Study Guide

Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke in The Interpretation of Dreams

By Sigmund Freud

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Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke

Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke was a German physiologist whose theories and practice influenced Freud's earliest work in psychology. Brücke was Freud's superior at the Institute of Physiology, where Freud worked from 1876 until 1882 (source), and as Freud's dream-life makes clear, Brücke's role as an authority figure during young Freud's medical training made him something of a father-figure—and even something of a God-figure—too.

Brücke appears in a couple of the personal dreams that Freud recounts throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, but his influence in Freud's life comes through most clearly in Freud's Non Vixit Dream (6.7.50). In this dream, Freud annihilates a friend by giving him "a piercing look" (6.7.50). As Freud describes it: "Under my gaze he turned pale; his form grew indistinct and his eyes a sickly blue—and finally he melted away" (6.7.50).

As he interprets the complex elements of this dream, Freud realizes that his powerful, "piercing look" emerged from a memory of Brücke. As Freud explains:

At the time I have in mind I had been a demonstrator at the Physiological Institute and was due to start work early in the morning. It came to Brücke's ears that I sometimes reached the students' laboratory late. One morning he turned up punctually at the hour of opening and awaited my arrival. His words were brief and to the point. But it was not they that mattered. What overwhelmed me were the terrible blue eyes with which he looked at me and by which I was reduced to nothing […]. (6.7.52)

Freud goes on to write: "No one who can remember the great man's eyes, which retained their striking beauty even in his old age, and who has ever seen him in anger, will find it difficult to picture the young sinner's emotions" (6.7.52). Here, Brücke appears not only as an academic superior, but also as the ultimate father-figure—that is, as someone godlike who looks on Freud as a "young sinner" and makes the young man quake under his judgmental gaze.

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