TCS Talk | Inuit Dreams of Fear and Joy: On the Nightmare and Other Doubles | November 22nd 2021

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-18:30 (roughly)
22nd November 2021

The Fall Programme of our TCS talks continues with a welcome return by Professor Louise S. Milne, newly re-appointed president of the Society and established authority on dream-cultures. In her upcoming lecture, Professor Milne will focus in particular on the Inuit people: from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, dreams and visions are represented in Inuit narratives and artworks. They often are supernatural dreams, involving strong feelings of fear and joy. Her lecture explores how Inuit peoples configure these “affect-laden” dreams using old and new mythological scripts and traditions.

Musée de la civilisation, Quebec City, Canada. Photo: Luc Blain, 2017

Professor Milne’s starting point is that dreams of fear (nightmares) share structure and imagery with other dream experiences of high emotional disturbance, such as shamanic initiation visions, or ecstatic and/or sexual dreams. The common subjective element of emotional commotion appears to be hard-wired through the physiology of sleep and consciousness. For the Inuit, as elsewhere, culture supplies a range of visual templates to envisage such experiences as close encounters with a god or spirit.

Such templates, she will argue, are part of a shared mythological system, which is interwoven with, and supported by specific elements in the material culture of sleep and dreams among the Inuit. In this situation, depending on available narratives, context and expectation, the visual rhetoric which codes the nightmare as an encounter with a demonic Other can be rearranged – even “pre-interpreted” – and the accompanying emotional arousal (re-)perceived as positive. Inuit shamanic initiation visions are among the clearest examples of how mythic narratives could be used to frame and manage “nightmarish” experience; but it seems that some modern Inuit people at least construe ordinary strong-emotion dreams in this way.

Finally, Professor Milne will note how the features of particular Christian sects active among the Inuit, from the Moravian Brotherhood to contemporary Pentecostalism, have shaped and reframed indigenous traditions of dreams and visions.

Full Bio

Louise studied English literature, Archeology and Anthropology at Kings College, Cambridge and gained her MA and PhD at Boston University. Recent scholarship includes “Terrors of the Night: Charms against the Nightmare and the Mythology of Dreams” (in Incantatio, 6, 2019); “One, Two, Three, Many: Dream Culture, Charms and Nightmares (in Charms and Charming, edited by Éva Pócs, Ljubljana 2019) and a second revised edition of her 2011 book, Carnivals and Dreams: Pieter Bruegel and the History of the Imagination, a comprehensive study on the seventeenth century Flemish Renaissance artist.

Alongside her academic work, Louise is an accomplished Film-maker. Working with Super 8 film as a research tool and experimental documentary film formats, she shows her work internationally. Her films have been shown at Maine International Film Festival 22 (2019) and Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Hawick, UK (2018) Her films Eidolon (2018) and Mnemosyne (2017) form part of a trilogy of film work, completed by Afterlife (2019).

In partnership with Sean Martin, she was commissioned by The Criterion Collection to produce Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev: A Journey (2018), a documentary drawn from the wider research project  Andrei Tarkovsky: Cinema of Dreams, a web archive including original footage, voice over from Tarkovsky’s writing and interviews with his collaborators.

Her fist independent film, The Druids: Travels in Deep England, was supported by the BFI and Channel 4. Louise is associated with the Scottish Screen Academy and the Documentary Film Institute.

Louise is the President of the Traditional Cosmology Society and a Director of the International Association for Comparative Mythology. She is the Editor in Chief for Cosmos. She is also editor of the Journal of Comparative Mythology and recently Guest editor of Visual Culture in Britain.


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