Our sounds of other people talking, of cars

Our society has a certain influence when it comes to
language, that masks the true definition of countless words, which, in turn,
offers a deceiving effect that makes those words mirror the definition of
others, even if that definition is not accurate to those terms. A suitable
example of this is from the beginning of the semester, when our class
brilliantly described how the terms “dream” or “dreaming” have been used
interchangeably with words that are, in fact, not so similar. Those words
include hallucination, image, etc. While that lesson was eye-opening, it is imperative
to note that the confusion of definitions between words does not stop there. Another
example of this common mix-up is lies within the terms “listening” and
“hearing.” While these terms, and their definitions, occupy the same space,
their operations are entirely different. This misconception, and the terms’
true meanings, is described best by famous philosopher Roland Barthes in his
exquisite essay Listening. It is only
through the close examination of this informative essay, that readers can begin
to apply their close reading skills to another brilliant piece written by the famous
essayist Charles Lamb, titled “Dream Children,” which is crucial to the
understanding of the differences between “listening,” “hearing,” and dream listening as a whole.

            The
unbreakable bond between Barthes’ Listening
and Lamb’s “Dream Children is due to the common misconceptions surrounding the
terms “listening” and “hearing.” In order to fully submerge ourselves in
Barthes’ incredible piece, we have to first understand the true meanings behind
such intriguing words. While most have blended the definitions together, it is
important that we determine where their similarities begin to drift apart.
Despite the fact that “listening” and “hearing” do occupy the same space, their
meanings are actually quite different. When it comes to listening, it is a task that an individual is consciously aware
they are doing. Listening entails that one is processing the words, sounds, and
emotions that another is inflicting upon themselves. An ideal example of a
listener would be a therapist, since their main job is to listen to their patient share the troubles and hardships they have
or are currently enduring. Therapists would not be able to effectively aid
their patients if they simply heard
what they had to say. This is because hearing
is a skill that virtually anyone can do, due to the fact that it happens
subconsciously. Whether we are aware of it or not, it happens to us every day.
When you are walking to class, but are absorbed in your cellphone, you can
still hear the sounds of other people
talking, of cars zooming past, or of the never-ending construction taking place
on campus. However, you are not listening
to these sounds because you are preoccupied with another task. If you took the
time to erase all distractions and give these familiar sounds your undivided
attention, that is when you would be listening
to them. Therefore, it comes down to whether you are just perceiving the
sounds, or if you are letting them register with your own emotions in order to react
and become one with them.       

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            In
Barthes’ writing, Listening, he
wastes no time instructing his readers on the real definitions of “listening”
and “hearing.” Beginning with “hearing,” he describes this tool as a
“psychological phenomenon” rather than a “psychological act,” which is what he
labels “listening” as. I suppose this could reflect the above definitions whose
main difference focuses on the subconscious act vs conscious act. Next, he
dives even deeper to paint a clear picture of how, and why, these terms are so
different. Instead of sharing a short and simple definition for the term
“listen,” he offers a series of well thought-out types of listening, that could
not operate without the others. Beginning with alert, readers are introduced to what first separates “listening”
from “hearing.” When something is only being heard, the information is not being registered in the brain, thus, the
brain cannot be alerted to react like it would if listening was to take place.
Second, readers arrive at deciphering.
This is also a type of response that is impossible to occur while a noise is simply
being heard. Lastly, readers arrive
at the final stage of listening, which can be described as a type of listening
that “does not aim at – or await – certain determined, classified signs … such
listening is supposed to develop in an inter-subjunctive space where ‘I am
listening’ also means ‘listen to me'”(246). These unique types of listening are
critical to our understanding of not only the differences between “listening”
and “hearing,” but our ability to accurately close read Lamb’s “Dream Children”
as well.

