The Freud Museum


Some Additional Notes on Dream Interpretation as a Whole (1925)

(A) The limits to the possibility of interpretation.

"It may be asked whether it is possible to give a compete and assured translation into the language of waking life (that is, an interpretation) of every product of dream life." (my emphasis)

We will look at this in relation to "the conditions under which one works in interpreting dreams."

"Our mental activities pursue either a useful aim or an immmediate yield of pleasure.... Now dreaming is an activity of the second kind... It is misleading to say that dreams are concerned with the tasks of life before us or seek to find a solution to the problems of our daily work. That is the business of preconscious thought. Useful work of this kind is as remote from dreams as is any intention of conveying information to another person. When a dream deals with a problem of actual life, it solves it in the manner of an irrational wish and not in the manner of a reasonable reflection."

There is only one useful task a dream does - and that is to guard sleep from interuption. "A dream may be described as a piece of phantasy working on behalf of the maintenance of sleep."

So from the ego's point of view, the best dreams are the ones that we don't remember. What is dreamt is a matter of complete indifference to it.

If we remember dreams, "it always means that there has been a irruption of the repressed unconscious into the normal ego."

"Without this concession to it the repressed would not have consented to lend its help to the removal of the threat of disturbance to sleep. We know that it is the fact of this irruption that gives dreams their importance for psychopathology."

"If we can uncover a dream's motivating force, we shall obtain unsuspected information about the repressed impulses in the unconscious; and on the other hand , if we can undo its distortions, we shall overhear preconscious thought taking place in states of internal reflection which would not have attracted consciousness to themselves during the daytime."

No one can practise the interpretation of dreams as an isolated activity: it remains a part of the work of analysis."

"If one practises dream interpretation according to the sole justifiable technical prcedure, one soon notices that success depends entirely on the tension of resistance between the awakened ego and the repressed unconscious. Work under a 'high pressure of resistance' demands... a different attitude on the part of the analyst from work under a low pressure....It is therefore not to be wondered at that only a certain portion of a patient's dream-products can be translated and made use of, and even at that, most often incompletely......and one hesitates to press one's conjectures on the patient."

So should we just say that only some dreams have a meaning? "But the very fact that success in interpretation depends upon the resistance absolves the analyst from such modesty. He may have the experience of a dream that was at first unintelligible becoming clear during the very same hour after some fortunate remark has got rid of one of the dreamer's resistances."

Therefore it is quite justifiable to assert that dreams are quite generally mental structures that are capable of interpretation, though the situaton may not always allow an interpretation being reached.

When an interpretation of a dream has been discovered, it is not always easy to decide if it is a 'complete' one - that is , whether further preconscious thoughts may not have found expression in the same dream. Other meanings remain possible, even if unproven. "One must become accustomed to a dream being thus capable of having many meanings."

"Moreover, the blame for this is not always to be laid upon incompleteness of the work of interpretation; it may just as well be inherrent in the latent dream-thooughts themselves. Indeed it may happen in waking life, quite apart from the situation of dream-interpretation, that one is uncertain that some remark that one has heard or some piece of information that one has received is open to construction this way or that, or whether it is hinting at something beyond its obvious meaning." (p130)

(B) Moral Responsibility for the Content of Dreams

Chapter 1 of The Interpretation of Dreams shows how authors react to the fact that the content of dreams is often at odds with the moral sense of the dreamer. "The immoral character of dreams has naturally provided a fresh motive for denying them any psychical value: if dreams are the meaningless product of disordered mental activity, then there can be no ground for assuming responsibiliy for their apparent content." (e.g. the NON VIXIT dream)

"Obviously one must hold oneself responsible for the evil impulses of one's dreams. What else is one to do with them? Unless the content of the dream (rightly understood) is inspired by alien spirits, it is a part of my own being."

"Even if I try to disavow this, experience shows that I nevertheless do take that responsibility, that I am somehow compelled to do so. Psychoanalysis has made us familiar with a pathological condition, obsessional neurosis, in which the poor ego feels itself responsible for all sorts of evil impulses of which it knows nothing, impulses which are brought up against it in consciousness but which it is unable to acknowledge. Something of this is present in any normal person."

"If anyone is dissatisfied with this and would like to be better than he was created, let him see whether he can attain anything more in life than hypocrisy or inhibition."

"The physician will leave it to the jurist to construct for social purposes a responsibility that is artificially limited to the meta-psychological ego. It is notorious that the greatest difficulties are encountered by the attempts to derive from such a construction practical consequences which are not in contradiction to human feelings."

But there is another problem, which Freud does not at first glance seem to deal with adequately. We know now that the manifest content is a facade, a deception. Nevertheless, this immoral facade has a queston to put to us. We have said that the latent dream-thoughts have to submit to a severe censorship before they are allowed access to the manifest content. How is it then that that this censorship breaks down so completely over these manifestly immoral dreams? "The answer is not easy to come by, and may not seem completely satisfying."

Some of them are simply 'innocent boastings or identifications that put up a mask of pretense.' But the majority are "an expression of immoral, incestuous and perverse impulses or of murderous and sadistic lusts."

Sometimes the dreamer wakes up in a fright, ie. the dream has failed in its function and "the generation of anxiety is a substitute for the distortion that has been ommited."

But at other times even that expression of affect is absent. "The objectionable matter is carried along by the height of the sexual excitement that has been reached during sleep, or it is viewed with the same tolerance with which even a waking person can regard a fit of rage, an angry mood or the indulgence in cruel phantasies."

But our interest in all this is greatly reduced when we find that, after analysis, the majority of dreams reveal themselves as the fulfilments of immoral - egoistic, sadistic, perverse or incestuous - wishful impulses. The straight-forward dream of sexual relations with your mother is a rarity compared to all the dreams that Psa must interpret in the same sense.

(C) The Occult Significance of Dreams.

Many 'problems' of dream-life are nothing to do with dreams at all. Thus, for instance, symbolism, is not a dream-problem, but a topic connected to myths and religious ritual as well s dreams. Similarly with the occult. Since dreams are 'mysterious' they have been brought together with other mysteries.

Two categories of dreams can be linked to occult phenomena: prophetic dreams and telepathis ones.

Obviously there are 'prophetic' dreams in the sense that their content gives some picture of the future; the only question is whether they correspond to what really happens subsequently. Personally I cannot believe it; "it contradicts all the expectations and presumptions of science on the one hand and on the other hand corresponds too closely to ancient and familiar desires which criticism must reject as unjustifiable presumption."

"It is otherwise with telepathic dreams"

Freud then gives an ingenious argument for the possibility of telepathy: Why do people often feel satisfaction with the prediction of a fortune teller, even when the fortune teller has got it completely wrong as far as 'reality' is concerned? Because the fortune teller must be picking up the deepest unconscious wishes of the person and relaying them back to her. The wish was being directly transferred to the fortune teller.

Moreover: "I have often had the impression, in the course of experiments in my private circle, that strongly emotionally coloured recollections can be successfully tranferred without much difficulty"

"On the basis of a number of experiences I am inclined to draw the conlusion that thought-transference of this kind comes about particularly easily at the moment at which an idea emerges from the unconscious, or, in theoretical terms, as it passes over from the 'primary processs' to the 'secondary process'."

If telepathy exists then there is no reason why telepathic mesages should not reach people in their sleep, or be left over from the previous day. ie.telepathic material would be like any other, and modified and transformed accordingly.

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