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ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

ISSN: 1549-6732
Volume 4, Issue 1 (2008).

Being Decentered in Sandman: History, Dreams, Gender

and the 'Prince of Metaphor and Allusion
By Rodney Sharkey
I am also aware that we are not yet able to make a survey of the whole of the new
acquisitions which these studies have brought to psychology. I will only point out the fresh
proofs they have provided of the existence of unconscious mental acts and what an
unimaginably broad access to knowledge of unconscious mental life we are promised by the
interpretation of dreams.
Sigmund Freud, "The Dream Work, " 107.
The concept of centered structure although it represents coherence itself is
contradictorily coherent. And as always coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a
Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," 171.[2]

The concept of "story" both the telling and the tale is vital in Sandman.[3] Early in the
series we are introduced to characters and plot lines that stress the importance of stories and
narratives to individuals. For example, Bette the waitress in "Waiting for the End of the
World" (#6) imagines all of the stories of her customers as she serves coffee in the diner. In
"Calliope" (#17) the eponymous heroine's imprisonment is the price to be paid for providing
a story for her captor. The stories from the (Inn at the) "World's End" sequence (#51-56)
emphasize oral telling as social bond, and in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" even Hamnet
Shakespeare is heard to say that "all that matters to Dad is the stories" (#19/14). Moreover,
in "Tales in the Sand" (#9) the paternal tribal ritual of passing on the story from male to
male emphasizes the ritual of the storytelling beyond the specific story's content value.
More important here are the terms of the telling that maintain family lineage as the story is
passed from father to son. In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard remarks of the story
telling traditions of the Cashinahua Indians that "the narrator's only claim to competence for
telling the story is the fact that he has heard it himself. The current narratee gains potential

access to the same authority simply by listening. It is claimed that the narrative is a faithful
transmission and that it has been told 'forever'" (20). So it is with oral stories of patriarchal
power; they have been told "forever." They are, ostensibly, endless. In "Tales in the Sand"
the tale told is of a man who loved a woman and of a woman's duty to her people. It is a tale
of love, responsibility, and of patriarchal revenge. In "Tales of the Sand" it is Nada's tale.
By the end of the Sandman series it is the tale of Morpheus, misogyny and transformation.
In the end, Morpheus the keeper of dreams is incredibly tired, tired of his mistakes and
tired of his positioning in a game that relies on him to be, in the words of Jacques Lacan, the
"law of the father," or, more simply, "the law." (crits 74)
In Lacan's explorations of dreams and desire, "the law," the "Name-of-the-Father," "the
Other" and the "Phallus" are various designations for the center of authority within a system
(or systems) of complex imaginary and symbolic relations. Such signifiers operate as a
fulcrum that drives Lacan's theory of a linguistic unconscious, helping to confer meaning in
and through language. For example, Lacan believes that the young male child who loves his
mother attempts to identify what she desires, so becoming a phallus for the mother. In this
formulation a phallus is the desired object that satisfies maternal desires, and not a material
penis.[4] Nonetheless, the notion of the phallus is inextricably linked to the authority
generated by the "Name of the Father" who, representing the threat of castration, occupies
the role of a master signifier. As Lacan notes: "It is in the name of the father that we must
recognize the support of the symbolic function which, from the dawn of history, has
identified his person with the figure of the law" (crits 74).
For Lacan, patriarchal power is represented as a symbol and/or signifier of prohibition
which carries the threat of castration. In Sandman we see that Dream is positioned as a
potential patriarchal authority in the fictional heterocosm of the graphic novel, and yet for
all of Morpheus' domineering attitude and downright misogyny for all of his 'Name of the
Father' authority his influence is somehow, simultaneously, gender pluralistic. For this
reason Sandman succeeds in both constructing a realistic picture of relations between the
sexes where phallocentric discourse can often entrap and brutalize women and in
providing a space where a handful of women arrive at a form of liberation from this
discourse. It is able to produce this contradictorily coherent paradox by alternating between
two planes, or two worlds that of the physical plane and that of the dreaming plane
where finally neither plane is the site of an originary, central form of authority.
In the heterocosm of Sandman the world of dreams produces a chain of displacements
which appear at first glance to be linear and chronological but which always reflect back
upon themselves to the site of an intense difference. At this place of shifting, littoral sand
the notion of center is endlessly displaced into a paradoxical plurality that forecloses the
possibility of singularity and, with it, the space for originary authority. In other words,

Sandman succeeds in challenging patriarchal discourse, and the narratives that it incubates,
by interrogating notions of story, narrative, and dream, and thus playing with the centrality
of phallocentric authority. In conjunction with this deconstructive approach to the signs of
patriarchal authority, the comic also serves as an interesting cultural text through which one
can examine and interrogate the differences between a Derridean and Lacanian approach to
both the signifying processes of language and their relationship to phallocentric discourse.

