Nonfiction > Sigmund Freud > A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).  A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.  1920.
Part Two: The Dream
XI. The Dream-Work
IF you have mastered dream censorship and symbolic representation, you are, to be sure, not yet adept in dream distortion, but you are nevertheless in a position to understand most dreams. For this you employ two mutually supplementary methods, call up the associations of the dreamer until you have penetrated from the substitute to the actual, and from your own knowledge supply the meaning for the symbol. Later we shall discuss certain uncertainties which show themselves in this process.  1
  We are now in a position to resume work which we attempted, with very insufficient means at an earlier stage, when we studied the relation between the manifest dream elements and their latent actualities, and in so doing established four such main relationships: that of a part of the whole, that of approach or allusion, the symbolic relationship and plastic word representation. We shall now attempt the same on a larger scale, by comparing the manifest dream content as a whole, with the latent dream which we found by interpretation.  2
  I hope you will never again confuse these two. If you have achieved this, you have probably accomplished more in the understanding of the dream than the majority of the readers of my Interpretation of Dreams. Let me remind you once more that this process, which changes the latent into the manifest dream, is called dream-work. Work which proceeds in the opposite direction, from the manifest dream to the latent, is our work of interpretation. The work of interpretation attempts to undo the dream-work. Infantile dreams that are recognized as evident wish fulfillments nevertheless have undergone some dream-work, namely, the transformation of the wish into reality, and generally, too, of thoughts into visual pictures. Here we need no interpretation, but only a retracing of these transformations. Whatever dream-work has been added to other dreams, we call dream distortion, and this can be annulled by our work of interpretation.  3
  The comparison of many dream interpretations has rendered it possible for me to give you a coherent representation of what the dream-work does with the material of the latent dream. I beg of you, however, not to expect to understand too much of this. It is a piece of description that should be listened to with calm attention.  4
  The first process of the dream-work is condensation. By this we understand that the manifest dream has a smaller content than the latent one, that is, it is a sort of abbreviated translation of the latter. Condensation may occasionally be absent, but as a rule it is present, often to a very high degree. The opposite is never true, that is, it never occurs that the manifest dream is more extensive in scope and content than the latent. Condensation occurs in the following ways: 1. Certain latent elements are entirely omitted; 2. only a fragment of the many complexes of the latent dream is carried over into the manifest dream; 3. latent elements that have something in common are collected for the manifest dream and are fused into a whole.  5
  If you wish, you may reserve the term “condensation” for this last process alone. Its effects are particularly easy to demonstrate. From your own dreams you will doubtless recall the fusion of several persons into one. Such a compound person probably looks like A., is dressed like B., does something that one remembers of C., but in spite of this one is conscious that he is really D. By means of this compound formation something common to all four people is especially emphasized. One can make a compound formation of events and of places in the same way as of people, provided always that the single events and localities have something in common which the latent dream emphasizes. It is a sort of new and fleeting concept of formation, with the common element as its kernel. This jumble of details that has been fused together regularly results in a vague indistinct picture, as though you had taken several pictures on the same film.  6
  The shaping of such compound formations must be of great importance to the dream-work, for we can prove, (by the choice of a verbal expression for a thought, for instance) that the common elements mentioned above are purposely manufactured where they originally do not exist. We have already become acquainted with such condensation and compound formations; they played an important part in the origin of certain cases of slips of the tongue. You recall the young man who wished to inscort a woman. Furthermore, there are jokes whose technique may be traced to such a condensation. But entirely aside from this, one may maintain that this appearance of something quite unknown in the dream finds its counterpart in many of the creations of our imagination which fuse together component parts that do not belong together in experience, as for example the centaurs, and the fabulous animals of old mythology or of Boecklin’s pictures. For creative imagination can invent nothing new whatsoever, it can only put together certain details normally alien to one another. The peculiar thing, however, about the procedure of the dream-work is the following: The material at the disposal of the dream-work consists of thoughts, thoughts which may be offensive and unacceptable, but which are nevertheless correctly formed and expressed. These thoughts are transformed into something else by the dream-work, and it is remarkable and incomprehensible that this translation, this rendering, as it were, into another script or language, employs the methods of condensation and combination. For a translation usually strives to respect the discriminations expressed in the text, and to differentiate similar things. The dream-work, on the contrary, tries to fuse two different thoughts by looking, just as the joke does, for an ambiguous word which shall act as a connecting link between the two thoughts. One need not attempt to understand this feature of the case at once, but it may become significant for the conception of the dream-work.  7
