Garry Gillard > lectures >
Lecture for H288 Literary Theory 1, Thursday 26 May 1994
This lecture will be the briefest of introductions to Freud and literature. I'll begin, as Freud did, with some behavioural texts: slips, jokes and dreams; and I'll look closely at a deam text that Freud himself examined psychoanalytically, in fact not only one of his own dreams, but The Dream—The Specimen Dream of Psychoanalysis. And along the way I hope to increase your familiarity with some of the terminology of psychoanalysis.
Freud's greatest 'discovery' was the unconscious. [note 1] 'Discovery' must be in quotation marks because the idea of an unconscious, or of unconscious mental functions, certainly existed before Freud. Indeed, there is some evidence that Freud deliberately preserved his own innocence of this knowledge, so much did he need to be able to regard himself as an explorer, or at least an archaeological discoverer.  But Freud was one of the first to attempt a thorough theorisation of this phenomenon, in the service of what he saw as his new 'science' of psychoanalysis.
As I'm sure you know, Freud thought that the existence of 'an unconscious' was betrayed by the evidence provided by some of the behaviour I've mentioned: by slips, jokes and dreams. Each of these provides evidence of the existence of mental processes of which we are unaware. We get satisfaction from telling jokes and from some of our dreams for reasons which we cannot easily explain, and which seem to have do with desires which we are not expressing directly in the texts of the dreams and jokes. So-called 'Freudian' slips—and especially those in we inadvertently refer to sexual matters—seem to reveal sexual desires which somehow get around the controls we set up in our mind. The aim of psychoanalysis is to reveal those reasons and those desires. And the aim of a psychoanalytic literary criticism is therefore to reveal reasons and desires which lie behind or underneath texts, whether apparently in the minds of 'characters' in those texts, or whether in particular phenomena in those texts, such as dreams, slips and jokes, or whether in some way behind or underneath those texts as such. Like psychoanalysis itself, a psychoanalytic literary criticism aims to discover what it is that produces texts, and especially puzzling and contradictory ones, and to reveal not only the drives that underly textual production, but also the repression that normally keeps them concealed.
I think that you can already see that a psychoanalytic explication will be especially appropriate for texts that have a concealed origin or motive or that depend on something being revealed inadvertently. The classic psychoanalytic text is of course that of Œdipus the King, in the form of the play by Sophocles. Another is Hamlet. But any detective story may be of interest, expecially if the motive is of particular interest, and even more particularly where there is an explicit claim that the motive is superficial and transparent, or where it is unusual and requires illumination.
The smallest texts considered by Freud, and therefore also in this lecture, are what are called 'parapraxes'; the most minute of parapraxes is linked with the overarching culture, however, through the workings of the mechanism of repression. (James Strachey introduced the neologism 'parapraxis' for the translation of 'Fehlleistungen';  although others have suggested 'mischievements,'  and 'faulty achievements.' ) Bungled actions, errors, forgetting impressions and intentions, forgetting names and words, lost and mislaid objects, misreadings, slips of the pen and misprints, slips of the tongue, and symptomatic and chance actions—all of these are parapraxes and represent the return of the repressed. They are all, in Freud's theory, evidence of the existence of unconscious mental activities or states.
I did actually make a genuine parapraxis just the other day. I was reading a lecture on Freud to the people doing A105 Structure, Thought and Reality, and I meant to say this—this is Freud writing about what is called in the literature the 'seduction hypothesis;' the theory by which in its original form Freud explained that hysteria in young women was caused by sexual interference when they were children, typically by their fathers.
When I had pulled myself together [writes Freud, in translation], I was able to draw the right conclusions from my discovery: namely, that the neurotic symptoms were not related directly to actual events but to wishful phantasies, and that as far as the neurosis was concerned psychical reality was of more importance than material reality. 
When I got to 'psychical reality,' I accidentally said 'physical reality'—thus inadvertently offering my own strongly-held opinion that Freud was wrong, if not lying, and that it is the physical reality which is more important in most of these cases than the psychical. So there's a psychoanalytical analysis of a text: only one word long, but quite revealing, I suggest.