(The)Center (cannot hold)

In order to articulate these shifting sands it is necessary to identify how, in Sandman,
conventional notions of God, history and story are to use a term from Freud's "The
Dream-Work" "differently centered and strange" (101). To Freud's assessment of dreams
we can also add Derrida's observation, expressed in "Force and Signification," that
"meaning must await being said or written in order to inhabit itself, and in order to become,
by differing from itself, what it is: meaning" (183). As a result of this deferred arrival,
Derrida suggests that "the center is not the center" (SSP 177). By linking Freud's theory of
dreams to Derrida's notion of deferred meaning it is possible to articulate much of what is
different about Sandman. To do this, however, is to undertake an operation that utilizes
Freud's reading of dreams without returning interpretation to an Oedipal originary point;
rather it is to imagine dreams as a form of differential discourse. In this regard, Jacques
Lacan has done much to move psychoanalytic discourse away from the materiality of the
father as physical motif in the story of human socialization, but his critique still requires the
transcendent signifier of the "Name of the Father," or "Phallus." For Lacan, "man cannot
aim at being whole while ever the play of displacement and condensation to which he is
doomed in the exercise of his functions marks his relation as subject to the signifier" (crits
Derrida, on the other hand, sees all signifying practices as deferred presence and as links in
the chain of the process of meaning: a process without closure because it has no
transcendent or central signifier. Reading dreams and Dream through a Derridean treatment
of Freud allows us to perceive a seminal trace of what Cixous calls "a feminine practice of
writing" (323). However, in order to suggest that all discourse in Sandman is non-self
identical (without a governing sign) and so offer an alternative to Lacan's belief that human
experience is grounded in patriarchal discourse, it is first necessary to establish if there is a
primary patriarchal figure at the center of the Sandman' s symbolic order. In this regard,
both Derrida and Lacan have recognized socially and historically that the ultimate social
(and most typically) transcendent phallus is the idea of god, the sign that structures the male
order of discourse under and through which the symbolic order functions.


Does god exist in Sandman? Apparently he does and he does not. If one monotheistic center
does wield power in the world of Sandman, then he is partially recognizable as the JudeoChristian godhead the Western world imagines. He is known as "One" "the Shaper" who
put the mark of protection on Cain's head and who sent Lucifer Morningstar, Remiel and
Duma to supervise hell (#22-27, see Figure 1). He condemns Lucifer to dream of heaven
(#4), and through his angels he communicates to Morpheus that the restoration of hell was
necessary for balance (#27, see Figure 2). Whoever he is, he is certainly a creature of binary
thought and his influence is all pervasive. For example, in "The Sound of Her Wings" (#8)
Death reminds Dream of his function, which is to offset human terror at the inevitability of
death, thus contrasting dreaming with dying. Destruction too announces that "a coin has two
sides" (#47/11). Another recognizable feature of this Shaper is that he is a noninterventionist god. For example, the exercising of free will is everywhere present in
Sandman and even for Morpheus himself the option is a catalyst for great angst. Before the
Sandman series begins, Destruction has already walked away from his responsibilities and
during the series Lucifer walks out on hell.
Yet the notion of the Shaper as a ruling, monotheistic God is problematic. Death, even after
she has reminded Morpheus of his role in the order of things, refers to hell as "the most
desirable plot of psychic real estate" (#24/13), which indicates that hell is more properly
psychological and therefore symbolic. This is best exemplified in "Season of Mists" by the
young Paine's recurring hell, which is one of school corridors in which something "sad and
lonely and terrible" is always following (#25/8, see Figure 3). He finally concludes: "I think
Hell is something you carry around with you, not somewhere you go" (#25/22). So although
in "A Hope in Hell" (#4), Lucifer tells Morpheus that hell is dependent on Dream for its
power (because dreams allow demons to dream of heaven), Lucifer nonetheless leaves hell.
He walks away and so challenges the necessity of the binary relation between heaven and
hell prevailing. Destruction too departs the Endless family, convinced that human
destruction will continue unabated in his absence.
For Morpheus, both freely-willed departures redouble the role of dreams in the order of
things, and as with order, responsibility follows. Thus Morpheus broods over
responsibilities and interminable rules. Morpheus even tells Remiel that he does not see the
point of hell (#27), a conclusion that underscores his belief in binary relationships and his
contradictory tendency to maintain power structures despite not believing in them. In this
regard, Morpheus stands in clear contrast to Delirium, who is part-mistress, part-subject of
her own pluralistic discourse and functions without any perceived sense of responsibility.
Morpheus is burdened with the responsibility of maintaining a universe very similar to what
Lacan calls "the symbolic order." As a result, he shows fidelity to a binary world he knows
to be illusory and even seems to believe in the transcendent sign of hope. We are forced to
ask ourselves why he places so much faith in his responsibilities when all around him others

