Coleridge, Freud, and the Interpretation of Dreams

By Raiger, Michael | Philosophy Today, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Coleridge, Freud, and the Interpretation of Dreams


Raiger, Michael, Philosophy Today


The question of the relationship between Freud and philosophy has been raised and explored in seminal ways through the linguistic account of Freudian psychoanalysis given by Jacques Lacan, and by the hermeneutic criticism of Freud's works by Paul Ricoeur. In each case, Freudian theory is employed as a method by which symbolic representation is placed under interrogation, and is critically appropriated into a system of signs for Lacan, and a theory of symbolic representation for Ricoeur.' The critical value of Freudian psychoanalytic theory for an understanding of the work of phenomenology in these contexts emerges from the radical critique of consciousness which is at the heart of Freud's project. In the case of Ricoeur, which is my major concern in this essay, Freud reveals the unspoken meaning of Husserlian phenomenology, by recovering the unconscious as the unreflected source of intentionality, thereby linking the method of phenomenological reduction with "an epoch in reverse" that serves to establish the relation between consciousness and the unconscious.2 Ricoeur's analysis of Freud in relation to Husserl recovers the bodily element which is present to intentionality, but which is initially by-passed in the reduction of consciousness secured through the phenomenological attitude. In this, Freudian psychoanalysis links with the phenomenological method as modes of analysis which recover meaning through acts of interpretation: Phenomenology attempts to approach the real history of desire obliquely; starting from a perceptual model of the unconscious, it gradually generalizes that model to embrace all lived or embodied meanings, meanings that are at the same time enacted in the element of language. Psychoanalysis plunges directly into the history of desire, thanks to that history's partial expression in the derealized field of transference. (390; emphasis in original) For Ricoeur, Freudian psychoanalysis recovers the materiality of consciousness which is forgotten in the reduction of the ego to the field of the phenomenological epoche.

The present essay returns to these forgotten origins of consciousness in the body by way of an analysis that links Freud to an earlier thinker on dreams: the English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The justification for this linkage will be established through the course of a dialectical analysis of the accounts given by Coleridge and Freud on the interpretation of the meaning of dreams. Let it suffice to say at this point that at key points in their analyses, Coleridge and Freud share a common ground concerning the origin, phenomenal form, and narrative structure of dreams, and in such a way that sheds light on the nature of consciousness itself, albeit in diametrically opposed ways for each. It is this common point of origin of dreams established by both Coleridge and Freud that allows for their differences on the meaning of dreams as a form of conscious activity to shed light on the economy of symbolic representation within the context of the exchange between subject and object. In this regard, Ricoeur's account of the importance of dreams for an understanding of Freud's critique of consciousness establishes the groundwork for my study: "By making dreams not only the first object of his investigation but a model . . . of all the disguised, substitutive, and fictive expressions of human wishing or desire, Freud invites us to look to dreams themselves for the various relations between desire and language" (5). However, in replacing Husserl in relation to Freud with Coleridge according to Ricoeur's model in the present study, my argument will amplify Ricoeur's claim concerning dreams as a model for Freudian interpretative analysis, to show that Freud's use of dreams as the model for an interpretation of desire reduces all modes of consciousness to fiction, thereby reducing all acts of representation by consciousness to illusion. In doing so, my confrontation of Coleridge with Freud on dreams will suggest a problem with the Husserlian notion of intentionality itself, a problem which Ricoeur's analysis, for all its subtlety and rigor, fails to address. …

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