Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section A

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 6, Section A

The Work of Condensation

  • The first of the dream-work processes that Freud takes up is "condensation"—the method by which dreams "condense" their thoughts and meanings.
  • As Freud notes, dreams are "brief, meager, and laconic in comparison with the range and wealth of the dream-thoughts" (6.2.1). While a dream might fill "half a page" once it is written out, the dream analysis might "occupy six, eight, or a dozen times as much space" (6.2.1).
  • Freud notes that "[w]e very often have an impression that we have dreamt a great deal all through the night and have since forgotten what we dreamt" (6.2.2). He says that he intends to explain this feeling—but not yet.
  • Freud also anticipates a question that some of his readers may be asking by this point: "whether, as a matter of principle, we are justified in regarding as part of the dream-thoughts all the associations that occur to us during the subsequent analysis" (6.2.3).
  • Freud assures his readers that this assumption is justified. In his view, the associations that occur to us when we are conscious are products of the dream-thoughts, which have already prepared a way for them.
  • Having established these points, Freud returns to the question of "dream-condensation," and asks: "How is that condensation brought about?" (6.2.5).
  • Freud's answer is that it is brought about through omission. As he says, "the dream is not a faithful translation or a point-by-point projection of the dream-thoughts, but a highly incomplete and fragmentary version of them" (6.2.6).
  • In order to develop this point in more detail, Freud returns to his Dream of the Botanical Monograph.
  • Freud begins by reminding readers that the botanical monograph in the dream led him to think of his work on cocaine, of his colleague Dr. Königstein ("the eye surgeon, who had had a share in the introduction of cocaine"), and of a recent conversation that he had had with Dr. Königstein in which Freud had spoken of some criticisms that he had recently received (6.2.9).
  • Freud also notes that the elements "botanical" and "monograph" had each led him to a number of other associations, such as his recent conversation with his colleague Professor Gärtner ("Gardener"), a patient of his named "Flora," the anecdote about the wife who missed her birthday flowers, memories of his years as a student at secondary school, and an early childhood memory of tearing a book apart piece by piece, like an artichoke.
  • With all of this in mind, Freud argues that the elements "botanical" and "monograph" came into the dream "because they possessed copious contacts with the majority of the dream-thoughts"—that is, because "they constituted 'nodal points' upon which a great number of the dream thoughts converged, and because they had several meanings in connection with the interpretation of the dream" (6.2.11).
  • Freud suggests that this important insight could be phrased another way: "each of the elements of the dream's content turns out to have been 'overdetermined'—to have been represented in the dream-thoughts many times over" (6.2.11).
  • With this in mind, Freud concludes that "[n]ot only are the elements of a dream determined by the dream-thoughts many times over, but the individual dream-thoughts are represented in the dream by several elements" (6.2.13).
  • In Freud's view, "[a]ssociative paths lead from one element of the dream to several dream-thoughts, and from one dream-thought to several elements of the dream" (6.2.13).
  • Freud goes on to argue that the "manifest" content of our dreams doesn't function like government representatives. As he says, it isn't the case that each individual piece of "manifest" content has been chosen to represent a very specific group of dream-thoughts.
  • Instead, the dream-thoughts are represented by several surface-level elements of the dream, and those "manifest" elements find their way into the dream precisely because they are "overdetermined"—that is, because they relate to multiple aspects of the dream.
  • Here, Freud presents another specimen dream to illustrate his point. This one comes from one of his male patients—a man who dreamed that he was "driving with a large party to X street, in which there was an unpretentious inn. […] There was a play being acted inside it. At one moment he was audience, at another actor. When it was over, they had to change their clothes so as to get back to town. Some of the company were shown into rooms on the ground floor and others into rooms on the first floor" (6.2.15).
  • As the dream goes on, tensions emerge over the placement of people upstairs and downstairs. Eventually, the man found himself "walking by himself up the rise made by X street in the direction of town. He walked with such difficulty and so laboriously that he seemed glued to the spot. An elderly gentleman came up to him and began abusing the King of Italy. At the top of the rise he was able to walk much more easily" (6.2.15).
  • Freud's interpretation of this dream (which he carries out in collaboration with his patient) teases out a number of related elements: the patient's bodily memory of tuberculosis, his recent love-affair with a stage actress, a play that he had seen recently, lines from a poem that suddenly sprung to his mind, and early childhood memories of being nursed, among others (6.2.18-24).
  • As Freud argues, all of these elements are interconnected through various combinations of dream-content and dream-thoughts. In other words, the "manifest" content of the dream has "condensed" a whole host of separate dream-thoughts.
  • Freud offers another example from his records—a dream from an elderly woman patient. In it, the patient "called to mind that she had two may-beetles in a box and that she must set them free or they would suffocate. She opened the box and the may-beetles were in an exhausted state. One of them flew out of the open window; but the other was crushed by the casement while she was shutting it at someone's request. (Signs of disgust.)" (6.2.26).
  • Freud recounts some of the associations that his patient made during their analysis of the dream, including a number of memories related to "cruelty to animals" (6.2.27). Those memories led the patient to reflect on scenes from George Eliot's novel Adam Bede, on early memories from her marriage, and on memories of being courted before she was married. She also reflects on a number of scenes and passages in other novels and theatrical performances—all related to themes of love, pleasure, and sexuality (6.2.27-34).
  • As Freud notes, their collaborative analysis of the dream made it perfectly clear that a whole slew of memories, thoughts, and feelings related to the patient's experiences of love, sex, and marriage had been condensed into a very simple dream that seemed, at first glance, to have nothing at all to do with sexuality.
  • At this point, Freud turns again to his Dream of Irma's Injection. This time around, he refocuses his initial interpretation to demonstrate how dream-condensation shaped the dream.
  • Freud notes that his analyses so far have been focused on how dream-condensation works, and that he has not yet addressed the purpose of condensation. He promises to return to this topic in Chapter 7.
  • Freud goes on to argue that "[t]he work of condensation in dreams is seen at its clearest when it handles words and names" (6.2.47). He offers a number of examples in which dreams give rise to fascinating neologisms (invented words) and other bits of wordplay (6.2.48-62).
  • One of these examples is Freud's Autodidasker Dream—a dream that combines the words "Autor" (author), "Autodidakt" (self-taught), and "Lasker" (6.2.54).
  • Freud's analysis of this dream uncovers many interconnected dream-thoughts, many of which concern his hopes and ambitions for his children, his fears that one of his sons might "come to grief over a woman" (6.2.54), and his own anxieties about his ability to treat his patients well.

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