Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams notes (Joyce Crick translation - it is alot less bulky than the Strachey translation)

I. The Scientific Literature on the Problem of Dreams

The short: a brief survey of the basic scientific literature available at the time on the problem of dreams. Punchline: scientists believe dreams are mental froth. They be hella wrong.

The long: although Freud is mostly recapitulating the opinions of others in this chapter, he does offer some hints of what is to come. He writes that "the human mind's endeavor to see everything in coherent connection such that it involuntarily makes good the flaws in its coherence" (41); he is thus already offering up a theory of mind, something that makes coherent, or brings into unity. He also notes the "dream's command of childhood material" (16), how it holds on to "trivialities" (17), how it is difficult to reduce the dream to somatic sources (though many do) (20), that "we should have the greatest reservation about denying our responsibility for sings and crimes committed in dreams" (58), the importance of "involuntary ideas (images)" (60), that, following Robert, "dreams are the excretion of undeveloped thoughts, thoughts nipped in the bud" (66), and finally that there is probably some relation between dreams and mental illnesses. All of this stuff can be skipped over (Freud himself found writing this section to be irritating), as it is basically him trying to be a good scholar/scientist. Nonetheless, the way in which he structures this literature review foreshadows much of what is to come.

II. The Method of Interpreting Dreams

The short: Dream-interpretation en detail, not en masse. Foundational dream of Irma's injection.

The long: there are two ways of interpreting a dream: 1) take the dream content as a whole and replace the symbols to make sense (symbolic interpretation), or else 2) start with the symbols and try to translate them to make a coherent text (decoding interpretation). Freud basically opts for the latter, interpretation en detail, not en masse, with the caveat that there is no "fixed key" for decoding (83).

In this chapter he gives a pretty clear description of his technique: "I want [the patient] to do two things: to pay attention to his psychical perceptions more intently, and to switch off the critical faculty he normally uses to sift the thoughts arising in him" (81). This is free-association in a nutshell. He says you can always tell if someone is trying to hard by a "tense expression" (81). He wants his patients to get in that "right-before-bed" mood.

He then launches in to the famous dream of Irma's injection. The basic plot: Freud dreams that he examines his patient Irma with his rival Otto, Otto's rival Leopold, and their superior Dr. M. He realizes that something organic has been overlooked (which Dr. M confirms), and that this has resulted from an injection that Otto had given her. Freud's interpretation is that the dream's content is a wish-fulfillment in that it blames Irma's illness on Otto. "I am not to blame for Irma but Otto is" (94).

Note: Freud introduces the "broken kettle" joke on page 96.

III. The Dream is a Wish-Fulfillment

Everyone knows that you can't do everything you want to do. Dreams replace these unexpressed actions (99). What does a good dream of? Corn (105). Plain and simple.

Freud has some interesting comments on children in this chapter: "Child psychology is in my opinion destined to perform a service for the psychology of adults," (102) but then on pg. 105 shows just how far off he is from Three Essays: "If we consider childhood a happy time because it does not yet know sexual desire...." He does talk about "children being aroused by food," however, a precursor to the oral stage.

IV. Dream-Distortion

Here Freud distinguishes between the manifest dream-content and the latent dream-thought as separated by the dream-work (107). The tendency of the dream-content to require interpretation (that is, the revelation of the dream-thought) is called dream-distortion (107). Freud posits two psychical forces to explain this distortion: one which forms the wish (Ucs), and one which censors it (Pcs) (113). The stricter the censorship, the more far-reaching the disguise (113).

In this chapter Freud has the dream of a long, yellow face, a composite of his uncle Josef and two of his colleagues, R and N. In real life, Freud likes both R and N quite a bit, but thinks of his uncle as a numbskull and a criminal. His interpretation of the dream is that he wants to associate R and N with a numbskull/criminal because they are both Jews up for the same "Professor Extraordinarus" position that Freud is up for, and he wants a way to put some distance between himself and his colleagues, as if to say, "I am not like them and I can get this position."