Here's another text: a joke from Freud's book, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.  Freud tells us 'it is one of the "bath jokes" which treat of Galician Jews' alleged aversion to baths.' Here's how Freud tells it.
"Two Jews met in the neighbourhood of the bath-house. 'Have you taken a bath?' asked one of them. 'What?' asked the other in return, 'is there one missing?'" 
Freud makes an extraordinary claim concerning his use of Jewish jokes generally: that he collects them and cites because they are simply better jokes, rather than because they reveal anything about a particular culture, or about membership of any culture. He writes: 'For we do not insist upon a patent of nobility from our examples. We make no enquiries about their origin but only about their efficiency—whether they are capable of making us laugh and whether they deserve our theoretical interest. And both these two requirements are best fulfilled precisely by Jewish jokes.'  It is a case of having your bagel and eating it too.
To go back to parapraxes: let's say that in giving this example of the Galician Jew joke from Freud's book on jokes, I decided that what the joke really revealed was that Freud was actually mocking his father, and that he was a 'father-mocker.' Now if I accidentally performed a metathesis, or a 'Spoonerism' as it is better known, and reversed the initial letters of the words in the expression, I might have accidentally revealed what I really thought about Freud, that he was a 'mather-focker.'
Freud actually uses this joke to introduce and illustrate the idea of 'displacement,' which will be used later to refer to the replacement of something repressed by something unobjectionable. But at this introductory moment, Freud simply wants to make the point that the joke turns on the displacement of the accent from 'bath' to 'taken.' But I think we can take the psycho-analysis a little further than this merely linguistic approach.
The joke in question simultaneously establishes both pluses and minuses about a given culture: although one may be dirty, one may at least be witty about it; although one may allow oneself to be seen as capable of misappropriating the property of others, one may at the same time deny this by implication, packing this into the ironical question: 'I could have taken it and got away with it, but on this occasion I chose not to. If someone took a bath, it wasn't me.' Freud obviously wants to identify with this clever culture, while at the same time understressing his participation in any less desirable characteristics it may have—or part of it: he specifies 'Galician Jews' aversion to baths.' And it is relevant to know that Freud was a Jew, but also that his father Jacob was from Galicia, although Sigmund himself was born on the other side of the Carpathians, as it were on the right side of the mountains.
So what this shows is that a text whose point depends on a perception about syntax actually conceals a cultural meaning, which in turn conceals a personal level of meaning about a relationship between a son and a father.
Back to the theory. I've just mentioned another of the terms of art that I want to draw to your attention (as well as 'the unconscious' and repression): namely, 'displacement.' Well, in the Dream book, there are four of these, although I'll only deal with three. In the unconscious realm of psychical activity these functions are presumed to follow obscure rules: and Freud's hypotheses concerning these include the mechanisms he analysed: Verdichtung (condensation), Verschiebung (displacement), and sekundäre Bearbeitung (secondary revision). (11) The fourth one—the one I've left out—'considerations of representability,' is of less interest at the moment. These are all discussed at length in Chapter 6 of The Interpretation of Dreams.
Condensation refers to the fact that the account of a dream is always much shorter than the meaning of the dream; to use Freud's language: the latent meaning is much larger than the manifest content of the dream-thoughts. A large amount of latent—or concealed—ideas or feelings may be condensed into a small number of ideas or feelings in a dream—or a literary text. One item in a dream may therefore be overdetermined, in bearing a number of meanings. Can you see why these notions are so attractive to people working in this field?
Displacement refers to one idea taking the place of idea: the intensity that was associated with the original idea is now associated with the the replacement. And secondary revision (or secondary elaboration as it is also known) is possibly of even more interest to us literary people than is condensation: it is the operation of the logical on the apparently illogical. It can occur in the course of the dream, and perhaps in that lighter sleep as we are waking up, or it can occur in the conscious mind in the ordering of the events of the dream into a coherent narrative which will make some kind of sense to a listener or reader. Once again: do you agree that these notions are understandably likely to be picked up and made use of by literary analysts?
