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Sigmund Freud

powerful leader. One

powerful leader. One might interpret the wish underlying the dream as a desire to be as powerful as Napoleon, even with a broken arm. But when Talia repeated her dream to another friend he said, ‘Of course – Bone-apart!’ The dream’s meaning emerged through both its visual imagery – the picture of Napoleon Bonaparte with his hand in his jacket – and a punning commentary on the language of his name. Most dreams, of course, are not quite so tidy to interpret, but the combination of words and images that this dream manifests is one of the strongest contributions of Freudian dream interpretation. This simple dream was overdetermined in the context of that combination; the content of the dream could be interpreted both through a visual picture and a linguistic pun. The translations of desires into nonsensical dreams (through the dream-work) and nonsensical dreams back into sense (through narrating the dream and free associations) can be seen as mirror processes. Both work with interpretative abundance, the possibility of many layers of meaning first to disguise and then to uncover. The meanings of dreams are retrievable only through examining the way in which the patient retells the dream. By putting the dream into language and free-associating around the dream, the patient and the analyst together can construct a better understanding of the dream, the chain of thought towards which it leads, and the memories to which it refers. With the analyst, the patient works through the various associations that the dream brings up. In the interpretation of a dream the patient’s associations, and the form and order they appear in, are as important as the actual content of the dream itself. One of the most significant aspects of Freud’s interpretative methods is his belief that the process of retelling the dream, the details that are remembered, what is left out on first telling, what is constructed in the process of telling, is as important as the dream itself. In fact there is really no such object as the dream itself without its subsequent account, for we can have no access to dreams except through their subsequent narration. One might suspect that the more a dream is narrated, the more new interpretations might emerge. Freud’s theory of dreams can be seen as containing contradictory elements. On the one hand, I have been stressing the open-endedness of dream interpretation. The meaning of a dream is formulated and reformulated in the act of describing it; new desires, new associations emerge in its retelling. On the other hand, Freud does talk about the ‘comprehensive’ reading of a dream; in his case histories you will see he often feels that he and his patient have exhausted the possible meanings of a dream and reached a conclusion. Freud also can employ an apparently universal sexual symbolism (although it is important to remember that this symbolism is neither central nor necessary to his theory of dreams as it is laid out in The Interpretation of Dreams). One popular image of Freud appears in what is often known as Freudian symbolism, i.e. if you dream about a long or penetrating object such as a snake, knife or sword, the symbol refers to a penis; if you dream about a receptacle such as a jewel box, cave or pocket, the symbol is vaginal. Freud occasionally employs this symbolism in his interpretations, but his theory of dream interpretation is actually at odds with these crude, reductive usages. Freud’s theory insists that dreams must be interpreted in the complicated context of each individual telling; their meanings spiral outward, rather then settling so easily on a simple equation, i.e. knife = penis. However, Freud’s practice does not always agree with his theory. When his patient Dora describes a dream that included a jewel case belonging to her mother, Freud insists on its vaginal symbolism, later adding: ‘The box … like the reticule and the jewel-case, was once again only a substitute for the shell of Venus, for the female genitals’ (Freud 1905a: 114). That ‘once again’ suggests we are on familiar ground. In an example such as this one, the possibility of meanings multiplying from dreams is denied; one single definitive (and sexual) meaning is substituted. For psychoanalysis, then, interpretation is a contradictory creature. Freudian symbolism suggests fixed meanings, while Freud’s method suggests the limitless possibilities of reading,

etelling and constructing the past to fit with, and help, the present. Since the causes of the hysterical symptom are hidden in the patient’s unconscious memory, the task of psychoanalysis is primarily that of excavating the patient’s past to provide a cure in the present. Remember the central claim of Studies on Hysteria: ‘Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences.’ But, as we have seen, these reminiscences have to be interpreted and understood through the telling of stories in analysis. Initially through his use of hypnosis, Freud found that his patients could remember events and thoughts that were otherwise inaccessible. However, as we discovered in the last chapter, hypnosis was not always successful. Freud soon switched to the method of free association (p. 24), insisting that his patients obey the one cardinal rule of analysis and say everything that came into their head. Patients didn’t always obey this rule, however. Freud found that some of the most significant moments in an analysis were the ones in which the patient couldn’t think of anything at all. Silence could indicate that there was some painful memory or thought too close to the surface that needed to be repressed by drawing a blank. But there was another possibility as well. Freud discovered that when patients lapsed into silence it was often because they were having hostile or intimate thoughts about their therapist, and they were embarrassed to tell him what they were really thinking. These discoveries about the patient’s fantasised relations to the doctor were actually of old standing. Breuer’s treatment of Anna O. had ended disturbingly for him when, under the influence of hypnosis, Anna declared that she was having Breuer’s baby. A shocked and dismayed Breuer promptly abandoned therapy, and never recovered his desire to continue with the kinds of therapeutic methods of Studies on Hysteria. Later Breuer refused to support Freud in his contentions that at the base of hysterical illnesses were problems of sexuality. (This is, of course, Freud’s version of the story. Critics of Freud have questioned its accuracy.) Freud similarly discovered that hypnosis could lead to some embarrassing moments. Once, when under hypnosis, a woman patient of his suddenly threw her arms around him (Freud 1925a: 210). These incidents led Freud to think about the way in which an erotic attachment to a doctor might develop in a treatment situation. On the one hand, the incident pointed towards the inevitable sexual element in hysterical illnesses. But it also pointed towards a new idea – what if the doctor was really standing in for an earlier object of love or hate? What if the patient was, in therapy, acting out other relations? This idea became known as transference, and became key to Freud’s development of the psychoanalytic method. TRANSFERENCE Transference suggested that strong emotional, and particularly sexual, feelings – feelings of passionate love and hatred which were originally directed towards others – are transferred on to the doctor in the course of analysis. Initially this seemed like a problem for an analysis – hating or loving the doctor looks as if it would inevitably get in the way of the patient working out their cure. But Freud soon found that transference was a key tool for psychoanalysis. Patients acted out childhood emotions through the relationship with the analyst, initially not realising that they were imitating old patterns. Later they came to analyse and work through these reactions towards the analyst. Ideally they learned to re-attach them to the original figures who inspired the feelings (often their parents). In psychoanalysis ‘all the patients’ motives, including hostile ones, are aroused; they are then turned to account for the purposes of the analysis by being made conscious, and in this way the transference is constantly being

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