Another important dream in this chapter is the lady who dreams of bring frustrated by not being able to have a dinner party because she has nothing but salmon in the house. She knows that if she had a dinner party, a friend of hers would come who is attractive to her husband, and Freud interprets her dream to mean that she would rather not have a dinner party than offer up occasion for her friend to interact with her husband. But on a second level, the woman is also identifying with her friend, as her friend's favorite dish is smoked salmon. At yet a third level, this lady had wanted to prove Freud's wish-fulfillment theory wrong, and her dream was a wish-fulfillment in that sense as well!

There is finally the dream of the woman who dreams of her son Karl in a coffin in a similar manner to her son Otto, who had actually died. Freud takes it that the woman is not wishing that Karl and not Otto had died (the seemingly obvious interpretation), but that she could again see a man who was at Otto's funeral. Dubious!

Freud ends the chapter with a concise formulation: The dream is the (disguised) fulfillment of a (suppressed, repressed) wish (124).

V. The Material and Sources of Dreams

(a) Recent and Insignificant Material in Dreams: the dream always contains material from the day just past, the day's residue. In probably the most elaborate explanation in the book, Freud provides evidence of this with his "botanical monograph" dream (p. 129), which is an amazing exercise in association. Why do we include seemingly trivial material from the day just past in our dreams? By attaching themselves on to innocuous ideas, repressed affects can get by the censoring agency and find expression. Nothing is actually innocuous: we do not let mere trifles disrupt our sleep (140).

Freud also introduces here the idea that the dream "obeys a compulsion to form a unity out of [two or more experiences]" (137). In other words, there is something about the psychic apparatus that both merges/condenses together and displaces the psychically valuable for the trivial.

(b) Material from Infancy as a Source of Dreams: Freud says that we always "find the active involvement of childhood experiences in dreams whose content would in no way lead us to suspect it" (146). "We find the child, with its impulses, living on in the dream" (147). Freud talks about his own childhood ambitions and longings (for Rome, in particular). As in all interpretation, one must uncover the scene of infancy, which "is represented in the manifest dream-content only by an allusion" (152).

(c) The Somatic Sources of Dreams: Do dreams come from the stomach? Yes, they have somatic factors, but "the motivation for dreaming" lies "outside the somatic sources of stimulus" (173). He takes as an example his dream of riding a grey horse. At the time, he had an apple-sized abscess on his perinium (177). Yes. Apple-sized. At first glance, this dream is somatic in origin, for if he is able to ride a horse, he no longer has the abscess. But following the details of the dream back, he finds his childhood competitions with his nephews. The dream does have one important somatic function though: "the dream is the guardian of sleep, not its disturber" (180). When the dream incorporates a light shined into one's bedroom into the dream, it is to keep the sleeper from waking up.

(d) Typical Dreams:

Freud examines a few typical dreams, including exhibition-dreams, those of nakedness, where the wish is expressed by changing the "real" affect associated with it into its opposite: so instead of being excited by it, one is embarrassed. Instead of revealing oneself to one's family, one is usually naked in front of strangers.

He then talks about death dreams. He makes it clear that when we dream of someone's death, we do not really wish for that person to be dead (a dubious claim). We should trace the affect back to the latent thought and not the manifest content, after all. Nonetheless, he does believe that although we wouldn't wish ill will on them today, many of us still carry childhood wishes to hurt our family, our siblings in particular.

But he understands that he's on shaky ground now, and turns to mythology and tragedy to justify his discussion. Look at the Greek Gods: what violence! He then introduces the Oedipus myth on pg. 198: "the girl's first affection is for her father, and the boy's first infant desire is for his mother. Thus the father becomes an intrusive rival for the boy, as the mother does for the girl, and we have already explained in the case of siblings how little the child needs for this feeling to lead to a death-wish" (198). (Freud had explained that children easily wish death upon others because they do not understand the gravity of its consequences, the forever-ness of it.)

In an important footnote on pg. 204, Freud explains Hamlet in terms of the Oedipus complex: Hamlet is paralyzed in action because "he cannot take revenge on the man who removed his father and took the latter's place beside his mother" because this man, his uncle, "shows him his own repressed infant wishes realized" (204).

Freud ends by noting the self-centered-ness of dreams (an expression of the influence of childhood) (205). In a footnote on pg. 206, also, "the sheer size, the excessive abundance, scale, and exaggeration of dreams, could be an infantile characteristic" (206).

