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> 1900a

The Interpretation of Dreams

Freud, Sigmund 1900a, The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4-5, trs. from Die Traumdeutung, GW, 2-3.  [1965, Avon, New York.]

[Page numbers below are those of the Avon edition. In SE (in the two volumes) they are 1-622 (to before Appendix A); in Avon 35-660 (626 pp.).  So a formula to go SE to Avon would be: n x 0.9936 + 34.  Avon to SE: n - 34 x 1.0064.]

Chapter 1.  The scientific literature dealing with the problems of dreams: 1-95.
Chapter 2.  The method of interpreting dreams: analysis of a specimen dream: 96‑121.
Chapter 3.  A dream is the fulfilment of a wish: 122-33.
Chapter 4.  Distortion in dreams: 134-62.
Chapter 5.  The material and sources of dreams: 163-276.
Chapter 6.  The dream-work: 277-508.  [SE Volume Five begins at page 339.]
Chapter 7.  The psychology of the dream-processes: 509-622.

[Other scientists do not interpret dreams: lay people do, however, and Freud will.  96  Two lay methods: "symbolic": replacing the whole content with another: 97;  "decoding": each sign translated by another, according to a key: 97-9.]

… for "interpreting" a dream implies assigning a "meaning" to it—that is, replacing it by something which fits into the chain of our mental acts as a link having a validity and importance equal to the rest.1  96

But I have been taught better.  I have been driven to realize that here once more we have one of those not infrequent cases in which an ancient and jealously held popular belief seems to be nearer the truth than the judgement of the prevalent science of today.  I must affirm that dreams really have a meaning and that a scientific procedure for interpreting them is possible.2  100

I have been engaged for many years (with a therapeutic aim in view) in unravelling certain psychopathological structures—hysterical phobias, obsessional ideas, and so on.  I have been doing so, in fact, ever since I learnt from an important communication by Josef Breuer that as regards these structures (which are looked on as pathological symptoms) unravelling them coincides with removing them.3  [Editor's footnote: "Auflösing" and "Lösung" in the original.]  100

Seit Jahren beschäftige ich mich mit der Auflösung gewisser psychopathologischer Gebilde, der hysterischen Phobien, der Zwangsvorstellungen u.a. in therapeutischer Absicht; seitdem ich nämlich aus einer bedeutsamen Mitteilung von Josef Breuer weiss, dass für diese als Krankheitssymptome empfundenen Bildungen Auflösung and Lösung in eines zusammenfällt.4  GW 2-3: 104.

…amongst other things [my patients] told me their dreams and so taught [101] me that a dream can be inserted into the psychical chain that has to be traced backwards in the memory from a pathological idea.  It was then only a short step to treating the dream itself as a symptom and to applying to dreams the method of interpretation that had been worked out for symptoms.5  100-1

Es lag nun nahe, den Traum selbst wie ein Symptom zu behandeln und die für letztere ausgearbeitete methode der Deutung auf ihn anzuwenden.6  GW 2-3: 105

attention  101

The self-observer on the other hand need only take the trouble to suppress his critical faculty.  If he succeeds in doing that, innumerable ideas come into his consciousness of which he could otherwise never have got hold.7  102

[What Freud does is more like the decoding mentioned above, in that he is interested in the detail rather than the mass.  104]

[Freud's method] … regards dreams from the very first as being of a composite character, as being conglomerates of psychical formations.8

I, on the contrary, am prepared to find that the same piece of content may conceal a different meaning when it occurs in various people or in various contexts.9

[Freud is] … and approximately normal person …  105

… Material, das von einer ungefähr normalen Person herrührt …  GW 2-3: 105

There is some natural hesitation about revealing so many intimate fact about one's mental life; nor can there be any guarantee against misinterpretation by strangers.  105  Avon 137

[Footnote to page 105 {Avon 138}:]  I am obliged to add, however, by way of qualification of what I have said above, that in scarcely an instance have I brought forward the complete interpretation of one of my own dreams, as it is known to me.  I have probably been wise in not putting too much faith in my readers' discretion.10  105  Avon 138

