Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Interpretation of Dreams 6



Chapter 2: The Method of Interpreting Dreams

I have outlined already Freud's comprehensive survey of existing and contemporary literature on the subject of dreams and dreaming.  While Freud did gracefully acknowledge that these works had contributed some little to the scientific understanding of dreams, they certainly did not explore the subject in a necessarily thoroughly objective and scientific way.  Therefore, it was necessary for some scholar to begin again to found a science of dreams as it were.  Hence we have Freud's second chapter called once again quite infallibly by the definite article as "The Method of interpreting Dreams."  Here, Freud launches out into the deep as it were on a description of his method of interpreting dreams.  He now offers a complete analysis of a model dream - that is, the dream of Irma's injection.

Freud begins by alluding to the widespread belief that dreams are interpretable.  Freud lets us know that while he accepts some of the contentions made by contemporary science of physiology that their then current "scientific theories of the dream have no room for the problem of dream-interpretation, for to them the dream is not a psychical act at all but a somatic process which makes its occurrence known by indications in the psychical apparatus."  (Op.cit., 78)  However, Freud unusually sides with popular or even folkloric opinion - that while dreams may be on the one hand somewhat incomprehensible and absurd, on the other they do admit of some significance.  In his own words, we read:

A dim presentiment seems to lead it [popular opinion] to assume that the dream does possess a meaning, though a hidden one, that it stands as a substitute for another mode of thinking, and that it is only a matter of finding the right way to reveal this substitute for the hidden significance of the dream to be disclosed.  (ibid., 78)

He dismisses both the symbolic and decoding methods of interpreting dreams as being limited in application (the symbolic method) and that the "key" to the dream-book may be very unreliable indeed (decoding method). (80) He goes on to advance his own theory on a more scientific basis:

But I have come to learn better.  I have had to realise that here is another of those not infrequent cases where an ancient, stubbornly held popular belief seems to have come closer to the truth of things than the judgement of contemporary science.  I have to maintain that dreams really do possess a meaning, and that a scientific method of dream-interpretation is possible.  I came to my knowledge of this method in the following way.  (ibid., 80)

It is here, I find that Freud becomes very interesting indeed, and it is easy to see the pattern of his developing thought on dreams.  I have already alluded in a previous post to his close professional involvement with Dr Breuer.  See this link Breuer.  From Breuer he had learned all about the cathartic method (for which see here) for dealing with patients suffering from hysteria. Gradually, working together virtually as collaborators, doctor and patient (Breuer and Pappenheim) devised a cathartic method that removed her symptoms. In this treatment, Breuer hypnotized Pappenheim and then asked her to try to recall the first time she had experienced a physical sensation like one of her symptoms. Upon remembering such an incident, she would give vent to its previously suppressed emotion.  Following this emotional "catharsis" the symptoms would disappear.  Here is Freud himself describing how his science of dreams is based in his experience of clinical practice:

For many years I have been occupied with unravelling certain psychopathological structures, hysterical phobias, obsessional ideas, and the like, for therapeutic purposes - in fact ever since I learned from an important contribution by Josef Breuer that for these formations, experienced as symptoms of illness, the unravelling and the cure, solution, and resolution, amount to the same thing...In the course of these psychoanalytical studies I came up with the interpretation of dreams.  Patients who had undertaken to inform me of all of the thoughts and ideas that beset them on a certain subject told me their dreams, and in this way taught me that a dream can be interpolated into the psychical chain which, starting from a pathological idea, can be traced backwards in the memory.  This suggested that the dream itself might be treated as a symptom, and that the method of interpretation developed from symptoms might be applied to dreams.  (Ibid., 80-81)

Once the dream is regarded as a symptom, bearing in mind Breuer's cathartic method, the dreamer or analysand, working with the analyst will take each element of the dream separately, and using each element as a starting point for free association, they will together unravel the meaning of the dream. Sigmund Freud claimed to have interpreted more than a thousand dreams of his own and of his patients using his new technique.  I will return to Irma's dream in the next post.