VI. The Dream-Work

The dream-work is why the dream requires interpretation. "The dream is a picture-puzzle of this kind, and our predecessors in the field of dream-interpretation made the mistake of judging the rebus as if it were a pictorial composition" (212). How exactly does the dream-work work?

(a) The Work of Condensation: Every element in a dream is overdetermined (which is why we always think there is more to our dreams that we can't remember) (214). We can think of condensation as roughly akin to metaphor.

(b) The Work of Displacement: Low-value elements are charged with intensity taken from high-value elements (235). Let's call this metonymy.

(c) The Means of Representation in Dreams: how do dreams represent logical relations? First, in terms of simultaneity, one thing coming after another (239). Causal relations are often represented by minor dream, main dream = sub-clause, main clause (240). There are no either-or relations in dreams: whenever the patient says either-or, he means to be represented a concatenation of two things into one (241). Contradictions in dreams are simply disregarded, as "to the dream, 'No' does not seem to exist" (243). Relations of similarity are expressed in terms of unity (244). Identification is one of the ways this unity can be expressed (244); composite formation is another. Motor inhibition in dreams usually means "a conflict of wills" (254).

(d) Regard for Representability: Dreams like to turn everything into symbols, visual symbols, a feature they share with "psychoneuroses, legends, and popular customs" (259).

(e) Examples: Calculating and Speaking in Dreams: Numerals and calculations often symbolize something else (an idea he probably picked up under the influence of Wilhelm Fliess).

(f) Absurd Dreams. Intellectual Performance in Dreams: Dreams are often absurd because they have to don the fool's cap to speak the truth and get by the censor (285). We should neither take too seriously intellectual thinking in dreams: "everything in our dreams that ostensibly looks like the activity of the function of judgement is not to be understood as, say, an act of thinking on the part of the dream-work; rather, it belongs to the material of the dream-thoughts and has passed from there as a ready-made structure into the manifest dream-content" (286).

(g) Affects in Dreams: "Analysis teaches us that the imagined ideas in the dream-content have undergone displacements and substitutions, while the affects have remained in place unaltered" (299). "Inhibition of affect would be the second achievement of the dream-censorship, as dream-distortion was its first" (306). In other words, dream-censorship succeeds when it a) mixes up our ideas, and b) suppresses affects and/or transforms an affect into its opposite (308). Although affect is suppressed and/or transformed in the dream-work, it is also the productive energy of the dream, what inspires the dream to form in the first place (311).

(h) Secondary Revision: "A function of the psyche indistinguishable from our waking thoughts can make some contribution to the dream-content" (319). Secondary revision is the tendency to make intelligible, to make whole; by doing so, it wants to make something like a daydream out of the dream's material, the expression of a fantasy (a key term which he introduces but does not fully develop here, like much in the Dreambook) (321). Then Freud introduces the "Gotcha" moment: "It is probably, then, that the agency requiring the dream-content to be intelligible is none other than our normal thinking" (327).

So in conclusion, the four factors involved in the dream-work are: 1) condensation, 2) displacement, 3) regard for representability, 4) secondary revision
. And "the work of the psyche in the formation of dreams can be broken down into two tasks: it generates the dream-thoughts, and it transforms them into the dream-content" (328).

VII. The Psychology of Dream-Processes

Freud here introduces his "topographic" model of mind, a model which would dominate his thinking until the introduction of the "structural" model (id, ego, superego) in 1923. I have scanned a model of the topographic model made by Dr. Christopher Allegra here. It is somewhat helpful in thinking about this last, more philosophical chapter. Much of what we find here is adapted from his abandoned "Project for a Scientific Psychology," so Chapter VII is kinduva strange addition to the book, but crucial nonetheless.

(a) Forgetting in Dreams: We forget because we resist. "Whatever disturbs the continuation of the work of analysis is a resistance" (336). In other words, we forget purposefully. But we can't remember everything: "the best-interpreted dreams often have a passage that has to be left in the dark...this is the dream's navel, and the place beneath which lies the Unknown" (341).

(b) Regression: Recap: Dreams are fully paid-up psychical acts. The driving force behind them is wish-fulfillment which tries to escape psychical censorship (347).

