Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Interpretation of Dreams 9

After my last interlude it is back to the foundational text again.

Chapter III - The Dream is a Wish-Fulfilment

This chapter is very short indeed - merely eight pages in my edition.  Here Freud does not beat about the bush, but gets to the point, which he elaborates on with examples of more dreams from his own repertoire and from the early dreams of his children.  We meet Freud the family man, the loving daddy who listens to his children's dreams and writes about them.  I have the sense of him as a good father from what I am reading, though I have read little on his role as father to his children. (I must let my intuition serve in the place of concrete information here.)

Freud, as I have said many times before, is bringing us on a journey in this book.  In fact here we get a sense of Freud the outdoor man, the hill-walker and nature lover.  In this foundational text our author is indeed our guide up through the mountains (of life) and down the far side into the valley as it were. Freud spent much of his vacation time in the mountains, as any good Austrian would, so it comes as no surprise that he should open this short chapter thus:

After passing through a narrow defile and suddenly arriving at the top of a rise where the paths divide and the most fertile prospect opens out in all directions, one may pause for a moment and consider where to make for next. (my bolding and italics) ( The Interpretation, Oxford World Classics, 1999, 98)

Freud then goes on to mention many of the possible questions with respect to dreams (i.e., the many paths, any of which he could have chosen to follow), but then puts these one side quite simply because he is going to follow one chosen path and one chosen path only:

I propose to leave all these questions aside for the present and to pursue one particular path.  We have learned that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled.  Our next concern must be to find out whether this is a general characteristic of dreams or only the chance content of the dream our analysis began with ('the dream of Irma's injection')... (Ibid., 98)

He then goes on to marshal example after example to back his contention that dreams are wish-fulfilment.  He recounts those dreams which are familiar to us all - like those which we have after eating a very salty dinner or supper before we retire for the night.  Here, needless to say, we develop a thirst during the night and our wakening to slake that thirst is preceded by a dream of drinking some libation or other.  Freud succinctly comments here that "it is this sensation that produces the wish to drink, and the dream shows me this wish as fulfilled." (ibid., 99)  A little later on the same page Freud avers that "One sees how conveniently the dream can arrange things: since its only objective is wish-fulfilment it can be completely egotistical." (ibid., 99)  A little later in the chapter he reports a dream recounted to him by a friend whose wife was pregnant and who wished Dr Freud to be informed of this significant dream.  She had dreamed that she had started her period again.  Here is Freud's commentary on that dream: "...if a young woman has dreamed she is having her period, then she is missing it.  I can imagine she would have liked to have enjoyed her freedom a little longer before the difficulties of motherhood begin.  It was a clever way of announcing her first pregnancy." (ibid., 101)

I have already remarked about Freud's propensity for generalisation.  As soon as he has listed some say ten examples of dreams which seem to back up his theories, he then states his theory again as fact or as obvious conclusion.  In any philosopher's or scientist's book, this is bad practice indeed and quite unscientific.  Here are our pioneer's own words:

This selection will perhaps be enough to demonstrate that dreams of the most various kinds are very frequently found which can only be understood as wish-fulfilments, and which display their content undisguised. (ibid., 101)

Likewise on the next page and following he gives examples of the dreams of his children which are "of no interest at all compared with the dreams of adults," are "of course invaluable as proof in its innermost nature the dream signifies a wish-fulfilment." (ibid., 102)

He finishes the chapter with a proverb from local folk, viz., "What does a goose dream of?  Corn, of course" to back up his contention - obviously animals can only dream of what they have to eat to survive.  He ends the chapter with this clinching argument by quoting an oft-heard sentiment namely:  " 'I wouldn't have imagined it in my wildest dreams,' we cry in delight when we find our expectations surpassed in reality. " (ibid., 105)


Above - a photo of a quiet still spot at Nicastro - July 2007

A Biographical Interlude - Wilhelm Fliess (1858-1928)



Wilhelm Fliess (October 24, 1858 – October 13, 1928) was a German otolaryngologist, or in simpler terms an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon or an ENT specialist who practised in Berlin. On Josef Breuer's suggestion, he sought Freud out to share his theories with him.  To us today, these theories seem wild and outlandish - perhaps even in those Victorian times they appeared somewhat so also. Fliess attended lectures given by Freud in Vienna.  He was about the same age as his mentor and came from a similar background.  Like Freud, he had a wide range of intellectual interests and, as Stephen Wilson points out "both men were uninhibited by convention." (Wilson and Zarate, Introducing The Freud Wars, Icon Books, 2002, 16).   Being both intellectuals and scholars, they became firm friends.  Indeed, for a period of ten years - between August 1890 and September 1900 -  they corresponded regularly.  They also met frequently for dialogue and discussion over weekends.  These extended dialogues, they called rather cryptically "congresses".  Fliess was to become in Freud's opinion the "Kepler of biology" and any praise from his protégé he was to soak up as veritable "nectar and ambrosia."  Freud was then working on his general theory of psychology based on the notion of instinctual drive and its expression in psychic energy - to this he was to give the name Libido, from the Latin for "lust" or "desire."  Fliess was highly eccentric and was prone to let his speculation lead him into much wilder and stranger ideas that even Freud had the luxury to propose.  However, Freud subscribed to many of Fliess's thoughts and proposals.  Fliess was before his time in proposing the idea of "bio-rhythms" which he thought were somehow determined by special numbers in a quasi-mystical way (shades of the ancient belief in numerology here.)