Above I have posted an image from the wall of St Peter's Basilica, Rome, taken early May 2008

The Interpretation of Dreams 5



Chapter 1:  The Scientific Literature of The Problems of Dreams

On page 7, the very first page of his opening chapter Freud informs us that he will begin "with a survey both of what earlier authorities have written on the subject and of the present state of scientific inquiry into the problems of dreams..."  However, on this very same page he informs us assuredly that all such literature is found wanting in his educated opinion.  In his own words: While " a great deal of interesting material can be found relating to our subject... little or nothing touching the essential nature of the dream or offering a definitive solution to any of its riddles [is offered]" (ibid., 7)

Freud does advert to the insights of the ancients prior to Aristotle for what little they are worth as being "not a product of the dreaming psyche, but an inspiration from the realm of the divine." (ibid., 8) Freud does not return to these ancient insights again, as they are largely irrelevant to his scientific approach:  "That is why I have chosen to construct my account according to topics rather than authors, and in dealing with each dream I shall cite whatever material for its solution exists in the literature." (ibid., 9)  I have bolded and italicised the words which indicate Freud's "scientific" approach.  Again on page 9, listen to Freud's own definite words: As regards dreams "enlightenment and agreement may only be reached by a set of detailed investigations.  It is a detailed investigation of this kind, specifically of a psychological nature, that I am able to offer here."

Over the next few pages Freud tells us that for some scholars dreams seem to take us away from waking life, while for other scholars they seem to continue what is happening in waking life.  Then, in my opinion he offers a lovely definition of the dream in a sentence which shows his mastery of language: "The dream is something altogether separate from the reality we experience when awake; one might call it an existence hermetically closed within itself, cut off from real life by an unbridgeable chasm." (ibid., 11)

In this first chapter while Freud dismisses a lot of the content of the literature review, he did have appreciative words for some researchers.  The German author and researcher F.W. Hildebrandt had perceived the outline of the work of dreams in his landmark study The Dream and its Utilization in Life, published in 1875 and Freud noted his contributions.  Thus we find Freud quoting Hildebrandt on how dreams often connect the dreamer with remote incidents or occurrences from the past (ibid., 15); on the prevalence of trivial extras or trivia from daily life in our dreams (ibid., 18); how all dream images can be traced back to their origins in this or that event - Freud calls this the genetical (sic) explanation. (ibid., 19) and that the purer the life of the dreamer the purer the dream and the more impure the former, the more impure the latter. (ibid., 57) Freud calls F.W Hildebrandt's book "formally the most perfect contribution to the inquiry into the problems of dreams, and the most fertile in ideas I have found in the literature." (ibid., 57)

Freud also quotes widely in his first chapter the work of the French archivist, ethnographer, and historian of magic, Alfred MauryMaury had performed some brilliant experiments on his own dream production and had recorded them in his singular work Sleep and Dreams which was published in 1878.  He quotes Maury as regards how the dream connects us with events from our past, especially our childhood (ibid., 16); on the number of dreams Maury had attempted at reproducing experimentally (ibid., 23) and on the fact that this author and experimenter's researches really covers "the origin of only one of the elements of the dream, and that the rest of the dream content seems rather too independent, too definite in details, to be explained by the one requirement that it had to be consistent with the element introduced experimentally." (ibid., 27)

Freud also acknowledged the contribution of the verbose but imaginative philosophy professor Karl Albert Scherner, whose main interest was aesthetics, but who famously had stumbled on the meaning of symbols and had published his findings in a monograph of 1861 called The Life of Dreams.  Freud refers to the rules devised for dream and symbol interpretation on page 34 of The Interpretation.

However, before I bring this post to a conclusion I would like to acknowledge how wide-ranging is Freud's literature review and also how scientific it is in approach.  It is certainly thoroughly done and all the findings of the specific authors quoted are analysed and assessed.  What's good in them is acknowledged and what's no longer relevant or important is dismissed on a sound "scientific"  footing.  As I have already acknowledged  in these pages before Freud's understanding of science does not quite conform with what we today understand by science, but nonetheless, he pursued his clinical and psychological research in a rigorous fashion.  Looking at his own language in this first chapter is revealing, I believe:

