From the Dreams of a Generation to the Theory of Dreams: Freud's Roman Dreams

By Meghnagi, David | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, June 2011 | Go to article overview

From the Dreams of a Generation to the Theory of Dreams: Freud's Roman Dreams


Meghnagi, David, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud's interpretation of oedipal desires does not occur at the expense of historical and personal desires, which are always there as a backdrop. In the relentless examination of his own dreams that Freud makes in order to show the mechanisms inherent in all oneiric deformation, we are also led to another, specifically historical, aspect of the issue of Jewish emancipation, which he experiences at first hand. By analysing his own dreams, Freud not only shows us the mechanisms governing dream formation, but also develops a pointed critique of his contemporary society and its prejudices.

Keywords: desires, dreams, Jewish emancipation

'Pursuit' is merely an image. I might also say 'assault on earthly limits', meaning an assault from below, from the human side, and since also this is merely an image, I can replace it with an assault from above, downwards towards myself.

All this literature - it's an assault on limits - and if Zionism had not intervened, it might easily have evolved and become a new esoteric doctrine - a Kabbalah ...

(F. Kafka, Confessions and Diaries)

An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter.

(Talmud, Berakhot)

In the Traumdeutung, Freud's interpretation of oedipal desires does not occur at the expense of historical and personal desires, which are always there as a backdrop.

The dream about the "uncle with the yellow beard" (Freud, 1900a, p. 137), which opens the important fourth chapter of the Traumdeutung, immediately involves us in a problem that is both historical and personal. Before he presents us with the two brief images that make up the dream, Freud informs us that this dream comes after two events: in the spring of 1897 he had learned that two professors had proposed his appointment to the post of visiting professor. This had filled Freud with pleasure but, fearing to be disappointed, he had resigned himself to the possibility of not seeing his aspirations fulfilled, since many other more senior and equally deserving scholars had waited in vain for such an acknowledgement. One evening, however, a friend2 called on him, whose fate "had been a warning to him". Having been waiting for some time for a promotion to a professorship, "a rank which in our society turns its holder into a demi-god to his patients", and being "less resigned", this friend had taken to calling in at the Ministry from time to time in an attempt to get things moving a little more speedily. Having indeed "just paid one of those visits" he had told Freud he had pressed the senior official into a corner "and has asked straight out whether the delay really" had been in fact due to reasons of religious confession" (Freud, 1900a, p. 137). Freud adds laconically that his friend had said nothing he wasn't already aware of, but merely confirmed his resignation. Indeed the same denominational considerations applied to his own case.

The morning after this visit, Freud had a dream in which his friend of the previous evening took on the likeness of an uncle who had been arrested 30 years ago for fraudulent practices (1900a, p. 137):

I. ... My friend R. Was my uncle. - I had a great feeling of affection for him.

II. I saw before me his face, somewhat changed. It was as though it had been drawn out lengthways. A yellow beard that surrounded it stood out especially clearly.

After a close examination of the dream, only the first half of which is mentioned, we learn that the uncle's name was Josef - an aspect that has much wider symbolic implications. In the biblical saga, the patriarch Jacob's favourite was in fact his son Joseph, who had the gift of being able to foresee the future through dreams. However, Jacob was also the name of Freud's father, who had written an important dedication ten years earlier and to whom, as he himself was later to admit, the book was dedicated.

For this book has a further subjective significance for me personally - a significance which I only grasped after I had completed it. …

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