Finding the meaning of dreams with a knife


Trost (1916–1966)

Freud tended to treat the manifest content of a dream as a mere substitute for the latent content, this latter being much more important and interesting for him. Those who criticized Freud’s method of dream interpretation often started from deconstructing this view and emphasizing the importance of the manifest content. But perhaps none of them went as far as Dolfi Trost, member of the Bucharest Surrealist group, who attempted a radicalization of discussing the manifest content of dreams to overcome Freud’s generalizations. In Vision dans le cristal (1945), he wrote: “L’analyse freudienne, insistant sur la valeur d’interpretation des détails symptomatiques, ramène tout rêve à quelques lois générales. Nous acceptons aisément le symbolisme érotique élémentaire découvert dans le contenu latent mais nous apprenons avec regret que des rêves concrètement différents expriment des aspects inconscients identiques.” (10. – quote from the French original) Being interested in the concrete, material dimensions of the dream, and assuming from the start that the manifest content of dreams is erotic in itself, Trost suggested another, poetic route to get closer to the meaning of dreams, implying the surrealist concept of objective hazard: one of the tools for his technique called “obsessional oneiromancy” was a knife: “As in analysis, I resumed each symptomatic sentence, but instead of putting it in a mnesic association of ideas, I opened a handbook of erotic pathology at random, with a knife, considering the text I chanced upon to be the interpretation of the sentence read earlier. I saw in this oneiromancy a means of linking the dream to the outer world, and in its obsessively erotic aspect a palpable way to find its latent sexual content (…).” (14.) The use of chance as an interpretative gesture (or to be more precise: instead of an interpretative gesture) may be seen as a return to Dadaist techniques, but in fact, within the context of the auto-analysis that the author proposed, it can be seen as a route that avoids the rationalizations and repetitions that Freud could not or did not want to avoid. With his knife, Trost radicalized in fact the direct meaning of dreams, assuming that consciousness interferes with the understanding and with the perception of dreams, further action being needed to eliminate “reactionary daytime traces” from dreams.

Deleuze and Guattari summarize the importance of Trost’s vision as follows: “Trost reproaches Freud with having neglected the manifest content of dreams for the benefit of a unified theory of Oedipus, with having failed to recognize the dream as a machine for communication with the outside world, with having fused dreams to memories rather than to deliriums, with having constructed a theory of the compromise that robs dreams as well as symptoms of their inherent revolutionary significance. He exposes the action of the repressors or regressors in their role as representatives of ‘the reactionary social elements’ that insinuate themselves into dreams by the help of associations originating in the preconscious and that of screen memories originating in waking life. Now these associations do not belong to dreams any more than do the memories; that is precisely why the dream is forced to treat them symbolically. Let there be no mistake, Oedipus exists, the associations are always Oedipal, but precisely because the mechanism on which they depend is the same as for Oedipus. Hence, in order to retrace the dream thought, which shares a common lot with sleepwalking insofar as they both undergo the action of distinct repressors, it is necessary to break up the associations. To this end, Trost suggest a kind of à la Burroughs cut-up, which consists in bringing a dream fragment into contact with any passage from a textbook of sexual pathology, an intervention that reinjects life into the dream and intensifies it, instead of interpreting it, that provides the machinic phylum of the dream with new connections.” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Balance-Sheet Program for Desiring Machines,” trans. Robert Hurley, in Félix Guattari, Chaosophy, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009, 101-102.) From this presentation and argumentation we can see exactly how the concept of non-Oedipus elaborated by Gherasim Luca and Trost relates to and turns into Anti-Oedipus in Deleuze and Guattari’s works.



trost monogr

Ed. Tracus Arte, Bucharest, 2013


Trost is among the lesser known and discussed figures of the Bucharest Surrealist group – the first monograph about his activity is Michael Finkenthal’s book, D. Trost între realitatea visului și visul ca realitate (D. Trost between the reality of dreams and the dream as reality, Tracus Arte, Bucharest, 2013), while Trost’s colleagues like Gellu Naum and Gherasim Luca (to some extent even Paul Păun/Paon whose biography is better documented through his autobiographical texts and Monique Yaari’s articles about him) have already received their separate chapters in literary history. Françoise Nicol’s recent article about Trost’s French texts written during the 1940s was quite useful for an international audience, placing Le Plaisir de flotter (and maybe Vision dans le cristal) in the centre of Trost’s oeuvre. (Infra-noir, un et multiple. 101-150.) Recently (November 2014), a whole symposium discussed the works of Trost in Craiova, the texts of this conference being published in the journal Mozaicul (nr. 1/2015).