Freud here introduces his "picket fence" model of the mind. On one side we have Perception, on the other, Motor Activity, both in a way, systems of consciousness (Cs). In between we have a series of "memory traces," and a store of repressed memory traces called the unconscious. Between motor activity and the unconscious (Ucs) stands the preconscious (Pcs). The Ucs "has no access to consciousness except by way of the Preconscious" (353). If we think of the chain perception -> memory -> motor action, we have progressive activity. Dreams are regressive in that they work from the Ucs back toward recent memories and then make hallucinations for the perception system. This chain could also be represented 1. wish from infancy/sexual wish -> 2. days residue -> 3. dream.

(c) On Wish-Fulfillment: Why wishes? Because there is the Unconscious. "I imagine that the conscious wish becomes the initiator of a dream only if it succeeds in wakening an unconscious wish consonant with it, and drawing reinforcement from this" (362). "The wish represented in the dream has to be an infantile one" (363). So there are really two sources for the dream, one repressed in the unconscious, one merely suppressed in the preconscious. Freud compares the two to an entrepreneur and a capitalist: "the daytime thought might possibly play the part of entrepreneur for the dream; but the entrepreneur who has the idea, as we say, and the will to translate it into action, still cannot do anything without capital; he needs a capitalist to take on the expenses,....a wish from the Unconscious" (365). He describes this linkage of the two wishes as transference (to be distinguished from what he later theorizes as patient-analyst transference, though certainly related) (367).

Why does the censor allow us to dream? Precisely because our motor activity has been shut down and it's not dangerous for anyone to have our suppressed/repressed wishes expressed. If we regressed when we were awake, we would be psychotic (some theorists believe that, for this reason, psychotics do not dream).

This opens the way for connecting psychoneurotic symptoms to dreams: "I can say that a hysterical symptom only comes into being when two opposing wish-fulfillments, each with its source in a different psychical system, are in a position to coincide in one expression" (372).

(d) Arousal by Dreams. The Function of Dreams. Anxiety-Dreams: in Ucs, there is no past, nothing is forgotten, nothing brought to an end (378). Under these circumstances, it needs release every once in awhile: the dream is where Pcs acts as a safety-valve for Ucs (379). It allows wishes out insofar as they are compatible with each other. Every once in awhile though, it lets out conflicting wishes, and these result in anxiety dreams (380). Anxiety dreams can also be caused by the expression of wishes that have been down in Ucs for so long that they have turned from pleasurable to unpleasurable, from wine into vinegar, as the model goes. Strangulated libido turned into anxiety. Anxiety is also often associated with witnessing parental coitus at a young age (383).

(e) Primary and Secondary Process. Repression: "The most complicated feats of thinking are possible without the participation of consciousness" (389). When a train of thought is not given adequate expression in consciousness and lingers in Pcs for awhile, it is then "drawn into the Unconscious" (391). This fact leads us to thinking of two different psychical process that play a part in forming dreams: "the one creates perfectly rational dream-thoughts, just as valid as normal thinking; the other treats these in a most disconcerting, irrational manner" (393). The first psy system is "directed towards the free discharge of quantities of excitation; and the second system inhibits this discharge by emitting its own energy-charges, transforming the charge into a quiescent one and probably raising its level" (395). All the first system can do is wish (396). The primary process "aims to discharge excitation in order to set up a perceptual identity; the secondary process has abandoned this intention and taken up another in its place - to set up a thought-identity. All thinking is only a roundabout way..." (397). Primary process is there from the beginning, while secondary process only evolves later in life (398).

When the fulfillment of wishes no longer produce an affect of pleasure but one of unpleasure, those wishes are said to be repressed. The transformation of affect is what is called repression (399).

(f) The Unconscious and Consciousness. Reality: "The Unconscious is the true reality of the psyche, its inner nature just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and just as imperfectly revealed by the data of consciousness as the external world is by the information received from our sensory organs" (405). The Pcs is the "partition screen" between Ucs and Cs (407).

And what of reality? "Whether we should ascribe reality to unconscious wishes, I cannot say" (411).


  1. 愛情不是慈善事業,不能隨便施捨。.........................

  2. fast said: love is not a charity, not charity.