Lately I’ve been dreaming weird stuff: Last week I ended up being pregnant with an unwanted child, this week I was allowed to witness my own wedding. Nightmares over nightmares…
Although I always view psychoanalysis with a mixture of scepticism and fascination, I have always been especially drawn to Freud’s dream analysis.
Sigmund Freud claims that dreams work like this:
Very early childhood experiences and emotions are stored in your unconscious which is unaccessible to the adult human being. This does not include things like your first visit to Disneyland which you might not remember as a whole but still be somehow aware of. Freud rather meant the trauma you experiences when you felt hungry for the very first time and didn’t know what was going to happen and what makes this feeling go away.
The next step to dream formation is when your experiences of everyday life sink down into the preconscious (dt.: Vorbewusstsein). I always picture the preconscious as a kind of flubbery mass (much like vanilla pudding… but let me explain later). In this intermediate level between consciousness and unconsciousness, incidents of the day may encounter links with some of these early childhood emotions.
Example: When you were one week old you were hungry and your mother didn’t notice and you remained hungry for a very long amount of time. Today you visited your grandmother and while she gives you some cash every time you visit her, she refused it today. In both cases you have female figures of authority which hold something back that you desire.
Ok… back to dream analysis. Because the preconscious is something akin to a pudding your emotions and feelings are nothing that you can perceive… nothing that has a material form. This is were dream work kicks in. Due to a regard for representability your preconscious translates this latent, formless emotions into symbolic displacements of psychic intensities, i. e. pictures that you can describe to your friends the next day.
Example continued: While this feeling of rejection by a female authority lingers in your preconscious, it needs to be translated. And *Tadaa* there’s your dream! This dream might contain a lioness, a female teacher or any other female figure of authority. And there will be something you really desire, like another animal to eat or good grades.
Marie Bonaparte, the great-grandniece of Napoleon of France, was a huge supporter of psychoanalytical theories and actually enabled Freud’s freedom during the Nazi regime by paying money to German authorities. Bonaparte was one of the first psychoanalysts who applied Freudian dream analysis to literature. She argued that the act of writing can be compared to dreaming and thus concluded that literary work could also be deciphered by using dream analysis.
In The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, she presented a very famous reading of Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter”. In this story you have a queen which is secretly deprived of an important letter. While the police is not able to find it, detective Dupin quite quickly finds out that the letter is hidden in a little basket hanging on a brass knob over the fireplace.
Warning: The following paragraph gives you a truly psychoanalytical reading and may lead to incredulous head-shaking.
According to Bonaparte, Dupin is the son figure and the Queen the mother. The letter has been stolen by an evil minister (father figure). Due to his primal longing and desire for his mother and his hatred for his father, Dupin (i. e. the son, i. e. E. A. Poe) tries to restore the maternal penis (i. e. the letter) that has been stolen by the minister (i. e. father). Bonaparte also notices the explicit symbolic structure of the story. The letter (i. e. the maternal penis, which has been taken away by father) is hidden in a basket over a fire place (i. e. mother’s vagina, which is also experienced as threatening due to the symbolic fire) and attached to a brass knob (i. e. the clitoris).
So, there you go! That’s the stuff that dreams are made of!