  Although condensation renders the dream opaque, one does not get the impression that it is an effect of dream censorship. One prefers to trace it back to mechanical or economic conditions; but censorship undoubtedly has a share in the process.  8
  The results of condensation may be quite extraordinary. With its help, it becomes possible at times to collect quite unrelated latent thought processes into one manifest dream, so that one can arrive at an apparently adequate interpretation, and at the same time conceive a possible further interpretation.  9
  The consequence of condensation for the relation between latent and manifest dreams is the fact that no simple relations can exist between the elements of the one and the other. A manifest element corresponds simultaneously to several latent ones, and vice versa, a latent element may partake of several manifest ones, an interlacing, as it were. In the interpretation of the dream it also becomes evident that the associations to a single element do not necessarily follow one another in orderly sequence. Often we must wait until the entire dream is interpreted.  10
  Dream-work therefore accomplishes a very unusual sort of transcription of dream thoughts, not a translation word for word, or sign for sign, not a selection according to a set rule, as if all the consonants of a word were given and the vowels omitted; nor is it what we might call substitution, namely, the choice of one element to take the place of several others. It is something very different and much more complicated.  11
  The second process of the dream-work is displacement. Fortunately we are already prepared for this, since we know that it is entirely the work of dream censorship. The two evidences of this are firstly, that a latent element is not replaced by one of its constituent parts but by something further removed from it, that is, by a sort of allusion; secondly, that the psychic accent is transferred from an important element to another that is unimportant, so that the dream centers elsewhere and seems strange.  12
  Substitution by allusion is known to our conscious thinking also, but with a difference. In conscious thinking the allusion must be easily intelligible, and the substitute must bear a relation to the actual content. Jokes, too, often make use of allusion; they let the condition of content associations slide and replace it by unusual external associations, such as resemblances in sound, ambiguity of words, etc. They retain, however, the condition of intelligibility; the joke would lose all its effect if the allusion could not be traced back to the actual without any effort whatsoever. The allusion of displacement has freed itself of both these limitations. Its connection with the element which it replaces is most external and remote, is unintelligible for this reason, and if it is retraced, its interpretation gives the impression of an unsuccessful joke or of a forced, far-fetched explanation. For the dream censor has only then accomplished its purpose, when it has made the path of return from the allusion to the original undiscoverable.  13
  The displacement of emphasis is unheard of as a means of expressing thoughts. In conscious thinking we occasionally admit it to gain a comic effect. I can probably give you an idea of the confusion which this produces by reminding you of the story of the blacksmith who had committed a capital crime. The court decided that the penalty for the crime must be paid, but since he was the only blacksmith in the village and therefore indispensable, while there were three tailors, one of the latter was hung in his stead.  14
  The third process of the dream-work is the most interesting from a psychological point of view. It consists of the translation of thoughts into visual images. Let us bear in mind that by no means all dream thoughts undergo this translation; many of them retain their form and appear in the manifest dream also as thought or consciousness; moreover, visual images are not the only form into which thoughts are translated. They are, however, the foundation of the dream fabric; this part of the dream work is, as we already know, the second most constant, and for single dream elements we have already learned to know “plastic word representation.”  15
  It is evident that this process is not simple. In order to get an idea of its difficulties you must pretend that you have undertaken the task of replacing a political editorial in a newspaper by a series of illustrations, that you have suffered an atavistic return from the use of the alphabet to ideographic writing. Whatever persons or concrete events occur in this article you will be able to replace easily by pictures, perhaps to your advantage, but you will meet with difficulties in the representation of all abstract words and all parts of speech denoting thought relationships, such as particles, conjunctions, etc. With the abstract words you could use all sorts of artifices. You will, for instance, try to change the text of the article into different words which may sound unusual, but whose components will be more concrete and more adapted to representation. You will then recall that most abstract words were concrete before their meaning paled, and will therefore go back to the original concrete significance of these words as often as possible, and so you will be glad to learn that you can represent the “possession” of an object by the actual physical straddling of it. 1 The dream work does the same thing. Under such circumstances you can hardly demand accuracy of representation. You will also have to allow the dream-work to replace an element that is as hard to depict as for instance, broken faith, by another kind of rupture, a broken leg. 2 In this way you will be able to smooth away to some extent the crudity of imagery when the latter is endeavoring to replace word expression.  16
