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Sigmund Freud

propose we should

propose we should interpret them? And why is dream interpretation so significant for psychoanalysis? According to Freud, dreams function like symptoms and can be read in a similar way. Hysterical symptoms, however, were confined to the sick. Since healthy people dreamt as much as people who suffered from mental illness, Freud’s dream theory postulated a continuum between the neurotic and the non-neurotic. Freud pointed out this paradox of the dreaming state: You should bear in mind that the dreams which we produce at night have, on the one hand, the greatest external similarity and internal kinship with the creations of insanity, and are, on the other hand, compatible with complete health in waking life. (Freud 1910a: 33) By focusing on dreams, psychoanalysis broadened its scope: although hysterical symptoms presumably appear only in people who are ill with neurosis or hysteria, dreams happen every night to everyone. Psychoanalytic interventions were no longer confined to those in pathological states. The Interpretation of Dreams claimed that Freud’s methods of deduction were universally applicable to the ‘normal’ as well as the ‘abnormal’, and helped to bridge the gap between the two. Symptoms and dreams are the first two objects of the probing detective gaze of psychoanalysis: making some sort of sense out of apparent nonsense is its initial goal. Freud claimed: The interpretation of dreams is in fact the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious; it is the securest foundation of psychoanalysis and the field in which every worker must acquire his convictions and seek his training. If I am asked how one can become a psychoanalyst, I reply: ‘By studying one’s own dreams.’ (Freud 1910a: 33) One paradox of psychoanalysis is contained in this statement. On the one hand, Freud claims that studying one’s own dreams is the best way to become a psychoanalyst – his book is in a very real sense an autobiographical account of his own state of mind, read through his dreams. But Freud will later claim that one cannot ever analyse oneself fully – there will always be blockages, unconscious impulses and desires which refuse to appear unless they are brought to the surface with the help of another. Self-analysis is both necessary and insufficient for working through the psychoanalytic process. Yet Freud’s self-analysis founds psychoanalysis; he relates his writing of The Interpretation of Dreams to his confused emotional reaction to the death of his father. In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud painstakingly examines many of his own dreams as well as those of his patients and people he knows. He comes to several conclusions about the status of dreaming and its relation to waking life. Freud suggests that, if we look at the dreams of young children, their meanings are evident. His daughter Anna, at nineteen months old, was sick and consequently forbidden food for a day. ‘During the night after this day of starvation she was heard calling out excitedly in her sleep: “Anna Fweud, stwawbewwies, wild stwawbewwies, omblet, pudden!”’ (Freud 1900:209). Obviously Anna was dreaming of the food she had been forbidden. In our sleeping state, Freud suggested, we imaginatively satisfy our unfulfilled desires of the day. Typically, he was not content to suggest that some dreams were wish-fulfilments; rather he claimed that all dreams were disguised wish-fulfilments. In the Interpretation of Dreams one of his most succinct explanations of the significance of the dream is as follows: ‘A dream is a (disguised) fulfilment of a (suppressed or repressed) wish’ (Freud 1900:244). If your conscious, censorious, moral self will not allow the development of certain wishes, then your desires can be

satisfied in a dreamy roundabout state, through the distorted world of the dream. Repressed desires are given a stage to perform on at night. What does it mean that dreams come in disguised form? The baby Anna Freud’s wish was not disguised; clearly she wanted food, and in her dream she gorged herself. But for adults and older children the wishes that are satisfied in dreams are often more troubling than the desire for snacks. They often concern thoughts that are unacceptable to the conscious life of our adult selves – sexual desires directed towards inappropriate objects or violent urges directed towards those closest to us. Freud expanded on his initial theory that dreams were all wish-fulfilments to suggest two things: that dreams also expressed infantile material which had been repressed, and that this material was often sexual in nature: ‘Our theory of dreams regards wishes originating in infancy as the indispensable motive force for the formation of dreams’ (Freud 1900:747). Like neurotic symptoms, Freud found that dreams were also expressions of repressed wishes – particularly, although not inevitably, sexual wishes. Both of Freud’s main contentions about dreams – that they are inevitably wish-fulfilments and that they usually deal with childhood sexual material – seem counter-intuitive. We can all probably think of dreams we’ve had which do not subscribe to either of these principles. Freud, at various times, was forced to deal with objections to his theory. What wishes do nightmares or anxiety dreams fulfil? In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud attempts to circumvent these objections by finding a wish in every dream – even when a patient dreams something obviously unpleasant to her, Freud imagines that the patient wants to prove him wrong, ergo she’s fulfilling a wish. Later in his career, particularly in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) (see Chapter 5), Freud was troubled by the existence of certain obviously unpleasant dreams, but generally he stuck to his initial statement, claiming that a comprehensive analysis of a dream will always find the wish hidden behind it. In a book which followed shortly on The Interpretation of Dreams, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (published in 1901), Freud extended his new reading practices further into the mundane daily world. If dreams and symptoms could be read as expressing hidden desires and wishes, so could our mistakes and mishaps. PARAPRAXES OR FREUDIAN SLIPS Our moments of forgetting, coming out with a wrong name, embarrassing mispronunciations or substitutions of words, are now popularly known as Freudian slips. Freud himself referred to such an error by the scientific-sounding Latinate term ‘parapraxis’. Errors such as these occur in the realm of the unconscious. But, Freud would claim, these errors are not really errors. They express important truths about our unconscious desires. The unconscious never lies, and usually finds a way to express what it really wants. Examples of parapraxes are easy to find, and Freud’s book is full of them. Freud tells the story of the President of the lower House of the Austrian Parliament who declared Parliament closed instead of open at the beginning of a sitting – obviously he was ready for another holiday. The wishes behind parapraxes are often less distorted than the wishes one finds in dreams. When Freudian slips happen they usually provoke smiles in everyone who hears them and recognises their not particularly well hidden meaning. An appropriate one occurred at a psychoanalytic conference: the final contributor, who was closing the conference, addressed the audience by saying ‘I’d like to spank the speakers,’ instead of thanking them. To an audience of psychoanalysts,

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