Sunday, March 28, 2010

freud case study, two: dream work. thoughts?

“…I am led to regard the dream as a sort of substitute
for the thought processes, full of meaning and emotion…” (Gay 147)

            Dreams are to the mind like narratives are to the protagonist. In a narrative, the main character expresses her or himself through a number of experiences that often foreshadow, contain certain significance, compare, contrast, or provoke emotions, memories, or experiences. In dreams, the person who is asleep often becomes the main character within a secret journey fulfilling ordinary tasks or desires that have a larger significance than one knows while asleep. Through the analysis of his own dreams, Sigmund Freud produced a detailed theoretical account of how dreams are constructed. Freud called this the “dream-work.” The “dream-work” answers questions regarding how a dream is made and where it comes from. Freud came to the conclusion that dreams are related to experiences and the desire to have experiences because desire and wish fulfillment work together.
            In order to come to this conclusion, Freud had to study a dream he had on the night between July 23 and July 24, 1895. Freud dreamt of a woman named E.L. who was sitting beside him and paying him her utmost attention (144). She laid her hand on his knee in an intimate manner but he removed it, nonetheless (144). In response to his shun, she said “But you’ve always had such beautiful eyes” (144-145). Through Freud’s interpretation, he revealed that he barely knew E.L. and was not on friendly terms with her. His referral to this woman with her sole initials could mean that he was hiding the fact that E.L. was a woman and how he saw other women in relation to his marriage—where he was happily married and a father to many children.
            Men of Freud’s caliber did not give into their desires because they were to think rationally. Freud was the type of man to acknowledge his desires but never act on them. However, this dream revealed that Freud, whether he was rational or not, desired—to some degree—to be attracted to other women.
            In order to come to this understanding, Freud defined the manifest and latent content of dreams. The manifest content of dreams starts with what is visible—the image, the characters, and the scene. It is everything the dreamer sees and hears. For example, my mother had a dream of a young boy who lived on our street swimming in a pool of clear water. This short narrative is the manifest content of my mother’s dream. It is the image she dreamt in her sleep. 
            The latent content of dreams, however, has no official definition. Essentially, it is what the dream means for the dreamer. In the case of my mother’s dream, the boy who lived on our street was very sick with Leukemia. He was the only child of parents who tried to conceive many times before him. At the age of five, and just a short time period after my mother had this dream, the boy passed away. The clear water in my mother’s dream could symbolize tears thus alluding to the boy’s death. The fact that the boy was swimming, an act done most commonly while happy, could suggest that despite the sadness the boy’s death had caused, he was now free from disease. To another person, a similar dream to my mother’s could have meant something completely different.
            In order for Freud to fully understand how dreams could be deconstructed as such, he considered condensation and displacement as forms of distortion. Condensation is one idea, image, sound, or short fragment that represents another message different than the one that is manifested. In my mother’s dream, a simple image of a little boy swimming in a clear pool would seem just as it appeared because it was condensed to appear as such. Since her dream was later interpreted, my mother understood that the dream foreshadowed the boy’s death.
            Displacement is a metaphor. To the Greeks, the word metaphor literally meant to be in another place. In my mother’s dream, a small boy swimming in a clear pool was a metaphor for his death and the sadness that would be experienced by family and friends as a result
            The same methods of interpretation apply to Freud’s dream of E.L.
            Why are condensation and displacement necessary in the portrayal and analysis of dreams in order for them to be accurately understood? Let us answer this question in relation to Freud’s dream.
            ”Nor so far as [I know], have I ever wished to have any closer relations with her,” (145). Freud demanded complete honesty when he was treating a patient and thus required the same for his personal analysis. In Freud’s conscious mind he was unaware that he wanted to have closer relations with another woman other than his wife. His unconscious mind, very active in sleep, revealed otherwise.
            The unconscious mind has the ability to create a dream. Without the unconscious mind, the “dream-work” would cease to exist. The unconscious mind is set underneath the conscious mind, or the Ego, and divided by a notion of censorship. The censorship controls what enters the Ego while conscious and represses unwanted memories into the unconscious mind. However, the unconscious does not let the Ego be so repressive. In the middle of the night, the unconscious mind makes up a condensed dream that gets by the censor and is later displaced. How can this dream get by the censor? It is so simple. The singular image presented in a dream like a little boy happily swimming in clear pool water does not trigger the censor to interpret as something dangerous or unwanted. When dreams occur, the dreamer is unconscious leaving no room for rationale.
            Like a movie, anything can happen in a dream. One may even be repressing a tragedy or embarrassing moment that is so unbearable in their conscious mind, but when their conscious mind closes its eyes, the unconscious mind comes out to play. The conscious and the unconscious mind are opposing forces. However, the genius of the unconscious gets through to the Ego, which then displaces the simple, condensed, image to sneak by the censor.  Through dream interpretation and the manifest and latent content of dreams, those simple images are distorted and made sense of in relation to emotions, memories, or experiences upon realizing that the dream actually took place in the mind.

Works Cited
The Freud Reader. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1989. 144-145, 147. Print.


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