Sunday, 25 December 2011

Freudian Dream Interpretation (1) - Self-Analysis & Dreaming

The art of self-analysis
Self-analysis is the interpretation of one's own preconscious and unconscious material (for example, dreams; parapraxes; memories; fleeting thoughts; and intense emotions). Psychoanalysis was to a great extent, the resultant theoretical paradigm developed from Freud's self-analysis between 1895 and 1902. The analysis of his own dreams supposedly brought Freud confirmation of what he found in the dreams of his analysands and, reciprocally, he argued that he better comprehended their dreams on the basis of his own (the subjective bias in Freud’s interpretation of the dreams of others is one aspect of his work which has come under the more intense academic criticism). Freud's self-analysis only became systematic after the death of his father in October 1896, and from that point onwards, it complemented and sustained his project of writing a book on the interpretation of dreams (eventually published in 1899). 

The method of self-analysis developed by Freud included four steps: recording the material obtained; breaking it up into sequences; free associating on each of the sequences; and finally, forging links based on the associations produced - these links thus taking on an interpretive significance. 

In his first conception of psychoanalytic training, Freud assumed that what was needed was a preliminary experience of self-analysis based on his model. Later, he took the position that the experience of a personal analysis should be required of all future analysts. The risk of self-analysis is that it favours narcissistic self-satisfaction or obsessional rumination. Self-analysis could never be a purely solitary mental activity: Freud developed it in the course of a scientific, emotional, and fantasy exchange with his friend Wilhelm Fliess from Berlin. An active self-analysis takes place within the context of interrelations (with family or analysands, for example). Furthermore it presupposes a subjective commitment to remain in analysis despite the development of personal crises.  

Self-analysis can be fruitful if it prolongs the psychoanalytic work of which it is an echo. The main difficulty is the neglect of transference/counter-transference relationships. One solution to this problem might be an 'introjection' of the image of the analyst as an ideal object, with whom an interior dialogue may then be pursued – like an imaginary session with a fictional analyst (a technique apparently used by avant-garde novelist and playwright, Samuel Beckett).

* The beginnings of Freudian dream interpretation: the initial dream of psychoanalytic movement
Freud’s first interpreted dream was “Irma’s Injection” (24th July 1895) and it was this experience – which he saw as a landmark in his career as a psychoanalyst -which enabled him to recognise dreams were a form of imaginary wish fulfilment. Didier Anzieu (1975) has argued that Freud’s ‘Irma’s Injection’ dream contains symbolism reflecting condensed themes associated with mid-life crisis. Indeed, the ‘Irma’s Injection’ dream has attracted substantial academic scrutiny, leading to the assumption that this was in fact the base point of Freud’s psychoanalytical movement, cementing his status as the ‘First Analyst’. Due to the fact The Interpretation of Dreams (conceived in 1886; drafted in 1899 and published in November of that year) was dated ‘1900’ to celebrate the turn of the century, this text has been distinguished as an important work of literature marking a new modernist culture. The perceived significance of the psychoanalytic movement in the transition to modernism and modern culture and learning, was not lost on Freud himself, who wrote to Fliess around this time, confiding that he imagined his own commemoration by way of a plaque one day being placed at Bellevue, Himmelstrasse, Vienna which would be inscribed: Here, on July 24, 1895, the secret of the dream revealed itself to Dr Sigmund Freud. This wish was fulfilled, in 1977 when the plaque was indeed placed there. 

One view of Freud’s self-analytical work, typically that held by historians and students of the psychoanalytic movement, is that it was both heroic and revolutionary – with “Irma’s Injection” marking a conceptual breakthrough and the ‘cornerstone’ of Freud’s exploration of the previous unchartered depths of the human psyche. It may be that Freud’s own beliefs that he was responsible for revolutionising psychiatry within a wider framework of substantial cultural shift which allowed him to attribute such fundamental value to his ‘pilot dream’ which became the paradigm for all subsequent interpretation. Therefore, Freud’s interpretation of “Irma’s Injection” (the dream itself is incidental – it is the interpretation of its content in which Freud’s great psychoanalytic breakthrough lies) has been referred to as the ‘great creation myth’ of the psychoanalytic movement containing the genetic code for all successive theory and practice. In terms of ‘initial dreams’ (as such significantly enlightening experiences are referred by some dream analysists), Carl Jung stated: “It frequently happens at the very beginning of the treatment that a dream will reveal to the doctor, in broad perspective, the whole programme of the unconscious”. This should be borne in mind when considering the interpretation of “Irma’s Injection”. 