Then, he made what may be termed a very strange contention indeed, namely that the mucous membranes in the nose were connected in some way to the functioning of the genitals - this Fliess called reflex nasal neurosis.  How Freud went along with this strange idea is mystifying to say the least, but he did subscribe to it, and sent patients to Fliess for nose operations in this regard.  Indeed, he even had Fliess operate twice on his own nose. Wilson refers to Fliess's idea as "The Genital Nose" and I have read elsewhere that his theory was described also as "The Sexual Nose." (See Wilson and Zarate, opus citatum supra, 18-23)  It is at this stage that the case of Emma Eckstein, to which I referred in the last post, comes in.  Eckstein was a young woman of 27 years who, among other complains, suffered from stomach ailments and menstrual problems.  As the Freud critic Jeffrey Masson says in his 1994 book, The Assault on Truth , these complaints would undoubtedly have been attributed by both Freud and Fliess to masturbation.   Here is what the WIKI states:

Emma Eckstein (1865-1924) had a particularly disastrous experience when Freud referred the then 27-year old patient to Fliess for surgery to remove the turbinate bone from her nose, ostensibly to cure her of premenstrual depression. Eckstein haemorrhaged profusely in the weeks following the procedure, almost to the point of death as infection set in. Freud consulted with another surgeon, who removed a piece of surgical gauze that Fliess had left behind. Eckstein was left permanently disfigured, with the left side of her face caved in. Despite this, she remained on very good terms with Freud for many years, becoming a psychoanalyst herself.  (I have left in the WIKI links.  See this link for the actual quotation Fliess )

Freud went on to ascribe total blame to the patient with respect to this bleeding or haemorrhaging by insisting that her post-operative condition was attributable to hysteria.   I shall quote a little from Freud's letter to Fliess in an effort to deflect blame from the latter:

Dearest Wilhelm,

Just received your letter and am able to answer it immediately. Fortunately I am finally seeing my way clear and am reassured about Miss Eckstein and can give you a report which will probably upset you as much as it did me, but I hope you will get over it as quickly as I did.

I wrote you that the swelling and the haemorrhages would not stop, and that suddenly a fetid odour set in, and that there was an obstacle upon irrigation. (Or is the latter new [to you]?) I arranged for Gersuny to be called in; he inserted a drainage tube, hoping that things would work out once discharge was reestablished; but otherwise he was rather reserved. Two days later I was awakened in the morning--profuse bleeding had started again, pain, and so on. Gersuny replied on the phone that he was unavailable till evening; so I asked Rosanes to meet me. He did so at noon. There still was moderate bleeding from the nose and mouth; the fetid odour was very bad. Rosanes cleaned the area surrounding the opening, removed some sticky blood clots, and suddenly pulled at something like a thread, kept on pulling. Before either of us had time to think, at least half a meter of gauze had been removed from the cavity. The next moment came a flood of blood. The patient turned white, her eyes bulged, and she had no pulse. Immediately thereafter, however, he again packed the cavity with fresh iodoform gauze and the haemorrhage stopped. It lasted about half a minute, but this was enough to make the poor creature, whom by then we had lying flat, unrecognisable. In the meantime--that is, afterward--something else happened. At the moment the foreign body came out and everything became clear to me--and I immediately afterward was confronted by the sight of the patient--I felt sick. After she had been packed, I fled to the next room, drank a bottle of water, and felt miserable. The brave Frau Doctor then brought me a small glass of cognac and I became myself again...

Now that I have thought it through, nothing remains but heartfelt compassion for my child of sorrows. I really should not have tormented you here, but I had every reason to entrust you with such a matter and more. You did it as well as one can do it. The tearing off of the iodoform gauze remains one of those accidents that happen to the most fortunate and circumspect of surgeons, as you know from the business with your little sister-in-law's broken adenotome and the anaesthesia. Gersuny said that he had had a similar experience and therefore he is using iodoform wicks instead of gauze (you will remember your own case). Of course, no one is blaming you, nor would I know why they should. And I only hope that you will arrive as quickly as I did at feeling sympathy and rest assured that it was not necessary for me to reaffirm my trust in you once again. I only want to add that for a day I shied away from letting you know about it; then I began to feel ashamed, and here is the letter.  (My italicisation and bolding) See this link for Freud's letter: Eckstein Letter.

Wilson tells us that Freud's infatuation with Fliess finally came to an end in the summer of 1900, when they met for a holiday in the Austrian Tyrol by a lake called Achensee.  According to Fliess, Freud took exception when he remarked that periodic biological processes were at work in the psyche "and consequently neither sudden improvements nor sudden deteriorations in a person's mental state can be attributed to analysis alone." (Wilson, op.cit., 24) In 1906, in a published account of the quarrel between the two doctors Fliess maintained that Freud had shown "a violence towards me which was at first unintelligible to me." (ibid., 24)

Some years later Freud ordered that his correspondence with Fliess be destroyed. It is only known today because Marie Bonaparte bought their letters and refused to permit their destruction.


Above I have uploaded a caricatured photograph of Fliess. The image says it all.