António Mega Ferreira, 65, graduated in Law, journalist, writer, poet, essayist and current managing director of Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra, was executive commissioner of Expo 98 and president of Centro Cultural de Belém Conference Centre between 2006 and 2011. Interviewed by iSleep, he says that he rarely experiences insomnia and that the world of dreams is “free of rules”.
iSleep — I believe you read Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way before your twenties. Do you recall the impression that the long insomnia description made on you?
António Mega Ferreira — I read Swann’s Way for the first time at 22. I do not recall any particular impression caused by that description, except maybe as a strange and unfamiliar reality. At 22 I did not have insomnia. For the most part, it still comes seldom these days, luckily…
iS — What did you feel, rereading it later in life?
AMF — I felt mesmerized acknowledgement for what a writer can do with such a simple and trivial thing. Back then, in my forties, I still did not have insomnia very often, but I knew how hard it could be.
iS — What about Albertine’s dream? Is Marcel in love with her in his sleep?
AMF — That is one of the most beautiful moments of the ever-torturing love (“les intermittences du coeur”) Marcel has for Albertine. Actually – as he himself says – it is only when he watches her sleep (because, being an inveterate voyeur, Marcel has to watch her) that his love is more complete: “In this way her sleep did to a certain extent make love possible. When she was present, I spoke to her, but I was too far absent from myself to be able to think. When she was asleep, I no longer needed to talk to her, I knew that she was no longer looking at me, I had no longer any need to live upon my own outer surface. By shutting her eyes, by losing consciousness, Albertine had stripped off, one after another, the different human characters with which she had deceived me ever since the day when I had first made her acquaintance. She was animated now only by the unconscious life of vegetation, of trees, a life more different from my own, more alien, and yet one that belonged more to me” (The Captive). One could relate his description to a pre-Raphaelite painting (I am thinking of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia).
iS — What do you think about the proverb that says that God does not sleep?
AMF — Paraphrasing Horace, talking about Homer: “Sometimes, [even the] good Homer sleeps”. It even seems He gives in to weariness – I am referring to God, of course.
iS — Does the expression “sleep on it” make any sense (in that there is a certain clarity afterwards)?
AMF — Indeed. It is a rule I tend to follow for many years. To avoid impetuous and unpremeditated reactions. To sketch (by writing) a first answer and then let it sleep until next day. It always turns out better: sleep puts a healthy distance between us and things. Some call it cooling down; others simply call it time.
iS — Literature contains several references to sleep and dreams. Is it a mystery that writers like to portrait?
AMF — It is a mystery that triggers imagination (Schnitzler’s masterpiece Traumnovelle is oneiric and desperately real). But it also is a human suggestion of almost divine, demiurgic transcendence: the world of sleep has no rules or, at least, they are mainly unknown to us, it is a whole continent that is still to know; we still have to invent its reality. To write is to dream that one is dreaming awake.
iS — The same could be said about painting. What is it in sleep that fascinates painters?
AMF — That is something different: it is either about abolishing reason for the abandonment of the body, as in the Renaissance, or, as in Goya, about releasing the deepest saturnian feelings (“’cause in that sleep of death what dreams may come”, as Hamlet would say). In the Decadent movement, dreams were the natural mental state of painting; for us, nightmare is the natural state of reality.
iS — Freud said that “dream is the loyal guardian of out psychic health, our joy of living, since life is no more than a continuous search for pleasure, contradicted by reality”…
“Dream is a potlatch of the soul”.
AMF — What about nightmares?! I know that sleep is “the loyal guardian of our psychic health” (and physical, of course). As for dreams, I have strong doubts about it. Dreams have no function or program: “le travail inconscient du rêve” is a story that does not unfold, it is a potlatch of the soul. Freud had so many certainties that we did not confirm after all…
iS — According to the British legend, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are asleep somewhere in a cave and they will wake up in case Great Britain needs them in a moment of national emergency. According to our myth, King Sebastian will return on a misty day…
AMF — I do not know if the first ones ever woke up; but I know that the latter never came.
iS — At what time do you most enjoy writing?
AMF — In the morning and after lunch. I do not specially like to do it at the end of the day and definitely not at night.
iS — Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with an idea? Do you usually write it down?
AMF — More than ideas, entire sentences, happy solutions for literary problems that I slept on. I have a little notebook and a pencil on my bedside table, just in case.
iS — Have you ever counted sheep? Or does no-one ever do it?
AMF — I never did it. But I never planted a tree either. And so many people spend their lives planting trees. I have no idea if sheep appear on other peoples accounting!