What condensation and displacement have in common, as do metaphor and metonymy, are association, and the striking thing about the way these mechanisms work, is that it does not seem to matter which of the two kinds of association are in play—similarity or contiguity—association in the vertical or horizontal dimensions, as it were—it does not seem to matter which of the two kinds of association are activated, provided that either one is available. One alleged proof of this assertion is that in favourable circumstances they may replace each other or operate together. The only really important consideration is association. Laplanche & Pontalis point out that this association, although undifferentiated by Freud, was taken up and developed by a couple of other writers who are important for us literary theorists. They write this.
The term 'displacement' does not for Freud imply the singling out of any particular type of associative connection—such as association by contiguity or association by similarity—as characteristic of the chain along which the process of displacement operates. The linguist Roman Jakobson has, however, felt justified in correlating the unconscious mechanisms described by Freud and the rhetorical procedures of metaphor and metonymy, which he holds to be the two fundamental poles of all language; he thus brings displacement together with metonymy, in which association is based upon contiguity, while he sees symbolism as corresponding to the metaphoric dimension which is governed by the law of association by similarity.  Jacques Lacan has taken up these suggestions and developed them, assimilating displacement to metonymy and condensation to metaphor;  for Lacan, human desire is structured fundamentally by the laws of the unconscious, and its nature is metonymic par excellence. 
However, Freud's undifferentiated association is characteristic of the mode of existence of a hypothetical unconscious mental state: 'the unconscious,' or what he called 'the id.' Rather than try to give you my version of it, let me read you Freud's last description of it, from 1933, from the continuation of his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. 
You will not expect me to have much to tell you that is new about the id apart from its new name. It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality; what little we know of it we have learnt from our study of the dream-work and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. … It is filled with energy from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. The logical laws of thought do not apply in the id, and this is true above all of the law of contradiction. Contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out or diminishing each other: at the most they may converge to form compromises under the dominant economic pressure towards [page 74] the discharge of energy. There is nothing in the id that could be compared with negation; and we perceive with surprise an exception to the philosophical theorem that space and time are necessary forms of our mental acts.  There is nothing in the id that corresponds to the idea of time; there is no recognition of the passage of time, and—a thing that is most remarkable and awaits consideration in philosophical thought—no alteration in its mental processes is produced by the passage of time. Wishful impulses which have never passed beyond the id, but impressions, too, which have been sunk into the id by repression, are virtually immortal; after the passage of decades they behave as though they had just occurred. They can only be recognized as belonging to the past, can only lose their importance and be deprived of their cathexis of energy, when they have been made conscious by the work of analysis, and it is on this that the therapeutic effect of analytic treatment rests to no small extent. 
And it is this 'chaos' from which dreams come. 
I'll try to show you how these mechanisms—condensation, displacement, and secondary revision—work in the analysis of The Specimen Dream of Psychoanalysis.
This originary text—of great importance for Freud—is that of the dream of 24 July 1885 (the 'specimen dream' of The Interpretation of Dreams, which Freud wrote down at Bellevue, on which house he suggested to Fliess there should be a marble tablet placed, inscribed with the words: 'In This House, on July 24th 1895 the Secret of Dreams was Revealed to Dr. Sigm. Freud').  The dream concerns the examination of a patient and acquaintance, 'Irma', by Freud and three other doctors who are also friends. Freud concludes in the dream that her infection was caused by an injection given her by 'Otto', probably with a dirty syringe. I'll have to take it that you've read the account of the dream.
To come straight to the point: the latent meaning of the dream, the unconscious content, says Freud, was: 'concern about my own and other people's health—professional conscientiousness'.  The manifest content is what Freud wrote down in the morning, together with the interpretive material he publishes in The Interpretation of Dreams, but also including material which he has excluded—material of two kinds: more of the dream and more of the interpretation. The operations of the superego are present in the exclusion, and explicitly in the meta-explanations of the suppression of certain material—again of two kinds: material which is either too personal, or to do with 'professional conscientiousness'—presumably professional discretion—which is what the dream is said to be about.
