The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Chapter 6, Part 3 : The Dream-Work | Summary



F. Some Examples—Calculations and Speeches in Dreams

Before Freud gets to calculations and speeches in dreams, he starts with more examples of displacement, condensation, and considerations of representability. He then provides several examples of unusual ways dreams have represented dream thoughts.

Freud remarks some dreams are similar to jokes and sometimes rely on double meanings apparent only to the dreamer. He recounts 14 examples in which the dreamer supplied the interpretation.

Freud next considers numbers and calculations in dreams, such as addition, multiplication, and subtraction. He says calculations in dreams are not invented or performed by the dream-work. They are just memories of calculations seen or heard before. The same is true for conversations in dreams: "all the dream has done is to extract from the dream-thoughts fragments of speeches which have been really made or heard." This applies to speeches heard in a dream, Freud notes. Reading can also be a source for such fragments of speech.

Freud presents two of his dreams as examples. He dreamed of his former colleague, the late Fleischl who died a morphine addict. Then he dreamed of Fliess, his friend in Berlin, and P., a friend of Freud's who died. In the dream Freud looks at P. and P. seems to melt. Freud says to Fliess, "Non vixit," Latin for "he did not live." But what Freud meant to say in the dream was Non vivit, Latin for "he does not live." He read them on the base of a statue at the Imperial Palace in Vienna. The appearance of his dead friend P. refers to an "evil wish" Freud knew P. had. The dream punishes P. by presenting him as dead.

Freud takes note of two feelings he has toward his friend P: "a hostile and affectionate current of feeling." He then says only one passage in literature expresses this "convergence" of two contrary feelings. The passage is a speech by Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar justifying the killing of Caesar. In the dream Freud's friend Fliess came to Vienna in July. Freud notes the month of July is named after Julius Caesar, and at age 14 Freud himself played Brutus on stage. These memories return Freud to his childhood playmate and bitter rival, his nephew John. At age two Freud had been caught hitting John (who was one year older than Freud). Freud had said, "I hit him 'cos he hit me." Freud notes his childish pronunciation transformed the German word schlagen (to hit) into another German word, wichsen, to hit or pound. Strachey does not translate wichsen, but it is also vulgar slang meaning to masturbate.

G. Absurd Dreams—Intellectual Activity in Dreams

In this section Freud shows the absurdity of dreams is sometimes only on the manifest level. When interpreted, the meaningful dream-thoughts are revealed. He also shows other dreams in which the absurdity is connected to a judgment in the dream-thoughts. In these cases the mental activity of judging is copied from the dream-thoughts; judgment is not the mental activity of the dream-work.

Freud then gives several examples of dreams dealing with a dead father, some from his patients and some from himself. Freud remarks the dead often appear in dreams "and act and associate with us as though they were alive." He says people commonly believe such dreams mean the dreamer is wondering, "If my father were alive, what would he say to this?" Freud says this interpretation is incorrect. In such cases where the dead seem to judge the acts of the living, the dream is either "a consoling thought that the dead person has not lived to witness the event, or a feeling of satisfaction that he can no longer interfere in it."

In considering dreams in which a dead person is alive again and then dead once more, Freud interprets this to mean an "alternation between death and life" and indicates indifference on the part of the dreamer. The indifference is a "dream-representation," however, disguising the dreamer's true feelings of ambivalence. If the dream does not comment on the fact the dead person is dead, says Freud, the dreamer is dreaming of his or her own death.

In the third example Freud returns to a dream he recounted earlier, in section B of Chapter 5, on infantile material. One part of the dream was related to real-life aristocrat Count Thun. Freud recounts the part when he ordered a cab driver to drive him to the station. Freud's interpretation depends on a pun that has to do with the German verb fahren, meaning travel, go, or drive, and the German words Vorfahren and Nachkommen. Vorfahren can mean to drive up or drive ahead, or as a noun it can refer to ancestors, literally, predecessors. Nachkommen can mean to come after or follow, or it can refer to offspring, descendants. Freud interprets the dream-thought behind this pun as: "It is absurd to be proud of one's ancestry; it is better to be an ancestor oneself."

Freud concludes the absurdity in dreams comes from the dreamer's unconscious dream-thoughts. The dream "is made absurd ... if any one of the dreamer's unconscious trains of thought has criticism or ridicule as its motive." Absurdity is therefore the way dream-work represents contradiction. Absurdity also relates to the mood of the dream-thoughts which contain derision or laughter. Freud then says the authority of a father puts children on the lookout for any weaknesses or absurdities in the father. When the father is dead, feelings of scorn for the father have a hard time making it into conscious thought; they have to be disguised as absurd dream elements.

In the fourth example of a dream about a dead father, Freud dreams he gets a message from the town council about fees due for the hospitalization of someone in 1851. Because Freud was not yet born in 1851, he thinks there is a mistake. He was born five years later, in 1856. In the interpretation the interval of five years turns out to be significant. A colleague had expressed disapproval over the fact one of Freud's patients was entering the fifth year of psychoanalytic treatment. In the dream, the interval of five years is treated as though it were nothing. "'What are five years?' asked the dream-thoughts.' That's no time at all ... it doesn't count.'"

