The Interpretation of Dreamsby Published 15 Sep 1994
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Freud's discovery that the dream is the means by which the unconscious can be explored is undoubtedly the most revolutionary step forward in the entire history of psychology. Dreams, according to his theory, represent the hidden fulfillment of our unconscious wishes.
The Interpretation of Dreams Reviews
Written with scientific denseness, but lacks scientific rigor or clarity. Can be tedious, vague and confusing. Freud will say he's going to do something (like not use personal examples) only to forget he said that and do it anyway. Or he'll acknowledge the flaw with his approach and then do nothing to correct it (which is better than not admitting it, I guess). For example, he uses his patients, "neurotics", for analysis and comments on how how that makes his conclusions not drawn from a representative sample. But that comment is where it stops, there's no correction or real analysis on how that impacted his conclusions.
Or he'll start out with a clear sentence and then explain it until it descends into an illogical jumble. Or he'll refer to something not obvious as something obvious. Or he'll say there's numerous instances of something and then not list them. I could go on. He gives too many examples, belabors the points he does end up making, references confusing German word play...
I'm not going to make the same mistake as Frued. I'm going to stop talking once my point is made. And I think it's made.
I dreamt that I had written a huge modern rewrite of Moby-Dick, except instead of a whale they were hunting a badger. It was full of gothic scenes of Ahab staring moodily into some light woodland, reminiscing about how the white beast had bitten his foot once, and how he would ultimately ‘earth the hated brock in his dank and stinking sett, and finish him utterly’. Instead of the Pequod, Ahab and the narrator cycled through the forest on a tandem bicycle, studying tracks and peering through the shrubs. Every now and then, one of them would point through the branches and shout, ‘Lo! The white badger!’, and they would pedal off.
In my mind this was a serious literary project. Unfortunately I have never finished Moby-Dick, and so the book just devolved into chapters full of interminable facts about badger biology, lifestyle and cultural history, and the foundational role they play in the mythology of countless woodland societies (which is not true). I remember copying out a quote from King Lear where someone is said to be ‘like unto the brindl'd baddger’, but sadly upon waking I have discovered that this line does not exist. On the other hand, I also remember repeatedly using the adjective ‘meline’ which does, in fact, exist and is not a word I knew that I knew.
If anyone can interpret this for me, I am all ears. In the meantime, if you'll excuse me I now have 200,000 words to write about badger-hunting.
Is it just me, or was ol' Mr. Freud the biggest perv in the world of psychology? Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting read from a historical perspective, but it's so difficult to take seriously! It's also very dated and seems to follow the average family of the time, without taking into account anyone who doesn't fit into what was "proper" back then.
This was a much more interesting book than I thought it might be. The nature of dreams is something that is hard not to find fascinating. The thing is that we spend quite a bit of time dreaming – not the third of our lives we spend sleeping, but enough time to make us wonder why we dream at all. It seems incomprehensible that our dreams would be completely meaningless. But then, they can be so bizarre it is hard to know just what they might mean.
Freud starts with a quick run through how dreams have been interpreted in the past – from Aristotle on. Aristotle is a good place to start, as he says we dream about things that have been left unresolved from the day – and this is a core idea that Freud also includes in his theory of dreams.
Essentially, Freud sees dreams as playing a key role in helping us to process stuff that happened during the day. But dreams are a truth that likes to hide. Their meaning covers itself in remarkable allusions and images that are often amusingly apt, but sometimes it is as if we are determined to hide the true meaning of our dreams even from ourselves.
Freud makes it clear that this will not be a book of off-the-shelf interpretations – ‘oh, you dreamt of a lion last night, that means you should have been born Leo and spent time chasing gazelle’. To Freud it is impossible to understand and interpret dreams from a list of standard symbols. This doesn’t mean that if you are going to interpret dreams you don’t have to know a lot about symbols and their common meanings – but this knowledge is never enough. Symbols develop their own meanings within the text that is the dream. Just as in Blake’s The Sick Rose the rose can be read to mean anything from nature, to the Christian Church, to female genitalia, so in dreams the interpretation is meaningful within the context of the dream and to the life of the dreamer. And the dream is relevant to the immediate life of the dreamer. It is generally a response to what happened that day – even if the imagery used may well refer back to the childhood of the dreamer so that the deeper significance is a life's work.
The other remarkable conclusion Freud draws is that dreams are wish fulfilments. Now, this seems anything but obvious. Sure, when we have dreams we are having sex with super-models it is pretty obvious that Freud is onto something. But these aren’t the only dreams he sees as being wish fulfilments. Even dreams where loved ones die are seen by Freud as being fundamentally the realisations of wishes – but again, the dream isn’t always as easy to interpret as it might initially seem and the wish may not be as easy to understand as might be immediately apparent from what happens in the dream. The fact we wake screaming and shaking from a dream may not mean there is no wish involved in the thing that terrifies us – although, I would have to say I don’t think he dealt with nightmares nearly as well as he ought to have.
It is here that Freud discusses the Oedipal Complex – how our first sexual attraction is toward the parent of the opposite sex to ourselves and therefore we desire to remove one parent from the scene so as to take their place. While we are children the full implications of this desire are obscure to us – but as we grow older the taboo associated with this desire helps suppress our recognition of these desires, or repress them, rather – but only from the conscious mind. The subconscious mind still remembers what we might prefer to forget and so uses these images, as the first images of our awakening desires, as potent images in our dreams. The meaning of the image may not be anything like that we want to kill our father and have sex with our mother – it might actually refer to an awakening of sexual interest in someone else we have only recently meet – but the dream uses this ‘primal’ image as something to help it make sense of our current world and desires, even if the image then goes on to confuse the hell out of us.