are losing theirs. And then we are suddenly made aware of something very important in
"The Parliament of Rooks." In this story Matthew asks Abel "All this biblical stuff. I mean,
how true is it?" Abel responds that it happened but it "whuwasn't on earth."(#40/ 21, see
Figure 4). In other words, in dreams religion is. In Dream god is.
At first glance Abel's suggestion would appear to have a certain metaphysical symmetry to
it. Although there is a divine Shaper in Sandman (deliberately not referred to as "god"
throughout the series), it is Dream who is the center and locus of humanity's transcendent
expectations, and therefore religious values. Thus, in Sandman, the shaper shapes humanity
with absolute free will and hell is no more than the product of guilt produced by conscience
(hence the reason that Lucifer finally realizes he need no longer rule in hell). Notions of
guilt, salvation and redemption are "such stuff as dreams are made on" (#75/27) and they
originate in Dream.[5] In "the Dreamtime" the notion of god must arise from within dreams.
Morpheus himself informs us in "Imperfect Hosts" that "The Dreamworld, the Dreamtime,
the unconscious, call it what you will is as much part of me as I am part of it" (#2/17).
Thus, god too is a part of him.
In Sandman, Gaiman has generated a binary notion of 'God' in which the physical and
mental are complementary and symbiotic. Morpheus has not been responsible for creating
humanity "in the darkness before time" (#24/14) but he is the source of their aspirations.
The Shaper shapes and Morpheus gives the shapes meaning in the form of dreams. In
Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Donna Haraway has noted that
binary oppositions, or dualisms, fuel Western epistemology (commonly known as
metaphysics) towards particular ends:
[Binary oppositions] have all been systematic to the logics and practices of domination of
women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals in short domination of all constituted as
others, whose task is to mirror the self. Chief among these dualisms are self/other, mind/body,
culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, active/passive,
truth/illusion, God/man. (177)
In such a paradigm the Shaper and Morpheus would represent "reality/imaginary" and
"ontology/epistemology" or, in a more simplified form, "bodies/thoughts."
When one takes into account Morpheus' familial relations, the Shaper and Dream are not
alone in this type of dualism, or binary complementarity, and as the Dream/Death
conversation above illustrates, almost any two of the Endless (but, crucially, not them all)
can be thrown into binary relief with each other, generating a self-defining dualism in the
process. The fact that there are other god-like figures in the pantheon of the Endless does
not, at first, disturb the metaphysical equation. In metaphysics these relations maintain a

binary structure wherein "the finite" is contrasted with "the eternal" (Endless) in the shape
of "gods" and "man." Such figures which represent the infinite domain of the non-human
reinforce the all pervasive logic of Platonic metaphysics in which meaning is conferred on
the shadowy world of human reality by the perfect world of forms that defines it. Jacques
Derrida, in "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," writes that
there is no sense in doing without the concept of metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics. We
have no language no syntax and no lexicon which is foreign to this history; we can
pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form,
the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest (178).
At first glance, so it is with the concepts of gods and center in Sandman. Myth is
metaphysical by nature, offering explanation and meaning for all human desires through
recourse to ideas that govern and organize our symbolic realities. In formulating the mythic
domain of Sandman, Gaiman creates a metaphysical universe that can grow exponentially.
In simple terms, humanity requires god, or gods, to mean and to function, and invests in
these figures unceasing projections of desire. Thus the metaphysical relation between man
and god becomes reciprocal and infinite. However, Derrida suggests that a strategy for
challenging the pervasiveness of metaphysics
consists in conserving all of these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while
here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used. No longer
is any truth value attributed to them; [] their relative efficacy is exploited, and they are
employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are
pieces. (SSP 182)
Following this approach what Derrida calls "bricolage" (after Lvi-Strauss) it is possible
to argue that although he employs the architecture of myth, Gaiman also invests his mythic
family with libidinal drives that characterize rebellious daughters as Goths and Ravers, and
elder sons as feckless hedonists. In short, he deconstructs the notion of family, be it Endless
or not, by emphasizing the turbulence and irruptions within; the very thing that challenges
the logic of family. The Endless bitch, backbite and maliciously undermine each other like
every other dysfunctional family in this material realm. The Endless, as portrayed in
Sandman, are the self-destructive family par excellence.
Another way Gaiman deconstructs metaphysical binary thought is by depicting the Endless
primarily as discursive elements rather than corporeal beings. Derrida also identifies what
he refers to as "the linguistic turn" in philosophy (which implicitly rejects the transcendent
place Lacan affords the phallus) as a crucial moment in the destabilizing of metaphysics.[6]
The linguistic turn is the moment when language invaded the moment when everything
became discourse that is to say, a system in which the central signified, the original or
transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside of a system of differences. The

absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain of play and of signification infinitely.
And this, to a large degree, is the crux of the matter. Morpheus not only has differences with
his siblings, he is also different to himself. If one accepts that a sign only has meaning in its
difference from other signs as Derrida suggests in "Force and Signification" then it
follows that "meaning must await being said or written in order to inhabit itself, and in order
to become, by differing from itself, what it is: meaning" (183). Derrida's notion of
"diffrance" is important in this regard. Focusing on the French verb "diffrer" and the fact
that it incorporates both English terms "to differ" and "to defer," Derrida suggests that this
double movement of both spatial and temporal difference is silenced by the semantic
delimitation it receives when contextualized within a sentence, or phrase. This
contextualization is undertaken in order to deny its purely differential identity.[7]
In relation to Sandman, Morpheus has a 'similarly differential' identity. For example, he is
not an individuated subjectivity but is part of a chain of meaning incorporating the Shaper
and the Endless family. In a coherent but contradictory way, the Shaper and Morpheus
dualism is both the center of metaphysical thought in Sandman and, paradoxically, not the
center. Morpheus has his center elsewhere. Dream is then the non-self-identical difference
that constitutes "meaning." Although he is responsible for dreams as the predominant
human symbol of hope, it is a responsibility entrusted upon Morpheus by others rather than
one that derives from his own beliefs. In short, Dream is the locus of a metaphysical logic
that he himself resists. Given that the Shaper is given meaning through Dream and that
Dream is less than convinced of the Shaper's design, Morpheus is emblematic of a shifting