Despite notable acclaim within twentieth century history and the transition to a zeitgeist of modernism and modernity in European culture, numerous academic studies have sought to deconstruct the ‘Freudian myth’. For example, some scholars have highlighted inconsistencies throughout Freud’s published dream interpretations – for example, at times Freud appears to be concerned with sharing the truth, whilst at others he is discreet, making attempts to censor personal material by anonymisation and fragmentation of his accounts. It is also said that Freud attributed parts of his own dream recollection/interpretations to various analysands and tended to ‘cut-up’ their dreams, dispersing fragmented excerpts throughout his texts, rather than presenting them in a logical or linear narrative. Anzieu rearranged the disparate passages of Freud’s self-analysis to reproduce a dynamically different chronologically ordered discourse which enables a subsequent reading of Freud’s theories in light of biographical explanations. 

By the time Freud embarked on self-analysis he was 40 years old; with a decent professional reputation (if a somewhat mediocre career) and the majority of his academic output in the sphere of neurology, as opposed to psychiatry. He had recently made the decision to become celibate with the approaching birth of his sixth child. He was concerned with the subject of neurosis and psychosomatic disorder and suffered from persistent thoughts of death; periods of depression and various phobias, leading to Anzieu suggesting that the resultant self-analysis could be viewed as a “defensive elaboration of his depression”. Freud’s shift in focus from physiological to psychical theories of mental disturbance, and the extensive time dedicated to the therapy of his analysands, were partly responsible for his isolation from the scientific community. 

I do not propose to undertake to provide a biographical account of Freud’s personal and professional life, as I could do neither justice within the confines of my project. Nor do I wish to summarise the entire psychoanalytic movement as this is not of assistance to myself, nor my readers, who would benefit from reading Freud’s texts (especially the Interpretation of Dreams (1899); and For the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914)) directly alongside a critical text, such as Didier Anzieu Freud’s Self-Analysis (1975), referred to above. My purpose is providing a backdrop to my own project of self-analysis.

Many commentators have noted that Freud’s self-censorship with regard to personal affairs often distorts a reading of his work and enables various theories to be read into the vague or limited material he offers by way of explanation. This will become evident upon studying Freud’s interpretative account of his dream further. Of course, I highly recommend reading Freud’s lengthy analysis of “Irma’s Injection” from the primary source itself (which is easily accessible being regarded as a ‘modern classic’ by most publishers – I first purchased The Interpretation of Dreams for a pound from the classic literature stand in a small provincial bookstore back when I was a high school student and it’s available in most libraries and online, so there’s no excuse for not skimming through, even for the non-Freudian dream analysts!) In any case, I’ve summarised Freud’s interpretation of his seminal dream, adding my own annotation where necessary. 

* A brief history of dream interpretation
Prior to Freud, dream theories tended to fall into two broad categories: the mystical (psychic) and the biological. Some felt that dreams might hold clues to mental states, but because the content of dreams can be very confusing, exactly what this might mean was uncertain. Freud put the ability to make sense of a dream into the hands of the dreamer.

During the 19th century, a French doctor Alfred Maury, speculated, following the use of self-experimentation (self-analysis), that external stimuli are the catalyst to all dreams (Schulze, 1997). Modern dream interpretation can trace itself directly back to Maury’s development of the concept of the unconscious. Another profound influence from the 19th century was Joseph Breuer, whose work, though not directly dream-related, inspired Freud. However, although Freud is heralded as the ‘father’ of dream interpretation, the art of using dreams to uncover hidden meaning, has extensive historical and cross-cultural heritage.

The Sumerians, the first cultural group to reside in Mesopotamia, left dream records dating back to 3100 BC. According to these early writings, deities and royals (such as the 7th century BC scholar-king Assurbanipal) paid careful attention to dreams. Within Assurbanipal's archive of clay tablets, portions of the story of the legendary king Gilgamesh were found. In this epic poem – one of the earliest known classical stories – Gilgamesh reported his recurring dreams to his goddess-mother Ninsun, who made the first recorded dream interpretation. His dreams were taken as prophecy and used to guide actions in the waking world. These attitudes recorded in the Gilgamesh epic provide a valuable source of information about ancient dream beliefs.  

The ancient Hebrews believed dreams were connections with God. The biblical figures Solomon, Jacob, Nebuchadnezzar and Joseph were all visited in their dreams by God or prophets, who helped guide their decisions. It was recognized and accepted that the dreams of kings could influence whole nations and the futures of their peoples. The Talmud (written between 200 and 500 AD) includes over 200 references to dreams. It states that "dreams which are not understood are like letters which are not opened".

The ancient Egyptians also gave the dreams of their royal leaders special attention since gods were more likely to appear in them. Serapis (the Egyptian god of dreams) had temples in which dream incubation occurred. Before going to these temples, dreamers would fast, pray and draw to help ensure enlightening dreams.

