Gold, Cold, and Old: Analyses of Dream Scenes within the Context of Visual Rhetoric

Clockwork Dreamscape


Tucking her braid into the back of her woolen tunic, she crouches, ready for the doorway to appear. The time ticks, ticks, ticks, until she fears she can no longer bear it. As the timepiece finally resounds with the full-bodied tone of the hour, marked now and forever, she closes her eyes and rushes forward, letting the blinding white portal envelope her in its cold caress. Don’t touch the shadows, don’t touch the shadows, she reminds herself as she steps from the blankness and slowly opens her eyes. What she sees in that moment strikes her, and she stands as still as she can, taking in the wonder of it all. Forgetting herself for a moment, she steps forward, but recoils as a dark form darts past the spot where her foot had been about to rest. She exhales and leans against the cold metal wall to the left of the still-open portal. Turning to examine it more closely, she notes the intricate carvings, shapes of gears and cogs that seem almost alive behind the wall’s thin coating of glass. It is then that she realizes the carvings are moving, slowly turning in synchronized chaos, bringing order to the myriad contours and configurations. Casting her eyes upward, she traces the lines up, until her gaze meets the ceiling, where thousands of large wheels and rods turn and twist, their metal sheen reflecting the light from hanging chandeliers, illuminating the area. Sparks dance in and out of machinery, the gigantic mechanism swallowing the heat and dispersing it like so many fireflies. She looks in awe, and returns her gaze to the room in front of her.

Before her, underneath the balcony on which she stands, is a large, central hall. The hall stretches on infinitely, its end (if it has one) obscured by the far-off mist. The air echoes with the tick-ticking of the grandfather clock in which she is now enclosed. Beyond the balustrade on which she rests her hands is a table, larger than any she’s seen, surrounded on all sides by chairs that could seat giants. Though she can see similar tables dispersed throughout the hall, most of her view is obstructed by the books.

Great shelves of ancient and valued tomes extend into the distance, protruding into the spaces between the tables, filling the air with an aged, musty smell. The enchantment of an old book is not one she is foreign to, and she breathes in the fragrance deeply, her soft hazel eyes alight with curiosity. She can hear the tock of the timepiece as she peruses the volumes, trailing her eyes across loose pages and heavy, bound tomes, breathing in the scents that waft upward from the lavishly decorated furnishings below. This is what she has come to see, to be part of.

Visual Component Reasoning

For the visual depiction of this scene, I chose the central view of the library from the top of the balcony. I made the balcony’s railing the only completely opaque object that did not have an overlay of gold, in order to maintain contrast and the separation of the viewer from the scene. The intent of this was to make the viewer seem more confined, thereby smaller, which hopefully increases the perceived size of the image. I chose the gold overlay for the background in order to convey the sense of the steampunk machinery that pervaded the room, without cluttering it with a flood of cogs and wheels (though I did include several in the ceiling, where they would not impede the view). The overlay has swirling, circular components, which add to the sense of large gears turning throughout the room, without blocking the view of the library itself. The library is extensive and repeating, continuing far into the distance, which helps espouse the immensity of the scene within the dream. I tested various opacities for the components of this image, as dreams tend to be fairly fluid; this was also a component of the text, as I attempted to render it as a background noise by making it faded. Fluidity is a key component to dreaming, and this is difficult to capture in a way that is not visual; while “discourse manifests itself as concrete, particular, and individual,” the visual aspect can be “abstract, general, and universal” (Ehses 61). Unfortunately, the railing does interrupt the fluidity of the background a bit much, as I was unable to find a suitable railing to match the wooden ones in the library image. My overall goal was to capture a scene that echoed change and vastness within a stationary, limited setting—hoping by such an attempt that my employed “visual rhetoric convinces users that they have considerable freedom of movement alongside access to information, even [within the construction of] a specific and controlled version of the [scene]” (Jach).


Fantasy Dreamscape
Downward, Cold


A girl plays in the forest as dappled light streams down through the trees, verdant summer leaves blowing softly in the breeze. A girl moves deeper into the forest, where not so much light dapples the ground, where the leaves are not quite so green. The girl likes it here, for this is where her friend plays, where they collect mushrooms together. On this day, while digging up a lovely pale mushroom, the girl finds a key. The key is small and rusted, with many teeth along its edge, irregular crenelations that stack into simple designs. The girl wonders if it might belong to someone in her village, and she begins wandering back home. The girl is thoughtless.

The giant walks steadily through the darkened woods, its club dragging through the brown leaves that dust the forest floor. The woods become lighter, the leaves greener, but this is before the giant passes. As he walks, tree barks lose the brightness of their hues, leaves begin to turn plaintively downward, and frost grows in tiny crystals underfoot. The giant steps onto the pond and turns its surface to ice, which cracks beneath its weight, but holds it firm. The girl stands across the pond.

The girl, now thinking, wishes to run back to find her friend—but she does not think quickly enough. The girl knows that the swiftest return to her friend lies across the pond, and she steps onto it, hoping to rush over the previously-formed ice before the giant turns to notice. The girl stumbles. The ice cracks further. The girl falls.

The girl floats in the pond as dappled light streams down through the ripples, azure winter waves drifting softly over the surface. She shivers in the cold, but her clothes seem so heavy now, and she wishes to be rid of them; she doffs a glove but quickly regrets doing so, and thus shoves her hand into her pocket. She touches the key, and wishes desperately. She wishes for warmth and a hearth. She wishes for a floor and a roof. She wishes to be wherever this key calls home.