Delirium ploughs a similar furrow to Dream in that she is contradictorily coherent and a
further example of non-self identical difference. Delirium by her nature is unfixed; in "Brief
Lives," she announces she likes "airplanes. I like anywhere that isn't a proper place. I like
in-betweens" (#48/4).[8] As a result she and Dream make complementary travel companions
in the "Brief Lives" story. Indeed, an example of Dream's perpetual diffrance is to be
found in Delirium's surprise that he will help her find Destruction, and all that this will
entail for Morpheus. Moreover, he is also different to himself in action such as when he
assumes the moral center in agreeing to act as Executor of Hell (#23), and when he is utterly
immoral and unethical in his imprisoning of Nada (#9 & 22); he speaks, we learn, in the
different languages of those to whom he speaks (e.g. #53 & #73, see Figures 5 & 6); he is a
different god to different people at different moments in history Oneiros, Morpheus, the
Sandman and in each incarnation different to himself (e.g. #29 & #51); in issue by issue
of the Sandman series he is a different figure drawn and pencilled and coloured by different
artists (compare Figures 5, 6, 7 & 8), and his appearance differs from race to race and from

historical moment to historical moment (compare Figures 8 & 9). He is the site of infinite
play, despite his own dour demeanour, because he is the fluidity and unfixity of dreams
themselves. Ultimately he is a littoral being on whom is based the interplay of dreams and

Allied to Dream's 'difference to himself' is the fact that Morpheus is only one signified in
the chain of the Endless family. Within the family, each figure is different to each other and
they derive meaning through this difference. In other words, in Sandman there is no center
because as Derrida suggests the "original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely
present outside of a system of differences" (SSP 178). Hence, Delirium is touched by Desire
and Despair, and Dream must offer solace to humanity in the face of Death because he feels
responsibility for a world generated by a Shaper, and for which he functions as the locus of
In Lacan's formulation of unconscious dependence, neurosis produces aggressive paranoia
and "aggressivity gnaws away, undermines, disintegrates; it castrates; it leads to death"
(crits 110). Death then is entwined with fear of both castration and the disintegration of
the imaginary ego. In Sandman, however, Morpheus is half in love with Keats's "easeful
death" that is his sister and the relationship is not founded on fear, aggressivity or lack
(manqu), but on mutual respect. In Sandman, Death would appear to represent escape from
patriarchal responsibility rather than the feared outcome of the failure to perpetuate
patriarchy and/or gratify desires within the symbolic order.
Derrida has noted that "the concept of centered structure although it represents coherence
itself is contradictorily coherent. And as always coherence in contradiction expresses the
force of a desire" (SSP 171). Whereas for both Lacan and Derrida contradiction reveals (and
revels in) desire, in Lacan the dialectic of desire is necessarily generated by the threat of
castration. Lacan believes that "The phallus is the privileged signifier of that mark in which
the role of the logos is joined with the advent of desire" (crits 318). For Lacan, desire
drives language prompting the often-quoted phrase that "the unconscious is structured like a
language" which carries desire in a metonymic chain that never allows for its consummation
or gratification (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis 203).
However, in Sandman, Dream is conscious of Desire's machinations. He is not the
unconscious dupe of Desire, nor are any of the other siblings. This is not to say that they are
not affected by desire. Dream desires Nada and Destruction desires peace of mind, away

from the killing fields. Death too desires to help Dream in the difficulties that lead to the
'birth' of Daniel as Dream King. The difference, however, is that all three know the role that
Desire plays in their choices so that they cannot be manipulated unconsciously. Because
"the Dreamworld, the Dreamtime, the unconscious [] is as much part of [them] as [they]
are part of it" (2/17) their motivations are known each to each with the result that they can
be motivated by desire but not unwittingly driven by it. As a result, "Desire" signifies the
difference generated between signifiers such as "Death" and "Destruction" and these
symbols remain unburdened by unconscious impulses. In the symbolic order of Morpheus'
domain, Desire is subject to the "Law of the Dreaming" rather than the other way around.
In Sandman, Desire frequently attempts to drive Dream towards Destruction, but Dream
by his/its very nature is a mechanism for releasing Desire's worst excesses.[9] This
suggests that Dream holds patriarchal sway over the feminized Desire. In this regard,
Derrida notes "the concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of play based on a
fundamental ground and on the basis of [which] anxiety can be mastered, for anxiety is
invariably the result of a certain mode of being implicated in the game" (SSP 171).
Similarly, the anxiety that builds in Morpheus throughout the Sandman series is just such; it
is the anxiety of being centered in a game as the source of the polarized opposite of the
For Lacan, to become an individual self is to be intersubjectively generated through desire
as a direct result of absence, or lack, as the object of the gaze of "the Other"; what Lacan
famously formulates as "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think" (crits
682). When Morpheus dies in Sandman, a recognizable form of patriarchy dies too.
Something obvious takes its course. Yet rather than ascribing to Morpheus the role of
patriarchal authority, or phallus, it is arguably better to side with Abel in calling Dream's
demise the passing of "A puh, point of view" (#71/4, see Figure 10). Further, this point of
view passes precisely because it was too antiquated and anachronistic; the result of being
positioned in binary relations that enforce all forms of metaphysical thought, including the
symbolic dominion of patriarchy. Another way of saying this is that it was not necessarily
even Morpheus's 'point of view,' but one "objectified in the dialectic of identification with
the other" (crits 49). Consciously aware of this objectification and unwilling any longer to
assume his position as the ostensibly central conduit of such meanings, he abdicates his
realm, becoming Daniel, a new Dream for a different age.
The result is that mutation and change is maintained as the perpetual rhythm of Dream,
mutations in meaning generated by the play of signifiers that produce it. Further, and in
relation to the notion of God in Sandman and its very idea of center, it would appear that
neither Dream nor the Shaper nor any of the Endless family properly represents the singular
source of such signification. Similarly, and with regard to Lacan's patriarchal system, it

would appear that there is no transcendent signifier in Sandman outside the play of a system
of differences.