            The most
adamant theme in “Dream Children” is loss and regret, which weighs heavily on
readers, and exemplifies Lamb’s mental state throughout the duration of the
essay. From the beginning, readers are made aware that the speaker is opening
up these wounds from his childhood again because of his “children’s”
overwhelming desire to listen to
stories from his past. The speaker proceeds to unbottle his traumatizing
stories unto his children, in a manner that leads readers to believe he has not
had the opportunity to be listened to, or heard, before. He starts to speak of
his late grandmother and brother, John, and how their deaths left him alone,
therefore, without their love. The speaker makes it apparent that the death of
two important people did not crush him like it would others, but the pain of
losing a loved one is still one that cannot be soothed, especially John’s. The
speaker “missed him all day long, and knew not till then how much he had
loved him”(7). Learning of the speaker’s struggles hits home for many readers,
as countless people suffer loss and tragedy very similar to what is described
in the text. Feeling alone while enduring these negative emotions makes the
process to overcome that much harder.
In order to surpass any type of hardship, it needs to be spoken of, or else it
will bottle up inside just like it did for the speaker, and spill on the first
person to ask. Not only do hardships need to be spoken of, but they need to be listened to, and this is where Barthes’ Listening becomes critical in our close
understanding of “Dream Children.” When you are confronted with a problem that
is as overwhelming as a death in the family, it can become difficult to decipher, and react, to that information
on your own. Hence, why Barthes’ second type of listening is important to
comprehend in order to grasp why the speaker would be bestowing such gruesome
information unto children. In Barthes’ masterpiece, the second type of
listening is when we arrive at deciphering,
which is the stage of listening where the speaker has a receiver to react to
the information given. When we begin to close read “Dream Children,” we begin
to realize that is exactly what the speaker is craving. He has a strong desire
to have an outside party to talk to about his troubles because he cannot beat
them on his own. The children in this piece embody a psychoanalyst, or a safe
person to talk to, that he can tell anything to. Another way that it becomes
more obvious that the children resemble therapists is because they were the
ones who asked the speaker to share his stories in the first place. Had the
children not requested that he talk about his past, the speaker might have
never done so, which would keep him trapped in his tornado of emotions. A counselor’s
job is to create a safe and inviting environment for the patient that eases
their anxieties enough to let them get the weight of their struggles of their
chests, which is exactly what the speaker did for himself in this dream with
the children.

            Moving
further in the narrator’s picture-perfect territory that he has created for
himself in order to feel comfortable sharing his difficulties, we arrive at one
of the children, named Alice. After describing the significant loss of his
grandmother and brother John, he discusses a different type of loss surrounding
the love of his life, also named
Alice. From the way the speaker longs for Alice, and vents about his undying
love for her, it seems as though being rejected from her carried a more painful
sting than the death of his own blood. After he pursued Alice “for seven long
years,” his attempts to swoon her ended in nothing but failure. Looking at his
dream under a microscope, it is no coincidence that one of his children he is
talking to is named Alice. Barthes’ third type of listening provides us with
the tools we need to understand why the two girls have been named the same. The
third type of listening is about the act of reciprocating, “I am listening”
translates to “listen to me” and vise versa. The child, Alice, in his dream
represents the perpetual love he has for the original Alice, and he wants
nothing more than for her to listen
to him, everything that he has endured, and why he feels the way he does about
her. Up until this point in his life, the speaker has been unheard and
overlooked, which is why he remains as emotional and broken as the first time
these incidents took place. Since the people he loved the most have either
passed away or have rejected his efforts for love, affection, and attention, he
has been unable to find a listening
ear to free his mind of the damaging feelings he has been experiencing. In his
dream, he places Alice as both the psychoanalyst and herself in hopes of
getting through to her one last time. The narrator’s hope to be understood by
Alice can only be done if she makes the choice to listen to him, not just hear
him. For when you are being listened
to, the receivers (Alice) make the conscious choice to let the words resonate
with them to form a reaction of their own. When you are being heard, the subconscious takes control
and drowns specific words and phrases that make the sentence whole, so reacting
becomes that much more difficult and confusing for both parties.

