In a post at the end of March 2008 I made quite a good stab at giving an introduction to Freud's major book, namely The Interpretation of Dreams under a title called "From Breakdown to Breakthrough." See this link. However, here I wish to make other preliminary remarks without, if at all possible, going over old ground already discussed adequately there. I might add that I am still reading this book as well as can be seen from these posts many secondary sources. I find that I can only progress slowly with the Freudian text not because of its difficulty, but because of its very comprehensiveness and because as I arrive at one or another insights therein I find myself rushing off to a secondary source to check this fact or that fact. I do, of course, realise, that no amount of secondary texts can make up for the rich reward to be gained from looting the primary sources as it were. However, please bear with me, I do promise to write my own appreciation of The Interpretation in these posts at some time, hopefully soon. For the moment these many different posts with reference to this book must suffice.
As to what kind of literature this opus may be we are all quite at sea. It is on a par, I think and feel, with another great opus Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) which is the classic defence of the religious opinions of John Henry Newman - which is an autobiography cum development of religious opinions, as well as a record of friendships and influences to name but a few strands that went to make up this wonderful work. Likewise with Freud's The Interpretation written in Austria some thirty-five years later. While Freud's opus is superficially about dreams it is also an autobiography and a compendium of the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis up until around 1900, the date of its publication. It discusses among other things the Oedipus Complex, Repression, struggle between Desire and Defence and a veritable wealth of case histories. It also gives us insights into contemporary Viennese society, professional medical rivalries and indeed anti-Semitism.
I have already noted in other posts that Freud's own writings are easy to read as, like Newman, he was a consummate stylist who reworked the drafts of his writings. Once again Peter Gay in his magisterial work Freud: A Life For Our Time alludes to Freud's agonising over his stylistic faults and the possible lack of clarity in his new book. (see op.cit., 104).
Gay also points out an interesting little piece of information with respect to Freud's struggles about the style and form of the book. Apparently he had shared much with his good friend Wilhelm Fliess, not least the fact that he was going to use a quotation from Goethe at the front of the book. However, Fliess persuaded him not to use it as it was too sentimental and Freud chose one instead from the seventh book of Virgil's Aeneid. This motto reads: "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo" which translates as "If heaven I cannot move then hell I will arouse." This is a marvellous motto that Freud deliberately chose. If his readers were not wholly or even partially accepting of his ideas, well then he must create a hellish commotion. As I have already pointed out many times before this Freud was nothing if not controversial and contentious. He knew he was writing insights that would provoke much reaction and not a little opposition. Here is Gay in commentary on this chosen line from Virgil:
Reading proofs in September 1899, he predicted to Fliess that there would be an outraged outcry, a veritable "thunderstorm" over the nonsense, the foolishness, he had produced: "Then I'll really hear from them!" His dream book was going to leave the higher powers of Vienna unmoved; the unimaginative professors who had called his ideas a fairy tale, the bigoted bureaucrats who would not give him his professorship, were not likely to be converted to his views. No matter: he would raise the powers of hell against them.( Op. cit., 105)
Above a picture of Rodin's famous "The Kiss", taken at the Musée Rodin last year.