THE ANALYSIS OF DREAMS1
In 1900, Sigmund Freud published in Vienna a voluminous work on the analysis of dreams. Here are the principal results of his investigations.
The dream, far from being the confusion of haphazard and meaningless associations it is commonly believed to be, or a result merely of somatic sensations during sleep as many authors suppose, is an autonomous and meaningful product of psychic activity, susceptible, like all other psychic functions, of a systematic analysis. The organic sensations felt during sleep are not the cause of the dream; they play but a secondary role and furnish only elements (the material) upon which the psyche works. According to Freud the dream, like every complex psychic product, is a creation, a piece of work which has its motives, its trains of antecedent associations; and like any considered action it is the outcome of a logical process, of the competition between various tendencies and the victory of one tendency over another. Dreaming has a meaning, like everything else we do.
It may be objected that all empirical reality is against this theory, since the impression of incoherence and obscurity that dreams make upon us is notorious. Freud calls this sequence of confused images the manifest content of the dream; it is the façade behind which he looks for what is essential—namely, the dream-thought or the latent content. One may ask what reason Freud has for thinking that the dream itself is only the façade of a vast edifice, or that it really has any meaning. His supposition is not founded on a dogma, nor on an a priori idea, but on empiricism alone—namely, the common experience that no psychic (or physical) fact is accidental. It must have, then, its train of causes, being always the product of a complicated combination of phenomena; for every existing mental element is the resultant of anterior psychic states and ought in theory to be capable of analysis. Freud applies to the dream the same principle that we always instinctively use when inquiring into the causes of human actions.
He asks himself, quite simply: why does this particular person dream this particular thing? He must have his specific reasons, otherwise there would be a breakdown in the law of causality. A child’s dream is different from an adult’s, just as the dream of an educated man differs from that of an illiterate. There is something individual in the dream: it is in agreement with the psychological disposition of the subject. In what does this psychological disposition consist? It is itself the result of our psychic past. Our present mental state depends upon our history. In each person’s past there are elements of different value which determine the psychic “constellation.” The events which do not awaken any strong emotions have little influence on our thoughts or actions, whereas those which provoke strong emotional reactions are of great importance for our subsequent psychological development. These memories with a strong feeling-tone form complexes of associations which are not only long enduring but are very powerful and closely interlinked. An object which I regard with little interest calls forth few associations and soon vanishes from my intellectual horizon. An object in which, on the contrary, I feel much interest will evoke numerous associations and preoccupy me for a long while. Every emotion produces a more or less extensive complex of associations which I have called the “feeling-toned complex of ideas.” In studying an individual case history we always discover that the complex exerts the strongest “constellating” force, from which we conclude that in any analysis we shall meet with it from the start. The complexes appear as the chief components of the psychological disposition in every psychic structure. In the dream, for example, we encounter the emotional components, for it is easy to understand that all the products of psychic activity depend above all upon the strongest “constellating” influences.
One does not have to look far to find the complex that sets Gretchen, in Faust, singing:
There was a king in Thule,
True even to his grave—
To him his dying mistress
A golden beaker gave.
The hidden thought is Gretchen’s doubt about Faust’s fidelity. The song, unconsciously chosen by Gretchen, is what we have called the dream-material, which corresponds to the secret thought. One might apply this example to the dream, and suppose that Gretchen had not sung but dreamed this romance.2 In that case the song, with its tragic story of the loves of a far-off king of old, is the “manifest content” of the dream, its “façade.” Anyone who did not know of Gretchen’s secret sorrow would have no idea why she dreamt of this king. But we, who know the dream-thought which is her tragic love for Faust, can understand why the dream makes use of this particular song, for it is about the “rare faithfulness” of the king. Faust is not faithful, and Gretchen would like his faithfulness to her to resemble that of the king in the story. Her dream—in reality her song—expresses in a disguised form the ardent desire of her soul. Here we touch upon the real nature of the feeling-toned complex; it is always a question of a wish and resistance to it. Our life is spent in struggles for the realization of our wishes: all our actions proceed from the wish that something should or should not come to pass.
