Mumbling Systems

I am having a recurring dream lately where I’m back at school in my English Literature class and we talk about everything weird and eerie.

It’s really fun and I can’t help but be impressed by my unconscious. If dreams truly are the brain’s way of figuring itself out and processing all that it’s been doing whilst you’re conscious, a classroom is a brilliantly literal (if perhaps pretentious) way for it to process its own ideas.

Last night was a slightly odd example of this. I dreamt it was a new semester and the kind and inspiring teacher present in my previous versions of this dream had been replaced by a grumpy and difficult woman who started the class with a maths test I could not comprehend.

Later though, we came round to her and, right before I woke up, we were discussing an eerie concept that I like just as much whilst awake.

Discussing the stories of M.R. James, we talked about “mumbling systems” to describe the liminal eeriness of seemingly agentic environments. Not the “eerie cry” that Mark Fisher would talk about but something more explicitly Spinozist, perhaps.

We would talk about the ways that weather systems, and particularly winds, seem to carry voices, exacerbating auditory hallucinations, systems in which murmurs and whispers seep into our worlds.

I was reminded, on awakening, of Yve Lomax’s beautiful book Sounding the Event in which she writes:

Hun-dun, or perhaps the primal noise is mur, the French-sounding word for wall. Mur: the sound of a wall of indistinguishable sounds; a wall of sound that sounds blank. This blank sound is the noise of the void, but let’s not make the stupid mistake of making the void isomorphic with nothingness. No, the void is not nothingness, it is pure possibility, it gapes wide with openness. That is the yawn. The yawn that opens up unbounded multiplicity.

I’d never thought about Lomax’s book in relation to The Weird and the Eerie before but there might be a future post in that.


As I attempt to drift off to sleep tonight, I’m finding myself in another strange dream loop.

A few hours ago, I arrived back in London after three days spent in the north of England, time split between dual parental homes in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The drive home to London was long. Five hours in sweltering heat. Rhizomatic country roads turn into motorway Möbius strips before the free-for-all which is London seems to shatter all illusions that driving can be a relaxing experience.

The one hundred and twelve miles spent on the M1 were regularly glorious and I found myself entering a kind of meditative state on various occasions.

This is what I love about driving. It may be the only activity in which I can achieve such a state. Mind, body and car all feel as one. I’m alert and responsive to the road around me but nothing else exists outside of this scenario, this task. Nothing else is of any concern.

I found myself thinking about mindfulness, in between these moments.

Mindfulness often annoys me in this regard. It too often feels like teaching your granny to suck eggs (or, perhaps, a singular grape). Put me on the M1 and I’ll show you mindfulness.

I change gears and adjust my interior surroundings without thinking, without looking, totally in tune with the task at hand, feeling every vibration within the car, every shift in performance. I am a cautious driver and, having driven around an exploding jalopy for three years in Hull, I know when my car is under the weather.

I feel like I have melted into the car itself, inseparable from it, like some sort of benign T-1000 — a sensation only exacerbated by the summer sun in this year’s heatwave that is brazenly blazing through the driver’s side windows.

I spend at least an hour meditating on Simon Sellars’ elucidations on Mad Max and Crash in his new book, Applied Ballardianismpondering just how perversely similar my automobilised bliss is to the mindfulness fad that irritates me so much.

… when incomplete bodies, fractured by the demands of capitalism, are rebuilt, they’re bound together by the signs and symbols of banal technology.

I think that at least my “late capitalist” ecstasy is devoid of the watered-down signifiers of “late orientalism”.

In any other circumstance, the alignments of these conditions would threaten to lull me into a nap. But despite the relaxing monotony of the experience, I don’t once feel drowsy. Only when we have stopped and I have lost my sense of immanence to car and road do I start to yawn.

Now, as I try to fall asleep, past midnight, a puddle of heatwave sweat and movers-day adrenaline, I am finding myself falling seamlessly into a dream about driving.

My eyes slowly shut and I am immediately behind the wheel of the car, staring down the infinite expanse of the rolling M1.

Somehow aware that I am asleep, I jolt myself awake.

Again and again, I try to settle into the driving seat of my unconscious but the innate anxiety of falling asleep at the wheel prevents me from entering the dream in which I’m driving.

Instead, I stare at the ceiling for hours, tempted to take the car out for a late night spin.

Lucid Dreaming

I’ve only had a couple of lucid dreams in my life. For the most part, they just happened and I went with them, usually choosing to fly around before waking up naturally, eventually remembering none of the details.