In the following paragraphs I will refer to Michael Finkenthal’s well-written monograph to emphasize a few elements of Trost’s biography and bibliography that I consider to be relevant beyond the reach of a Romanian-speaking audience.

Trost was better known so far for his theoretical texts (like Vision dans le cristal, or his Dialectique de la dialectique, co-written with Gherasim Luca), and for some of his experiments within the domain of plastic arts. This might have been one of the reasons why Gellu Naum or Gherasim Luca, with their important literary production, became the leading figures of Romanian surrealism. Michael Finkenthal’s book highlights some early episodes of Trost’s career – referring to some texts of the marxist journalist of the 1930s who proved to be interested in surrealism as early as 1935, publishing an article entitled Surrealism in Rampa. Another novelty of Finkenthal’s book in an international context is that it reveals an early poetic experience of Trost in his hometown, Brăila, in the review Stiletul (The Dagger – another variant of a knife!), with Ștefan Baciu and other colleagues, in 1933. This implies that it is easier to see now the late production of Trost like Librement mécanique (1955) in a literary (or rather poetic) context (poetic/poetry is a quite general concept in Trost’s last published texts, much more general than literature or art), beyond the context created by his theoretical writings that made him known among those interested in surrealism.

Michael Finkenthal’s book offers only a few details about Trost’s biography, focusing instead on a narrative of intellectual development, with Trost’s major texts as milestones. In several chapters, this development is characterized also through the group activities of the Romanian avant-garde writers, many of Finkenthal’s sources that help interpreting Trost’s texts and activities being monographs and articles about Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum and other authors of the Romanian avant-garde. However, this time the protagonist is Trost himself, with his radical theoretical views on dreams and his late theories about the ’invisible’.

It is not surprising at all that Finkenthal’s narrative insists on the importance of Vision dans le cristal – we have seen that Deleuze and Guattari had also found Trost’s theory about the manifest content of dreams inspiring. The last two chapters however, describing Trost’s evolution during his stay in Israel and later on in Paris seem quite interesting – highlighting an individual contribution to surrealist theory, the author distantiating himself from his former colleagues and friends from the Bucharest group. L’âge de la rêverie, a seventy-page handwritten letter/manifesto to Breton, becomes in Finkenthal’s book a second theoretical milestone that helps us understand how Trost may have been received in Paris, among the surrealists. This letter, slightly revised, later became part of Trost’s 1953 book Visible et Invisible, published in Paris. Finkenthal inserts a part of L’âge de la rêverie in the Annex of his monograph that helps to balance the image of Trost for the Romanian audience, this gesture showing also the importance given to this text in the monograph. A text directly addressed to Breton, its presence in the volume stresses upon the fact that the core of Trost’s activity should be understood through the widening range of surrealist theories in those decades. Concepts like the “fille-femme” in Trost’s late texts resonate directly with Breton’s Arcane 17, the keyword of the ‘invisible’ can also be connected to Breton’s ideas about transparence. (However, Finkenthal’s analysis proves that in this case, the question of the ‘invisible’ is quite well developed in the direction of a concept of the ‘sensible unknown’, considered by Trost a key element towards a (surrealist/poetic) experience of existential completion.) It is also quite interesting to note, following Finkenthal’s argument, how direct references to surrealism from L’âge de la rêverie become references to the ‘poetic’ in the final version of Visible and Invisible, most probably, as Finkenthal suggests, due to a direct experiencing of surrealism’s “crisis” in Paris, not on the level of ideas, but on the level of its presence or rather non-presence in the French cultural field where existentialism seemed to prevail in the early 1950s. Experiencing the ‘poetic’, in its largest sense became an expression of getting to a state well beyond any aesthetic criteria, other Romanian surrealists like Gellu Naum for example using the word in a similar manner in their late writings.

Michael Finkenthal’s analysis is quite balanced and serious, capable of signaling the actual novelties of Trost’s theories in the context of international surrealism, but avoiding the trap of overestimating his contributions. Finkenthal can be critical about some “fuzzy” argumentations of the theoretical texts, being capable to see these texts in their relevance for insiders of the surrealist movement, but also from a larger perspective where terms of psychoanalysis, philosophy, logic and social theories interfere and have to prove their legitimity in the context of a wider argumentation. The volume seems to have been able to attract real attention, the above mentioned conference in Craiova, in November 2014 being indebted to a large extent to Finkenthal’s findings and publications about Trost.


Balázs Imre József


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