Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section G

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 6, Section G

Absurd Dreams—Intellectual Activity in Dreams

  • In this section, Freud discusses the appearance of "absurdity" in dreams and demonstrates that even if the "manifest" content of a dream seems nonsensical, the "latent" content may still be perfectly logical.
  • Freud begins with a number of examples of apparently "absurd" dreams, all of which "deal (by chance, as it may seem at first sight) with the dreamer's dead father" (6.8.2).
  • In his first example, the dreamer's father is killed in a train accident. Freud's analysis demonstrates that the dream—far from being absurd—brought together recent experiences having to do with the dreamer's desire to memorialize his father (6.8.4-5).
  • Freud's next example is another of his own dreams. In it, his father "played a political part among the Magyars and brought them together politically"—but only after his death (6.8.6). Freud also sees "a small and indistinct picture" in the dream: "a crowd of men as though they were in the Reichstag; someone standing on one or two chairs, with other people round him. I remembered how like Garibaldi he had looked on his death-bed, and felt glad that the promise had come true" (6.8.6).
  • As in the previous example, Freud's analysis of this dream shows that its elements only seem to be absurd. In reality, it brings together a number of Freud's memories of his father's life and death, and it expresses a wish "[t]o stand before one's children's eyes, after one's death, great and unsullied" (6.8.7-8).
  • Through its apparent "absurdity," this dream brings together a number of his thoughts and concerns about the legacies that fathers leave for their children once they are gone.
  • Freud gives other examples of "dreams of dead people whom the dreamer has loved," and notes that it can be difficult to interpret these dreams because they often contain "particularly strongly marked emotional ambivalence" (6.8.11). As he argues, this ambivalence can make it difficult to locate the true source of the dream.
  • Returning to his Dream of Count Thun, Freud examines one of its particularly "absurd" elements. The part that he has in mind goes like this: "I was driving in a cab and ordered the driver to drive me to a station. 'Of course I can't drive with you along the railway line itself,' I said, after he had raised some objection, as though I had overtired him. It was as if I had already driven with him for some of the distance one normally travels by train" (6.8.12).
  • Freud's analysis of this passage shows that the dream-work brought together various reflections on the privilege enjoyed by aristocrats, as well as memories of traveling through Italy with his brother. In fact, some of the speech that appears here emerges directly from his memories of that Italian journey.
  • Freud asks why it is that the dream brought these elements together with such an "absurd" result and concludes that the dream required an element of absurdity in order to communicate its meaning.
  • In Freud's view, the true core of the dream—the deepest dream-thought that gave rise to it—was this: "It is absurd to be proud of one's ancestry" (like an aristocrat); "it is better to be an ancestor oneself" (6.8.15).
  • As Freud writes: "A dream is made absurd, then, if a judgment that something 'is absurd' is among the elements included in the dream-thoughts—that is to say, if any one of the dreamer's unconscious trains of thought has criticism or ridicule as its motive" (6.6.16).
  • In this way, says Freud, the dream "is giving a manifest form to its latent content" (6.6.16).
  • Freud moves on to another example of a dream of his dead father—one that seems to turn his father into an object of ridicule. However, Freud's interpretation shows that in this dream, his father is simply standing in for someone else—a "senior colleague" of his who had recently criticized some of his work (6.6.18-20). All of the apparent absurdity in the dream melts away once this realization is made.
  • Next, Freud recounts another "absurd" dream of his own. In it, one of his acquaintances is "attacked in an essay with an unjustifiable degree of violence, as we all thought—by no less a person than Goethe" (6.8.21).
  • The "absurd" elements of this dream relate to the respective ages of Goethe and Freud's friend. During the dream, Freud doesn't seem to know what year it is and he has a difficult time figuring out how old his friend must have been when Goethe criticized him so harshly.
  • Freud's interpretation of the dream shows that a number of different thoughts were brought together in it—among them some recent tension between Freud, his good friend Wilhelm Fliess, and a medical journal that had printed a harsh review of Fliess's most recent book (6.8.21-24). Once again, all of the apparent absurdity in the dream is easily explained once Freud discovers the "latent" content that gave rise to the "manifest" content.
  • Freud now returns to a dream that he mentioned earlier in the book, but which he neither recounted nor interpreted in full. In it, he is in Rome, where "it had become necessary to remove the children to safety, and this was done" (6.8.26).
