Saturday, March 29, 2008

Freud - From Breakdown to Breakthrough

I have been reading Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams these past three or four weeks.  Here I would just like to offer a few preliminary remarks before I eventually summarise my findings in these pages.  This blog has become for me a way of getting to grips with Freud's thought.  I am also conscious that I am reading into Freud as well as reading him.  Realising this, I hope that these musings will be consequently a tad more objective.

It has never ceased to amaze me that many people who suffer from neuroses and even psychoses like manic depression (bipolar disorder) or schizophrenia can be and are extremely creative individuals.  The character who springs to mind very readily is the late Spike Milligan, writer, musician and comedian, who not alone suffered from manic depression, but who went on to write a book called Depression and How to Survive it (Arrow Books, London, 1994) with Professor Anthony Clare.

On a personal note, a number of friends who have had what we colloquially call "nervous breakdowns" have ended up either writing or painting their experiences - some even managing to get some of their works published or sold.  After my own encounter with my "demons" (or even perhaps more precisely and accurately my "daimon" = In psychology, the Daimonic is the unrest which forces one into the unknown, leading to self-destruction or self-discovery) I ended up writing a novel with a veritable tour de force of released energy - I did not get that book published at all, the whole writing of it was cathartic and therapeutic.  I did manage to get a very different book published some 4 years after my initial breakdown.  Hence, I have always looked on my breakdown as more correctly termed a breakthrough.  Metaphorically, then, I can say that both good demons and bad demons were released for me -'eudaimons' and 'cacodaimons.'  

1. Anyway, my autobiographical introduction has this point, namely that Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams was his way of working through his own personal crisis.  Ritchie Robertson, in his wonderful introduction to my Oxford World's Classics edition of the book refers to Freud's "creative illness." (op. cit., x)  Immediately before and during his writing of this famous book (which was published in 1900), our author like any other human being was much stressed out.  His father had died in 1896 and Freud was overcome with grief.  Also he was working very hard indeed, was rearing a family and the consequent worry brought on what we today might call a breakdown, or more correctly breakthrough.  He worked through his illness by methodically probing his past.  The Interpretation was Freud's main therapeutic activity.  As Robertson points out this book is "among other things, a disguised autobiography, drawing on the dreams that provided Freud with the material for self-analysis." (Ibid., xi)


2. This book's guiding metaphor or motif is that of journey.

3. The key concepts on which his theory is based, namely that of primary and secondary processes, are explained near the end of the book.  See this link for my treatment of these Processes.


4.  Freud shows great scholarship, especially classical and he begins his book with a review of dreams and their role in classical literature: Aristotle,, Lucretius, Cicero and Virgil to name but some.  In other words Freud is not just writing for a medically learned audience, but also placing his work right at the very heart of culture itself.


5.  Freud deals with many specimen dreams - famous one by Joseph in Genesis 41 and some samples from the dream book of Artemidorus of Daldis (2nd century AD).


6.  Freud analyses these dreams scientifically, he believes, by using his famous method of free association.


7.  He makes the contentious claim that all dreams are essentially fulfilments of wishes.


8.  Freud tried valiantly to make anxiety dreams fit in with his overarching theory in point 7 above.  His efforts were and are adjudged not to be very successful.


9.  He outlines his important distinction between the latent and manifest contents of dreams.  The latter content is obviously what is shown to us in the dream while the former refers to the hidden or unflattering or even unwanted content.


10.  Dreams are not alone central to the individual psychic life but are also pivotal in our culture at large.  He notes that the Oedipus Complex can be noted clearly in many of Shakespeare's works as well as essentially in Sophocles' Oedipus


11.  Latent dream thought is shaped into our actual dream by four processes: (i) Condensation - a fusing of different dream elements, (ii) Displacement - transferring emotional intensity from centre to the periphery of dream-thought, (iii) Adaptation which often leads to illogicality and (iv)  Secondary Revision.


12.  In the final chapter Freud warns us that our journey will descend once more into darkness, uncertainty and speculation.  In other words, Freud is reaching his major conclusion with respect to dreams, and that is that all psychical activity is determined by the pursuit of an unconscious purpose.


13.  Also Freud stresses in this final chapter his theory of regression.  In fact Freud puts diagrams before us for our perusal because being originally a neurologist trained by Charcot in Paris he sought to represent the direction of psychical energy within the mind.  As Robertson succinctly puts it: "Freud gave these conceptions spatial form because he still thought, as in his "Project", that it would eventually be possible to locate them within the brain as described in neurology." (op. cit., xv)  Consequently in dreaming energy flows in a counter direction to say all our motor requirements in the body. (see ibid., xv and following.)

Above I have uploaded a picture of a statue of Irish Famine victims in Boston which I took in March 2002 while on a visit there with my cousin Paul. The Irish Famine led many to search for their dreams elswhere.

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