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Trotter, A. (2019). Living Dreams or Dreaming Nightmares? Musings on an Increasingly Virtual Reality. Fort Da, 25(2):26-40.

(2019). Fort Da, 25(2):26-40

Living Dreams or Dreaming Nightmares? Musings on an Increasingly Virtual Reality

Amber Trotter, Psy.D.

Tech giants spend billions as they race to control a domain where the wildest artistry of our imaginations will seemingly be actualized. In virtual reality (VR), we will be able to experience “exploring Mars; living as a lobster; a close-up of your own beating heart, live” (Kelly, 2016). The potential applications of this new phenomenological substrate palpate with excitement, and extend to the clinical encounter.

This paper explores the particular analogy between immersive digital technologies, such as VR, and analytic dreaming — an analogy which, to my mind, forms the basis of much of the optimism surrounding virtual technologies in psychoanalytic literature (e.g., Caparotta & Lemma, 2013; Corbett, 2013; Hartman, 2011, 2012; Lingiardi, 2008). This analogy holds that, as with dreaming, immersive online experience permits phenomenological transcendence of material constraints and safe, creative experimentation with fantasies, ideas, and versions of self, including the most forbidden, dangerous, and improbable desires. Yet, further analysis raises questions. To begin with, VR's dreamlike experience often encodes as real: VR's full-color concreteness may end the analogy. VR participants also largely control their experience while using the technology, unlike their dreaming counterparts. Further, VR's content is prefabricated by powerful companies with economic and political agendas — agendas too often dissociated from analyses of tech. In this paper, I argue that although virtual technologies in many ways mimic analytic dreamwork, and can be used to amplify analytic dreamwork with particular clients, VR, in fact, constitutes a perversion of dreaming — a subtle, seductive, and pernicious co-option. I begin by elaborating analytic conceptions of dreamwork and perversion then move to an analysis of VR experiencing.

First, a note about “reality”: technology-mediated experience has become a ubiquitous new norm. Distinctions between virtual and actual experience can appear moot (Essig, 2012). An era marked by the “eradication of the boundary between plastic and flesh, wire and artery, computer and brain” (Knafo, 2015a, p. 481) upends longstanding conceptions of what is real.

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