Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Dream Interpretation - Freudian Theory

In this House on 24 July 1895
the Secret of Dreams was Revealed 
to Dr Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud's great theory of dreaming was that the dream represented the fulfilment of a wish. Freud developed his theories of dreaming and neurosis in conjunction, claiming that they parallel one another. He depicted the child as seeking gratification of instinctual urges which are organised around the pleasure zones and bodily functions. Adults tame the child by instilling fear, shame and guilt over it's wishes, which become repressed into the subconscious. These unconscious wishes are not resolved and therefore continue to persist in their original childish form. The psyche of the socialised, civilised child (and adult) unwittingly contributes to the repression of wishes and primal urges and the instinctive drives become clogged and seek release. If these energies are not diverted into wholesome relationships and activities - or constructive substitutes - they will emerge as neurotic symptoms. As a symptom, the original wish-energy is discharged in a disguised form, which is admissible to the conscious mind. 

Freud then realised that he could make a comparison between this conceptualisation of neurosis and the compromise between the instinctual drives and censorship functions in dream formation. His theory is a form of 'excretion theory' whereby excess violent or sexual excitation from the subconscious is excreted through dreaming. The wishes need to be disguised from the dreamer, because if they were to surface in their true form they would shock the dreamer awake and damage their psyche. Dreaming acts as the 'guardian of sleep'. A censor transfers the wishes over to the dream-work, which can be defined as a set of functions which disguise the wish, rendering them unrecognisable to the dreamer. This allows the wishes to play out in a dream hallucination, enabling devious fulfilment - when we are asleep, we are all neurotic.

Freud described the dream form in considerable detail. 

Dreaming is predominantly visual and sensory. However, beneath the surface of the dream, in the 'latent content', exist explicit logical linguistic operations. Dream thoughts have to be represented as a sequence or juxtaposition of images, but these are not as obvious as language. This means we often dismiss the dream thoughts which underlie the pictorial content of the dream, which was termed as 'manifest content'.

Freud believed that no dream image represented a single meaning and there was no universal dream symbolism. When an image enters a dream more than one meaning converges in and complexify it. Every dream image is 'over-determined' and condensation is responsible for the hybrid imagery of dreams. Condensation also serves to obfuscate the meaning of the dream imagery.

Associative Paths
Freud did not give a specific term to this process, but he described how latent content goes along 'associative paths' to find representation in more than one single dream image. The opposite of condensation is 'splitting'. Therefore, over-determination refers to two contrasting ideas: that multiple meanings converge in a single dream symbol and that multiple dream symbols may repeat of reinforce a single meaning. 

The energy behind the dream is transferred from what it actually relates to, to a relatively neutral place, where it's true nature will not be recognised by the dreamer. 

Freud also believed that something can be represented by its complete opposite. A disowned characteristic or aspect of the dreamer's self may be projected onto a dream character. Freudian theory has often been criticised because all dream interpretation appears arbitrary and it is possible to interpret any dream in whatever way.

Condensation and displacement generate the majority of the dream symbolism - those which are idiosyncratic and are derived from the dreamer's personal history and subjective associations. Freud also propounded a more universal set of dream symbols which are derived from humanity's collective experience. These represent big themes such as birth, death, family relations, sex and the body.

Secondary Revision (Secondary Elaboration)
This is the theory that the dream as it is experienced by the dreamer is a form of para-art which arises from the same place as other forms of creativity. However, this is a theory which has emerged post-Freud. For Freud, art had integrity, whereas the dream did not,

Freud rejected the idea of symbolic dream interpretation whereby the entire meaning of the dream can be in the structure or narrative of the manifest content. He thought that each symbol is significant and comes from its own psychic sources, undergoing distortion by the censor, referring to the individual aspects of the dream as 'breccia'. Each symbol is a separate fragment held together by the cement of the dream. The cement of the dream - it's binding medium - is a superficial form which is created from the outset of the dream by the simple fact that it is a representation. Then, secondary revision, the series of discrete, disguised images are rendered into a sequence - the text of the dream which is intelligible to the waking, conscious ego.

Allan Hobson and David Foulkes both state that dreams are the result of random activations or memories which are cobbled together to form a dream narrative. Daniel Deslauriers claims that the dream narrative is scripted from the very start of the dream and contextual deviations only appear as a form of symbolic exploration of new psychological territory. 