"It is a detailed investigation of this kind, specifically of a psychological nature, that I am able to offer here." ( Ibid., 9); he lists what he considers a complete enumeration of the sources of dreams viz., (i) External (objective) Sensory excitation, (ii) Internal (organic) Sensory excitation, (iii) Internal (organic) somatic stimulus and (iv) Purely Psychical sources of Stimulus. (Ibid., 21); Maury's experiments with dreams (Ibid., 23); "Scientific inquiry cannot stop here; it becomes the occasion for it to question further why the stimulus acting upon our senses while we are asleep should appear in a dream in nothing like its true form..." (ibid., 25); visual stimuli (26);  auditory stimuli (27); "the laws governing the formation of dreams," (27); "aetiology of dreams" (28); "hypnagogic hallucinations," (28); "auditory hallucinations," (29); "the influence of organic physical stimuli on the formation of dreams is almost universally accepted today, but the question as to what law governs the relationship between the two gets very different and often obscure answers. (34); Mourly Vold on the physical positioning of the dreamer's limbs during sleep is quoted. (35); psychiatry as rooted in physiology or not? (37); physicality of the origins of dreams? (37-38); "In this scientific consideration of dreams..." (42); and finally he states that the law of causality does not apply to dreams, (45).  All of this shows Freud's preoccupation with being thorough and scientific.

I would also like to make another few salient comments on Freud's first chapter of The Interpretation.  Firstly that all dream-material derives in some way fro our own lived experience of life - see page 12.  Freud also makes some interesting allusions to the role dreams play in illnesses - see page 31.  I loved also Freud's allusion to Tissié's interesting work on dreams.  Consequently I found this passage from Freud enriching: "We have touched here on the theory of the genesis of dreams which has become the favoured one among medical authors.  The darkness in which the core of our being, the "moi splanchnique", as Tissié calls it, is shrouded from our knowledge, and the darkness in which dreams originate correspond too well not to be brought into association with one another..." - see page 32.  Freud also alludes through Vold to the place of animals in dreams. (35)  I also loved what Freud terms the thrust in the human mind to "coherent connection" - see page 41, not to mention the simple little phrase he steals from Delboeuf namely that "the psyche does not sleep," see page 63.  I was also captivated by the insight he quotes from Robert that "things we have fully thought through never become the impulses of our dreams, but always and only those which lie in our mind unfinished..." (page 66).

Finally, I wish to refer to what Freud terms the the "refreshing and healing action of dreams" which I deeply believe in from my own personal experience of working with my dreams.  For this last point read thoroughly that last nine pages of the first chapter, 69-77.


Above I have posted a picture I took of the setting sun on Bettystown Beach on St Patrick's Day. Perhaps a lovely illustration of the Moi Splanchnique of Tissié or of any of us.

The Interpretation Of Dreams 4



Once again I find myself over-awed almost by the sheer breadth of Freud's reading.  he quotes with ease from such diverse sources as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe and Heine, Mozart and Offenbach and even from contemporary popular songs.  I have already alluded to the fact that he even referred to our own Jonathan Swift's major work, Gulliver's Travels.  Added to all this widely cultural background, he also had read almost all the then available historical, anthropological, philosophical, sociological and psychological writings on dreams to give his book a solid scientific base.  All of this is, indeed, very impressive, to say the least.

To describe The Interpretation of Dreams with respect to literary genre is very difficult as it does not fit into any obvious literary category.  It is a rather sprawling work.  To use an image from architecture or town planning I might advance the contention that it is like an old town which has grown up organically with bits and pieces being added on as the years advance.  Indeed Peter Gay adverts to the fact that this work was "distended by material he added as edition followed edition." (Freud: A Life For Our Time, 105)

I am again indebted to Peter Gay for his wonderful insight into this great and pioneering book, namely that it's structure is not that of a huge building but rather that of a "guided tour" in which Freud is our very own guide.  It's rather akin, then, to a Victorian guided tour of the modern psyche.  In fact, Gay points out that Freud used this very image of "guided tour" himself. (Opus citatum 106ff.)

In what follows in these posts I shall try to summarise the findings of Freud chapter by chapter.

The contents of The Interpretation of Dreams are as follows:

Chapter 1 - Basically a Literature Review, called by Freud: "The Scientific Literature on the Problems of Dreams."

Chapter 2 - The Method of Interpreting Dreams

Chapter 3 - The dream is a Wish- Fulfilment

Chapter 4 - Dream Distortion

Chapter 5 - The Material and Sources of Dreams

Chapter 6 - The Dream Work

Chapter 7 - The Psychology of The Dream Processes.

One note the very assurance and self-confidence of Freud in his own scientific research in his use of the "definite article" as opposed to a less self-assured and tentative use of the "indefinite article" in all of the above chapter titles. One notes also that his sixth chapter on the work done by dreams was expanded to such an extent in later editions  as to become almost as long as the first five chapters taken together.

I will deal with this foundational text of Freud on a chapter by chapter basis in forthcoming posts.



Dried seaweed on Donabate Strand quite recently