[Freud sets out—107—his dream of 24 July 1895, and interprets it as an anxiety dream about 'concern about my own and other people's health—professional conscientiousness'—120]

dream of july 23rd-24th, 1895

A large hall—numerous guests, whom we were receiving.—Among them was Irma.  I at once took her on one side, as though to answer her letter and to reproach her for not having accepted my "solution" yet.  I said to her: "If you still get pains, it's really only your fault."  She replied: "If you only knew what pains I've got now in my throat and stomach and abdomen—it's choking me"—I was alarmed and looked at her.  She looked pale and puffy.  I thought to myself that after all I must be missing some organic trouble.  I took her to the window and looked down her throat, and she showed signs of recalcitrance, like women with artificial dentures.  I thought to myself that there was really no need for her to do that.—She then opened her mouth properly and on the right I found a big white patch; at another place I saw extensive whitish grey scabs upon some remarkable curly structures which were evidently modelled on the turbinal bones of the nose.—I at once called in Dr M., and he repeated the examination and confirmed it. …  Dr M. looked quite different from usual; he was very pale, he walked with a limp and his chin was clean-shaven. …  My friend Otto was now standing beside her as well, and my friend Leopold was percussing her through her bodice and saying: "She has a dull area low down on the left."  He also indicated that a portion of the skin on the left shoulder was infiltrated.  (I noticed this, just as he did, in spite of her dress.) 11  M. said: "There's no doubt it's an infection, but no matter; dysentery will supervene and the toxin will be eliminated." ... We were directly aware, too, of the origin of her infection.  Not long before, when she was feeling unwell, my friend Otto had given her an injection of a preparation of propyl, propyls … propionic acid … trimethylamin (and I saw before me the formula for this printed in heavy type). ... Injections of that sort ought not to be made so thoughtlessly. And probably the syringe had not been clean.12
[All of this is in italics in original, being the account of the dream.]

Mein Freund O t t o steht jetzt auch neben ihr, und Freund L e o p o l d perkutiert sie über dem Leibchen und sagt: Sie hat eine Dämpfung links unten, weist auch auf eine infiltrierte Hautpartie an der linken Schulter hin (was ich trotz des Kleides wie er spüre)   M. sagt: Kein Zweifel, es ist eine Infektion, aber es macht nichts; es wird noch Dysenterie hinzukommen und das Gift sich ausscheiden  Wir wissen auch unmittelbar, woher die Infektion rührt.  Freund O t t o hat ihr unlängst, als sie sich unwohl fühlte, eine Injektion gegeben mit einem Propylpräparat, Propylen ... Propionsäure ... Trimethylamin (dessen Formel ich fettgedruckt vor mir sehe) …  Man macht solche Injektionen nicht so leichfertig: Wahrscheinlich war auch die Spritze nicht rein. 13  GW 2-3: 112  [All this is in italics in original, being the account of the dream.]

I was making frequent use of cocaine at that time to reduce some troublesome nasal swellings … I had been the first to recommend the use of cocaine, in 1885 …14 [The editor points out a parapraxis here: the paper on cocaine was actually published in 1884.  On cocaine, he also directs us to ch. 6 of vol. 1 of Jones's life.]  111

This was in any case only in interpolation.  We naturally used to examine the children in the hospital undressed, and this would be a contrast to the manner in which adult female patients have to be examined.  I remembered that it was said of a celebrated clinician that he never made a physical examination of his patients except through their clothes.  Further than this I could not see.  Frankly, I had no desire to penetrate more deeply at this point.15  113

Das Weitere ist mir dunkel, ich habe, offen gesagt, keine Neigung, mich hier tiefer einzulassen.16

… these explanations of Irma's pains (which agreed in exculpating me) were not entirely consistent with one another, and indeed that they were mutually exclusive.17  [reminds Freud of the kettle joke (cf. 1905c: ch. 2, section 8; ch. 7, section 2) 119-120]

When the work of interpretation has been completed, we perceive that a dream is the fulfilment of a wish.18  121

Dreams … are not meaningless, they are not absurd; they do not imply that one portion of our store of ideas is asleep while another portion is beginning to wake.  On the contrary, they are psychical phenomena of complete validity—fulfilments of wishes; they can be inserted into the chain of intelligible waking mental acts; they are constructed by a highly complicated activity of the mind.19  122

