonment of man in the second dream. A New York City apartment (an elevator is the only means of entrance or escape) is the setting for the fifth dream, wherein the mother and husband of a young married woman "crumble" to their death. The reason for this is to be found in the figurative words of the husband. They had all been "ausgehöhlt."… Although the third dream ends "im Freien,"… the fact that the family has been rejected by the society to which they once belonged indicates the state of being rooted-up ["Entwurzelung"] which is expressive of the existentialistic predicament of man. [In the fourth dream, Wassilij, the coleader of an expedition to Africa,] reflects a longing for a kind of nihilistic nothingness or emptiness which clearly captures the apparent hopelessness of the human condition. "Mir ist so wohl, ganz leer, ganz ohne Mühe."… In the fourth "Warngedicht," the following lines characterize the aimlessness of man's condition: "—Strassen, die kein Ziel haben, / ein Gebiet ohne Ausweg, verfallne Markierung."…

It is not surprising, then, that each and every one of the characters of the dream-dialogues should give expression to that basic anxiety which accompanies life. In fact, this psychological condition receives its most dramatic emphasis through the presence of "das Entsetzliche" … which is brought to our attention in the second and final "Warngedichte" and which sets the tone for all of the dream-dialogues…. The term "das Entsetzliche" … refers not only to anything which might rob us of those things which we believe give us a sense of security, but to the apocalypse, as well. The repetition of "es" in lines 3 and 6 of the final "Warngedicht" is uncanny, even daemonic. It serves to make "das Entsetzliche" so pervasive that we are made to feel it, as if it were a present reality. As for the future projection which the term conveys, this is suggested by the intensity of noises and sounds on the acoustic level of the play, and by the utterances of the characters themselves concerning the impending "doom" of which they are fearful. (pp. 333-34)

[It] seems obvious that the "Feind" actually refers to one's fellowman, one's neighbor. It is this question as to the accountability of one's own neighbor which helps explain why the characters of the radio play live in a state of anxiety. However, if we choose to consider the "Feind" in light of a future time projection, emphasizing the point that he is the one who is coming and of whom we in the present are fearful, we may view the "Feind" as that "unförmiges Wesen" of the future. Viewed in this light, the "Feind" becomes symbolic of the apocalypse. This emphasis on the double meaning of the words "das Entsetzliche" and "der Feind" with respect to time reveals that metaphysical-religious dimension of Günter Eich's Träume. (p. 335)

[The] ending may be understood as signaling some future destruction. However, if it is death which the characters are forced to encounter—and the second and fifth dreams suggest this better than any others—this death also suggests the encounter with ultimate truth. For death supplies us with the unmistakable truth of our origin and of our final destination.

Even though the basic predicament of man, as reflected in the dream-dialogues, is that of apparent hopelessness, there is, nevertheless, reason for hope. For although, figuratively speaking, the termites have hollowed-out the characters, we find evidence of the possibility of a world beyond…. That God should remain, even after the destruction of the physical world, verifies the existence of the metaphysical-religious dimension in Träume.

It is of particular interest that, with the exception of the second dream, there arises in each of the dreams a question which is left unresolved. On the one hand, these questions may be said to contribute to the existentialistic plight of man since no answer seems available…. [These trouble-some questions] are questions which speak to the very nature of our existence and they arise as a natural consequence of taking life seriously. (pp. 335-36)

The most decisive point … is that the more fundamental questions of existence remain unresolved. They are significant because they reflect a certain knowledge—certainly not the knowledge of the mystery of our being, for then there would be no mystery, but of the fact that our existence in the world is itself a mystery. It is this knowledge, then, which necessarily leads us to a search for an answer to this mysterious secret of life.

The fact, however, that this search for the key to the mystery of human existence is a search for a forgotten message helps explain the condition of forgetfulness which is prevalent throughout the dreams….

It should be noted that the names which the author has given to the characters of the play are rarely specific, and, even when specific, are made to refer to man in general. "Uralter" and "Uralte,"… "Mann" and "Frau,"… "Herr" and "Dame," … and "Kind,"… among others, testify to the over-dimensional character of the play by raising the more fundamental and universal questions which concern all men and women. Furthermore, the fact that the settings of these dreams vary considerably with respect to geographical location (Australia, China, Africa, for example) testifies to that deeper concern with the more fundamental questions of life. (p. 337)

Throughout the dream-dialogues it is a curious fact that a minor character such as the child should be of major importance to the plays as a whole. For, by virtue of the fact that the child is innocent by nature, it is the child who stands closest to the original and ultimate truth.

The moments of silence are also of central importance to Träume. The numerous pauses where silence is noted in the dreams are indicative of the confrontation with reality since the truth of reality is simply inexpressible in words…. Eich's primary technique in Träume is to arouse a sense of what is true to reality by awakening us to the fact that we have repressed or simply ignored the whisperings of that inexpressible, yet undeniable truth of reality of which we have a less than conscious knowledge. The sounds which are said to be continuous and ever present and imperceptible to our ear are those "unhörbare Laute" around us which emanate from the core of ultimate reality…. [When] a particular sound or noise is continuously present in our environment our minds have the capacity to phase out that particular disturbance. The fact is, however, that the sound remains. It is highly significant, then, that the inaudible sounds to which Eich makes direct reference should remain ever present…. Whether we accept reality or not, the truth remains constant. Viewed in this light, the significance of the dreams lies in their nightmarish quality. For it is the shock of the confrontation with this deeper, less than conscious reality which is graphically illustrated in each of the dream-dialogues. The fact that these sounds will one day … be audible and that such an event would fill our ear with "Entsetzen" seems to confirm the suggestion that the atmosphere of "doom," which is present in all of the dreams, actually presupposes an encounter with the ultimate truth of reality. (pp. 341-42)

It seems appropriate … that the main theme of Träume is that of self-deception, or man's rejection of reality in the face of reality. This theme is also an existentialistic one. (p. 343)

The refusal to accept the fact that one's own conception of reality does not approximate reality per se, is that which Eich so severely criticizes throughout Träume. Because the refusal to accept reality—even in the face of reality—is a conscious act, this refusal is utterly repugnant to Eich. (p. 345)

In the political-historical dimension of the play, a belief in the freedom of the individual to act is openly expressed. The final lines of the epilogue … are evidence of this. However, in the dream-dialogues themselves we find a striking illustration of the basic imprisonment or captivity of man, which presupposes an unquestionable lack of freedom. How are these two contradictory attitudes concerning the question of freedom to be reconciled? If we treat the political-historical and metaphysical-religious dimensions of the play not as antagonistic, but as complementary levels at work in the play, the apparent tension is resolved. A fundamental polarity at work in Eich's language is thus revealed.

Günter Eich must therefore also be regarded as a theologian whose message is secular and fundamentally humanistic. "Salvation" is to be found in the acceptance of reality and in the love which one shows to his fellowman. The rejection of reality in the face of reality is the greatest sin and for those who choose to reject there is the "Angst, die das Leben meint."… (p. 346)

Steven D. Martinson, "The Metaphysical-Religious Dimension of Günter Eich's 'Träume'," in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 33, No. 4, 1978, pp. 330-48.

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