POLITICS AUGUST 29, 2011
Last week, as morsels of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new memoir began to go public, The New York Times published an odd revelation: After undergoing heart surgery in 2010, Cheney had “a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian villa, pacing the stone paths to get coffee and newspapers.” Lacking any additional context, the scene seemed rather opaque. What could it possibly mean? I decided to call up some psychoanalysts and dream experts for their interpretations. While all the analysts took pains to note they couldn’t be sure, they nonetheless provided me with several possible meanings for Cheney’s bizarre and extended dream.
The first two experts with whom I spoke were struck by the quotidian character of Cheney’s vision. French psychiatrist Mathilde Kazes, who practices medicine in Paris, offered that “it might mean that Cheney would like to be like a regular guy, with the little twist of living in an Italian villa—far from U.S. politics? With Berlusconi?” Dr. Paula Ellman, director of the Psychoanalytic Training Institute of the New York Freudian Society, agreed with the majority of Kazes’s diagnosis. For her, Cheney’s dream is “lifeless, concrete, [and] devoid of rich symbols.” It might reveal “his desires to have a life of ease, with its ordinary, mundane pleasures.”
Dr. Benjamin Kilborne, a medical doctor, anthropologist, and expert on dreams noted that the most obvious emotional content of the dream is located in Cheney’s wanderings on stone paths. “It may be a manifestation of some sort of anxiety or impatience,” he told me. “Why would he be pacing? Is it because he can’t go somewhere? Is he waiting for someone?” Kilborne added that the dream’s setting in Italy was also curious. In light of Cheney’s actions in the executive branch, he ventured that “it’s possible that he had fantasies of Roman triumphs.”
Dr. Janice Quinn, a Jungian psychologist, gravitated towards a very different position. Having worked with high ranking military and government leaders, she saw many parallels to Cheney’s case. For instance, important officials often feel a professional imperative to keep their passions under wraps, she told me. “They aren’t allowed to have any feelings that could lead them astray.” But occasionally, a vivid dream can force them to reevaluate their monochrome mental approach. “They wake up,” she says. “It’s like, look, there is more to you than just this one-sided consciousness you work with.” The exotic location of the dream gave Quinn a valuable interpretive key. “The Italians are very extroverted, feeling-oriented people. ... In Jungian terms, we would say that the Italian villa could represent the ‘feeling side’ of Cheney’s personality.” After eight stressful years in the public eye and a dangerous heart surgery, it’s possible that Cheney’s unusual dream just might have freed up some pent-up feelings.
But was Cheney’s hospital bed vision truly transformative? Dr. Melanie Starr Costello, a Jungian analyst in private practice in D.C., told me that it isn’t altogether unlikely. The combination of “disease and dreams” often precipitates a personal transformation, she says. “In times of crisis, we have dreams that seem intended to help us digest what’s going on and to provide some needed salve or insight into the experience.”
Despite their differing opinions, most of the experts and practitioners to whom I spoke were able to agree, at least, about one thing: Cheney’s dream may have possessed real significance. “If it was so vivid to him,” says Dr. Quinn, “it means it has some deep meaning.” But at the end of the day, there is only one way to get to the bottom of it: Cheney has to sit down with a trained specialist and discuss. Dr. Quinn, in particular, told me she’d be happy to help the former vice president. All he has to do is call and make an appointment.
Jarad Vary is an intern at The New Republic.