… mutually contradictory?  (Cf. the analogy of the borrowed kettle on p. 120).  123

I am a good sleeper and not accustomed to be woken by a physical need.  If I can succeed in appeasing my thirst by dreaming that I am drinking, then I need not wake up in order to quench it.  This, then, is a [124] dream of convenience.  123-4

In order to provide myself with some water I should have had to get up and fetch the glass standing on the table by my wife's bed.  124

Child psychology, in my opinion, is destined to perform the same useful services for adult psychology that the investigation of the structure or development of the lower animals has performed for research into the structure of the higher classes of animals.20  127

We must make a contrast between the manifest and the latent content of dreams.  135

In other words, distortion was shown in this case to be deliberate and to be a means of dissimulation.  141

Quotes Goethe:
Das Beste, was du wissen kannst,
Darfst du den Buben doch nicht sagen.  Faust, Part I, Scene 4.  142
[Freud quotes these lines in SE 4-5: 142 and 453; twice in letters to Fliess; and in his Goethe prize speech, 1930e.]

The fact that the phenomena of censorship and of dream-distortion correspond down to their smallest details justifies us in presuming that they are similarly determined.21  143

a dream is a (disguised) fulfilment of a (suppressed or repressed) wish.  1900a, SE 4: 160 [emphasis in original].  (cited in Wright 1984: 19).  Avon 194.

Quotes Hamlet:
There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave
To tell us this.  175

Dreams are the guardians of sleep and not its disturbers. (1900a, SE 4: 233 [both emphases in original]).  (cited in Wright 1984: 18).  Avon 267.

Thus the wish to sleep (which the conscious ego is concentrated upon, and which, together with the dream-censorship and the "secondary revision" which I shall mention later [488ff.], constitute the conscious ego's share in dreaming) must in every case be reckoned as one of the motives for the formation of dreams, and every successful dream is a fulfilment of that wish.22  234

Freud spitting 239

In my experience, which is already extensive, the chief part in the mental lives of all children who later become psycho-neurotics is played by their parents.  Being in love with the one parent and hating the other ar among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such important in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis.23  261  [Deals with Œdipus: 261-4; Hamlet 264-6]

It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father.  Our dreams convince us that this is so.  King Œdipus, who slew his father Laïus and married his mother Jocasta, merely shows us the fulfilment of our own childhood wishes.  262

Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father's place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized.  265

We can thus plainly see the purpose for which the censorship exercises its office and brings about the distortion of dreams: it does so in order to prevent the generation of anxiety or other forms of distressing affect.24  267

… they constituted "nodal points" upon which a great number of the dream-thoughts converged, and because they had several meanings in connection with the interpretation of the dream.  The explanation of this fundamental fact can also be put in another way: each of the elements of the dream's content turns out to have been 'overdetermined'—to have been represented in the dream-thoughts many times over.25  283 [Avon 318]

Nevertheless multiple determination must be of importance in choosing what particular elements shall enter a dream, since we can see that a considerable expenditure of effort is used to bring it about in cases where it does not arise from the dream-material unassisted.
It thus seems plausible to suppose that in the dream-work a psychical force is operating which on the one hand strips the elements which have a high psychical value of their intensity, and on the other hand, by means of over-determination, creates from elements of low psychical value new values, which afterwards find their way into the dream-content.  If that is so, a transference and displacement of psychical intensities occurs in the process of [308] dream-formation, and it is as a result of this that the difference between the text of the dream-content and that of the dream-thoughts comes about.26  307-8

The alternative "either-or" cannot be expressed in dreams in any way whatever.  Both of the alternatives are usually inserted in the text of the dream as though they were equally valid.27  316

The way in which dreams treat the category of contraries and contradictories is highly remarkable.  It is simply disregarded.  "No" seems not to exist so far as dreams are concerned.  They show a particular preference for combining contraries into a unity or for representing them as one and the same thing.  Dreams feel themselves at liberty, moreover, to represent any element by its wishful contrary; so that there is no way of deciding at a first glance whether any element that admits of a contrary is present in the dream-thoughts as a positive or as a negative.28  318

One and one only of these logical relations is very highly favoured by the mechanism of dream-formation; namely the [320] relation of similarity, consonance or approximation—the relation of "just as".29  319-320

