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SIGMUND FREUD THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS (1899-1900)

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After considering various, not least scientific, theories of dreams in preceding chapters, Freud discusses here several of his own and other persons' dreams. He concludes that the source of a dream may be: (a) a recent and psychologically significant event which is directly represented in the dream; (b) several recent and significant events, which are combined by the dream in a single whole; (c) one or more recent and significant events, which are represented in the dream-content by allusion to a contemporary but indifferent event; (d) a subjectively significant experience (recollection, train of thought) , which is constantly represented in the dream by allusion to a recent but indifferent impression.
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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06A
1
SIGMUND FREUD THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS (1899-1900)
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Avon,
1965.
Chapter V: The Material and Sources of Dreams
After considering various, not least scientific, theories of dreams in preceding chapters,
Freud discusses here several of his own and other persons dreams. He concludes that the
source of a dream may be: (a) a recent and psychologically significant event which is
directly represented in the dream; (b) several recent and significant events, which are
combined by the dream in a single whole; (c) one or more recent and significant events,
which are represented in the dream-content by allusion to a contemporary but indifferent
event; (d) a subjectively significant experience (recollection, train of thought), which is
constantly represented in the dream by allusion to a recent but indifferent impression.
Freud comes to argue that some of our most significant dreams stem from infantile
experiences. Ultimately, he is keen to stress, the most significant elements of dreams are
traceable in particular to childhood experiences, not least those of an Oedipal nature.
Parents, he says,
play a leading part in the infantile psychology of all persons who
subsequently become psychoneurotics. Falling in love with one parent and
hating the other forms part of the permanent stock of the psychic impulses
which arise in early childhood, and are of such importance as the material of
the subsequent neurosis. But I do not believe that psychoneurotics are to
be sharply distinguished in this respect from other persons who remain
normal – that is, I do not believe that they are capable of creating
something absolutely new and peculiar to themselves. It is far more
probable – and this is confirmed by incidental observations of normal
children – that in their amorous or hostile attitude toward their parents,
psychoneurotics do no more than reveal to us, by magnification, something
that occurs less markedly and intensively in the minds of the majority of
children. ()
Legends drawn from antiquity, he argues, confirm this impression: he has in mind the
story of Oedipus in particular. Here is his summary of the play, Oedipus Rex by
Sophocles:
Oedipus, the son of Laius, king of Thebes, and Jocasta, is exposed as a
suckling, because an oracle had informed the father that his son, who was
still unborn, would be his murderer. He is rescued, and grows up as a king's
son at a foreign court, until, being uncertain of his origin, he, too, consults
the oracle, and is warned to avoid his native place, for he is destined to
become the murderer of his father and the husband of his mother. On the
road leading away from his supposed home he meets King Laius, and in a
sudden quarrel strikes him dead. He comes to Thebes, where he solves the
riddle of the Sphinx, who is barring the way to the city, whereupon he is
elected king by the grateful Thebans, and is rewarded with the hand of
Jocasta. He reigns for many years in peace and honour, and begets two
sons and two daughters upon his unknown mother, until at last a plague
breaks out- which causes the Thebians to consult the oracle anew. Here
Sophocles' tragedy begins. The messengers bring the reply that the plague
will stop as soon as the murderer of Laius is driven from the country. But

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06A
2
where is he? . . . The action of the play consists simply in the disclosure,
approached step by step and artistically delayed (and comparable to the
work of a psychoanalysis) that Oedipus himself is the murderer of Laius, and
that he is the son of the murdered man and Jocasta. Shocked by the
abominable crime which he has unwittingly committed, Oedipus blinds
himself, and departs from his native city. The prophecy of the oracle has
been fulfilled. ()
The play’s impact, Freud argues, has less to do with the “contrast between destiny and
human will” (), the traditional view, than the way in which it reminds us of deeply
repressed aspects of our own identity:
His fate moves us only because it might have been our own, because the
oracle laid upon us before our birth the very curse which rested upon him.
It may be that we were all destined to direct our first sexual impulses toward
our mothers, and our first impulses of hatred and violence toward our
fathers; our dreams convince us that we were. King Oedipus, who slew his
father Laius and wedded his mother Jocasta, is nothing more or less than a
wish-fulfilment- the fulfilment of the wish of our childhood. But we, more
fortunate than he, in so far as we have not become psychoneurotics, have
since our childhood succeeded in withdrawing our sexual impulses from our
mothers, and in forgetting our jealousy of our fathers. We recoil from the
person for whom this primitive wish of our childhood has been fulfilled with
all the force of the repression which these wishes have undergone in our
minds since childhood. As the poet brings the guilt of Oedipus to light by his
investigation, he forces us to become aware of our own inner selves, in
which the same impulses are still extant, even though they are suppressed.
()
To further support his cause, Freud contends that there is even a moment in the play
when Jocasta directly alludes to a dream, which many men dream, about sleeping with
one’s mother.
Freud then turns his attention to Shakespeare’s Hamlet which, he argues, is “rooted
in the same soil as Oedipus Rex” (): the
whole difference in the psychic life of the two widely separated periods of
civilization, and the progress, during the course of time, of repression in the
emotional life of humanity, is manifested in the differing treatment of the
same material. In Oedipus Rex the basic wish-phantasy of the child is
brought to light and realized as it is in dreams; in Hamlet it remains
repressed, and we learn of its existence- as we discover the relevant facts in
a neurosis- only through the inhibitory effects which proceed from it. In the
more modern drama, the curious fact that it is possible to remain in
complete uncertainty as to the character of the hero has proved to be quite
consistent with the over-powering effect of the tragedy. The play is based
upon Hamlet's hesitation in accomplishing the task of revenge assigned to
him; the text does not give the cause or the motive of this hesitation, nor
have the manifold attempts at interpretation succeeded in doing so.
According to the still prevailing conception, a conception for which Goethe
was first responsible, Hamlet represents the type of man whose active
energy is paralyzed by excessive intellectual activity: "Sicklied o'er with the
pale cast of thought." According to another conception, the poet has
endeavoured to portray a morbid, irresolute character, on the verge of
neurasthenia. The plot of the drama, however, shows us that Hamlet is by

