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Preface to the New Edition
Requiem for a Dream was originally published in 1978. It is extremely gratifying to know that it is still in print and going into another edition. Also, it is being made into a film, production scheduled to start the middle of April this year. So the book still lives and breathes (as do I).
For me there is something beautiful and ironic in the fact that all this is happening now, during a time of “unparalleled prosperity.” The Great American Dream is coming true for many. Obviously, I believe that to pursue the American Dream is not only futile but self‑destructive because ultimately it destroys everything and everyone involved with it. By definition it must, because it nurtures everything except those things that are important: integrity, ethics, truth, our very heart and soul. Why? The reason is simple: because Life/life is giving, not getting.
I am not suggesting we need to give everything to the poor and homeless–the millions of them who are still here in the midst of plenty–put on a hair shirt and go through the streets with a begging bowl. This, in and of itself, is no more nurturing than the pursuit of “getting.” I am not afraid of money and what it can buy. I would love to have a house full of stuff–of course I would need a house first. I have been hungry and see nothing noble m hunger. Neither do I see anything noble in eating high on the hog though eating is certainly better. But to believe that getting stuff is the purpose and aim of life is madness.
It seems to me that we all have a dream of our own, our own personal vision, our own individual way of giving, but for many reasons we are afraid to pursue it, or to even recognize and accept its existence. But to deny our vision is to sell our soul. Getting is living a lie, turning our back on the truth, and Visions are glimpses of the truth: Obviously nothing external can truly nurture my inner life, my Vision.
What happens when I turn my back on my Vision and spend my time and energy getting the stuff of the American Dream? I become agitated, uncomfortable in my own skin, because the guilt of abandoning my “Self/self,” of deserting my Vision, forces me to apologize for my existence, to need to prove myself by approaching life as if it’s a competition. I have to keep getting stuff in an attempt to appease and satisfy that vague sense of discontent that worms its way through me.
Certainly not everyone will experience this torment, but enough do and have no idea what is wrong. I’m sure the psychologists have a term for this free‑floating anxiety, but the cause is what is destroying us, not the classification. There are always millions who seem to get away with doing the things that we think abominable, and thrive. It certainly appears that way. Yet I know, absolutely, from my experience, that there are no free lunches in this life, and eventually we all have to accept full and total responsibility for our actions, everything we have done, and have not done.
This book is about four individuals who pursued The American Dream, and the results of their pursuit. They did not know the difference between the Vision in their hearts and the illusion of the American Dream. In pursuing the lie of illusion, they made it impossible to experience the truth of their Vision. As a result everything of value was lost.
Unfortunately, I suspect there never will be a requiem for the Dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn its passing. Perhaps time will prove me wrong. As Mr. Hemingway said: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
–Hubert Selby, Jr.
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