Book Reviews

The Interpretation of Dreams

Since the start of time, people have been curious about what a dream means, especially when it’s a re-occurring one. Drill down in the thoughts of the subconscious mind by readind the words of one of the greatest psychologists so far.
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“Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly reported to us through the data of consciousness as is the external world through the indications of our sensory organs.”

The book introduces Freud’s theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation. Dreams, in Freud’s view, were all forms of “wish fulfillment” — attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort, whether something recent or something from the recesses of the past (later in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud would discuss dreams which did not appear to be wish-fulfillment). However, because the information in the unconscious is in an unruly and often disturbing form, a “censor” in the preconscious will not allow it to pass unaltered into the conscious. During dreams, the preconscious is more lax in this duty than in waking hours, but is still attentive: as such, the unconscious must distort and warp the meaning of its information to make it through the censorship. As such, images in dreams are often not what they appear to be, according to Freud, and need deeper interpretation if they are to inform on the structures of the unconscious.

Freud makes his argument by first reviewing previous scientific work on dream analysis, which he finds interesting but inadequate. He then describes a number of dreams which illustrate his theory. Many of his most important dreams are his own — his method is inaugurated with an analysis of his dream “Irma’s injection” — but many also come from patient case studies. Much of Freud’s sources for analysis are in literature, and the book is itself as much a self-conscious attempt at literary analysis as it is a psychological study. Freud here also first discusses what would later become the theory of the Oedipus complex.

The initial print run of the book was very low — it took many years to sell out the first 600 copies. Freud revised the book at least eight times, and in the third edition added an extensive section which treated dream symbolism very literally, following the influence of Wilhelm Stekel. Later psychoanalysts have expressed frustration with this section, as it encouraged the notion that dream interpretation was a straightforward hunt for symbols of sex, penises, etc. (Example: “Steep inclines, ladders and stairs, and going up or down them, are symbolic representations of the sexual act.”) These approaches have been largely abandoned in favor of more comprehensive methods.

Widely considered to be his most important contribution to psychology, Freud said of this work,

“Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”

About The Author

Sigmuend Freud

Date: 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939

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Sigismund Schlomo Freud, was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the mechanism of repression, and for creating the clinical method of psychoanalysis for investigating the mind and treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (or “analysand”) and a psychoanalyst. Freud established sexual drives as the primary motivational forces of human life, developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association, discovered the phenomenon of transference in the therapeutic relationship and established its central role in the analytic process; he interpreted dreams as sources of insight into unconscious desires. He was an early neurological researcher into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy, and a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the history, interpretation and critique of culture.

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