But back to the theory. I used another technical term there—although I suspect it's so familiar to you you didn't even notice. I mentioned the 'superego.' Do I need to tell you about the the threefold division of the mind, according to Freud? My script doesn't wait for an answer, but plunges onward, as follows.
The first division I mentioned was The Unconscious, 'the cellar or cupboard,' as Gregory Bateson calls it, 'to which fearful and painful memories are consigned by a process of repression.' By 1923 Freud had come to call this alleged part of the mind the 'id.' He had always thought that the mind was structured into three principal parts: firstly 'das Ich'—'the I', our ordinary self, the part that deals with everyday experiences, and is unaware of repressed feelings and ideas, secondly, 'das Es'—'the It,' the part of the mental apparatus full of desires of which we are normally unconscious, which is 'filled with … only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.'  Thirdly, Freud had to invent what he called 'das Überich'—'the Over-I', because he had to explain how there could be a part of the mind which maintained ethical control over the other parts without their being aware of it. Incidentally, if you don't recognise these terms I'm using, 'the I', 'the It,' and 'the Over-I', it's simply because Freud's translator, James Strachey wanted to use more impressive terms, so he went for the Latin equivalents: the ego, the id and the superego. I'm sure you'll recognise them.
The work done by the superego is sekundäre Bearbeitung, which is conventionally translated as the 'secondary revision' I mentioned above. Bearbeitung has as its root 'Arbeit' = 'work', and 'bearbeiten' (in its first dictionary meaning) denotes working on something such as stone or wood, or with a hammer or chemicals, to change the shape or nature of something. The third meaning given in a standard dictionary is the one Freud probably has mostly in mind: the one concerned with editing, revising, adapting, arranging.  It is worth pointing out that the English word connotes 'seeing again' or 'seeing in a different light,' whereas the German is definitely concerned with work. Considering 'revision' in the editorial sense, supertext in this typical case could be seen as the editor's changes made to the manuscript and the proofs: very tangible and specific use of language, but not included in the final (ego‑)publication.
Freud himself has done some editing of this kind, as he tells us. And we can do the kind of the detective work (or psycho-analysis) the result of which will be to show what kinds of sekundäre Bearbeitung Freud has himself done. I will examine one moment in the account where it seems clear that Freud has carried out some of this editing, one indicated in fact by Freud himself, as at this point Freud clearly indicates that he has refused to give further public consideration to material which his censor has not allowed it to pass.
He describes the examination of the patient 'Irma' in the dream in these terms: '…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.)…'  This indication of elision at the end of the quotation is in the original, showing that Freud himself has indicated that material has been suppressed.
In the interpretation, as you know, Freud's procedure is very much that of the textual analyst. He takes each key phrase, reproduces it in the text in italics, and proceeds to give a commentary on it, an explication. It is noticeable that Freud does not transcribe himself accurately. Taking '… my friend Leopold was percussing her through her bodice' ['über dem Leibchen'] Freud changes this to '… my friend Leopold was examining her.' The bodice has been suppressed, together with its preposition, the action performed on the woman, and the ability of the doctors to 'see through' things—though the point of the whole exercise is to demonstrate Freud's ability to 'see through' things. It is fascinating to note that the language itself restores the link between the clothing and the body beneath that Freud is resisting. The English word 'bodice' and the German 'Leibchen' which it translates are both performing the same metonymical operation: 'bodice' comes from 'bodies' and 'Leib' means body, the '‑chen' being a diminutive (a 'Leibarzt'—literally 'body doctor'—is one's 'personal physician'). Uncovering the metaphor that usage has buried: Otto is percussing 'over her little body'. The latent meaning, I suggest, would be more available to the German speaker/reader, as the word in question has not been modified, whereas 'bodice' has.