The Chinese considered the dreamer's soul to be the guiding factor of dream production. The ‘hun’ (spiritual soul) was thought to leave the body and communicate with the land of the dead. They also practiced incubation in dream temples, which served a political purpose through the 16th century. Any high official visiting a city reported to a temple on the first night to receive dream guidance for his mission. Judges and government officials were also required to visit dream temples for insight and wisdom.

The Sacred Books of Wisdom, or Vedas, (written in India between 1500 and 1000 BC) stated that dreams of violence were thought to lead to success and happiness if the aggression was pro-actively handled in the dream, even if the dreamer gets hurt in the process. If the dreamer remains passive and becomes hurt by his own passivity, however, it was considered a bad omen. The Upanishads (written between 900 and 500 BC) articulates two perspectives on dreams. The first maintains that dreams are merely expressions of inner desires. The second closely resembles the Chinese belief of the soul leaving the body and being guided until awakened. It was also thought that if the sleeper was awakened abruptly, the soul might not return to the body quickly enough and the sleeper could die.

The earliest Greek view of dreams was that the gods physically visited dreamers, entering through a keyhole, and exiting the same way after the divine message was delivered. The fifth century BC marks the first known Greek book on dreams, written by Antiphon, an Athenian statesman. During this century, the Greeks developed the belief (through contact with other cultures) that souls left the sleeping body. The practice of dream incubation was as important to the Greeks as it was among Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Chinese. Aesculapius was a Greek healer who was believed to be the son of Apollo. He was linked with cults that began the practice of incubation and was believed to visit sleepers, miraculously curing them. A shrine to Aesculapius was established at Epidaurus in the fifth century BC. There are thought to be around 410 Aesculapian sanctuaries near Athens, generally being active from the sixth century BC until the third century BC.

Hippocrates (469 - 399 BC), the father of medicine and Socrates' contemporary, wrote On Dreams. His theory was simple - during the day, the soul receives images; during the night, it produces images. Therefore, we dream.

Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) thought that dreams could be indicators of conditions within the body and did not believe they were divinely inspired. He hypothesised that external stimuli are absent during sleep, so dreams are manifestations of a profound awareness of internal sensations which are expressed as dream imagery. 

Galen, a Greek physician born in 129 AD, emphasised the need to observe dreams carefully for clues to healing. He was so trusting of dream messages that he carried out operations on the basis of his dream interpretations.

Artemidorus (his contemporary) wrote on The Interpretation of Dreams (Oneirocritica). This text is said to be the best source for the dream interpretation practices of antiquity known to us. His theory is extensive, but within the five books he wrote, he describes two classes of dreams: somnium (which forecasts the future); and insomnium (which deal with contemporary matters and are affected by the state of the body and mind). He stated that the dream interpreter should have information about the dreamer including: 
  1. images that are natural, lawful and customary for the dreamer:
  2. circumstances at the time of the dream;
  3. dreamers occupation and personality. 
The western post-classical view of dream interpretation was very different from the antique one. During the European Middle Ages, dreams were often studied in the context of their relationship to God. Questions typical of the period were ‘Are dreams sent by God to a person of superior virtue? Or are they sent by demons to a person who has fallen from grace?’ Beginning with the dawn of the Christian era until the time of Sigmund Freud, dreams were not regarded as important. As society became more structured, dreams fell into disrepute, particularly due to the powerful influence of organised religion - churches had little appreciation for the use of dream interpretation.

Freud’s seminal text The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) was published during the rise of the modernist movement – the intellectual and cultural revolt against conservative values of realism which saw the views associated with the Enlightenment diminish with the rise of secularism – or the ‘death of God’.

* The basic methodology of Freudian dream interpretation
When we become tired of receiving of and responding to stimuli from environment we try to fall asleep. The main characteristic of psychical state of a sleeper is therefore a withdrawal from reality and cessation of taking all interest in it - we try to fall asleep by disconnecting from all sources of external stimuli and minimising input from environment. Of course, an absolute withdrawal in which we would cease to perceive our environment is not possible; the sleeper does not have a 'switch'. Therefore stimuli from our environment disturb us also during  sleep, and our mentality is forced to respond to them - with dreams.

