Dreams Are Themselves Dreams

La vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream) is a Spanish-language play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. First published in 1635 (or possibly early in 1636), it is a philosophical allegory regarding the human situation and the mystery of life. The play has been described as “the supreme example of Spanish Golden Age drama”.

The story focuses on the fictional Segismundo, Prince of Poland, who has been imprisoned in a tower by his father, King Basilio, following a dire prophecy that the prince would bring disaster to the country and death to the King. Basilio briefly frees Segismundo, but when the prince goes on a rampage, the king imprisons him again, persuading him that it was all a dream.

The play’s central theme is the conflict between free will and fate. It remains one of Calderón’s best-known and most studied works. Other themes include dreams vs. reality and the conflict between father and son. The play has been adapted for other stage works, in film and as a novel.

 
 

Segismundo’s reflections
(close of Act II)

We live, while we see the sun,
Where life and dreams are as one;
And living has taught me this,
Man dreams the life that is his,
Until his living is done.
The king dreams he is king, and he lives
In the deceit of a king,
Commanding and governing;
And all the praise he receives
Is written in wind, and leaves
A little dust on the way
When death ends all with a breath.
Where then is the gain of a throne,
That shall perish and not be known
In the other dream that is death?
Dreams the rich man of riches and fears,
The fears that his riches breed;
The poor man dreams of his need,
And all his sorrows and tears;
Dreams he that prospers with years,
Dreams he that feigns and foregoes,
Dreams he that rails on his foes;
And in all the world, I see,
Man dreams whatever he be,
And his own dream no man knows.
And I too dream and behold,
I dream I am bound with chains,
And I dreamed that these present pains
Were fortunate ways of old.
What is life? a tale that is told;
What is life? a frenzy extreme,
A shadow of things that seem;
And the greatest good is but small,
That all life is a dream to all,
And that dreams are themselves a dream*.

Calderón de la  Barca

 
 

Calderon de la Barca

 
 

The Writer’s Whim

 
 

Vision of Paradise

 
 

Knight with Helmet and Butterflies

 
 

Study for a Dream

 
 

Segismundo

 
 

Segismundo in Chains

 
 

Engravings by Salvador Dalí, circa 1975

 
 

*Focusing on Segismundo’s line, “Y los sueños, sueños son”, a more accurate English translation, better representing Calderón’s poetic and philosophical intent, may be given as: “And dreams themselves are merely the dreams of dreams”, implying and underscoring the ephemeral nature of human life and physical existence.

Essay On Proust

“The time-state of attainment eliminates so accurately the time-state of aspiration, that the actual seems the inevitable, and, all conscious intellectual effort to reconstitute the invisible and unthinkable as a reality being fruitless, we are incapable of appreciating our joy by comparing it with our sorrow.”

Samuel Beckett
Proust

 
 

Samuel Beckett. Photo by François-Marie Banier

 
 

Samuel Beckett wrote Proust in the summer of 1930, in response to a commission precipitated by Thomas MacGreevy, Charles Prentice, and Richard Aldington, during his stay at the École Normale in Paris. By the end of September, he delivered it by hand to Charles Prentice at Chatto and Windus. The book sold 2,600 copies by 1937, with the remaining 400 remaindered by 1941. In retrospect, Beckett dismissed it as written in “cheap flashy philosophical jargon.

The essay served double duty as its author’s aesthetic and epistemological manifesto, proclaiming on behalf of its ostensible subject: “We cannot know and we cannot be known.” In dense and allusive language, Beckett credited his current influences (notably Arthur Schopenhauer and Pedro Calderón de la Barca) and forecast his future preoccupations, reading them into the prose of Marcel Proust:

“The laws of memory are subject to the more general laws of habit. Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals; the world being a projection of the individual’s consciousness (an objectivation of the individual’s will, Schopenhauer would say), the pact must be continually renewed, the letter of safe-conduct brought up to date. The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day. Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations (because by no expedient of macabre transubstantiation can the grave-sheets serve as swaddling-clothes) represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. (At this point, and with a heavy heart and for the satisfaction or disgruntlement of Gideans, semi and integral, I am inspired to concede a brief parenthesis to all the analogivorous, who are capable of interpreting the ‘Live dangerously,’ that victorious hiccough in vacuo, as the national anthem of the true ego exiled in habit. The Gideans advocate a habit of living—and look for an epithet. A nonsensical bastard phrase. An automatic adjustment of the human organism to the conditions of its existence has as little moral significance as the casting of a clout when May is or is not out; and the exhortation to cultivate a habit as little sense as an exhortation to cultivate a coryza.) The suffering of being: that is, the free play of every faculty. Because the pernicious devotion of habit paralyses our attention, drugs those handmaidens of perception whose co-operation is not absolutely essential.

Beckett went on to pinpoint his moral focus on the fundamental quandaries of human existence, disclaiming any involvement in social issues:

Here, as always, Proust is completely detached from all moral considerations. There is no right and wrong in Proust nor in his world. (Except possibly in those passages dealing with the war, when for a space he ceases to be an artist and raises his voice with the plebs, mob, rabble, canaille.) Tragedy is not concerned with human justice. Tragedy is the statement of an expiation, but not the miserable expiation of a codified breach of a local arrangement, organised by the knaves for the fools. The tragic figure represents the expiation of original sin, of the original and eternal sin of him and all his ‘soci malorum,’ the sin of having been born.