  • The dream continues: "The scene was then in front of a gateway, double doors in the ancient style (the 'Porta Romana' at Siena, as I was aware during the dream itself). I was sitting on the edge of a fountain and was greatly depressed and almost in tears. A female figure—an attendant or nun—brought two boys out and handed them over to their father, who was not myself. The elder of the two was clearly my eldest son; I did not see the other one's face. The woman who brought out the boy asked him to kiss her good-bye. She was noticeable for having a red nose" (6.8.26).
  • As the dream unfolds, Freud sees that: "[t]he boy refused to kiss her, but, holding out his hand in farewell, said 'AUF GESERES' to her, and then 'AUF UNGESERES' to the two of us (or to one of us). I had a notion that this last phrase denoted a preference" (6.8.26).
  • Freud's interpretation of this dream shows that it emerged from "a tangle of thoughts" that were inspired by multiple sources—among them a play that he had seen recently, his worries about anti-Semitism in Europe, his knowledge of Jewish culture and history, and his concerns about his children's intellectual development (6.8.26-30).
  • Freud concludes: "Dreams, then, are often the most profound when they seem most crazy" (6.8.31).
  • In Freud's view, dream-thoughts "are never absurd" ("at all events, in the dreams of sane people"); it is only the "manifest"content of dreams that sometimes seems nonsensical (6.8.32).
  • Freud now recaps his argument up to this point and repeats that dream-work is made up of dream-condensation, dream-displacement, and consideration of representability. He then says that dream-work includes one other factor that he has not yet mentioned (6.8.33).
  • Freud also returns to the question of "judgment" and "criticism" in dreams. He argues: "Everything that appears in dreams as the ostensible activity of the function of judgment is to be regarded not as an intellectual achievement of the dream-work but as belonging to the material of the dream-thoughts and as having been lifted from them into the manifest content of the dream as a ready-made structure" (6.6.34).
  • Freud takes this argument one step further: "Even the judgments made after waking upon a dream that has been remembered, and the feelings called up in us by the reproduction of such a dream, form part, to a great extent, of the latent content of the dream and are to be included in its interpretation" (6.6.34).
  • To support these points, Freud offers a number of examples in which waking thoughts following dreams proved to be related to the "latent" contents of the dreams themselves.
  • One of these examples is another dream of his own. After a dream in which Freud finds his daughters in a house he does not recognize and expresses "some sort of reproach" against his wife "for having left them there," Freud wakes up with "a feeling of great satisfaction" (6.8.37-38).
  • As Freud analyzes this dream, he realizes that his feeling of "satisfaction" arose because "my marriage had brought me children" (6.8.38).
  • Freud also notes that the dream in which his father "played a political part among the Magyars" was another that gave rise to a feeling of "satisfaction" upon waking (6.8.39). Freud attributes this satisfaction to his affection for his son.
  • Having established that "expressions of judgment" in waking life are actually related to the "latent" content of dreams, Freud now considers the meaning of judgment, calculations, and criticism in dreams that are not "continued into waking life or transposed into it" (6.8.40).
  • Freud argues that these judgments, calculations, and criticisms are simple dream-materials like any others: sometimes they are fragments of remembered judgments that have been made in real life; at other times, they have been used to communicate some part of the "latent" dream-thoughts. He insists that they are not the same as conscious judgments about the dream (6.8.40-42).
  • Freud returns to one of his own dreams in order to explore this theory in more detail.
  • Freud then turns to another dream that he mentioned briefly at the beginning of the section—one in which his former superior, Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, had told him to perform a dissection on the lower half of his own body (6.8.46).
  • Freud interprets this long dream by exploring how it merged multiple memories and associations—among them a recent conversation about the novels of M. Rider Haggard, Freud's own anxieties about finishing The Interpretation of Dreams, and Freud's hopes that the book would be well-received (6.8.46-47).
  • Freud then turns to another of his dreams—one in which he is on a train and can see a small museum of natural history outside and women on a platform holding up baskets of fruits. He suddenly finds himself in a different compartment, which he is sharing with an English brother and a sister. There are books on a shelf in the compartment. Freud commits a small grammatical error as he speaks to the English siblings, but then he corrects it (6.8.48-49).
  • Freud's interpretation of this dream demonstrates that parts of it were shaped by memories of a real-life situation in which he had found himself sharing a compartment with an aristocratic pair who were rude to him (6.8.50).
  • However, as he explores the further associations that come to him as he interprets the dream, Freud realizes that the dream had also identified him with one of his patients. In doing so, it seemed to be recreating "a scene of early childhood in which the child, probably driven by sexual curiosity, had forced his way into his parents' bedroom and been turned out of it by his father's orders" (6.8.52).

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