Derrida has also recognized that another illusory center in the history of human
representation is the notion of "history whose origin may always be reawakened or whose
end may always be anticipated in the form of presence" (SSP 171). In this regard, Sandman
draws attention to the manner in which hegemonic power formulates institutionalized
histories, and how such powers frequently erase the presence of 'dream(s)' in doing so. In
Metahistory, the narratologist Hayden White has noted that in the construction of a history,
First the elements in the historical field are organized into a chronicle by the arrangement of the
events to be dealt with in the temporal order of their occurrence; then the chronicle is organized
into a story by the further arrangement of the events into the components of a 'spectacle' or
process of happening, which is thought to possess a discernible beginning, middle and end. (15)
White also notes that the nature of a chronicle's conclusion will provide its meaning and that
providing the 'meaning' of a story by identifying the kind of story that has been told is called
explanation by emplotment. If, in the course of narrating his story, the historian provides it with
the plot structure of a tragedy, he has explained it in one way; if he has structured it as a comedy,
he has 'explained' it in another way. Emplotment is the way by which a sequence of events
fashioned into a story is gradually revealed to be a story of a particular kind. (16)
Given then that historians adapt dates and events into a dramatic paradigm it is hardly
surprising that as Francis Barker notes in 1642: Literature and Power in the Seventeenth
Enough of the past is lost, and looks in any case so different from different points of vantage, for
history itself to be regarded as no more (and, indeed no less) than a present fiction which must be
constructed obliquely or directly according to the only half apprehended order of contemporary
needs and struggles (74).
With Gaiman aware of the nature of historical emplotment, Sandman exhibits a clear
understanding of the narrative distortions and concomitant received authority that arises
from a control of history. Stories such as "Dream of a Thousand Cats," (#17) which
suggests that humans have rewritten history in their own image, and "Ishtar" (#45), whose
eponymous character knows that all history is written by men, point towards the silenced
struggles not facilitated by contemporary hegemonic needs. Similarly, the potential
renaming of the months of the calendar year that we encounter in both "Thermidor" (#29)
and "August" (#30) indicate how history is utterly subject to the whim of men who, at any
particular point in history, may choose to alter not only history's detail but the manner in

which it is recorded. History[10] (particularly the brutal portrayal of Caesar in "August") is

one that is emplotted and encoded by patriarchy.
As we have seen, Sandman disturbs the received notions of story and history as originating
from the self-presence of man and god by displacing the center into both endless
substitutions of center, and dividing the center within itself. This constitutes an attack on the
notion of presence. Derrida notes that
the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the
West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix is the Determination of
Being as presence in all senses of the word. (SSP 177)
Against this, as documented above, Derrida argues that "the moment when language
invaded [] the moment when [] everything became discourse" (SSP 178) is a linguistic
turn that prioritises the play of meaning as first principle, and it is this play which disrupts
the notions of center, history and presence. In this regard Derrida writes:
Besides the tension between play and history, there is also the tension between play and
presence. Play is the disruption of presence. The presence of an element is always a signifying
and substitutive reference inscribed in a system of differences and the movement of a chain. Play
is always play of absence and presence, but if it is to be thought radically, play must be
conceived of before the alternative of presence and absence. Being must be conceived as
presence or absence on the basis of the possibility of play and not the other way around (SSP,
Arguably the most effective way in which Morpheus constitutes an assault on metaphysics
(through his difference which constitutes "meaning") is the manner in which dreams operate
to divide the notion of presence through the play of difference. Seymour Chatman
recognizes that
it has been argued since Aristotle that events in narratives are radically correlative, enchaining,
entailing. Their sequence, runs the traditional argument, is not simply linear but causative [].
But the interesting thing is that our minds inveterately seek structure, and they will provide it if
necessary. (111)
If the mind seeks structure when it is not immediately present, then it follows that a
Sandman reader will attempt to structure visual/verbal narratives that make at least a
cursory distinction between the binary realms of dreams and reality. However, in Sandman
this organizational capacity turns on the fulcrum of an essential metaphoric displacement;
the center of things is always already elsewhere, because once in dreams we have
abandoned reality, and yet in dreams the raw material of the experience disguises its
meaning. In other words, although a host of theorists have attempted to produce a taxonomy
of narrative devices wherein any one element (such as character, place and/or plot) can be
substituted for another one without the notion of narrative losing its essential narrativity, in

Sandman such metaphoric substitutions are the primary narrative of the story.[11] It is in the
moments when the dream plane invades the physical plane that the condensations and
displacements of the dream-work confound the reader's ability to properly distinguish
between supposed 'dreams' and 'reality.' Further, it is in this moment that it becomes
impossible to offer history as a monologic male vision.

