The Interpretations of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, published in 1900, forms the traditional psychoanalyst’s understanding of how unconscious processes work generally. Freud was the first scientist to take dreams seriously enough to want to devote himself to a thorough examination of them. In this fascinating, if not altogether essential account of the nature of dreams the reader is taken through a journey in which a theory describing their work will gradually form.
First of all, Freud argues that, given that every human beings, that is, irrespective of whether they are mentally sick or not, dream, then whatever those dreams reveal about the human psyche may be deemed a universal and valid rule in everyone. If philosophers couldn’t be bothered to look into them properly and preferred dismissing them as some insignificant quirkiness in us, Freud would still invite them to offer some rational explanation. Why did they appear so strange and distorted? What did they mean? Why do we have them all together?
Freud would eventually realise that dreams invariably follow an exact set of rules. Three broad components would be seen time and again when looking at dreams. The dreamer’s initial report of his dream may be named the manifest content of the dream, but this story is a distorted version of another, an original version whose content is understood by Freud to be inadmissible. At the time of his practice Freud would offer an interpretation of his patient’s dreams as the realisation of wish fulfilment of a hidden and secret thought, too disturbing to the dreamer not to need to distort it along the way. And so finally, the last component Freud entering into the formation of dreams would be this distorting effect in between the original or latent thought – what was never consciously acknowledged – and the manifest thought which is remembered upon waking up.
- If the validity of an interpretation of a dream can be legitimately questioned, Freud’s research is primordial in its revealing the mechanism in dreams, the ‘dream work’. We are here, of course, referring to the notions of displacement and condensation, the same processes of which can be noticed in linguistics with metonymies and metaphors (see my short introduction)
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