At the end of chapter 6 of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes: 'Two separate functions may be distinguished in mental activity during the construction of a dream: the production of the dream-thoughts, and their transformation into the [manifest] content of the dream.'30  506  (Avon 544)
It is the second operation, constituting the dream-work proper, whose four mechanisms Freud analysed: Verdichtung (condensation), Verschiebung (displacement), Rücksicht auf Darstellbarkeit (considerations of representability) and sekundäre Bearbeitung (secondary revision).31

I used at one time to find it extraordinarily difficult to accustom readers to the distinction between the manifest content of dreams and the latent dream-thoughts.  Again and again arguments and objections would be brought up based upon some uninterpreted dream in the form in which it had been retained in the memory, and the need to interpret it would be ignored.  Now that analysts at least have become reconciled to replacing the manifest dream by the meaning revealed by its interpretation, many of them have become guilty of falling into another confusion which they cling to with equal obstinacy. They seek to find the essence of dreams in their latent content and in so doing they overlook the distinction between the latent dream-thoughts and the dream-work.  At bottom, dreams are nothing other than a particular form of thinking, made possible by the conditions of the state of sleep.  It is the dream-work which creates that form, and it alone is the essence of dreaming—the explanation of its peculiar nature.  I say this in order to make it possible to assess the value of the notorious "prospective purpose" of dreams.  [See below, p. 579 f. n.]  The fact that dreams concern themselves with solving the problems with which our mental life is faced is no more strange than that our conscious waking life should do so; beyond that it only tells us that that activity can be carried on in the preconscious—and this we already knew.32  SE 5: 506 n.; Avon, 1965: 544-5.  [First part quoted in Wright 1984: 42.]

The dream is a structure with a meaning.33  525; Avon: 563.

… the state of sleep makes the formation of dreams possible because it reduces the power of the endopsychic censorship.34  526; Avon: 565.

[Wright:] Chapter 7 (A) of the Interpretation of Dreams deals with forgetting.  It makes clear why we have to pay attention to apparently trivial connexions, such as '… assonance, verbal ambiguity, temporal coincidence without connection in meaning, or by any association of the kind that we allow in jokes or in play upon words.'35  530; Avon: 568.

We may expect that the analysis of dreams will lead us to a knowledge of man's [sic] archaic heritage, of what is psychically innate in him. Dreams and neuroses seem to have preserved more mental antiquities than we could have imagined possible; so that psychoanalysis may claim a place among the sciences which are concerned with the reconstruction of the earliest and most obscure periods of the beginnings of the human race.36  549

On this view dream might be described as a substitute for an infantile scene modified by being transferred on to a recent experience. The infantile scene is unable to bring about its own revival and has to be content with returning as a dream.37  1900a, SE 5: c. 550; Avon: 585.

My supposition is that a conscious wish can only become a dream-instigator if it succeeds in awakening an unconscious wish with the same tenor and in obtaining reinforcement from it.38  546; Avon: 591.

And it is only possible to do so [to explain the part played by the day's residues] if we bear firmly in mind the part played by the unconscious wish and then seek for information from the psychology of the neuroses. We learn from the latter that an unconscious idea is as such quite incapable of entering the preconscious and that it can only exercise any effect there by establishing a connection with an idea which already belongs to the preconscious, by transferring its intensity on to it and by getting itself "covered" by it. Here we have the fact of "transference,"39 which provides an explanation of so many striking [563] phenomena in the mental life of neurotics.40  562-3; Avon: 601.

It will be seen, then, that the day's residues (...) not only borrow something from the unconscious when they succeed in taking a share in the formation of a dream—namely the instinctual force which is at the disposal of the repressed wish—but that they also offer the unconscious something indispensable—namely the necessary point of attachment for a transference.42  564; Avon: 603.

