Saturday, January 30, 2010
The Interpretation of Dreams
I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. I paid six dollars for it, apparently. It has no dust jacket, hence the spine photo. It's actually quite small, almost a pocket-sized book.
I first decided to read Freud about ten years ago. On the heels of a painful break-up and still just a couple years out from my father's sudden death, I was feeling bleak and depressed and was looking for something to read that might either provide solace or help me wallow more profoundly my misery. I spent a whole summer reading two writers: Nietszche and Freud.
I can remember wandering west each day from my apartment in the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo, crossing over Niagara Street and walking down past some housing projects to a pedestrian bridge over the I-190. The bridge empties out onto a series of sports fields that form part of a pleasant city park with a picturesque promenade fronting Lake Erie.
I would go to the gym in the morning, then eat some lunch and walk over to the park in the early afternoon to read on a bench among the seagulls and joggers and picnickers. I think the promenade must have been part of some kind of pier at some point, as there are several old moorings embedded in the concrete. I guess they could have been added later for kitsch value, but I have no idea.
A round, stone structure with a copper-colored roof rises out of the lake a few hundred yards from the shore, right near the point where the lake feeds into the Niagara River. At the time I had no idea what purpose the little round house served, but I used to like to stare at it as it glinted in the afternoon sun. I don't think I found much solace, but I did do a lot of wallowing. I probably found more comfort just sitting out in the sun each day staring at the water.
I've recently started reading this book again. My return to Freud was at least partly inspired by a BBC documentary I saw called "The Century of the Self." You can watch the whole thing on Google video if you are interested. It tells the story of how Edward Bernays, an American nephew of Freud who virtually invented the field of public relations by applying Freud's theory of the unconscious to the mass manipulation of the populace. It's an incredibly compelling and depressing story, especially when they bring it up to the near present to reveal how these same techniques are used in modern elections.
Anyhow, I re-read "Civilization and Its Discontents," which featured prominently in the BBC doc, first, then picked this one up. I am about a third of the way through. I've gotten a bit bogged down and haven't read it for a few weeks, but it has definitely been seeping in to my thinking.
I am interested in the concept of wish-fulfillment, especially as it applies to film. I have increasingly felt that one of the primary needs movies serve is as wish-fulfillments. Revenge films, fantasy films, romances – pretty much any genre you can think of – can be seen as enacted wish-fulfillments. Hollywood's genius has always been that it is aware of this and exploits it to the nth degree.
There's a part of me that feels that great films are the ones that are able to work against this fulfillment of the wish and function more like life -- where wishes more often than not go unfulfilled.
from The Interpretation of Dreams
III. THE DREAM AS WISH-FULFILLMENT
WHEN, after passing through a narrow defile, one suddenly reaches a height beyond which the ways part and a rich prospect lies outspread in different directions, it is well to stop for a moment and consider whither one shall turn next. We are in somewhat the same position after we have mastered this first interpretation of a dream. We find ourselves standing in the light of a sudden discovery. The dream is not comparable to the irregular sounds of a musical instrument, which, instead of being played by the hand of a musician, is struck by some external force; the dream is not meaningless, not absurd, does not presuppose that one part of our store of ideas is dormant while another part begins to awake. It is a perfectly valid psychic phenomenon, actually a wish-fulfilment; it may be enrolled in the continuity of the intelligible psychic activities of the waking state; it is built up by a highly complicated intellectual activity. But at the very moment when we are about to rejoice in this discovery a host of problems besets us. If the dream, as this theory defines it, represents a fulfilled wish, what is the cause of the striking and unfamiliar manner in which this fulfilment is expressed? What transformation has occurred in our dream-thoughts before the manifest dream, as we remember it on waking, shapes itself out of them? How has this transformation taken place? Whence comes the material that is worked up into the dream? What causes many of the peculiarities which are to be observed in our dream-thoughts; for example, how is it that they are able to contradict one another? Is the dream capable of teaching us something new concerning our internal psychic processes and can its content correct opinions which we have held during the day? I suggest that for the present all these problems be laid aside, and that a single path be pursued. We have found that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled. Our next purpose should be to ascertain whether this is a general characteristic of dreams, or whether it is only the accidental content of the particular dream (the dream about Irma's injection) with which we have begun our analysis; for even if we conclude that every dream has a meaning and psychic value, we must nevertheless allow for the possibility that this meaning may not be the same in every dream. The first dream which we have considered was the fulfilment of a wish; another may turn out to be the realization of an apprehension; a third may have a reflection as its content; a fourth may simply reproduce a reminiscence. Are there, then dreams other than wish-dreams; or are there none but wish-dreams?