Time for a story. I once worked with a woman called Frances Nolan. She was really lovely, one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, but I didn’t really fancy her. I mean, she was pretty and incredibly nice, but she was quite a bit younger than me and I just wasn’t really all that interested in her in that way. But every morning I would be walking to the train station and when I got to a certain part of Church Street she would suddenly jump into my head as large as life. I was starting to think that I must have been starting to fall for her – it was the strangest feeling, and quite confusing. Until one day I realised that there is a shoe shop in Church Street that is called Frances Nolan Shoes – and the sign is huge and I would walk under it every day. I really struggle to believe I didn’t consciously notice this sign in all the time I had walked up that street and imagined I was falling for poor Frances.
This book is interesting as I had assumed it would be a much harder read than it turned out to be – I also thought it would be a much sillier book than it turned out too. It is extremely well written. I don’t think I agree entirely with Freud, but he makes a very strong case. My main problems with his theory have to do with Sherlock Holmes. Because that’s what a lot of this sounded like to me. Someone has a dream and Freud does the whole ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ thing. It even gets to the stage where he says that sometimes things mean the opposite of what they seem to mean in the dream. When that is the case then any interpretation is basically about imposing ones preconceptions on the meaning of the symbols in the dream.
I tend to think that dreams probably don’t mean nearly as much as we like to think they do – but what they do do is throw up lots of random images, images which we try to make sense of and it is that ‘making of sense’ that says interesting things about us. And whether it is dream images or tarot cards or ink dots on paper – our making sense of random images says interesting things about us. But we should go gently into this stuff. We should go on tip-toes. Because stories have lives of their own and we are weaker than a good story and always will be.
I once read a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I think in that book she says that lines have a momentum that is very hard to control – but controlling the momentum of lines is a large part of what drawing is about. Stories also have a momentum that is very hard to control. The narratives we tell about ourselves are one thing – the narrative we tell about our dreams are quite another.
Personally, I think I prefer Freudian readings of novels to Freudian readings of people – but I can certainly see why this book made such an impact. If the problem with the book is Freud playing Holmes, it is only a problem because he is so damn clever he gets away with it. I’m surprised I’m going to do this – I would never have thought I would have when I started reading - but I think I would recommend this book. It is a fascinating read, even if it has left me somewhat less than convinced.
I enjoyed reading Freud’s book. When he speaks about dreams and their interpretation, I am reminded of a microfiction I had published years ago where the editor told me it was the weirdest story he has ever read and that a Freudian psychoanalyst would have a field day interpreting. Here it is below. If anyone would care to offer an interpretation according to Freud or any other school of psychoanalysis, I'm sure you could have some fun.
The Roof Dancer
Sidney and Sam, identical twins, crackerjack roofers, started work up on a roof one sultry July morning when Sam tripped on a piece of tar at the roof’s peak and slid down head first. He would have plunged straight to the ground if Sidney hadn’t reached over at the last moment and snatched him by his boots.
Hanging over the side upside-down, Sam had a view through a second floor bedroom window. The lady of the house was completely naked. Her ample rear end was bobbing and swinging to a polka playing on an enormous ancient phonograph.
Sidney yanked Sam back up to the roof but Sam became so excited in the process, he ejaculated his semen seed. By the time the seed popped out of the bottom of his dungarees, rolled off the roof and landed in the yard, it was the size of a cantaloupe.
From all corners of the yard kids skipped over and began frolicking with the seed. Its round contour grew to the size of a watermelon in their hands.
Sam stared down at the kids. He began a high-step gleeful dance, part mazurka, part gavotte, part rumba, part hornpipe right there on the roof, bottom to top, edge to edge, twirling like some enchanted wood nymph, his pot belly jiggling in pure ecstasy.
It wasn’t long before the man of the house, a bald, mustachioed Mr. Verea, made his way up the ladder. “What’s all this racket I’m hearing?” he asked, scanning the roof.
Sam pirouetted daintily at the peak, doffing his baseball cap. Mr. Verea grabbed Sidney by the suspenders and yelled, “Do you guys think I hired you to put a new roof on my house or perform ballet?”
“Yes, sir, right away, sir,” Sidney stammered, beads of sweat pouring off his forehead and bulbous nose.
Mr. Vera pushed Sidney rudely. “Now, I say, do it now!”
Sidney wobbled backwards, nearly toppling over the edge but regained his balance and shoved Mr. Verea back. A rapid-fire shoving match ensued along the entire length of the roof. At the same time Sam fluttered down on tiptoe, scooped up an armful of shingles and started putting them in place.
A fully-dressed Mrs. Verea made her appearance at the head of the ladder. “Get back down here,” she railed at her husband. “Let those men finish their work.”
“Nobody is going to push me on my own roof,” he replied.
“I say come down,” insisted Mrs. Verea.
“Come down yourself,” said Mr. Verea.
Stepping up from the ladder to the roof Mrs. Verea kicked her husband in the pants. He stopped shoving Sidney, turned around and started shoving her, whereupon she too started shoving him furiously.
Sidney fanned himself with his baseball cap and looked over at his brother – just now, between acrobatic leaps of a saltarello, Sam placed the last of the shingles on the tar.
As if he were at the court of Louis XIV, Sidney curtsied gracefully, then pointed to the ladder before climbing down himself. Sam followed, hips swinging but fell between the rungs. There was nothing for Sidney to do but guide the ladder, with his brother stuck in it, to the van.
The kids approached; they held the distended seed, the shape and length of a garden hose now: translucent with flecks of gold, sparkling, radiating light in their hands. When Sam jiggled and kicked down the driveway, the kids shook the magnificent seed, each shake casting out fine gold dust that turned to streams of water when it touched the earth.