CANCELLED: Eyes Wide Shut: Dreams, Visions and Somnambulism in German Literature, Art, Medicine and Philosophy 1750-1835

CANCELLED: Eyes Wide Shut: Dreams, Visions and Somnambulism in German Literature, Art, Medicine and Philosophy 1750-1835
2 April 2020, 9.30am - 3 April 2020, 2.30pm
Conference / Symposium
Devon and Exeter Institution (DEI), 7 Cathedral Close, Exeter EX1 1EZ

Due to the current situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) we regret that this conference has had to be cancelled.

Professor Ricarda Schmidt (University of Exeter)  
Professor Hans-Walter Schmidt-Hannisa (NUI Galway)  
Dr Sheila Dickson (University of Glasgow)


Taking dreams as our focal point, we intend to explore how altered states of consciousness (ASC) have been conceptualised in German culture from the 18th to the 21st century in a network project to be developed in three stages: 1) a workshop in Exeter, 2-3 April 2020, focusing on the period 1750-1835; 2) a workshop in Galway, April 2021, focusing on the period 1835-1900; 3) a workshop in Glasgow, April 2022, focusing on the 20th century.

Our aim is to concentrate on German culture in order to facilitate a micro-analysis which can discover previously unnoticed continuities, transformations and ruptures between the dream discourses in specific historical periods. 

Workshop 1 (Exeter, 2-3 April 2020)

From 1750 onwards, the dream was considered increasingly as a product of the imagination rather than as a supernatural entity; it was now being discussed as both an anthropological and aesthetic phenomenon. With this paradigm shift a number of key questions emerged which will guide our own interdisciplinary approach to exploring historical dream discourses: Such questions are anthropological (how do dreams come into existence and what is their function within the human psycho-physiological system?), ontological (what is the  status of the “reality” perceived in dreams?), psychological (what is the relationship between dreams and the dreamer’s biography/ identity), semiotic (are dreams meaningful and if so, how can they be deciphered?), aesthetic (what do literature and art have in common with dreams?), and methodological (which methods are appropriate to explore dreams?).

In the period from 1750 to 1835 ASCs have been perceived both as a danger to the sovereignty of the individual, and as a force to challenge an ossified regime of reason, as a source of creativity, a gateway to new insights and even higher metaphysical realms. An analogy of literature and dream was posited, and new anthropological paradigms such as magnetism and empirical psychology emerged, which, in turn, became the object of critical investigation in literature and art. Contributors to the conference will:

1. Analyse, compare and evaluate from an interdisciplinary perspective the roles that phenomena such as dreams, visions, and somnambulism played in enlightened and romantic discourses in German-speaking countries to conceptualize notions of creativity and subjectivity.

2. Explore the interplay between theoretical concepts of dreams in medicine, anthropology, and philosophy on the one hand, and, on the other hand, literary and artistic representations of ASCs.

In addition, we will extend the impact of the conference by curating in parallel an art exhibition, open to the general public. This will consist of a German and a local Exeter painter’s responses to authors and texts of the period under discussion: engravings by Caspar Walter Rauh (1912-1983) and oils, water colours and linocuts especially produced for this occasion by Steven Bramble (Exeter). The DEI has agreed to host this exhibition and will make it available to the public for four months free of charge.

Kindly supported by the University of Exeter and the Cassal Endowment Fund

Registration by email to Ricarda Schmidt

Standard £40 | unwaged £25


Ricarda Schmidt
020 7862 8738