Secondary revision is a process similar to those which are utilised to give coherence to waking experiences. Within the dream, Freud identified different ways in which this finishing work takes place:

(1) At the beginning, in conjunction with other dream-work
(2) Occurring after the dream breccia consolidates
(3) Continuing into waking recall and narration

Secondary revision has three functional aspects - critic, editor and plagiarist. The critic evaluates the dream, despite defensive resistance by the dreamer ('it was only a dream'); the editor renders the dream coherent and puts it into a verbal form and repairs gaps in recollection; and the plagiarist imposes forms of previous conscious or subconscious fantasies, including cultural forms. The secondary revision draws attention towards the dream's aesthetic surface, which always seems to maintain some form of minimal stylistic cohesion. Attention is drawn away from the latent content which is coded in the dream imagery. The manifest or surface content of the dream is therefore an inessential illusion which detracts from the true meaning of the dream. The dreamer should pay careful attention to each individual constituent part of the dream and trace its origins. A dream is a conglomerate which must be broken down into fragments to be understood. The manifest content is no more than a sham - a facade to shield the latent content from the dreamer.

In order to trace and decipher each element of the dream, Freud used free association - a form of stream of consciousness exercise, by which the dreamer lets his imagination and thoughts flow freely and uncensored. Psychological determinism means that the dream-making process becomes untangled in reverse, by the chain of free associations. The dreamer will eventually arrive at the original, subconscious, latent content.  Freud held that a 'far-fetched' associative chain would not emerge unless it had already been constructed by the dream-work.

Each dream has latent content and every dream is the veiled expression of a subconscious infantile wish or desire, but not all latent content are infantile wishes. This is a common misconception in popular understanding of Freudian theory. For Freud, some latent content is merely daily residue - waking thoughts which are comprehensible to the dreamer on reflection. Freud differentiates infantile wishes from latent content. Within the manifest content of the dream imagery, it is always possible to to discover material related to waking processes - whether concerns of which the dreamer is consciously aware, or preconscious ones which are retained below the surface. The ;concern' is withdrawn from the consciousness until it emerges in a distorted form in the manifest imagery of the dream. This brings forth the question as to why it is necessary for latent content to be coded and inadmissible to the dreamer's conscious - why are they not presented wholly to the dreamer in a comprehensible form? Freud claimed that censorship occurs because before the dream is dreamt, the latent content is connected with the unconscious infantile wishes. Freud explained the cause of dreaming in terms of a somewhat anachronistic mechanistic energy model based on psycho-physiology. The infantile wish is the energy source which cannot be admitted to the conscious and gradually builds up pressure, like steam. This excitation requires conduits or valves through which to discharge. During the waking day, neurotic or sublimated behaviour are ways for this discharge to take place and during sleep, dreaming is the process by which discharge occurs. Dream thoughts are drawn into the conscious where they are loaded with energy which empowers them to force their way into the dream consciousness, bearing with them the infantile wish. They are disguised by the dream-work before they emerge in the manifest content of the dream.

Freud had a penchant for reductive analysis and provided two authentic lower layers of dream meaning: latent content related to daily concerns and the repressed infantile wish. There is always some form of kinship between these two layers of dream meaning, because the infantile wish requires some form of 'hook' in the latent dream content by which to attach itself. Freudian dream interpretation seeks to both identify the repressed infantile wish and the present adult concerns of the dreamer. Throughout The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud neglects to locate the infantile dimension of many adult dreams and does not trace the genesis of the repressed infantile wish. This was a criticism raised by Jung and an aspect of his theory which Freud intended to revise. Indeed, in his own dream of Irma's Injection, Freud does not even address the issue of a repressed infantile wish, instead incorporating manifest content into his interpretation of the dream which inspired his theory.

In 1920, Freud addressed the kinds of recurrent dreams which occur in the dreamer following a severe trauma, much like a repetitive neurotic pattern. This led Freud to suggest that dreams may also be an attempt at mastering control over events which the dreamer could not deal with originally, in their waking life. This is in line with modern research into nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. This change came about because Freud modified his model of the mind. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud presents a topographical model - a spatial projection of psychic stratiography in which there are layers of consciousness. In his later structural model, he develops a dynamic organisation of autonomous formations - the ego, superego and id.

