Here's the first dream I want to consider. Note how much he talks of realising that the feeling of dread in it has significance, and yet how little he understands of that significance.
Last night I awoke with dread from a dream and I suddenly saw that such dread means something after all, that I should think about what it means. The dream had so to speak two parts … In the first someone had died, it was sad and I seemed to have conducted myself well and then as if upon returning home someone, namely a strong, old rural person (of the sort of our Rosalie [a beloved family maid, apparently, not his sister]) (I am also thinking of the Cumaean Sibyl) gave me a word of praise and something like: “You are someone, after all.” Then this image disappeared and I was alone in the dark and said to myself – with irony “You are someone, after all” and voices shouted loudly around me (but I saw no one shouting) “the debt must yet be paid” or “the debt is yet unpaid” or something like that. I awoke as from a dreadful dream. (Hid my head – as since childhood I have always done in this case – under the blanket and dared only after a few minutes to uncover it and to open my eyes.) As I said I became conscious that this dread has a deeper significance …. that is, the capacity to feel dread is to mean something for me. Immediately after waking, in dread, I thought: dream or no dream, this dread means something. I did something, felt something, after all, whatever my body was doing in the meantime.That is, the human being is capable of such dread – And this means something. [Diary entry 12.10.1931]It is reasonable, and straightforward, to interpret the dream. The Wittgenstein children were not well loved; Brahms talked of finding an atmosphere as of being at court in their family home; three brothers suicided. Ludwig was anxious, aloof, needy of others' affection, desperately fearful of not receiving it, seeking positions of invulnerability and solitude, sometimes desperately lonely, fearful of madness. In the dream someone has died, and Wittgenstein says straightforwardly: 'it was sad and I ... conducted myself well'. He is able to experience appropriate sadness on someone's death, he is able to 'stay in touch with' his feelings. And then a mother figure (Rosalie that is; there's too many meanings of the Sibyl of Cumae for us to even guess at his associations) tells him that he is someone. Here he is someone not because he's 'made it big' but rather simply in his capacity for ordinary humanity. For here he can feel healthy feelings, he can be receive ordinary recognition, care, love. But then something terrible, something spoiling, comes crashing in. The dynamic is echt Wittgenstein: ordinary love cannot be held onto inside; it is not safe, secure, enough; he cannot rest easy with, cannot trust in, ordinary affection's reliability. It becomes an unpaid debt, not a gift freely given. The healthy 'you are someone' gets ironically parroted by a mocking internal object. Wittgenstein's habitual dynamic of vanity and self-loathing for that vanity - a dynamic that drives his inner loveless loneliness toward a sense of insanity - then comes into play.
A natural interpretation of a second dream hangs together with the above:
I stood with Paul [brother] and Mining [elder sister]… as if on the front platform of a streetcar …Paul told Mining how enthusiastic my brother-in-law Jerome was about my unbelievable musical gift; the day before I had so wonderfully sung along in a work of Mendelsohn …. it was as if we had performed this work among ourselves at home and I had sung along with extraordinary expressiveness and also with especially expressive gestures. Paul and Mining seemed to completely agree with Jerome’s praise. Jerome was said to have said again and again: “What talent!” … I held a withered plant in my hand with blackish seeds in the little pods that had already opened and thought: if they were to tell me what a pity it is about my unused musical talent, I will show them the plant and say that nature isn’t stingy with its seed either and that one shouldn’t be afraid and just throw out a seed. All of this was carried on in a self-satisfied manner. – I woke up and was angry or ashamed because of my vanity. … May I not become completely base and also not mad! May God have mercy on me. [Diary entry 28.1.1937]The under-loved Ludwig dreams wishfulfillingly of praise from his brother-in-law. (Recall the family atmospherics; recall Paul coming in from the room where he was practicing piano into Ludwig's room exclaiming that he couldn't play when Ludwig's scepticism toward him was seeping in from under the door. Recall Ludwig's combined intensity and awkwardness of expression.) To achieve its effect, to push past the doubt and competition, it takes an extreme form. Everyone 'completely agrees'. But then - a withered plant, black seeds in a pod. A symbol of life and generation and of free and easy expression (throwing out a seed without inhibition) is already stifled, blackened, withered. Doubt is kept at bay through self-satisfaction. And then, well, the dynamic we know so well - the vanity and the shame at the vanity, the self-excoriation, the fear of madness. Nowhere do we find a jot of ordinary healthy self-sympathy. Nowhere, even, do we find acknowledgement that such apt sympathy is missing.
Loneliness comes in different forms. The term covers what psychically are near antonyms, marked as common only by their both being un-easy reactions to solitude. In a healthy loneliness one knows one misses the kind of loving connection with others which one also knows, for oneself, is truly possible and realistic. One can feel, in a healthy sense, 'sorry for oneself'. One can know it's time to seek out a friend, or to take especial care of oneself if a friend is currently unavailable. One can suffer properly, meaningfully; one's feelings make natural sense to one, are to be expected, are tended to. In dreadful and largely 'unconscious' loneliness there's no realistic sense of the self as lovable and of others as loving. (Ordinary friendly gestures are looked on with suspicion; Wittgenstein is acutely sensitive to the issue of the friendliness of others toward him.) The sufferer tends to retreat into a world of one; into solipsism; into a mountain hut; he seeks to become independent of fate. But the real feeling of loneliness is, if you like, 'repressed'. To put it otherwise: there is within what still remains of the human soul a drive to connection, and this drive, when unsatisfied, will now be diverted, into dreams, into symptoms, into madness; it cannot take shape as ordinary loneliness, it cannot be 'suffered' (in a 'suffer the little children...' sense) but will instead lead to psychic 'constructions' (Bion: suffering vs constructing an experience). The dread of being abandoned, lost, becomes nameless; it becomes something that feels significant but can't really be grasped. The dreams are necessary because the loneliness cannot be tolerated, known of, accepted, cared for; they (and the correlative neuroses) are necessary because Wittgenstein so struggles to, in an ordinary way, for long, carry the heart of another securely within his own.
To end, one further short dream. In the dream Wittgenstein 'arrived at a sentence which upon awakening I still vaguely knew:'