This book is based on an extra-ordinary sequence of dreams that Colin Ludlow experienced as he lay in Intensive Care, apparently oblivious, on the brink of death. As part of his recovery and return to life, Ludlow has written down his dreams and sought to explore their meaning.
He unravels the associations that inform the reveries in a series of explorations of the human mind at the frontiers of being. His reflections draw together classic literature and cheap films, childhood nostalgia and existential solitude in strange and poetic juxtapositions. The dreams raise intriguing issues about how we confront the unknowable and attempt to make sense of our lives in the shadow that death casts. Darian Leader writes, in an introduction which provides a fascinating insight into the significance of these texts and what may be learnt from them.
This remarkable book presents twenty four dreams that were dreamt in the space between life and death. Hospitalised in extreme circumstances, unconscious for several days, Colin Ludlow was able to recall in quite extraordinary detail the constructions of his mind during that time. Dreams recalled after operative procedures have always been a source of great interest for psychoanalysis, but the richness and scope of Ludlows dream memories here is quite unprecedented.
Colin Ludlow is a writer and former television drama producer. He worked at the BBC for many years, and his credits include The Scarlet Pimpernel, a highly-praised adaptation of PD James An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and several award-winning television films. His earlier book Shadows in Wonderland was published in 2008.
Colin Ludlow is giving a talk about his book on 13th July at the GV Art & Mind Symposium.
A review by Garry Kennard. June 2015.
The simple but revolutionary truth presented to us by neuroscience over the last century or so is the affirmation that we are not looking out of windows in our heads at the material world. It becomes obvious after only a moment's thought that what we are living through, every nanosecond of our lives, is a brain-made experience. It would seem then that we are in effect 'dreaming' the world into existence, the inventions of the brain only being kept in some kind of equilibrium with our environment by a constant flow of changing information delivered by our senses. We only know that we are in the world by, as it were, tripping over pieces of matter and constantly altering and updating the 'dream'.
Colin Ludlow's book 'Twenty Four Dreams Before Dying' is, as may be gleaned from the title, ostensibly about dreams. His dreams. The dreams that made an extraordinary impression on him when he lay unconscious in intensive care and on the edge of death. In this book, Ludlow has recorded this series of dreams each with an accompanying essay. In doing so he has, perhaps without intending it, presented us with a fragmentary but ultimately profound self-portrait. As he writes down his ruminations on each dream, he allows himself to free associate. This results in a wonderfully rich portrait of the artist both at his most vulnerable and at his strongest moments. In effect we spend the book in one man's company and get to know him intimately through a shared journey.
This journey takes us into the astonishingly rich world of both his unconscious and his conscious mind. And what splendid company he is. In spite of the book's non-linear time structure, it manages to reveal the 'self' or multiple 'selves' of the writer in a more profound manner than many a conventional biography.
We discover that Ludlow has an extraordinarily wide range of interests. He has a mind that allows him to treat a vast array of subjects, experiences and ideas with an involved and passionate interest. We learn of his burning excitement in his early travels, his delight in discovering new countries, bringing to them not only a knowledge of local cultures but also a sensitivity to new atmospheres and nuanced moments and scenes. He is widely read and we can follow him into Greek mythology, psychology, modern literature, popular fiction and film. He seems to have a memory of every film he has ever seen and can pick out the scenes relevant to the ideas he is pursuing at any one time in the narrative. His personal memories have a potency equal to that of the reported dreams.
In this sense, the book powerfully demonstrates the interconnection and interaction between the sensed material world and the interior world of our dreams. This slippage gives the whole book a uniquely numinous character.
The dreams themselves are set down with utter simplicity, without gloss or comment, much as dreams are experienced. They lead us then into a world of speculation and extensions both on Ludlow's own associations with the dream images and with the more wider archetypal and societal implications the dreams suggest.
It is a poetic book, its power growing from an accumulation of concepts, emotions and visions. It is sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender but always leaves one with a sense of wonder at the endless variation and invention of which our brains are capable. Ludlow's dreams and his speculations on them allow us glimpses of worlds of infinite variety, possibility and mystery, closed to us in our everyday lives.
The book follows an archetypal structure, that of birth, death and resurrection. Or, in this situation, being well, becoming ill and recovering. At the end we have been privileged to follow a journey of profound significance, one on which we are all embarked whether we wish it or not. Buddhism holds that we must discover our path to enlightenment alone - but that it makes sense to listen to one who has travelled the same path before. This book goes some way to being that kind of guide.