Dream, on the other hand, and not just Dream but also Orpheus and Delirium and Lyta and Remiel and Duma and Haroun al-Rashid and Robespierre and Wanda, cannot go with the flow. To the postmodernists they reply that some things are too important simply to accept as impermanent, that our lives may be brief but that for them to be worthy they must hang on a strong nail of meaning. Dreams’s duty, Delirium’s openness to all experience, Orpheus’s sorrow, Remiel and Duma’s God, Haroun al-Rashid’s Baghdad, Robespierre’s revolution, Wanda’s female gender, cannot be cast on the flowing waters and said a mere good-bye to. Identity is what we refuse to give up; I can only change so much before I am no longer me. And if I go to work at a job I hate, I cannot be me; but also if I quit the job that I hate I cannot just decamp to the country with my dog and paint pictures, I must still engage with the world on my terms.
I agree mostly with the blogger’s reading of Sandman, and of Gaiman’s characterization of Dream as someone who finds he must change or die, and would rather die.
The one thing I would point out, though, is that Dream does indeed change, and his death comes because he has changed enough that he realizes he can change no more. He dies because he HAS changed and cannot forgive himself for it, as much as because he will not change.
The writer of this piece placed Sandman in the context of 90s literature and art, and the questions of change reflected both in the attitude toward “selling out” that we saw so much of, the debate between being authentic (and broke–remember Reality Bites, and Sandman’s slacker analogue, Destruction) and being successful and selling your soul.
Dream recognizes that he cannot simply quit, like Destruction, who was willing to have people’s lives ruined to keep from being found, but he is also no longer the anthropomorphic personification he once was, by the end. He is no longer willing to subsume his entire life to his duty, and he must give it up, and there’s only one responsible way to do that…
I’ve used a Sandman quote–actually a Delirium quote–several times this year while covering the Presidential election.
“Change. Change. Change. Change… Change. Change. Chaaange. When you say words a lot they don’t mean anything. Or maybe they don’t mean anything anyway, and we just think they do.”
Looking back at Sandman and the 90s in the context of this year’s election, and now the dawning Obama administration reminds me of how much this moment in history was shaped by the 90s, the Clinton years, as much as the Bush years. As we see young people realizing that the choice doesn’t have to be between authenticity and engagement, as hipsters cried openly in the streets of Brooklyn with the election of a new president and 2 million people trekked to Washington, D.C. to stand in the cold and watch him sworn in, I think that Delirium was wrong.
Change does mean something. It happens often whether we like it or not–like it happened to Delirium and Dream–but that doesn’t have to be a sad or terrifying thing. And it doesn’t have to mean losing yourself.
I’ve written now about a Bush-era comic and a Clinton-era comic, and I’m wondering just what Obama-era comics are going to look like. Who will be our new icon? (It’s not going to be a few pages in the back of a Spider-Man book, I can tell you that much.)
A good friend of mine used another Sandman quote–from Dream of a Thousand Cats–in writing about Obama, and to bring this story to a close, I think it illustrates the universality of these comics so well.
“Dream the world. Not this pallid shadow of reality. Dream the world the way it truly is. A world in which all cats are queens and kings of creation. That is my message.”
Underneath the particular fears and uncertainties of the 90s, Sandman‘s message, broadly put, is that dreams matter. Stories matter. Even in terrifying times, as Dream said to Lucifer at the end of “A Hope In Hell” (sound familiar?):
“What power would HELL have if those here imprisoned were not able to dream of heaven?”
The economy is collapsing, jobs are falling apart, and yet our national discourse is more optimistic than it’s been in my lifetime. Yes, dreams matter. Yes, change means something.