Freud derived dream symbols from the resistance of dream interpretation. He noticed that resistance regularly occurred with certain elements of dreams  - even in dreams of mentally healthy people. He claimed that formation of visual answer on stimulus (dream) is not coincidental and further, the manifest layer of dream content contained associative connections to the deeper layer of latent content. Freud called these manifest elements ‘symbols’ - to which he ascribed constant (although not generic and inflexible) meaning. The dream symbols are in his opinion more or less sexual. Number ’3’in the symbolic language dreams has meaning relating to a man's sexual organs. All dream ideas which consist of three parts (‘triadic’ or ‘tripartite’) have phallic connotation. Phallus is symbolically substituted with all things that are similar to it by their form - namely long things that jut out such as mountains; rocks; sticks; umbrellas;  poles; trees...Then objects for which the penetration in the body and harming is characteristic  - for  example, weapons; knifes; daggers; lances, sabres; swords; and fire arms.  Obviously, the phallus is also substituted with objects from which water runs – pipes; watering-cans; fountains; gushing champagne bottles etc; and with objects that can be lengthened, combusted or erected - hanging lights; extensible pens; aerials; balloons; airplanes; helicopters; rockets, etc. are symbols of erection. Less evident male sexual symbols are reptiles and fish, especially the symbol of snake. A hat and a coat as well as various machines and appliances have the same masculinised meaning. Female genitalia are symbolically represented with hollow objects or receptacles that can contain things – shafts; pits and caves; vessels and bottles;  boxes; suitcases; tins; pockets; closets; stoves; ships...The same holds for houses with entrances; passages and doors; churches; chapels; castles; mansions; fortresses and even landscape itself. The material such as wood and paper as well as objects made of them - a table, a book... symbolise the same. Typical female symbols among animals are molluscs, such as snails and mussels and their shells – as they visually resemble the female sex organs and orifices. Apples, peaches and fruits in general symbolise breasts. 

All kind of playing (playing instruments also); sliding; slipping and breaking branches are symbols of masturbation. The teeth falling out and extraction of them are symbols of castration as a punishment for masturbating (castration's complex). Various rhythmical activities such as dance; riding; raising and threatening with weapons etc symbolise sexual intercourse itself. Typical activities that symbolise sexual intercourse are also climbing and going down the ladder or stairs and running inside a house. The queen and king or empress and emperor and similar relations symbolise parents. The fall into water or raising out of it symbolises birth. Falling in dreams may symbolise the giving in to sexual desires; or relate to a childhood incident of falling where the child was comforted by a parent.

Many dreams which seemed puzzling before, become more clear when considering Freud's symbols and the censorship of dream. Although dream symbols allow for direct interpretation of dreams, this does not assist in accessing the unconscious mind. The dream can be understood, Freud held, only in light of the dreamer's associations to it. After recalling the dream, the dreamer should make ‘free associations’ stimulated by certain elements of the manifest dream content, allowing the spontaneous flow of thoughts and feelings. There should be no attempts to censor or control the output of  the free association exercise, as "a rule that must not be broken: when telling [dreams] s/he must not leave out any idea even if s/he gets one of four objections: that idea is irrelevant, too senseless, that is not connected with the issue or is too embarrassing" (Freud, 1977). 

On the methodology for the psychoanalytical interpretation of dreams, Freud stated:

You entirely disregard the apparent connections between the elements in the manifest dream and collect the ideas that occur to you in connection with each separate element of the dream by free association according to the psychoanalytic rule of procedure. From this material you arrive at the latent dream-thoughts, just as you arrived at the patient’s hidden complexes from his associations to his symptoms and memories…The true meaning of the dream, which has now replaced the manifest content, is always clearly intelligible.

Freud identified distorting operations which he claimed were applied to repressed wishes in forming the recollected dream. It is due to these distortions (the so-called ‘dream-work’) that the manifest content of the dream differs so greatly from the latent dream thought reached through analysis - and it is thus by reversing these distortions that the latent content is uncovered.

Condensation - one dream object stands for several associations and ideas.
Displacement - a dream object’s emotional significance is separated from its real object or content and attached to an entirely different one that does not raise the censor’s suspicions.
Representation  - a thought is translated to visual images.
Symbolism  - a symbol replaces an action, person, or idea. 

To these might be added ‘secondary elaboration’ - the outcome of the dreamer’s natural tendency to make some sort of ‘sense’ or ‘story’ out of the various elements of the manifest content as recollected. (Freud stressed that it was not merely futile, but actually misleading, to attempt to ‘explain’ one part of the manifest content with reference to another part as if the manifest dream somehow constituted some unified or coherent conception). Freud considered that the experience of anxiety dreams and nightmares was the result of failures in the dream-work. Rather than contradicting the ‘wish-fulfilment’ theory, such phenomena demonstrated how the ego reacted to the awareness of repressed wishes that were too powerful and insufficiently disguised. Traumatic dreams (where the dream merely repeats the traumatic experience) were eventually admitted as exceptions to the theory.

Due to the lengthy nature of this particular post, I’ve made the editorial decision to break it down into several smaller articles. Please see my next post on Freud’s “Irma’s Injection” dream and the method of psychoanalytical interpretation of dreams.

No comments:

Post a Comment