When he comes to 'I noticed this, just as he did…' ['was ich trotz des Kleides wie er spüre'], Freud makes no comment on the fact that they could see a lesion on the woman's skin despite the fact that it was covered by her clothing, nor on the fact that he was aware of the other man's also being able to see through the cloth—or, more literally, 'in spite of' the cloth, which has failed to prevent the secret being given away. (Spüren comes from the noun meaning 'spoor', 'trace', 'sign', and means to 'feel' in the sense of 'intuit', but can also indicate detective work: to be on the track or to follow the scent). What he explicitly refers to instead is some unusually technical medical jargon: 'We are in the habit of speaking of "a left upper posterior infiltration,"' suggesting that he wasn't even talking about skin at all, or shoulders, or seeing things, but instead about lungs and tuberculosis.
It is illuminating to compare this moment with a slip of the tongue, a 'sexual double entendre,' discussed in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, where 'durch die Bluse' [through the blouse] is produced by the speaker in error for 'durch die Blume' [literally, 'through flowers,' i.e. 'indirectly'].  What we have here is the contrary situation.
When Freud comes to 'In spite of her dress', he writes:
This was in any case only an 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. 
Freud has just told us a moment before that he can perceive through the woman's dress, and now he quite explicitly denies this ('Further than this I could not see.' ['Das Weitere ist mir dunkel …,' literally: 'Anything further is for me in the dark.']) There are other contradictions: this whole paragraph is full of the language of sexual desire, beginning with the wonderfully 'Freudian' locution: 'This was in any case only an interpolation' [Einschaltung]—one of many words here whose first element is 'in' ['Ein' or 'In']. The adverbials 'in any case' and 'only' both attempt to indicate that an 'interpolation' is not important and should be disregarded: although Freud consistently reminds us that in psychoanalysis nothing is irrelevant. And why does he bring children into it 'naturally'? Because it is 'natural' to be undressed? The elaboration ('I remembered…') continues the meditation on being not/naked. But then the censor brings down the curtain: 'Further than this I could not see.' A clear self-contradiction, followed an outrageous lie: 'Frankly, I had no desire to penetrate more deeply at this point.' ['… ich habe, offen gesagt, keine Neigung, mich hier tiefer einzulassen.']  Freud is not being 'open' at all: he unconsciously wants what he denies—having an 'inclination' [Neigung] (downwards) to 'let himself go in more deeply.' Consider the situation that his imagination has conjured up in the dream: three male friends and colleagues examining a person who is in a subject position in several senses: she is probably physically below their level, either sitting or perhaps even prostrate; she is physically weak (pains in her throat, stomach and abdomen); psychically weak ('hysterical'); morally weak (recalcitrant); and, finally, as a 'patient', and as a woman, socially and ideologically inferior. 'Irma' is at the mercy of these men—which is why the superego has to apply so much restraint to the account.
As in the case of other of his clients and notably in that of Dora, we find once again that Freud is dealing with a female person positioned as patient and as subject. Although he makes what biographers such as Schur and Jones would call 'heroic' attempts at complete honesty regarding all aspects of his procedure, it is clear that there are some aspects of the situation about which he is unable to say everything because he is simply unable to speak about them at all: they are so deeply unconscious that they are unspeakable—and he cannot say anything (whether he could think it or not).
Superficially, I am referring mainly to the positioning of women in the society of Freud's life and times: we know that in his thinking on this matter he took the conventional line that women were inferior to men and had therefore to be treated differently from them. Beyond this, though, is the implication that Freud—as are most people—was the creature of his times and their ideological systems, and his thinking was unconsciously determined by the culture in which it imbued. This is bad enough in itself (if largely inevitable), from a political point of view, but it also had an effect on his practice and therefore also on the development of his theory. This limitation curtailed the application of psychoanalytical theory: it meant it could not go far enough. It may also have contributed (due to the political implications) to the decline in the perceived importance of Freud's contribution to cultural theory as opinion on such matters developed. This is beside the main point of the present argument, however, which is that if there had been some way that Freud could personally have transcended the limitations that constrained him (and of which he was better placed than most to be aware) he could have continued along the lines of psychoanalytic theory further into the field of cultural study than he otherwise could, in the service of a truly critical theory of the cultural unconscious. As it has turned out, critical theory of various kinds, including Critical Theory, has tended to move away from psychoanalysis, as has Cultural Studies per se, which has taken a much more empiricist and even behaviourist direction in general, under pressure from various normalising cultural agencies, including especially those that fund research in these areas.
