North American Dreams


Jon F. Thompson

North Carolina State University

Copyright (c) 1998 by Jon F. Thompson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

The civilization we now call the U.S. came out of dreams and dreaming. As a nation it was founded on the dream of a different kind of polity than the European model. Yet European conquest of the Americas, actuated by a lust for power and possession, was also born out of dreaming. Ours has always been a culture gripped by the visionary, particularly visions of paradise, which in various incarnations inspired everyone from the madmen-visionary conquistadores to Jefferson's more democratic ideals At the same time, our culture is haunted by the awareness (conscious, subconscious, unconscious) of the gap between what we can imagine and what we do. There is then this fatal ambivalence in North American culture: we worship the fantastic monuments dreams have created while we also witness the ruination they have ushered into our waking and sleeping lives. Dreams so real they have taken hold of our language, our silences, our economy, indeed all our economies of desire.


& what they saw they named
& the foamy shores ceaselessly whispering
at once ceased to be

By the shore
by the sea
by the sovereign tongue
the speech of the sea was

A whole land dispossessed
by strange sounds traveling
through air

it has never been
"politics by other means" not
even that but
divine will
that allows insight
into the grand design
& we who are instruments of
see ourselves in it

In paradise war
must be

Other things causes yes
operations yes conflicts yes but
never that other thing

As if signification were the sin

As if that

would inaugurate us

into failure

"The rejected misfit hungers
not merely for triumph but for
wordly acclaim"

Nothing is unjustified

Nothing is named


In the hermetic text
of squiggling sums
what always is
is always
being metamorphosed
the signs of which are
flying number
pagan myths
old fears & old desires
out of which we fahsion a world

The afterbirth of
& Invisible
forces, "the
invisible hand"
works out
the law
of the imaginary-become-real

Oracles of hope
Oracles of fear
They rise &
according to the
siren voices
heard from ahead
heard from behind

The present is nothing
but a march of numbers
in which all properties
are lost

What you are
rises &

is suffered or

Cities appear
then disappear
falling into
& strange dreams

and for everything
the soothsayers are

the dancing arabesques
they divine in them
strange portents
of things to come

Worlds drowned by longing

No need for sacrificial victims
no need to have
hearts ripped out still beating
held high
to propitiate
some distant god
of the sun


To go out

From the Old World the bacillus
of the New the Edenic dream

The cultivated garden required
the extraction of weeds the unreasonable wilderness
"with all the vultures of hell trodden under our feet"

The fishy monsters of medieval atlases
The white-sailed prairie ships tacking toward the Pacific
Fiery rockets arcing over starry skies
The Silvery probes that spun effortlessly in space

Darkness upon darkness

Untouched by heresy
We are untouched

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