  In the representation of parts of speech that denote thought relations, such as because, therefore, but, etc., you have no such aids; these constituent parts of the text will therefore be lost in your translation into images. In the same way, the dream-work resolves the content of the dream thought into its raw material of objects and activities. You may be satisfied if the possibility is vouchsafed you to suggest certain relations, not representable in themselves, in a more detailed elaboration of the image. In quite the same way the dream-work succeeds in expressing much of the content of the latent dream thought in the formal peculiarities of the manifest dream, in its clearness or vagueness, in its division into several parts, etc. The number of fragmentary dreams into which the dream is divided corresponds as a rule to the number of main themes, of thought sequences in the latent dream; a short preliminary dream often stands as an introduction or a motivation to the complementary dream which follows; a subordinate clause in dream thought is represented in the manifest dream as an interpolated change of scene, etc. The form of the dream is itself, therefore, by no means without significance and challenges interpretation. Different dreams of the same night often have the same meaning, and testify to an increasing effort to control a stimulus of growing urgency. In a single dream a particularly troublesome element may be represented by “duplicates,” that is, by numerous symbols.  17
  By continually comparing dream thought with the manifest dream that replaces it, we learn all sorts of things for which we were not prepared, as for instance, the fact that even the nonsense and absurdity of the dream have meaning. Yes, on this point the opposition between the medical and psychoanalytic conception of the dream reaches a climax not previously achieved. According to the former, the dream is senseless because the dreaming psychic activity has lost all power of critical judgment; according to our theory, on the other hand, the dream becomes senseless, whenever a critical judgment, contained in the dream thought, wishes to express the opinion: “It is nonsense.” The dream which you all know, about the visit to the theatre (three tickets 1 Fl. 50 Kr.) is a good example of this. The opinion expressed here is: “It was nonsense to marry so early.”  18
  In the same way, we discover in interpretation what is the significance of the doubts and uncertainties so often expressed by the dreamer as to whether a certain element really occurred in the dream; whether it was this or something else. As a rule these doubts and uncertainties correspond to nothing in the latent dream thought; they are occasioned throughout by the working of the dream censor and are equivalent to an unsuccessful attempt at suppression.  19
  One of the most surprising discoveries is the manner in which the dream-work deals with those things which are opposed to one another in the latent dream. We already know that agreements in the latent material are expressed in the manifest dream by condensations. Now oppositions are treated in exactly the same way as agreements and are, with special preference, expressed by the same manifest element. An element in a manifest dream, capable of having an opposite, may therefore represent itself as well as its opposite, or may do both simultaneously; only the context can determine which translation is to be chosen. It must follow from this that the particle “no” cannot be represented in the dream, at least not unambiguously.  20
  The development of languages furnishes us with a welcome analogy for this surprising behavior on the part of the dream work. Many scholars who do research work in languages have maintained that in the oldest languages opposites—such as strong, weak; light, dark; big, little—were expressed by the same root word. (The Contradictory Sense of Primitive Words.) In old Egyptian, ken originally meant both strong and weak. In conversation, misunderstanding in the use of such ambiguous words was avoided by the tone of voice and by accompanying gestures, in writing by the addition of so-called determinatives, that is, by a picture that was itself not meant to be expressed. Accordingly, if ken meant strong, the picture of an erect little man was placed after the alphabetical signs, if ken, weak, was meant, the picture of a cowering man followed. Only later, by slight modifications of the original word, were two designations developed for the opposites which it denoted. In this way, from ken meaning both strong and weak, there was derived a ken, strong, and a ken, weak. It is said that not only the most primitive languages in their last developmental stage, but also the more recent ones, even the living tongues of today have retained abundant remains of this primitive opposite meaning. Let me give you a few illustrations of this taken from C. Abel (1884).  21
  In Latin there are still such words of double meaning:
        altus—high, deep, and sacer, sacred, accursed.