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06A
3
no means intended to appear as a character wholly incapable of action. On
two separate occasions we see him assert himself: once in a sudden outburst
of rage, when he stabs the eavesdropper behind the arras, and on the other
occasion when he deliberately, and even craftily, with the complete
unscrupulousness of a prince of the Renaissance, sends the two courtiers to
the death which was intended for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him
in accomplishing the task which his father's ghost has laid upon him? Here
the explanation offers itself that it is the peculiar nature of this task. Hamlet
is able to do anything but take vengeance upon the man who did away with
his father and has taken his father's place with his mother- the man who
shows him in realization the repressed desires of his own childhood. The
loathing which should have driven him to revenge is thus replaced by self-
reproach, by conscientious scruples, which tell him that he himself is no
better than the murderer whom he is required to punish. ()
All he has done, Freud claims, is to “have here translated into consciousness what had to
remain unconscious in the mind of the hero” (). Freud’s views in this regard were
subsequently developed famously by Ernest Jones in his own “Oedipus and Hamlet.”
However, Freud warns, just as “all neurotic symptoms, like dreams themselves, are
capable of hyper-interpretation, and even require such hyper-interpretation before they
become perfectly intelligible, so every genuine poetical creation must have proceeded from
more than one motive, more than one impulse in the mind of the poet, and must admit of
more than one interpretation. I have here attempted to interpret only the deepest stratum
of impulses in the mind of the creative poet” ().
Chapter VI: The Dream-Work
Here, Freud begins by stressing the differences between his own and previous approaches
to dream interpretation:
All other previous attempts to solve the problems of dreams have concerned
themselves directly with the manifest dream-content as it is retained in the
memory. They have sought to obtain an interpretation of the dream from
this content, or, if they dispensed with an interpretation, to base their
conclusions concerning the dream on the evidence provided by this content.
We, however, are confronted by a different set of data; for us a new psychic
material interposes itself between the dream-content and the results of our
investigations: the latent dream-content, or dreamthoughts, which are
obtained only by our method. We develop the solution of the dream from
this latent content, and not from the manifest dreamcontent. We are thus
confronted with a new problem, an entirely novel task - that of examining
and tracing the relations between the latent dreamthoughts and the
manifest dream-content, and the processes by which the latter has grown
out of the former. ()
Freud is at pains to emphasise the verbal, rather than pictorial, basis of dreams: the
dream-content appears to us as a translation of the dream-thoughts into
another mode of expression, whose symbols and laws of composition we
must learn by comparing the origin with the translation. The dream-
thoughts we can understand without further trouble the moment we have
ascertained them. The dream-content is, as it were, presented in
hieroglyphics, whose symbols must be translated, one by one, into the
language of the dream-thoughts. It would of course, be incorrect to attempt

