Freud Resources
> 1908e

Creative writers and day-dreaming

Freud 1908e [1907], 'Creative writers and day-dreaming', SE 9: 143-50, trs. from Der Dichter und das Phantasieren, GW 7: 213.

This was originally delivered as a lecture on December 6, 1907 … Some of the problems of creative writing had been touched on shortly before in Freud's study on Gradiva … and a year or two earlier he had approached the question in an unpublished essay on 'Psychopathic characters on the stage (1942a [1905]). The centre of interest in the present paper, however, as well as in the next one, [Freud 1908a, 'Hysterical phantasies and their relation to bisexuality', SE 9: 159-66] written at about the same time, lies in its discussion of phantasies. [ed.] 142

The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real. 144

When the child has grown up and has ceased to play, and after he has been labouring for decades to envisage the realities of life with proper seriousness, he may one day find himself in a mental situation which once more undoes the contrast between play and reality. As an adult he can look back on the intense seriousness with which he once [145] carried on his games in childhood; and, by equating his ostensibly serious occupations of today with his childhood games, he can throw off the too heavy burden imposed on him by life and win the high yield of pleasure afforded by humour.
As people grow up, then, they cease to play, and they seem to give up the yield of pleasure which they gained from playing. but whoever understands the human mind knows that hardly anything is harder for a man than to give up a pleasure which he has once experienced. Actually, we can never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another. What appears to be a renunciation is really the formation of a substitute or surrogate. In the same way, the growing child, when he stops playing, gives up nothing but the link with real objects; instead of playing, he now phantasies. He builds castles in the air and creates what are called day-dreams. 144-5 (Freud 1908e [1907], Creative writers and day-dreaming, SE 9: 143-53; this quotation: 144-5.)

They are either ambitious wishes, which serve to elevate the subject's personality; or they are erotic ones. In young women the erotic wishes predominate almost exclusively, for their ambition is as a rule absorbed by erotic trends. 147 (Freud 1908e [1907], Creative writers and day-dreaming, SE 9: 143-53; this quotation: 147.)

When scientific work had succeeded in elucidating this factor of dream-distortion, it was no longer difficult to recognize that night-dreams are wish-fulfilments in much the same way as day-dreams—the phantasies which we all know so well. 149

It seems to me, however, that through this revealing characteristic of invulnerability we can immediately recognise His Majesty the Ego, the hero alike of every day-dream and of every story. 150

The psychological novel in general no doubt owes its special nature to the inclination of the modern writer to split up his ego, by self-observation, into many part-egos, and, in consequence, to personify the conflicting currents of his own mental life in several heroes. 150

A strong experience in the present awakens in the creative writer a memory of an earlier experience (usually belonging to his childhood) from which there now proceeds a wish which finds its fulfilment in the creative work. The work itself exhibits elements of the recent provoking occasion as well as of the old memory. 151

The study of constructions of folk-psychology such as these [myths, legends and fairy tales] is far from being complete, but it is extremely probable that myths, for instance, are distorted vestiges of the wishful phantasies of whole nations, the secular dreams of youthful humanity. 152

Psychoanalysis cannot say how the artist achieves his 'innermost secret'. (Wright 1984: 27, quoting 1908e: 153)

How the writer accomplishes this is his innermost secret; the essential ars poetica lies in the technique of overcoming the feeling of repulsion in us which is undoubtedly connected with the barriers that rise between each single ego and the others. We can guess two of the methods used by this technique. The writer softens the character of his egoistic day-dreams by altering and disguising it, and he bribes us by the purely formal—that is, æsthetic—yield of pleasure which he offers us in the presentation of his phantasies. We give the name of an incentive bonus, or a fore-pleasure, to a yield of pleasure such as this, which is offered to us so as to make possible the release of still greater pleasure arising from deeper psychical sources. In my opinion, all the æsthetic pleasure which a creative writer affords us has the character of a fore-pleasure of this kind, and our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds. It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer's enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame. 153

New: 17 May, 2015 | Now: 18 May, 2015 | Garry Gillard | garrygillard[at]