  As examples of modifications of the same root, I cite:
        clamare—to scream, clam—quiet, still, secret;
siccus—dry, succus—juice.
  And from the German:
        Stimme—voice, stumm—dumb.
  The comparison of related tongues yields a wealth of examples:
        English: lock; German: Loch—hole, Lücke—gap.
English: cleave; German: kleben—to stick, to adhere.
  The English without, is today used to mean “not with”; that “with” had the connotation of deprivation as well as that of apportioning, is apparent from the compounds: withdraw, withhold. The German wieder, again, closely resembles this.  26
  Another peculiarity of dream-work finds it prototype in the development of language. It occurred in ancient Egyptian as well as in other later languages that the sequence of sounds of the words was transposed to denote the same fundamental idea. The following are examples from English and German:
        Topf—pot; boat—tub; hurry—Ruhe (rest, quiet).
Balken (beam)—Kloben (mallet)—club.
  From the Latin and the German:
        capere (to seize)—packen (to seize, to grasp).
  Inversions such as occur here in the single word are effected in a very different way by the dream-work. We already know the inversion of the sense, substitution by the opposite. Besides there are inversions of situations, of relations between two people, and so in dreams we are in a sort of topsy-turvy world. In a dream it is frequently the rabbit that shoots the hunter. Further inversion occurs in the sequence of events, so that in the dream the cause is placed after the effect. It is like a performance in a third-rate theatre, where the hero falls before the shot which kills him is fired from the wings. Or there are dreams in which the whole sequence of the elements is inverted, so that in the interpretation one must take the last first, and the first last, in order to obtain a meaning. You will recall from our study of dream symbolism that to go or fall into the water means the same as to come out of it, namely, to give birth to, or to be born, and that mounting stairs or a ladder means the same as going down. The advantage that dream distortions may gain from such freedom of representation, is unmistakable.  29
  These features of the dream-work may be called archaic. They are connected with ancient systems of expression, ancient languages and literatures, and involve the same difficulties which we shall deal with later in a critical connection.  30
  Now for some other aspects of the matter. In the dream-work it is plainly a question of translating the latent thoughts, expressed in words, into psychic images, in the main, of a visual kind. Now our thoughts were developed from such psychic images; their first material and the steps which led up to them were psychic impressions, or to be more exact, the memory images of these psychic impressions. Only later were words attached to these and then combined into thoughts. The dream-work therefore puts the thoughts through a regressive treatment, that is, one that retraces the steps in their development. In this regression, all that has been added to the thoughts as a new contribution in the course of the development of the memory pictures must fall away.  31
  This, then, is the dream-work. In view of the processes that we have discovered about it, our interest in the manifest dream was forced into the background. I shall, however, devote a few remarks to the latter, since it is after all the only thing that is positively known to us.  32
  It is natural that the manifest dream should lose its importance for us. It must be a matter of indifference to us whether it is well composed or resolved into a series of disconnected single images. Even when its exterior seems to be significant, we know that it has been developed by means of dream distortion and may have as little organic connection with the inner content of the dream as the facade of an Italian church has with its structure and ground plan. At other times this facade of the dream, too, has its significance, in that it reproduces with little or no distortion an important part of the latent dream thought. But we cannot know this before we have put the dream through a process of interpretation and reached a decision as to what amount of distortion has taken place. A similar doubt prevails when two elements in the dream seem to have been brought into close relations to one another. This may be a valuable hint, suggesting that we may join together those manifest thoughts which correspond to the elements in the latent dream; yet at other times we are convinced that what belongs together in thought has been torn apart in the dream.  33
  As a general rule we must refrain from trying to explain one part of the manifest dream by another, as if the dream were coherently conceived and pragmatically represented. At the most it is comparable to a Breccian stone, produced by the fusion of various minerals in such a way that the markings it shows are entirely different from those of the original mineral constituents. There is actually a part of the dream-work, the so-called secondary treatment, whose function it is to develop something unified, something approximately coherent from the final products of the dream-work. In so doing the material is often arranged in an entirely misleading sense and insertions are made wherever it seems necessary.  34