In "The Dream-Work" Sigmund Freud suggests that there is "the manifest content of a
dream as a whole" from which we can extract "the latent dream as it is revealed by
interpretation." Dreams that are "obvious fulfilments of wishes" often are "transformed
from a wish into an actual experience" (99). However, dreams that betray repressed desires
are subject to "dream-distortion" which must be explored by extrapolating the dreamdistortion's twin strategies of condensation and displacement. One feature of condensation
is brought about "by latent elements which have something in common being combined and
fused into a single unity in the manifest dream" (100). During displacement
a latent element is replaced not by a component part of itself but by something more remote
that is, by an allusion; and in the second, the physical accent is shifted from an important element
on to another which is unimportant, so that the dream seems differently centered and strange.
To provide some examples of how a Freudian reading of dreams complements Sandman, let
us consider how women are portrayed in its dreams (the irony here, of course, is that Freud
is being used to tease out a feminist impulse in Sandman despite his own uneasiness with
what he called the "dark continent" of female sexuality). Both Unity Kinkaid and Hippolyta
Hall echo each other in their circumstances. Both have been pregnant during prolonged
dreaming and as a result of this they tend to 'morph(eus)' into each other. As a result they
are intra-subjective women. Their borders are not fixed; their identities are not entirely
separate, their experiences are shared. In the end of "A Doll's House" (#10-16), Rose,
Miranda and Unity Kinkaid are literally "fused into a single unity in the manifest dream".
Similarly, "In a Game of You" (issues #32-37), Barbie and Martin Ten-Bones bear intrasubjective relation to Rose and Gilbert/Fiddler's Green in "A Doll's House".
Such associations can only be articulated through a theory that allows for individuals to be
simultaneously displaced onto others and condensed within each other. Further, their intrasubjective relationships only become apparent through a process of difference wherein
Barbie's story follows Rose's story and the eerie familiarity of these individuals as intrasubjective "others" constitutes "a chain of substitutions," a center for center effect. In other
words, the contradictorily coherent paradigm within which they are both the same and

different represents the discourse of the feminine in its otherness and alterity. In their
temporal and spatial difference from each other, which nonetheless is generated from within
each other, they reveal an intra-subjectivity that is denied in the symbolic order of the
waking plane. Further, such dreams are not repressed desires for wish fulfilment but rather
the fabric of Dream him-itself.
For example, when Rose is revealed as the mistress of the dreaming (#15), narrative
sequentiality briefly collapses. In the double image spread of pages 18 and 19 (see Figure
11) we have a representation of the potential intra-subjectivity of dreams and reality. Rose
Walker is in dreams but her dreams are also reality. Here dreams and reality cannot define
each other as opposites because Rose, as a dream vortex, constitutes the site of the play
which gives rise to them. Within the context of how the Sandman series treats gender, she is
also the site of the silenced difference (the feminine) on which the illusory distinction of
reality and dreams is based (in much the same way that Wanda/Alvin is the silenced
difference from which masculine/feminine binaries construct themselves in "A Game of
You"). In this way, an institutionalized and thoroughly rationalized patriarchal subjectivity
is challenged and a more democratic notion of the social is articulated through dreams
which erode rationalist conceit.[12]

While reading Sandman the reader can continually absorb the condensed/displaced
dreams/realities of characters and subject them to her/his own interpretation. Moreover,
with the manifest content always available, it is possible for the reader to return to the site
of the dream and extrapolate ever-richer latent content from the manifest material. The
experience invariably is one in which contradiction is established as the plane of
interpretation so that all further interpretations are profoundly aware of what they elide.
Meaning, as it were, exists only as a condition of this grounding difference. In this regard,
Wolfgang Iser has observed the following with regard to reading experimental texts in "The
Reading Process":
[They] are often so fragmentary that one's attention is almost exclusively occupied with the
search for connections between the fragments; the object of this is not to complicate the
spectrum of connections, so much as to make us aware of our own capacity for providing links.
In such cases, the text refers back directly to our own preconceptions which are revealed by the
act of interpretation that is a basic element of the reading process. With all literary texts then we
may say that the reading process is selective, and the potential text is infinitely richer than any of
its individual realizations. This is borne out by the fact that a second reading of a piece of
literature often produces a different impression from the first. Herein lies the dialectical
structure of reading. The need to decipher gives us the chance to formulate our own deciphering
capacity i.e., we bring to the fore an element of our being of which we are not directly
conscious. The production of the meaning of literary texts does not merely entail the discovery of

the unformulated, which can then be taken over by the active imagination of the reader; it also
entails the possibility that we may formulate ourselves and so discover what has previously
seemed to elude our consciousness. These are the ways in which reading literature gives us the
chance to formulate the unformulated. (79, 81 [emphasis mine])
In other words, while reading Sandman we too become intra-subjective and our received
barriers regarding modes of representation (dreams, reality, gender) are temporarily (at
least) transgressed. For example, Hayden White has noted that "narrative is the fundamental
organizing principle of our lives" (17) and, as mentioned earlier, Ishtar knows that men
write the narrative of history. When Lyotard writes that a narratee gains access to authority
simply by listening, he is considering a world where language is power and where narrative
is recognized as a means through which authority is transmitted and maintained. Contrary to
this is Delirium's realization in "Brief Lives": "Change change change change CHANGE
chaaange. When you say words a lot they don't mean anything so maybe they don't mean
anything anyway and we just think they do" (#41/8, see Figure 12).

