With his technical and intellectual equipment, the analyst undertakes to perform in a special way, and to encourage his patient towards a similar performance, namely to utilize consciousness (or the derivatives of unconscious processes) for the purpose of verbal thought, as distinct from action. This amounts to an undertaking to ‘contain’ the infantile aspects of the mind and only to communicate about them. This communication is the analyst’s interpretative activity which will, in time, contribute to the patient’s capacity for ‘insight’. (Meltzer, 1967:xii)
The aim of this paper is to examine certain aspects of psychoanalytic interpretation and to suggest that psychoanalysis can best contribute to the understanding of culture and society through its understanding of mind. 1 What Meltzer is saying in the above quotation differs from more conventional, and especially from hermeneutic, ideas about interpretation. It may be useful to make a distinction between the ‘process’ of psychoanalysis and other aspects of psychoanalysis which might for convenience be summed up under ‘content’. A comparable distinction was made by George Devereux (1967) between psychoanalysis as ‘epistemology and methodology’ and psychoanalysis as ‘substantive data and theory’. The problem of defining precisely what content, if any, is specific to psychoanalysis will not be taken up here.
Meltzer is talking about psychoanalysis as process, the angle from which the question of interpretation will be approached, more specifically in regard to dream material.
George Devereux’s clinical psychoanalytic work was done in the 1950s and early 1960s in the confident framework of classical psychoanalysis. There had already been challenges to an apparently established position: developments in the British Society had led to the so-called Controversial Discussions of the 1940s between Anna Freud and her group and those who followed Melanie Klein; Lacan’s break with the Société Psychanalytique