Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section D

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Chapter 6, Section D

Considerations of Representability

  • Having already discussed forms of dream-displacement in which one image or idea is replaced by another that is "in some way closely associated with it," Freud now moves on to discuss another kind of displacement: changes in "the verbal expression of the thoughts concerned" (6.5.1).
  • In Freud's view, verbal expressions are often replaced by pictorial (visual, concrete) representations in dreams, so this kind of displacement can also influence the way one thing is taken for another in dreams.
  • Freud takes this opportunity to reiterate the distinction between his methods of dream-interpretation and "interpretation by means of symbolism." He argues that "[i]n the case of symbolic dream-interpretation the key to the symbolization is arbitrarily chosen by the interpreter; whereas in our cases of verbal disguise the keys are generally known and laid down by firmly established linguistic usage" (6.5.4).
  • As an example of the way that verbal expressions and abstract thoughts can be changed into pictures and displaced in dreams, Freud recounts a dream that was told to him by a woman of his acquaintance.
  • In this dream, the woman was "at the Opera. A Wagner opera was being performed, and had lasted till a quarter to eight in the morning. There were tables set out in the stalls, at which people were eating and drinking. Her cousin, who had just got back from his honeymoon, was sitting at one of the tables with his young wife, and an aristocrat was sitting beside them. Her cousin's wife, so it appeared, had brought him back with her from the honeymoon, quite openly, just as one might bring back a hat" (6.5.5).
  • "In the middle of the stalls there was a high tower, which had a platform on top of it surrounded by an iron railing. High up at the top was the conductor, who had the features of Hans Richter. He kept running around the railing, and was perspiring violently; and from that position he was conducting the orchestra, which was grouped about the base of the tower. She herself was sitting in a box with a woman friend […]" (6.5.5).
  • The long dream includes a number of other elements but ends as the woman's"younger sister wanted to hand her up a large lump of coal from the stalls, on the ground that she had not known it would be so long, and must be simply freezing by now. (As though the boxes required to be heated during the long performance.)" (6.5.5).
  • In his interpretation of this dream. Freud connects the tower and the conductor to a well-known poem about "secret love," and he argues that when the younger sister in the dream says that "she had not known it would be so long," the phrase is an allusion to the fact that the dreamer is not yet married.
  • In this reading, Freud refers to a number of idiomatic expressions that are related to "open" and "secret" forms of love, and demonstrates how all of these verbal expressions are represented pictorially in the dream.
  • Freud goes on to quote another researcher who examined the relationship between abstract thoughts and pictorial representations in dreams. In one of his examples, the work of revising an essay is represented by the action of trimming a piece of wood; in another, the abstract concepts of "higher forms of consciousness" and "layers of existence" are represented by a layered cake (6.5.9).
  • According to Freud, substitutions of this kind are also shaped by the same kinds of wordplay and substitutions that are present in "jokes, quotations, songs, and proverbs" (6.5.10)—another reminder that the apparent absurdities in our dreams are shaped by "established linguistic usage."
  • Freud goes on to discuss the various ways in which dreams represent the human body and says that he has known patients who have used "architectural symbolism for the body and the genitals" (6.5.11). In their dreams, "pillars and columns represent the legs […], every gateway stands for one of the bodily orifices (a 'hole'), every water-pipe is a reminder of the urinary apparatus, and so on" (6.5.11).
  • Freud also notes the frequency with which plant life and kitchen scenes come to represent sexuality and sexual organs.
  • As an example, Freud returns to one of the dreams that he mentioned earlier—the dream of one of his female patients, who saw herself climbing down from a great height while holding a blossoming branch of red flowers.
  • Here, Freud places specific emphasis on the amount of times that elements such as flowers, gardens, and implicitly sexual images of trees and moss appear in the dream (6.5.13-14).

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