Since the event that has become known as the "linguistic turn" what Derrida referred to
earlier as everything "becoming discourse" we have come to recognize words as a means
of stabilizing differences; as a way of representing experience in a universe built not on
permanence, or centered being, but on play. Indeed, in Sandman we are made aware that
"Destiny is the oldest of the Endless; in the beginning was the Word, and it was traced by
hand on the first page of his book, before ever it was spoken" (21/10). Words function in the
same way today. Vocal expression, for example, attempts to delimit the signifying capacity
of words through intentionality, and yet it is only through the play of meaning's difference
that they signify at all. Destiny, in possession of the first word, is aware of this disjunction
and is correspondingly different to himself. Because, as Derrida notes in "Force and
Signification," "meaning must await being said or written in order to inhabit itself, and in
order to become, by differing from itself, what it is: meaning" (183), Destiny frequently
divides within himself, or doubles, like the differential nature of the word in his book
(#63/11, see Figure 13). This division is summed up by Derrida in "Speech and
There is no longer a simple origin. For what is reflected is split in itself and not only as an
addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double splits what it doubles. The
origin of the speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one. (36)
In terms of gender play, this is best exemplified by Wanda's argument with George's head in
"A Game of You" (#35/19, see Figure 14) regarding what constitutes a woman. As Haraway
noted earlier, the binary logic of male/female has been systematic in its practice of
dominating women once biological difference becomes a marker for gender acculturation.
In "A Game of You," the extended dream functions as a metaphor for Barbie releasing her

trapped id in order to finally jettison socially received notions of femininity. The nature of
"woman" is set in play. For both Wanda and Barbie, "There is no longer a simple origin."
The story arc of "A Game of You" culminates in a wiser Barbie returning from the yellow
brick road to Kansas in order to inscribe (in lipstick traces) Wanda's name on the latter's
headstone (see Figure 15). Barbie, who like Unity Kinkaid and Lyta Hall was once trapped
within patriarchal discourse, comes to self- consciousness and self-awareness. It is in the
subtleties of just such intra-subjective play that Sandman explores notions of gender with
remarkable freshness. Barbie realizes that her idea of "woman" was unified and selfidentical. Although they were friends, at a fundamental level she denied the difference that
was Wanda as something more masculine than feminine, something that she could never be
herself. Wanda was "Bizarroman" (#32/22, see Figure 16), forceful and determined; Barbie
was a princess polite, demure and insecure. By recognizing the difference in herself by
recognizing, like Wanda, that "What can look at itself is not one" she broke free from the
silence imposed by the binary logic of gender. Finally, and in a similar anti-rationalist
metaphor to Rose Walker's dream vortex, Barbie announces to Wanda's Aunty Dora (an
obvious inter-textual allusion to the famous Kansas 'Dorothy') that "I used to be a princess. I
had a cuckoo in my head" (#37/22, see Figure 17). She is finally and positively touched by
the delirium of change. Interestingly, Lacan came to recognize the liberating nature of such
delirium, even though its genesis, for him, was still founded in phallic centrality. In "God
and the Jouissance of Woman" he asserts in relation to woman that
she has, in relation to what the phallic function designates of jouissance, a supplementary
jouissance [...] a jouissance proper to her, and of which she herself may know nothing, except
that she experiences it that much she does know (144-145).
Finally, and perhaps always, there remains the feminine supplement that exceeds 'being'
determined by phallocentrism.

The Difference with Dreams is that God is not the Center of

Given the amount of story arcs in Sandman that interrogate the symbolic acculturation of
women and their attempts to define a more fluid identity, it is reasonable to argue that
Gaiman's creation is a feminist text and perhaps even approaches a feminine practice of
writing. Indeed, regarding the latter notion, Cixous has suggested that:

It is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing, and this is an impossibility that will
remain, for this practice can never be theorized, enclosed, coded which doesn't mean that it
doesn't exist. But it will always surpass the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system; it
does and will take place in areas other than those subordinated to philosophico-theoretical
domination. It will be conceived of only by subjects who are breakers of automatisms, by
peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate (323).
Morpheus is just such a peripheral figure, a fluid contradiction through whom passes both
discourses of subjugation and the traces of liberation. However, he is neither history nor
God, center nor truth. Further, and in relation to Cixous's notion of place, Morpheus exists
in comics and dreams which are both places so far unsubordinated to absolute theoretical
domination. Is it possible that a feminine practice of writing may exist in dreams, and
because that shifting ground is where it thrives, it is only a patriarchal idiom that imagines it
may finally be encoded? In "A Doll's House" we learn that "Chantal is having a relationship
with a sentence. Just one of those things that grew into something important for both of
them." However, it troubles her, because "she has no idea what her sentence is about"
(#15/6). If not an ending, such a sentence may well be a beginning. If it is a sentence that
she generates in a dream then (rather like the Word that begins Destiny's book) it is already
different to itself. To quote Iser, it may allow her to "formulate [herself] and so discover
what has previously seemed to elude her consciousness, [for] these are the ways in which
reading literature gives us the chance to formulate the unformulated" (81). And if Delirium
were to ask "what's the word for that?" (#43/21), Morpheus might well respond with 'inDifference.'

[1] "Prince of Metaphor and Allusion" Sandman (#63/11). This is a phrase that Destiny uses
to describe Dream, and it is primarily with Dream's metaphoric aspect that this paper deals.
[2] Although I quote from four Derrida texts in this essay, most quotations are taken from
"Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." To avoid unnecessary
repetition of this title all further references to "Structure, Sign and Play" will appear as
"SSP" in the parentheses that acknowledge page numbers and follow the quotations in the
main body of the essay.
[3] Neil Gaiman, Sandman (1989-1996). Throughout this essay I have used "#" to denote
the number of the issue which is often followed by the page number. For example, (#56)
indicates "number 56" and (#56/4) "number 56, page 4."
[4] For detailed treatment of "the phallus" in Lacan see Four Fundamental Concepts of
Psycho-Analysis, pps. 34-71. For a more immediately comprehensible version see Shuli
Barzilai, Lacan and the Matter of Origins, pps. 219-226. I am indebted to Robert D'Alonzo
for taking the time to discuss a Lacanian interpretation of Gaiman with me, and for making
many helpful suggestions.