But first let us summarize what we have learnt so far. (...) The unconscious wish links itself up with the day's residues and effects a transference on to them; this may happen either in the course of the day or not until a state of sleep has been established. A wish now arises which has been transferred on to the recent material; or a recent wish, having been suppressed, gains fresh life by being reinforced from the unconscious. This wish seeks to force its way along the normal path taken by thought-processes, through the preconscious (…) to consciousness. But it comes up against the censorship. (...) At this point it takes on the distortion for which the way has already been paved by the transference of the wish on to the recent material. So far it is on the way to becoming an obsessive idea or a delusion or something of the kind—that is, a thought which has been intensified by transference and distorted in its expression by censorship. Its further advance is halted, however, by the sleeping state of the preconscious. (...) The dream-process consequently enters on a regressive path, which lies open to it precisely owing to the peculiar nature of the state of sleep, and it is led along that path by the attraction exercised on it by groups of memories; some of these memories themselves exist only in the form of visual cathexes and not as translations into the terminology of the later systems (....) In the course of its regressive path the dream-process acquires the attribute to representability. (...) It has now completed the second portion of its zigzag journey.42  573; Avon: 612-613.

The second activity of the dream-work is displacement, which, according to Freud, , "might equally be [655] described [in Nietzsche's phrase] as 'a transvaluation of psychical values'" (1900a, SE 5: 654-5).  This transvaluation is achieved by the elements in the manifest dream replacing elements in the latent dream-thoughts via a chain of associations for the purpose of disguise; this results in the intensity of an idea becoming detached from it and passing to other ideas, which in themselves are of little value.  …  Freud regards displacement as "the most powerful instrument of the dream-censorship".43  (Wright 1984: 22)


1          1900a, SE 4: 96.

2          1900a, SE 4: 100.

3          1900a, SE 4: 100.

4          1900a, GW 2-3: 104.  Breuer und Freud, Studien über Hysterie, Wien 1895. 4. Aufl., 1922, GW 1.

5          1900a, SE 4: 100-1.

6          1900a, GW 2-3: 105.

7          1900a, SE 4: 102.

8          1900a, SE 4: 104.

9          1900a, SE 4: 105.

10         1900a, SE 4: 105n. [emphasis in original].

11         1900a, SE 4: 107.  [The indication of elision at the end of this sentence is in the original, showing that Freud himself has indicated that material has been suppressed.]

12         1900a, SE 4: 107.  [Check: should be more pages.]

13         1900a, GW 2-3: 112.

14         1900a, SE 4: 111.

15         1900a, SE 4: 113.

16         1900a, GW 2-3: 118.

17         1900a, SE 4: 119.

18         1900a, SE 4: 121.  [italics in original]

19         1900a, SE 4: 122.

20         1900a, SE 4: 127

21         1900a, SE 4: 143.

22         1900a, SE 4: 234.  [italics in original]

23         1900a, SE 4: 261.

24         1900a, SE 4: 267.

25         1900a, SE 4: 283.

26         1900a, SE 4: 307-8.  [italics in original]  1965: 343.

27         1900a, SE 4: 316.

28         1900a, SE 4: 318; quoted by Freud in 'The antithetical meaning of primal words,' 1910e, SE 11: 155.

29         1900a, SE 4: 320.

30         1900a, SE 5: 506.

31         Laplanche & Pontalis 1973: 125.

32         1900a, SE 5: 506 n.

33         1900a, SE 5: 525.

34         1900a, SE 5: 526 [italics in original].

35         1900a, SE 5: 530.

36         1900a, SE 5: 549.  Quoted in Rand & Torok 1993: 578.

37         Avon 1965: 585.  1900a, SE 5: c. 550.

38         1900a, SE 5: 546.

39         [Editor's footnote.  In his later writings Freud regularly used this same word 'transference' ('Übertragung') to describe a somewhat different, though not unrelated, psychological process, first discovered by him as occurring in the course of psycho-analytic treatment—namely, the process of 'transferring' on to a contemporary object feelings which originally applied, and still unconsciously apply, to an infantile object.  (See, e.g., Freud 1905e ['Dora'],  Section 4, and Freud 1915a ['Observations on transference-love].)  The word occurs also in this other sense in the present volume—e.g. on pp. 184 and 200—and had already been so used by Freud in the last pages of Chapter 4 of Studies on Hysteria (Breuer & Freud 1895).]

40         1900a, SE 5: 562-3.

41         1900a, SE 5: 564.

42         1900a, SE 5: 573.

43         Freud, Sigmund 1916-7, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, SE 15: 233.

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