Dreams Complicate Things

Rebecca Tantillo

So I’d like to start off by saying that this week’s readings were my favorite thus far. But, while I found them extremely interesting, I am also pretty confused. So I hope anyone who reads this doesn’t get more confused.  That said, here we go!

An analogue clock is an iconic sigsign that displays a discrete qualitative account of time. The relationship of the sign to the interpretant on this level would be rhemetic, because it represents what we understand as the standard assessment of time. The hands on a clock also make it an indexical sigsign that visually indicate a specific time of day by motivating the thoughts of an individual toward specific numbers in combination with each other designate the time. In this sense, the clock’s interpreted relationship is dicisign, because it points to the actual existence of a certain time of day. Lastly, based on consistent cultural reinforcement, the clock as a symbolic legisign has come to represent the idea of time in general. Of course, this symbolic understanding is the syllogism of various cultural understandings of what time is and how it is commonly represented, thus making this level of the clock’s interpretation an argument (Parmentier 16-8) I am certain that there are additional ways that an analogue clock acts as a sign, but I will use those interpretations at least as my starting point.

Understanding an analogue clock as a sign in that manner is relatively straightforward. I say relatively, only because I’m now going to attempt to understand how to interpret a mediated representation of a clock without hands from a dream, such as appears in the film Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman. Since this is a rather ambitious undertaking, I am going to limit this analyzation to the ways in which this specific representation can be understood as an icon, index and symbol. Please see the following clip for reference: Wild Strawberries – Video retrieved from Youtube (JuhaOutuinen).

Any sign must have its root in iconicity, because iconic representation forms the “ground” of any significance in a sign. Furthermore, according to the linguist John Lyons, “iconicity is ‘always dependent upon properties of the medium in which the form is manifest'” (Chandler 41). With these two ideas in mind, we must first understand how the medium of film works as an icon and, consequently, a sign. On the most basic level, the images and sounds that make up film are icons because the present “perceived resemblances” of a reality that the director intends to show (Chandler 40). These resemblances, of course, are false to a certain degree, because whatever is outside of the frame is not represented. However, those that are within the frame are physically captured and relayed to the viewer, causing film to be an indexical representation (Chandler p. 43). Alone, these images and sounds are iconic and indexical, but combined with context of the film and any cultural or relevant knowledge the viewer may have that can support their understanding of the film they are symbolic.

Next, it is important to understand the representation of a dream. Because dreaming is an unconscious, unobservable state, any representation of a dream must be considered symbolic. There is no grounding to the concept of a dream, just as there is no physical manifestation of a dream outside of actually dreaming itself. Thus, when Bergman presents the dream sequence in the clip shown above, we must symbolically “buy in” to his iconic and indexical representation of a dream. Bergman helps leads us to do so by presenting this dream sequence following a representation of the man featured in the dream lying in bed. He then uses indexical signifiers of stark light, unnerving silence, empty streets, surreal encounters, etc, leading the viewer to believe that the images are not meant to depict a reality, but rather a non-reality. So that while, ultimately, Bergman’s representation of a dream may not match that of the viewer’s exact vision of a dream, the viewer is able to understand Bergman’s representation of a dream through connotative “perceived resemblances”. Once we understanding how both film and representations of dreams can act as signs, we can then interpret and understand how an analogue clock with dream represented in a film may be interpreted.

To understand a faceless clock, we must acknowledge the clock as both an icon, which represents the quantification of time, and an index, which when presented without hands motivates the interpreter to view and consider all of the numbers represented on the face, rather than focus on a combination indicated by the hands of a clock. The combination of the faceless clock’s iconic and indexical significance leads the viewer to search for a symbolic meaning represented by the clock, such as: there is no time, time cannot be counted, or perhaps, someone’s time is up. The context of the film and what ultimately occurs following the dream sequence, thus, becomes infinitely important in understanding of the meaning of the clock without hands that the professor sees in the dream. As a result, we can understand the infinite development of signs as symbols as Dr. Irvine describes below:

A sign isn’t a static object, and meanings aren’t isolated events: meanings from symbolic activity are part of a continuum of thought that link an individual’s cognition to shared concepts, to the experienced world, and to others. Meaning is an open triadic process with one element of the structure, the interpretant, always unfolding new meaning. (Irvine 27)


Daniel Chandler,  Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

JuhaOutuinen (2011). Smultronstället – Ingmar Bergman – Wild Strawberries. Retrieved September 28, 2016.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Meaning Systems and Cognitive Semiotics“.

Richard J. Parmentier, Signs in Society: Studies in Semiotic Anthropology. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994. Excerpts.