[5] In Sandman #75 Shakespeare recites Prospero's concluding speech to Anne Hathaway
while she peels potatoes. The line in question is from The Tempest, Act IV, Sc.v, l. 198.
[6] For Derrida's critique of the phallus in Lacan see "Le Facteur de la Vrit" in The Post
Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (411-498) which disputes the non-metaphysical
status Lacan gave the signifier in his "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter'" in The Seminar of
Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis
1954-1955 (191-206).
[7] For a detailed meditation on difference see Jacques Derrida, "Diffrance," pps. 279-298.
[8] Some context for Delirium's delight in airports is provided by Walter Benjamin, who
wrote of the anxiety experienced by the ordinary traveller when the self experiences the
displacement of the "in-between." Benjamin notes that "the traveller is familiar with all the
mythical ordeals and perils and the vertiginous succession of innumerable thresholds of
time and space that they move through, from the famous 'too late' of those left behind, the
archetype of all loss, [] the anxiety of missing one's connection, to the horror of entering
the unfamiliar arrival hall. Bewildered he feels caught up in a giant machine" (Gesammelte
Schriften, p. 17. Translation provided by Scott McCracken, Pulp, p. 5). Similarly, Anthony
Giddens observes that modern society is characterised by large impersonal self-referential
systems. These systems, such as airports, are "largely autonomous and determined by their
own constitutive influences and within them the self loses its sense of agency and is beset
by doubts and anxieties" (Modernity and Self-Identity, p. 42). Conversely, Delirium enjoys
these spaces as her own sense of herself is always already displaced by nature of her being.
That which challenges the identity of the fixed subject in the real world is of second nature
to Delirium.
[9] The inter-play between Destruction and Desire in Sandman is also intriguing. For
example, just before he relinquished his post in the eighteenth century, Destruction
informed Dream that "they [humanity] are using reason as a tool. Reason. It is no more
reliable a tool than instinct, myth or dream. But it has the potential to be far more dangerous
for them" (#44/18). By the time they meet again in the late twentieth century, Destruction
has come around to the view that "the Endless are merely patterns, ideas, repeating motifs"
(#48/6). It is clear that the atomic terrors Destruction first foresaw in the experiments of
Newton have formed a part of his identity. They are after all weapons of destruction. In
other words, Destruction left the Endless because he saw how enlightenment logic would
speed ever more powerful forms of destruction, and he recognized the human 'desire' for
this progress, but he is unable to escape how Enlightenment logic (realized as indifferent
destruction) must inevitably become his own point of view. As a result of the fact that he is
Destruction, modern science prompts him to question his own mythic status, and to abscond
his realm, as does Dream later. In both instances both characters can clearly see how human
behaviour will be altered by unconscious desires, yet remain unmoved themselves.
Nonetheless, the changes wrought in human behaviour change the Endless too, in time. In
Dream's case, where once there was a human society of unquestioned patriarchy, now there
is one of increased gender plurality. Time for a change in "puh-point of view."

[10] "History" is used here as a counterpoint to the concept of "Herstory" as coined by

Robin Morgan in Sisterhood is Powerful.
[11] For useful analyses of the component aspects of narrative see Aristotle, Poetics, pps.
11-14; Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, pps. 23-77; and Vladimir Propp, The
Morphology of the Folktale, pps. 38-53. An interesting analysis of disjunctive work in the
verbal/visual terrain of comics is Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s treatment of verbal-visual
interaction in "The Comics of Chris Ware." Kannenberg suggests that Ware practices
"visual polyphony presenting two narratives within one contextual space [which] brings
with it the possibility of a third field of interpretation" (184). However, in the manner in
which dreams and reality alternately collide with and displace each other in Sandman, the
objective is not to fuse the verbal/visual into a third form, but to divide the existing planes
within each other as the principle of their existence.
[12] Another example of how Sandman is a more "democratic social" model of
inclusiveness is the manner in which its pluralistic point of view challenges other binary
distinctions established and designed to deny difference. One common binary in this regard
is that between "high and low" forms of cultural practice where the notion of "high culture"
takes the corresponding high (and hierarchical) position in the cultural dualism as a result of
a history of economic privilege and bourgeois aspiration. Conversely, in Sandman high and
low cultural distinctions are obliterated and the reader finds that the lyrics of Ian Curtis are
as valued as the poems of John Keats (#6); that posters featuring the Watchmen logo jostle
for space beside Matisse (#8&12); that The Velvet Underground play at a serial killers
convention (#14) and a madman called Dr. Destiny quotes Macbeth (#7); that the voice of
Iggy Pop liberates an ancient mythic Goddess to dance her last dance in a strip club named
after a Bowie song (#45); that Chaucer and Shakespeare sip ale in their local inn, over a
hundred years apart (#13&75); and that the words of Byron, Kipling, Milton and Yeats echo
in the relationship between two sibling Goths who can also be found feeding the pigeons in
Washington Square (#8).

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