The Palace of Dreams
by Ismail Kadare
(Arcade, 2014)

The Palace of Dreams is the first book by Ismail Kadare I have read. He is a very respected novelist, and someone who is often discussed, alongside Milan Kundera, as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, not that that really means anything anymore, if it ever did.

The Palace of Dreams does present a twisted sort of totalitarian state unlike any other dystopian fiction I have encountered. It is a world where dreams are monitored and interpreted by government bureaucrats. The novel opens with the protagonist, civil servant Mark-Alem, taking on a new position at the Tabir Sarrail, “the famous bureau of sleep and dreams.”

During his initial meeting for a job interview at the palace of dreams, Mark-Alem is told, “The fundamental principle of the Tabir Sarrail resides not in being open to outside influences but in remaining closed to them. Not in openness but in isolation.” This says a great deal about the psychological effect of such a bizarre dystopia, in a world that is pre-Internet, where the dystopian globalist forces have to get creative on how to monitor its citizens. It is not the physical world that this totalitarian fascistic government is interested in. Rather, it is the subconscious, the world of dreams, and the world of abstractions.

Mark-Alem is assigned to the Selection department of the byzantine Tabir Sarrail and learns of the odd hierarchy that includes departments on Selection and Interpretation, as well as Master-Dream officers that deal with the Arch-Dream. The Arch-Dream is viewed by these government bureaucrats as a history-shaping turning point and central to this empire’s destiny. In the Tabir Sarrail, it is said, “It is here, better than in any surveys, statements, or reports compiled by inspectors, policemen, or governors of pashaliks, that the true state of the Empire may be assessed. For in the nocturnal realm of sleep are to be found both the light and the darkness of humanity, its honey and its poison, its greatness and its vulnerability.”

The Palace of Dreams explores the psychotic nature of bureaucracy as well as a hive mind sort of mentality. Mind control, or thought control, existing and being enforced in a tyrannical way is something that was interesting to meditate on while reading this.

Though many of the dreams presented in the novel appear abstract and even impenetrable, it is the hidden language of the mind that they are interested in commodifying in this freaky surveillance state. There is a memorable scene in this novel where Mark-Alem learns about a man who had dreamed a mysterious dream and is held captive and interrogated over the meaning of his dream. Mark-Alem reasons, “It must be a question of flushing out subversive ideas which for some reason or other the State needed to isolate, as one isolates a plague virus in order to be able to neutralize it.”

I feel obligated to say something about the world today in relation to this novel. I will say that the intrusive nature of digital surveillance is subliminal in relation to the subconscious, and what we choose to look at on the internet often reflects our inner mental state. We do live in a world where technological innovation is often developed in a way to keep us addicted and enslaved to it. A world where we don’t have the choice of participation. We have to participate, whether we actually want to or not. This is intrusive at the soul level, which will ultimately create a kind of soul-deadening effect. To me, it is basically murder. To destroy dreams and their imaginative properties it would no longer make a man a man. He would be a bug man, an insect, a despicable creature disowned by all his ancestors.

The Palace of Dreams and our contemporary neoliberal technocracy has created a world where it’s nearly impossible for people to naturally be themselves and express themselves naturally in some circumstances without fear of consequence. A world where totalitarian surveillance includes dream interpretation and a much more subconscious kind of observation among citizens. Many bureaucrats in the Tabir Sarrail don’t understand the purpose or the meaning of the work they do, selecting and interpreting dreams, and participate in this ritualistic humiliating exercise in conformity without fully understanding the larger function they serve. Here is a common attitude held by employees of the Tabir Sarrail: “…dreams, regarded as private and solitary visions on the part of an individual, belonged to a merely temporary phase in the history of mankind, and that one day they would lose this specificity and become just as available to everyone as other human activities.”

Despite the disturbing implications, I enjoyed this book, and felt inner peace within myself while reading it. I thought about Albania and Eastern Europe. I thought about totalitarianism and extreme ideologies. I thought about previous time periods and how they viewed tyranny. I thought about dreams. I recommend this book.

Click here to buy The Palace of Dreams.