This adaptation of his theory resulted from Freud's clinical observations of complex ego-related activity in the subconscious and un-wishlike anxiety and superego activity in dreams. This shift meant that something other than the primitive drives and infantile wishes may be responsible for the generation of dreams and implicitly suggested that manifest content should be paid more heed. Ego functions operate independently from primitive drives - the ego adapts to the outside world and generates personality patterns, and patterns of defence (denial, projection etc).

Freud referred to 'dreams from above' and 'dreams from below'. A 'dream from below' is an unconscious wish which has attached itself to dream residue (the repressed wish). A 'dream from above' is a dream which repeats waking thoughts and intentions of the dreamer which have found reinforcement in the repressed material censored from the ego (dream-thoughts). Freud seems to be saying that sometimes it is more useful to analyse dreams in relation to the dreamer's waking life rather than looking for infantile meaning. However, in making these assertions, Freud seems to undermine his own theory of dreaming which states that only an infantile wish is powerful enough to initiate a dream - dream-thoughts alone, and adult wishes are not strong enough to do so. 

Freud also claimed that the dreaming mind was unable to think of anything original. Therefore, Freud was dismissive of the cognitive aspect  of dreaming. He saw the judgment of the dreamer as nothing more than his waking mind. He believed that actual language which appears in dreams must be lifted from day residue as language production requires original thought and cannot be generated within the dream itself. Freud's notion of dreaming is therefore fairly restrictive and he claimed that the only contribution a dream makes is by enabling waking interpretation.  Hobson criticises Freud for ignoring the physical condition of the dreaming brain - but when Freud developed his theory of dreaming, it was impossible for him to analyse the brain of dreamers. This is something which has only recently been investigated by neuroscientists and is still an area which requires further study before we can begin to understand the complexities of the dreaming brain.

Freudian dream interpretation can be seen as reductionist in nature. He focused on the psychosexual nature of dreams and the central Oedipal (or Electra) Complex. Successors such as Geza Roheim (1891 - 1953) would later argue that all dreams represent a symbolic return to the womb. For Freud, deja-vu was always about the mother's genitals. Freudian dream interpretation relies on reducing the nature of dreams to infantile sexual wishes, the genitals, erogenous zones, masturbation and conflict.

These ideas led some critics to suggest that Freudian theory was essentially fatalist - man is nothing more than an multiplication of his parents' flaws and an accumulation of his own earlier selves. Roheim believed that in dreams we communicate with our own soul - the 'Great Man', which is a 'mandala' - symbolic of the uterus. Freudian theory has also focused on the idea that only the manifest content of a dream is happy or joyful; the latent content is always painful meaning that all dreams have the potential to be nightmares. 

Freud thought that dreams were neurotic symptoms and he relied heavily on the idea of abnormal psychic phenomena and dysfunction. In concentrating exclusively on mental illness, he failed to consider mental health. 

Freud claimed that the rational waking mind of man is no more genuine than the manifest content of his dreams - the social, logical, benevolent and constructive impulses in man are not primary, but instead secondary, arising from a need to repress his primal instincts. The purpose of the facade created in waking life is because man wants to be part of a civilised society and his primal (violent and sexual urges) are detrimental to that society. Love and creativity were thus sublimated forms of libidinal drives. He did not see these concepts as evolutionary constructive forces which urge a man to realise his potential and stated that '[t[]he idea condition of things would be...a community of men who had subordinated their instinctual life to the dictatorship of reason'. 

Critics of Freud have pointed to his 'spiritual poverty' - indeed Freud's own relationship with spirituality was a confused and conflicted one. Freud was an Austrian Jew, living in the polite, bourgeois society of Vienna - his personal circumstances would have greatly influenced his views on spirituality.  

Nevertheless, Freud had been responsible for highlighting the significance of childhood experiences on adult life and brought dream psychology within the remit of general psychology, giving it an academic basis. His theories relaxed the boundaries between the normal and abnormal and sought to connect the phenomenon of dreaming with waking reality in meaningful ways. Further, he developed the method of free association, which has proved to be an important tool in dream analysis. Freud saw life as a form of 'disease process'  and was the prime advocate of our (modern) idea of self-healing and recovery.

Richard Grossinger states: '[Freud] suggests that the dream is a kind of mirage in our desert. The purpose of interpretation from that perspective is to challenge our illusions and eradicate them'.

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