It is for this that we work, for this we think. If we cannot fulfil a wish in reality, we realize it at least in fantasy. The religious and the philosophic systems of every people in every age are the best proof of this. The thought of immortality, even in philosophic guise, is no other than a wish, for which philosophy is but the façade, even as Gretchen’s song is only the outward form, a beneficent veil drawn over her grief. The dream represents her wish as fulfilled. Freud says that every dream represents the fulfilment of a repressed wish.
Carrying our illustration further, we see that in the dream Faust is replaced by the king. A transformation has taken place. Faust has become the far-off old king; the personality of Faust, which has a strong feeling-tone, is replaced by a neutral, legendary person. The king is an association by analogy, a symbol for Faust, and the “mistress” for Gretchen. We may ask what is the purpose of this arrangement, why Gretchen should dream, so to speak, indirectly about this thought, why she cannot conceive it clearly and without equivocation. This question is easily answered: Gretchen’s sadness contains a thought that no one likes to dwell upon; it would be too painful. Her doubt about Faust’s faithfulness is repressed and kept down. It makes its reappearance in the form of a melancholy story which, although it realizes her wish, is not accompanied by pleasant feelings. Freud says that the wishes which form the dream-thought are never desires which one openly admits to oneself, but desires that are repressed because of their painful character; and it is because they are excluded from conscious reflection in the waking state that they float up, indirectly, in dreams.
This reasoning is not at all surprising if we look at the lives of the saints. One can understand without difficulty the nature of the feelings repressed by St. Catherine of Siena, which reappeared indirectly in the vision of her celestial marriage, and see what are the wishes that manifest themselves more or less symbolically in the visions and temptations of the saints. As we know, there is as little difference between the somnambulistic consciousness of the hysteric and the normal dream as there is between the intellectual life of hysterics and that of normal people.
Naturally, if we ask someone why he had such and such a dream, what are the secret thoughts expressed in it, he cannot tell us. He will say that he had eaten too much in the evening, that he was lying on his back; that he had seen or heard this or that the day before—in short, all the things we can read in the numerous scientific books about dreams. As for the dream-thought, he does not and he cannot know it for, according to Freud, the thought is repressed because it is too disagreeable. So, if anyone solemnly assures us that he has never found in his own dreams any of the things Freud talks about, we can hardly suppress a smile; he has been straining to see things it is impossible to see directly. The dream disguises the repressed complex to prevent it from being recognized. By changing Faust into the King of Thule, Gretchen renders the situation inoffensive. Freud calls this mechanism, which prevents the repressed thought from showing itself clearly, the censor. The censor is nothing but the resistance which also prevents us, in the daytime, from following a line of reasoning right to the end. The censor will not allow the thought to pass until it is so disguised that the dreamer is unable to recognize it. If we try to acquaint the dreamer with the thought behind his dream, he will always oppose to us the same resistance that he opposes to his repressed complex.
We can now ask ourselves a series of important questions. Above all, what must we do to get behind the façade into the inside of the house—that is, beyond the manifest content of the dream to the real, secret thought behind it?
Let us return to our example and suppose that Gretchen is an hysterical patient who comes to consult me about a disagreeable dream. I will suppose, moreover, that I know nothing about her. In this case I would not waste my time questioning her directly, for as a rule these intimate sorrows cannot be uncovered without arousing the most intense resistance. I would try rather to conduct what I have called an “association experiment,”3 which would reveal to me the whole of her love-affair (her secret pregnancy, etc.). The conclusion would be easy to draw, and I should be able to submit the dream-thought to her without hesitation. But one may proceed more prudently.
I would ask her, for instance: Who is not so faithful as the King of Thule, or who ought to be? This question would very quickly illuminate the situation. In uncomplicated cases such as this, the interpretation or analysis of a dream is limited to a few simple questions.
Here is an exampl…