Freud's Wishful Dream Book

Freud's Wishful Dream Book

Freud's Wishful Dream Book

Freud's Wishful Dream Book


Although it is customary to credit Freud's self-analysis, it may be more accurate, Alexander Welsh argues, to say that psychoanalysis began when "The Interpretation of Dreams was published in the last weeks of the nineteenth century. Only by going public with his theory--that dreams manifest hidden wishes--did Freud establish a position to defend and embark upon a career. That position and career have been among the most influential in this century.

In August 1899, Freud wrote to Wilhelm Fliess of the dream book in terms reminiscent of Dante's "Inferno. Beginning from a dark wood, this modern journey features "a concealed pass though which I lead the reader--my specimen dream with its peculiarities, details, indiscretions, bad jokes--and then suddenly the high ground and the view and the question, Which way do you wish to go now?" Physician that he is, Freud appoints himself guide rather than hero, yet the way "you" wish to go is very much his prescribed way.

In Welsh's book, readers are invited on Freud's journey, to pause at each concealed pass in his seminal work and ask where the guide is taking them and why. Along the way, We


This short book consists of a commentary in five parts on Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, as published in the last months of 1899 and revised over the years until the author's death in 1939. It would be rash of me to claim that no commentary already exists, since the dream book has many times been combed for its autobiographical insights, for its story of the discovery of psychoanalysis, for its introduction to the methods and theory of analysis, and for its dreams—most of which have been subjected to enthusiastic reinterpretations by other persons. Yet I know of no concerted attempt to examine the book critically so as to take into account both the construction of the argument and Freud's marvelous self-presentation.

Briefiy stated, here is what I argue: that as its title suggests, Freud's book is about interpretation, but that it never would have been as persuasive without its pretension to science; that the procedures of the book are inductive up to a point, but the arbitrary turnings that Freud takes can best be explained as wishful, pleasing not only to the writer but to his readers; that his interest and that of his readers in secrets and detection has a history (which cannot be traced here but has been touched upon in my other work); that Freud's analysis of his dreams of ambition always falls within polite bounds and steadily redounds to his credit; that his modest ambition is also a product of its time and may usefully be seen as inspiring the Oedipus complex rather than the other way around; that the institution of the censorship, very much a feature of the dream book, is also and necessarily socially grounded; that the genre of the book, considered as a frame story embracing many dreams and anecdotes, is a romance or serial comedy; that Freud occasionally employs make-believe—that is, invents evidence, if one insists on think-

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