Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Freud, Bion and Kant: Epistemology and Anthropology in the Interpretation of Dreams

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Freud, Bion and Kant: Epistemology and Anthropology in the Interpretation of Dreams

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the publication of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, there have been significant developments in the psychoanalytic understanding of the function and process of dreaming. In general, there has been a shift away from what commentators view as Freud's hermeneutical tendency to treat the dream as an object of study for the analyst, reconceiving the process of dreaming as an integrated part of psychic life, or even the condition of possibility for aspects of mental functioning. For some it can seem that there is little theoretical or clinical profit to be gained from a renewed study of The Interpretation of Dreams, and recent analytic literature on dreaming is more likely to follow Bion than to examine the detail of Freud's arguments; Thomas Ogden (1997, 2005) exemplifies this tendency.

But if few analysts today are drawn to study The Interpretation of Dreams the same is not true of philosophers and other theorists in the humanities, over whom the book still exercises an abiding pull. Philosophers, especially, have been interested in the ways in which Freud's work provides an alternative approach to both some traditional and some more modern philosophical concerns, noting the ways in which Freud challenges various philosophical presuppositions and challenging him in turn. It thus seems that a gap has opened up between detailed textual interest in The Interpretation of Dreams (from philosophers and other theorists) and clinical interest in dreaming (from psychoanalysts). One would perhaps expect to find the crossing of this gap in the philosophically inflected psychoanalytic theory of, say, Jacques Lacan or Jean Laplanche; but this is not the case.1 Where the strongest claims are made concerning the philosophical radicality of psychoanalysis itself (for example, Laplanche, 1999; Van Haute, 2005), The Interpretation of Dreams is never centre stage. (The Three Essays on The Theory of Sexuality is often the privileged text in this regard.)

In this essay I suggest that a philosophical approach to The Interpretation of Dreams, connecting Freud to one of the few philosophers with whom he sometimes identified, Immanuel Kant, shows that Freud's thinking on dreams has more in common with the later theories of Bion, in particular, than is usually recognized. Susana Vincour Fischbein and Beatriz Miramón have also recently argued in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis for the continuities between Freud's and Bion's "conceptual models on dreams and dreaming", specifically in relation to their shared philosophical or 'epistemological' foundations (2015, p. 1). In this article, however, I aim to demonstrate the continuities between Freud and Bion by distinguishing between the conflicting 'epistemological' and 'anthropological' aspects of The Interpretation of Dreams. In particular, I aim to show that one specific contradiction in The Interpretation of Dreams - concerning the relation between the dream-work and waking thought - can be understood in terms of the tension between these conflicting aspects. Freud, that is, reaches the explicit conclusion that the dream-work and waking thought differ from each other absolutely, but the implicit conclusion of The Interpretation of Dreams is quite the opposite. The explicit conclusion is the result of the epistemological aspects of the book; the implicit conclusion the result of the anthropological approach. In each case, I argue, it is via a discussion of aspects of Kant's philosophy that the stakes and the meaning of this tension are best explicated.

I begin with a discussion of Chapter I of The Interpretation of Dreams, showing how Freud appears to lead us to interpret the problem of dreams in Kantian epistemological terms and to distinguish sharply between dreamwork and waking thought. I then turn to other Kantian sources that resonate more loudly with psychoanalytic concerns and with more recent psychoanalytic thought on dreaming - Kant's 'anthropological' writings on dreams, fantasy and madness. …

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