            Barthes’
helping hand when it comes to interpreting Lamb’s “Dream Children” through
writings of his own does not end there, because readers stumble upon another
engulfing writing tool that Lamb applies in his piece. That is, repetition. Lamb
repeats certain moments from his stories that might appear unusual to those who
are not analyzing “Dream Children” closely with assistance from Barthes’ Listening. Beginning with the tale of
his grandmother’s passing, we learn of her religious background. After
explaining the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her death, Lamb moves “on
to say, how good and how religious his grandmother Field was.” For the
average reader, skimming those words once would have been enough to understand
that she was religious, but that is not the only point Lamb is trying to make
here. Further along, we reach a familiar point in the text where her religion
is mentioned again. Lamb writes that “she was such a good and religious person”
and that he “was never half so good or religious as she.” After noticing that
his grandmother’s religion has been spoken of three times, we can apply our
close reading skills to understand that our narrator deeply admires religion.
For him, it helps to build character, which is why he strives to be as
remarkable as she. Continuing, it is not uncommon for individuals who are
facing difficult times to turn to religion as a means to cope. Here, we see the
narrator tapping into his religious background, with his grandmother’s help, to
see the light at the end of the tunnel. Moving on, he explains on more than one
occasion how “good she was to all her grand-children” by phrasing it once more
in an almost identical way. He “told how their great-grandmother Field loved
all her grandchildren”. The fact that Lamb makes it a point to restate similar
happenings so close to one another is no mistake, he is asking his readers to
read between the lines in order to get the most out of his text. Lamb is
repeating small details like these because they hold a significant place in his
heart, these memories of his family are ones that he hopes to cling onto to
keep their existence alive. It is no secret that our narrator is feeling
especially lonely after the death of both his family and hopes of pursuing
Alice, so the repetition of positive memories with these noteworthy people help
him deal with with the fact that they are gone.

            Coming
to the conclusion that our speaker repeats certain moments to retain memories
of his loved ones is something that can
be done without Barthes. However, without Barthes’ expertise in Listening, it would be near impossible to learn the logos side to
repetition. It does not take long for Barthes to explore the history of
repetition and rhythm with his audience, and the style in this work leaves no
room for misunderstanding. With no time to waste, Barthes introduces us to the
first prominent sightings of rhythm and repetition. On the walls of the
Mousterian epoch, there have been “certain rhythmic incisions – and everything
suggests that these first rhythmic representations coincide with the appearance
of the first human habitations”(248). Using the same theory that sketches
inscribed on the walls showed that those were the first signs of habitation, it
is fair to say that the reason why our narrator repeats certain aspects of his
childhood in “Dream Children” is because the more he engraves those happenings
into his head, the longer his grandmother will remain as a habitant in his memory.

            Barthes
presents another fascinating idea to his readers when he writes that “without
rhythm, no language is possible”(249), adding that “listening ceases to be a purely
supervisory activity and becomes creation”(249). What audiences can gather from
these remarkable concepts is that listening and learning go hand in hand. We
can apply these ideas to Lamb’s “Dream Children” to prove that not only does
our speaker want the children to listen to him in order to straighten out his
thoughts and emotions, but he is also striving to boost their growth by
introducing them to life’s mishaps. We know this to be true because Barthes
later notes that “the best legend which accounts for the birth of language is
the Freudian story of the child who mimes his mother’s absence and presence as
a game”(249). In short, this tale states how a child used rhythm and repetition
as a means of learning and adapting to daily life with and without the comfort
of his mother. This can be tied to Lamb’s “Dream Children” since Lamb is proving
that children’s minds are like sponges, because they crave to absorb everything
around them. In the beginning of Lamb’s work, it is the children who are eager
to listen to the speaker’s stories, and take mental notes of what he shares
with them.

            Through
the busy hustle and bustle of our days, and the everchanging technologies that
call out to us at every chance they get, it becomes harder to remember the
significant details we encounter, especially differences between terms like
“listening” and “hearing” that appear to be so similar, but are really very
different. Hence, why writings such as Barthes’ Listening are vital to our understanding of such gripping words.
His ability to break down usually complex definitions into subcategories to
enhance comprehension for his readers is something to marvel at, since it makes
submerging yourself into other texts that much better. Specifically, Charles
Lamb’s “Dream Children.” Our appreciation for such a riveting piece only
amplifies when in stride with Barthes’ Listening,
which is what readers depend on for their close reading of “Dream Children.”
Both of these works produce enthralling ideas, that when stated in union show
just how important they are. Even read independently, they are still amazing.
However, when read together, it allows the reader to explore all the crevasses
of “Dream Children,” which helps to highlight the meanings of these pieces,
leaveing a lasting impression that can influence audiences to expand their
knowledge on the authors, their topics, and the vast difference between words
that were once thought to be so similar. Thus, why it is best to allow these
two texts to mirror each other, in order to learn the most from each writer and
their works.                         

             

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