Visual Component Reasoning

In this scene, I wished to drown the viewer. I wished to make the hands reaching up from the bottom of the image into the viewer’s hands, and thus make the view upward more personal and impactful. I also wished to stick to the theme of the fluidity of dreams by having the view overlap between cloud-like and wave-like; in this regard, the beams of light doubled as sunlight filtered through water and the symbolic representation of heaven. Thus, the viewer is not only drowning, but dying—emphasized by the drifting words, the last thoughts of the drowning person. Such morbidity is not uncommon in art, particularly in that which is abstract or surreal, as exemplified by this quote about the works of Aragon, Breton, Desnos, and Ernst: “The persistence of images of bodily fragmentation in surrealist art and literature . . . represented a deep understanding of the structural problems inherent in using the human body as a focal point for social action” (Lyford 68); Hal Foster even “identified within [surrealism] a compulsion toward death” (Fer 158). Interesting, that a genre so associated with dreamlike states—wherein all is false and therefore cannot die—would simultaneously explore a fascination with morbidity. The center focus of this image is the source of the light, which is a crack representing the ice through which the character of the narrative fell. Tree branches are vaguely visible above, as a beacon of life and safety that is out of reach, while the colors gradually transition from lighter blue-greens to darker purples, emphasizing the sense of sinking. The light becomes the source of both desire and fear, as a light of salvation and of death’s grip.


Supernatural Dreamscape
The Quiet Manse


She runs at me at breakneck speed, feinting left and right so that I have no hope of tracking her movements. When she slows to wrap her arm around me in a headlock, I duck, push my right shoulder into her stomach, and send her to the ground, but not before her teeth rake across my forearm, eliciting a pained grunt from my lips. She growls in frustration as I pounce on her, raking my nails across her face as I somersault back into a kneeling position above her head. I take off, knowing that even had I stayed and gotten my hands around her throat, she would have just flicked me into the wall as if I were an annoying mosquito.

The next room holds little in the way of hope. There are two windows I could crash through, incurring multiple cuts and bruises and still having the crazed ghoul on my tail; there is a counter with drawers that I could search through, though I wouldn’t have much time and there might not be anything useful; and finally, there is a heavy, dark-wooden table and chairs in the center of the room, under a sturdy-looking chandelier. If it could support my weight, I could be in an advantageous position by the time she ran through the door behind me. Jumping onto the table, I test the strength of the large, metal contraption. It seems solid, without rust, and I decide to try it. Swinging up between the chains and crystals, I hook my legs through the rim and hang downward, reaching into the pouch strapped to the side of my leg for a weapon. That’s when I hear the loud crack that thrums through the room above me. She hasn’t followed me at all; she’s gotten to the next floor to crash the ceiling in on me. The ceiling I am now hanging from. The ceiling that is now starting to give way.

Clawing and punching through the somewhat rotted floor of the room above me won’t take her long, so I flip down onto the table and try to make a run for it. I’m too late. Seconds after my boots hit the table, the chandelier groans and breaks free of the crumbling ceiling, the heavy frame that I had once though to be my savior now crushing me. As my back hits the wood, I see a hole open in the ceiling where the chandelier had hung, and it’s just large enough to let the ghoul drop down beside me. I thank God that she doesn’t come down straight on top of me, else I’d have more problems to deal with than a chandelier.

I quickly try to take stock of my situation, numbering the ribs that had probably cracked or broken under my metal captor. Groaning, I once again reach for the pouch, praying that I can still get to its contents. As she walks over, eyes fiercely intent on my limp form, I grasp my last hope in my hand. The ghoul quips no witty one-liners, gives no Bond villain speech; instead, she unceremoniously kicked the chandelier off of me, eager to get at my throat. She’s too far gone into the Rage to notice the open vial in my hand. I smash the glass into her eyes, and she screams as the water works its way into the sockets. I pray thanks for the warded pouch that had kept the flask safe and lift myself from the table as the ghoul continues to rake at her face. The scratches she adds to the ones I’d left earlier do nothing to prevent the flesh from melting and running down her shaking form.

Seeing my opportunity to escape, I lift myself from the table and cautiously hobble around the crouching, screeching ghoul; then, as fast as I can—which admittedly isn’t very fast—I run out of the decrepit house, clutching my side and gritting my teeth against the pain.

Visual Component Reasoning

This scene is intended to appear vaguely unnerving, without being threatening. The chandelier is white and solid, with intricate components held aloft by fanciful curves. Its surroundings are opulent, yet markedly more decayed; similarly, despite being well-lit, the very openness of the connecting rooms suggests that there is something more within the scene. The background is desaturated, which draws further attention to the bright, central chandelier; gradually expanding in size toward the bottom, it draws the eye downward to the table, though the eye skips the similarly desaturated wood in favor of the red stain beneath it. This blood is what cements the tingling sensation of danger. As a cohesive whole, the scene is meant to convey an impression of general unease, due to its apparent attempts to mask any potentially threatening elements. In other words, it is a visual Aristotelian enthymeme, or “an argument in which the arguer deliberately leaves unstated a premise that is essential to its reasoning. Doing so has the effect of drawing the audience to participate in its own persuasion by filling in that unexpressed premise itself” (Blair 261). Darkness is replaced with light, confined spaces are passed over in favor of openness, a blood stain is covered by a table—and, ultimately, even the text is full of contrasts, borrowing from the quote, “Thus, the sacred and taboo derive strength from each other, as Utopia and Apocalypse, at first seemingly at odds, end up by completing each other” (Ingebretsen XVI). What else might be hiding behind this apparent quasi-utopian mask?