Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams

New interdisciplinary essays

Laura Marcus
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This book primarily explores the workings of both dreams and dream-interpretation, and investigates the nature of the mental apparatus which not only produces dreams but seems to require them for its effective functioning. Freud's theories postulated two central theses: first, that dreams have a meaning accessible to interpretation; and second, that they have a function. Dreams are 'compromise formations', expressions of wishes and of defenses against those wishes. The book uses an interpretative methodology to explore and expose the various disguises and concealments entailed in the transformation from dreamwish to dream-scene, interpreting or undisguising dreams along associative paths. It leads us into the 'dark continent' of mental processes. As Freud's interpretation of the dream unfolds, fragment by fragment, the dream begins to cohere around a number of themes: professional responsibility and medical incompetence; women's secrecy or 'recalcitrance'; organic versus hysterical illness; self-recrimination and self-justification. The apparent 'triumph' of self-justification in the dream is also the means by which the wish-fulfilment theory of dreams, and hence the central thesis of Freud's dream book, is validated. The dream of Irma's injection could be read as Freud's wishful dream of the birth of psychoanalysis emerging from his relationship with Fliess, and of the overcoming of female 'resistance'. Freud's dream book is widely agreed to be not only his most important work, but the one which resonates most strikingly with a whole range of intellectual and experiential preoccupations, from his own time to ours, and undoubtedly beyond.

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