In this lecture I hope I have shown, following Freud, but going beyond him as well, that there are levels of meaning above and below those that we ordinarily believe we perceive with the conscious, rational aspects of our mental apparatus, and I have gone on to demonstrate that there are levels 'above' and perhaps even 'below' Freud's own ability to see and to speak of.
1. Whyte, Lancelot Law 1962 , The Unconscious before Freud, Tavistock, London.
Ellenberger, Henri F. 1970, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, London.
2. Whyte 1962: 169.
3. 'In German, "Fehlleistung", "faulty function." It is a curious fact that before Freud wrote this book the general concept seems not to have existed in psychology, and in English a new word had to be invented to cover it.' Editor's introduction to 1901b, SE 6: 3, n.
4. Kaufmann, Walter 1980c, Discovering the Mind, Three volumes, Volume 3: Freud, Adler and Jung, McGraw-Hill, New York: 7.
5. Bettelheim, Bruno 1985 , Freud and Man's Soul, Fontana, London: 87.
6. Freud, Sigmund 1925d , An Autobiographical Study, SE 20: 1-70. Postscript, 1935a, SE 20: 71-4; this quotation: 33-4.
7. Freud, Sigmund 1905c, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, SE 8, trs. from Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten, first edition Deuticke, Leipzig & Vienna, GW 5.
8. Freud, Sigmund 1905c, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, SE 8: 49.
9. 1905c, SE 8: 49.
10. 1905c, SE 8: 49.
11. 1900a, The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4-5: Chapter 6. Some references following are to the Avon edition, New York, 1965.
12. Laplanche & Pontalis's footnote: Cf., for example, JAKOBSON, R. 'Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances', in The Fundamentals of Language (The Hague: Mouton, 1956), 81.
13. Laplanche & Pontalis's footnote: Cf. LACAN, J. 'L'instance de la lettre dans l'inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud', La Psychanalyse, 1957, III, 47-81. Reprinted in LACAN, J. Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966). English translation: 'The Insistence of the Letter', Yale French Studies, 1966, 36-37, 112-47: reprinted in EHRMANN, J. (ed.) Structuralism (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1970).
14. Laplanche, Jean &Pontalis, J.-B. 1973, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, Hogarth, London, trs. Donald Nicholson-Smith from Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1967: 123.
15. Freud, Sigmund 1933a , translated as New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trs. James Strachey from Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse [A New Series of … ]: SE 22, GW 15.
16. [Editor's note. The reference is to Kant. 1933a, SE 22: 74 n.]
17. Freud 1933a, SE 22: 73-4. Penguin: 105-6.
18. Cf. eg. 1900a, 'Regression', Section B of Chapter 7; Avon: 580.
19. Letter to Fliess of 12 June 1900 (Freud 1950a, Letter 137), quoted by the editor in Freud 1900a, SE 4-5: 121 n.
20. Freud 1900a, SE 4: 120.
21. Bateson, Gregory 1987 , Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, Aronson, New York, (orig. publ. Chandler, San Francisco, 1972): 135.
22. Freud 1933a, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, SE 22: 73.
23. Collins German Dictionary, 1980.
24. Freud 1900a, SE 4: 107.
25. Freud, Sigmund 1901b, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, SE 6, 1-279; this quotation: 79-80.
26. 1900a, SE 4: 113.
27. 1900a, GW 2-3: 118.
Garry Gillard | New: 15 September, 2019 | Now: 17 September, 2019