  On the other hand, we must not over-estimate the dream-work, nor attribute too much to it. The processes which we have enumerated tell the full tale of its functioning; beyond condensing, displacing, representing plastically, and then subjecting the whole to a secondary treatment, it can do nothing. Whatever of judgment, of criticism, of surprise, and of deduction are to be found in the dream are not products of the dream-work and are only very seldom signs of afterthoughts about the dream, but are generally parts of the latent dream thought, which have passed over into the manifest dream, more or less modified and adapted to the context. In the matter of composing speeches, the dream-work can also do nothing. Except for a few examples, the speeches in the dream are imitations and combinations of speeches heard or made by oneself during the day, and which have been introduced into the latent thought, either as material or as stimuli for the dream. Neither can the dream pose problems; when these are found in the dream, they are in the main combinations of numbers, semblances of examples that are quite absurd or merely copies of problems in the latent dream thought. Under these conditions it is not surprising that the interest which has attached itself to the dream-work is soon deflected from it to the latent dream thoughts which are revealed in more or less distorted form in the manifest dream. It is not justifiable, however, to have this change go so far that in a theoretical consideration one regularly substitutes the latent dream thought for the dream itself, and maintains of the latter what can hold only for the former. It is odd that the results of psychoanalysis should be misused for such an exchange. “Dream” can mean nothing but the result of the dream-work, that is, the form into which the latent dream thoughts have been translated by the dream-work.  35
  Dream-work is a process of a very peculiar sort, the like of which has hitherto not been discovered in psychic life. These condensations, displacements, regressive translations of thoughts into pictures, are new discoveries which richly repay our efforts in the field of psychoanalysis. You will realize from the parallel to the dream-work, what connections psychoanalytic studies will reveal with other fields, especially with the development of speech and thought. You can only surmise the further significance of these connections when you hear that the mechanism of the dream structure is the model for the origin of neurotic symptoms.  36
  I know too that we cannot as yet estimate the entire contribution that this work has made to psychology. We shall only indicate the new proofs that have been given of the existence of unconscious psychic acts—for such are the latent dream thoughts—and the unexpectedly wide approach to the understanding of the unconscious psychic life that dream interpretation opens up to us.  37
  The time has probably come, however, to illustrate separately, by various little examples of dreams, the connected facts for which you have been prepared.  38
Note 1. “besitzen,” to straddle. [back]
Note 2. While revising these pages I chanced upon a newspaper article that I quote here as an unexpected supplement to the above lines.
  Mrs. Anna M. the wife of a soldier in the reserve accused Mrs. Clementine C. of being untrue to her husband. The accusation reads that Mrs. C. had carried on an illicit relationship with Karl M. while her own husband was on the battlefield, from which he even sent her 70 Kronen a month. Mrs. C. had received quite a lot of money from the husband of the plaintiff, while she and her children had to live in hunger and in misery. Friends of her husband had told her that Mrs. C. had visited inns with M. and had caroused there until late at night. The accused had even asked the husband of the plaintiff before several infantrymen whether he would not soon get a divorce from his “old woman” and live with her. Mrs. C.’s housekeeper had also repeatedly seen the husband of the plaintiff in her (Mrs. C.’s) apartment, in complete negligée.
  Yesterday Mrs. C. denied before a judge in Leopoldstadt that she even knew M.; there could be no question of intimate relation between them.
  The witness, Albertine M., however, testified that Mrs. C. had kissed the husband of the plaintiff and that she had surprised them at it.
  When M. was called as a witness in an earlier proceeding he had denied any intimate relation to the accused. Yesterday the judge received a letter in which the witness retracts the statement he made in the first proceeding and admits that he had carried on a love affair with Mrs. C., until last June. He says that he only denied this relationship in the former proceeding for the sake of the accused because before the proceeding she had come to him and begged on her knees that he should save her and not confess. “To-day,” wrote the witness, “I felt impelled to make a full confession to the court, since I have broken my left arm and this appears to me as the punishment of God for my transgression.”
  The judge maintained the penal offense had already become null and void, whereupon the plaintiff withdrew her accusation and the liberation of the accused followed. [back]

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