Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Interpretation of Dreams 9

After my last interlude it is back to the foundational text again.

Chapter III - The Dream is a Wish-Fulfilment

This chapter is very short indeed - merely eight pages in my edition.  Here Freud does not beat about the bush, but gets to the point, which he elaborates on with examples of more dreams from his own repertoire and from the early dreams of his children.  We meet Freud the family man, the loving daddy who listens to his children's dreams and writes about them.  I have the sense of him as a good father from what I am reading, though I have read little on his role as father to his children. (I must let my intuition serve in the place of concrete information here.)

Freud, as I have said many times before, is bringing us on a journey in this book.  In fact here we get a sense of Freud the outdoor man, the hill-walker and nature lover.  In this foundational text our author is indeed our guide up through the mountains (of life) and down the far side into the valley as it were. Freud spent much of his vacation time in the mountains, as any good Austrian would, so it comes as no surprise that he should open this short chapter thus:

After passing through a narrow defile and suddenly arriving at the top of a rise where the paths divide and the most fertile prospect opens out in all directions, one may pause for a moment and consider where to make for next. (my bolding and italics) ( The Interpretation, Oxford World Classics, 1999, 98)

Freud then goes on to mention many of the possible questions with respect to dreams (i.e., the many paths, any of which he could have chosen to follow), but then puts these one side quite simply because he is going to follow one chosen path and one chosen path only:

I propose to leave all these questions aside for the present and to pursue one particular path.  We have learned that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled.  Our next concern must be to find out whether this is a general characteristic of dreams or only the chance content of the dream our analysis began with ('the dream of Irma's injection')... (Ibid., 98)

He then goes on to marshal example after example to back his contention that dreams are wish-fulfilment.  He recounts those dreams which are familiar to us all - like those which we have after eating a very salty dinner or supper before we retire for the night.  Here, needless to say, we develop a thirst during the night and our wakening to slake that thirst is preceded by a dream of drinking some libation or other.  Freud succinctly comments here that "it is this sensation that produces the wish to drink, and the dream shows me this wish as fulfilled." (ibid., 99)  A little later on the same page Freud avers that "One sees how conveniently the dream can arrange things: since its only objective is wish-fulfilment it can be completely egotistical." (ibid., 99)  A little later in the chapter he reports a dream recounted to him by a friend whose wife was pregnant and who wished Dr Freud to be informed of this significant dream.  She had dreamed that she had started her period again.  Here is Freud's commentary on that dream: "...if a young woman has dreamed she is having her period, then she is missing it.  I can imagine she would have liked to have enjoyed her freedom a little longer before the difficulties of motherhood begin.  It was a clever way of announcing her first pregnancy." (ibid., 101)

I have already remarked about Freud's propensity for generalisation.  As soon as he has listed some say ten examples of dreams which seem to back up his theories, he then states his theory again as fact or as obvious conclusion.  In any philosopher's or scientist's book, this is bad practice indeed and quite unscientific.  Here are our pioneer's own words:

This selection will perhaps be enough to demonstrate that dreams of the most various kinds are very frequently found which can only be understood as wish-fulfilments, and which display their content undisguised. (ibid., 101)

Likewise on the next page and following he gives examples of the dreams of his children which are "of no interest at all compared with the dreams of adults," are "of course invaluable as proof in its innermost nature the dream signifies a wish-fulfilment." (ibid., 102)

He finishes the chapter with a proverb from local folk, viz., "What does a goose dream of?  Corn, of course" to back up his contention - obviously animals can only dream of what they have to eat to survive.  He ends the chapter with this clinching argument by quoting an oft-heard sentiment namely:  " 'I wouldn't have imagined it in my wildest dreams,' we cry in delight when we find our expectations surpassed in reality. " (ibid., 105)


Above - a photo of a quiet still spot at Nicastro - July 2007

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