Aphex Twin’s lucid dream stories have always fascinated me and my girlfriend’s parents have often described their own adventures in their youth. They kept detailed dream diaries as a way of training themselves to not forget and therefore recognise dreams and this was the training they swore by. They say they got quite good at it but it wasn’t worth keeping up longer term.

Right now, it’s 4am. I woke up from a lucid dream 15 minutes ago and it was, without a doubt, one of the worst dreams I’ve ever had.

I was stuck in an endless succession of lucid excursions in which I got quicker and quicker at recognising the falsity of my dreams but I was unable to wake myself up or convince my mind to let me go.

I can’t remember how the dream began, in much the same way I can’t remember falling asleep, but the close cycle of dreams was quick to establish itself. I have a very vague feeling that I felt the sensation of falling within an empty dream and woke up with a jolt before immediately falling asleep again. It was this in-between state I ended up stranded in.

In the dream that followed, I would wake up in my bed in the middle of the night and gradually realise that my flat was not my flat. Nothing at all, apart from my bed, my girlfriend and our bedroom rug seemed to match reality.

First, I remember looking out of our London window and seeing a Cardiff street. Later, in successive versions of the same dream, the layout of the flat would be drastically different or it would be the wrong size. As my unconscious scrambled to formulate something true to life, it seemed to become worse and worse at convincing me. However, when I was sure I was dreaming and chose to wake up, I would instead “wake up” in another dream.

The turning point in the dream came when I became aware of this fact: that waking up within a dream was now the starting point for successive dream-cons. I was desperately trying to wake my girlfriend up so I could talk to her. When I succeeded, the dream immediately began to fall apart again, completely unable to render her realistically.

But still, I didn’t wake up.

The first thing to go was my vision. In real life, we had spent the day with friends celebrating a birthday. Alcohol was very present and in the dream I was shit-faced. I knew I was dreaming but, as if to corroborate the inaccuracies in another way, my mind made me incredibly dream-drunk and so I once again began to expect inaccuracy and a lack of universal recognition, in much the same way you wander through your own house drunk, bumping into permanent fixtures that are now sneaking up on you.

Eventually, this wore off — I remembered I did not actually get drunk yesterday — but things took another drastic turn. Having managed to wake up my dream-girlfriend and ask her to help me, realising I was not awake and not drunk, a ghost of another girl I had spent time with earlier in the day was dragging me back to bed. This was horrifying. Again, the dream tried to drag me out of my lucidity. Strange layouts of space I could handle, but I soon as I felt my mental projections working against me, I became dream-hysterical at my lack of control as I paradoxically did battle with myself, so incredibly tired but wanting out of this particular dreaming experience. Eventually, I was crying and screaming at my dream-girlfriend, who could not understand what was happening, saying: please please call an ambulance I don’t understand what’s happening I’m hallucinating…

The sensation that I was lucid, but unsure if I was successfully awake or still asleep, made me feel like I had lost my mind.

This cycle too continued for a while as I slipped in and out of dreams, consistently believing my mind had snapped as I slid from dream-space to dream-space, always distressed and seeking help. However, whether drawn by ghosts or the bed itself, every time I was back with my head on the pillow, screaming to my girlfriend, I would wake up again.

Eventually the hallucinatory breakdown narrative too lost consistency and I realised all I had to do to escape this nightmare was to wake myself up violently on my own steam. I needed to thrash around so violently in my dream that traces of my movements might make it through to my lost corporeal self.

Like a dog fidgeting as it runs in a dream, in my dream I wanted to run as fast as I could, headlong into the nearest wall.

Unfortunately, the cycle of lucid dreams became so tightly wound by this point that all I was capable of doing was screaming and writhing in bed as violently as I could, unable to get out of bed, hoping the dream-action would transfer to my actual body and either wake myself up or disturb my real-girlfriend enough that she would come to my aid. On a number of occasions, I dreamt that I did disturb her with a muffled half-conscious yelp but these still were only the overlapping kernels of dreamed dreams and false consciousness.

In the end, I did it. With a violent shake of my head, I immediately realised I was back to normal. I was surprised by how convincing I found everything once I was awake, although I was painfully aware that I was confirming my conscious state with (roughly) the same combination of faculties that had tricked me whilst asleep. The unease of not being entirely convinced lingers and disturbs. I thought, how else to make this real than tell the story to my blog?

Hopefully, when I wake up at a more normal time, in a number of hours, I can look to this post and tell myself, confidently: I’m awake…