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06A
4
to read these symbols in accordance with their values as pictures, instead of
in accordance with their meaning as symbols. For instance, I have before
me a picture - puzzle (rebus) - a house, upon whose roof there is a boat;
then a single letter; then a running figure, whose head has been omitted,
and so on. As a critic I might be tempted to judge this composition and its
elements to be nonsensical. A boat is out of place on the roof of a house,
and a headless man cannot run; the man, too, is larger than the house, and
if the whole thing is meant to represent a landscape the single letters have
no right in it, since they do not occur in nature. A correct judgment of the
picture-puzzle is possible only if I make no such objections to the whole and
its parts, and if, on the contrary, I take the trouble to replace each image by
a syllable or word which it may represent by virtue of some allusion or
relation. The words thus put together are no longer meaningless, but might
constitute the most beautiful and pregnant aphorism. ()
For Freud, the dream-analyst is evidently engaged in a process of textual interpretation
akin to that of literary criticism.
Freud then proceeds to identify the precise processes which comprise what he
terms the ‘dream-work’ by which the true meaning of a dream is obfuscated. The first is
‘condensation’ by which he means something like ‘compression’: the
first thing that becomes clear to the investigator when he compares the
dream-content with the dream-thoughts is that a tremendous work of
condensation has been accomplished. The dream is meagre, paltry and
laconic in comparison with the range and copiousness of the dreamthoughts.
The dream, when written down fills half a page; the analysis, which contains
the dream-thoughts, requires six, eight, twelve times as much space. The
ratio varies with different dreams; but in my experience it is always of the
same order. As a rule, the extent of the compression which has been
accomplished is under-estimated, owing to the fact that the dream-thoughts
which have been brought to light are believed to be the whole of the
material, whereas a continuation of the work of interpretation would reveal
still further thoughts hidden in the dream. We have already found it
necessary to remark that one can never be really sure that one has
interpreted a dream completely; even if the solution seems satisfying and
flawless, it is always possible that yet another meaning has been manifested
by the same dream. Thus the degree of condensation is - strictly speaking -
indeterminable. ()
The question arises: how exactly is this process of condensation accomplished? Basically,
through condensation, two or more key items at the latent level of the dream are
condensed into or fused with one another. Freud then proceeds to discuss some of his
own key dreams. Elsewhere, Freud uses the term ‘over-determination’ to refer to the
process by which the presence of a single element in the dream-content is in fact a
function of several determinants in the dream-thoughts.
Freud then turns to a discussion of the second key technique involved in the dream-
work – ‘displacement’ – by which he means something like ‘transference.’ In a nutshell,
he argues, “that which is obviously the essential content of the dream-thoughts need not
be represented at all in the dream. The dream is, as it were, centred elsewhere; its
content is arranged about elements which do not constitute the central point of the dream-
thoughts” (). He continues: it
now becomes very probable that a psychic force expresses itself in the
dream-work which, on the one hand, strips the elements of the high psychic

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3303 Notes 06A
5
value of their intensity and, on the other hand, by means of over-
determination, creates new significant values from elements of slight value,
which new values then make their way into the dream-content. Now if this
is the method of procedure, there has occurred in the process of dream-
formation a transference and displacement of the psychic intensities of the
individual elements, from which results the textual difference between the
dream-content and the thought-content. The process which we here assume
to be operative is actually the most essential part of the dream-work; it may
fitly be called dream-displacement. ()
Freud concludes: “[d]ream-displacement and dream-condensation are the two craftsmen
to whom we may chiefly ascribe the structure of the dream” ().
Freud finally turns his attention to what he terms the ‘means of representation’ in
dreams. Here, Freud is interested in grasping what techniques of association substituted
at the manifest level of the dream for the logical relations (e.g. of cause and effect or
either-or) which must inhere in the dream-thoughts that comprise the latent level of the
dream if these are to be meaningful at all. He argues that the
essential dream-thoughts commonly reveal themselves as a complex of
thoughts and memories of the most intricate possible construction, with all
the characteristics of the thought-processes known to us in waking life. Not
infrequently they are trains of thought which proceed from more than one
centre, but which are not without points of contact; and almost invariably we
find, along with a train of thought, its contradictory counterpart, connected
with it by the association of contrast. The individual parts of this
complicated structure naturally stand in the most manifold logical relations
to one another. They constitute foreground and background, digressions,
illustrations, conditions, lines of argument and objections. When the whole
mass of these dream-thoughts is subjected to the pressure of the dream-
work, during which the fragments are turned about, broken up and
compacted, somewhat like drifting ice, the question arises: What becomes of
the logical ties which had hitherto provided the framework of the structure?
What representation do ‘if,’ ‘because,’ ‘as though,’ ‘although,’ ‘either-or’ and
all the other conjunctions, without which we cannot understand a phrase or
a sentence, receive in our dreams? To begin with, we must answer that the
dream has at its disposal no means of representing these logical relations
between the dream-thoughts. In most cases it disregards all these
conjunctions, and undertakes the elaboration only of the material content of
the dream-thoughts. It is left to the interpretation of the dream to restore
the coherence which the dream-work has destroyed. ()
In short, “logical relations between the dream-thoughts do not obtain any particular
representation in the dream” ().
Freud finishes the chapter by examining the forms into which particular examples of
logical argumentation, not least ‘cause and effect’ or ‘either -or,’ are transposed in dreams.
He contends that the presence of the former (a relationship of consequence) at the latent
level is often represented by a succession of dreams, or parts thereof (i.e. what appears to
be a mere sequence) at the manifest level. Similarly, the presence in the dream-thoughts
of the latter in the form of alternatives which imply the necessity of choosing between
them is often represented by a mere juxtaposition of possibilities in the dream-content
without any sense that these are mutually exclusive. It is, Freud argues, the task of the
dream-interpreter to restore the original logical relations that have been masked in this
and related ways through the intervention of the dream-work.

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