‘Pues el delito mayor
Del hombre es haber nacido.’

The final quotation is from Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream), and ‘soci malorum’ is a quotation from Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism.

In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but my fellow-sufferer, Soci malorum, compagnon de miseres!
In all his subsequent writings, Beckett continued to endorse this hamartiological conclusion; compare “The only sin is the sin of being born,” from a 1969 interview.

The Most Beautiful Clothes

“Le plus beau vêtement qui puisse habiller une femme,ce sont les bras de l’homme qu’elle aime.
Mais pour celles qui n’ont pas eu la chance de trouver ce bonheur, je suis là.”

(“The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves.
But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.”)

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent and Loulou de la Falaise at Rive Gauche boutique opening. London, 1969. Getty Images

A Way of Moving

“L’élégance c’est une façon de se mouvoir. C’est aussi savoir s’adapter à toutes les circonstances de sa vie. Sans élégance de coeur, il n’y a pas d’élégance”

(“Elegance is a way of moving. It is also knowing how to adapt to all of life’s circumstances. Without elegance of the heart, there is no elegance”)

Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent, the day before the opening of his first collection for Dior, 1958. Photo: Inge Morath

 
 

Handwritten note by Yves Saint Laurent

 

Two Fashion Icons Colliding

Catherine Deneuve and Kate Moss, photographed at the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris

 
 

In Vanity Fair February 2014 issue, Catherine Deneuve and Kate Moss appeared in their first portrait together, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier and text by James Fox. It’s hard to believe it hadn’t happened before. Two fashion icons colliding: one French, one British. One actress, one model. One a symbol of 60s and 70s glamour, one of 80s and 90s punk grunge. Yet something inherently stylish and historic draws them together. David Bailey introduced them.

According to the text by Fox, Even for Paris, This Was Impressive:

“They look as if they were emerging at dawn from a party, waiting to go home, these two apparently ageless, beautiful women. Consummate artists in front of a camera, they look at it as if they knew you—with a hint of humor at the imposition of the photograph. It is their first portrait together: Catherine Deneuve at 70 and Kate Moss at 40. Their separate images have illuminated the cultural landscape for decades—Deneuve with her great classic roles in the cinema, from the early Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965) and Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967) to the more than 100 other films she has made, and also as a living symbol of French style; Moss with her unparalleled domination of fashion, who turned modeling into a high art and became the chief inspiration for 25 years to many of the world’s top designers and photographers. The picture was shot on a Paris balcony; the two women had hooked up in Japan some weeks earlier at a “timeless muses” exhibition, dedicated in part to them. A joint photograph had long been in Moss’s mind. “We’d kind of talked about it before,” she says, “but really I just wanted to meet her. I’d finished a shoot with David Bailey [the photographer, Deneuve’s former husband], and he was speaking about her, and we laughed about that. And we hit it off. She’s amazing, beautiful and chic and everything I want to be, also as a woman growing old gracefully and with such class. So I was over the moon that she liked me and wanted to do the pictures.”

 
 

April in Paris

“I never knew the charm of spring
Never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
Never missed a warm embraceApril in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling
No one can ever reprise

I never knew the charm of spring
Never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
Never missed a warm embrace

Till April in Paris
Whom can I run to
What have you done to my heart
What have you done to my heart”

Music by Vernon Duke and Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

 
 

Catherine Deneuve. Portrait photo by Helmut Newton, 1976

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent

The Widespread Impact of Belle de Jour

Yves Saint Laurent would create some of the most iconic looks of the late 1960s and 1970s. Many were inspired by his designs and how muse Catherine Deneuve magically embodied his style. His “school girl” dress is but one example. At the time, other fashion designers like Mary Quant did their own “school girl” dresses, but it was Yves who somehow made it sophisticated and sexy. The impact of Belle de Jour was widespread, ranging from high fashion to ready-to-wear to sewing patterns for women who wanted to make their own clothing at home. This trickle-down effect from costume design to fashion design is shown below and even includes a dress from a pattern book of the late 1960s. Whether its the dress itself or look of the model, it screams of Belle de Jour style.

Recently the influence is equally extensive. In fashion, design houses such as ValentinoCalvin Klein, and Carven were inspired by Belle de Jour for Fall 2013. Some designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger, adore the movie so much that they continue to reference it in collection after collection. This is especially true of the military-inspired outerwear from the film. Fashionista Alexa Chung has adopted the “school girl” look as part of her personal style, even including the design in her own capsule collections for Madewell.  Modern magazine editors frequently name and style photo shoots after Belle de Jour as well.

 
 

Eniko Mihalik for Vogue Spain (September 2012) by Vincent PetersEniko Mihalik modelling for Vogue Spain, September 2012. Photo by Vincent Peters

 
 

Tommy Hilfiger, Fall 2012-2013

 
 

Burberry, Fall Winter 2013

 
 

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Picciolo for Valentino Fall/Winter 2013-2014

 
 

Allure magazine August 2013. Vinyl trench coat by Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein

 
 

Alexa Chung by David Vasiljevic for Elle UK. November 2010

 
 

NARS Summer 2010  + Belle de Jour Cinema ConnectionNARS Summer 20101 2 + Belle de Jour Cinema ConnectionIn beauty, makeup artist François Nars has had a Belle de Jour shade of lipstick for many years in his eponymous line. He even expanded upon it in 2010 and styled model Amber Valletta to look like Catherine Deneuve for the advertising campaign