In the fifth dream example there is no dead father. Instead, it is "yet another dream which plays about with numbers." In the dream Herr M. is attacked in an essay by the great writer Goethe, who died in 1832. Freud connects this to a "crushing" criticism in a review of his friend Wilhelm Fliess's recent book. In the book Fliess expounded his theories about "the chronological data of life," and he used Goethe's life as an example of one with a significant number of days in its length. The dream refutes the criticism of Fliess as absurd. Freud then reminds readers dreams are egoistic. He says the dream identified him with Fliess because he has also been criticized for his ideas.

Freud interprets another dream to be about the importance of paying attention to both sides and then says that dreams "are often most profound when they seem most crazy," writes Freud. The crazy or absurd manifest content enables dream-thoughts to get past the dream-censor. He compares this disguise to royal fools and to Hamlet's pretending to be mad. He remarks he has solved the problem: "the dream-thoughts are never absurd ... and that the dream-work produces absurd dreams ... if it [needs to] represent any criticism, ridicule, derision."

Next, Freud alludes to the "three factors" of dream-work he has explained so far—displacement, condensation, and considerations of representability. He says there is one more but doesn't mention it yet. Instead, he emphasizes the dream-work only "translates" the dream-thoughts. The dream-work does not come up with its own thoughts. The judgments of ridicule or scorn in a dream come from the dream-thoughts, not from the dream-work. He then adds even after the dreamer wakes up, the dreamer's judgments about the dream are "part of the latent content of the dream and are to be included in its interpretation."

Freud gives examples of waking thoughts that form part of the dream's latent content, and then turns to what seem like "acts of judgment made for the first time in the dream." Like speeches these acts of judgment and other intellectual activities are really fragments copied from elsewhere. The significance lies not in the judgment itself but is revealed in the dream interpretation. "A dream is a conglomerate which, for the purposes of investigation, must be broken up once more into fragments," Freud writes. He gives some examples among the dreams already recounted.

The dream in which Freud owes a debt for a hospitalization that happened before he was born served to condemn criticisms of Freud as absurd. When Freud told his patients they were influenced by traces of infantile experiences, they often laughed and said they might as well be influenced by events that happened before their birth. The dream fulfilled a wish; the idea that Freud's theories were laughable was itself absurd and impossible.

In another dream Freud dissects his own pelvis and legs. Freud interprets the self-dissection as standing for the self-analysis he had undertaken, which included recounting his dreams. He relates this to a recent conversation about his own "immortal works," which he said he had not yet written. This included his anxiety about finishing the book The Interpretation of Dreams and his hopes for its success.

Freud then relates a dream about an unreal train station name, Hollthurn. In the dream he changes train compartments without being aware of it. He interprets the dream as a fear he has an episode of "automatisme ambulatoire," as he says in French—a waking, walking trance. Then he realizes this fear is copied from one of his patients. After the death of his parents this patient reproached himself for having wished his parents were dead. His guilt became a neurotic fear he was a murderer. He spent all his time at home to avoid murdering anyone. He feared he could murder someone in a trance state and not realize it. Freud also says this neurotic patient could remember forcing his way into his parents' bedroom in early childhood, driven by sexual curiosity. Freud concludes by repeating his main point: "an act of judgment in a dream is only a repetition of some prototype in the dream-thoughts."


In the discussion of speech in dreams, Freud gives many examples of interpretations that depended on the patient's contribution to the analysis. He says he would never have arrived at the solution without the patient's contribution. However, his examples are hard to believe. A patient dreams about an automobile; would Freud really have needed someone else to point out the association with "auto-erotism," an interpretation that sounds so essentially Freudian? The examples, if they prove anything, might prove how well-schooled Freud's patients have become. Freud's patients may have learned which interpretations and associations satisfied their analyst. However, cooperation between patient and psychoanalyst does not necessarily disprove Freud's theories. It just demonstrates the psychoanalytic session is a work created by two people.

The inclusion of these examples in which the patient contributes something necessary has another function. It widens the sense of what can be included in the dream interpretation. The dream itself, the words the patient uses to recount it, and the patient's associations with the elements all form part of the interpretation. In the discussion on judgment Freud recasts this thought in a more radical way—the patient's judgments about the dream, upon waking, are part of the dream's latent content, the dream-thoughts.

In discussing calculation, speeches, acts of judgment, and other forms of intellectual activity, Freud keeps repeating these mental acts do not occur in dreams; they are only copied from waking life or from pre-existing dream-thoughts. The calculations were glimpsed by the waking mind. The speeches were overheard or read in waking life. The judgments come from dream-thoughts. In all these cases Freud takes pains to emphasize no original, creative mental activity is happening in the dream during the dream. Perhaps Freud emphasizes this point so often because his theory of the strong connection of dreams to the unconscious depends on it. All the original thought occurs in the unconscious or in the thoughts of the conscious mind before the dream is ever dreamed.

Perhaps Freud emphasizes this point so the sleeping, dreaming mind is not seen as another persona entirely, one that has nothing to do with waking life. The point of The Interpretation of Dreams is to show dreams are significant mental acts that can be fitted in with our other mental acts. If the waking person can say, "These dreams have nothing to do with me," then the dreams are as external to the person as dreams sent by a god, or worse, they are meaningless.

The paradox of Freudian psychoanalysis is we are in some ways responsible for what we should not be held responsible for: the content of our unconscious mind. Freud did not want people to feel guilty for wishing death on their parents or for wanting sex or fame or power, nor did he expect his patients to liberate themselves by yielding to their unconscious desires. But psychoanalysis is a way of learning to admit even the ugly, disavowed wishes are also really ours.

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