Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section I

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 6, Section I

Secondary Revision

  • The final section of Chapter 6 deals with "secondary revision"—the fourth of the major processes that combine to make up the dream-work.
  • Freud begins by repeating his earlier point that when a dreamer is "surprised, annoyed, or repelled" in their dream, "the majority of these critical feelings in dreams are not in fact directed against the content of the dream, but turn out to be portions of the dream-thoughts which have been taken over and used to an appropriate end" (6.10.1).
  • With that said, Freud concedes that some of the judgments made in dreams don't seem to fit into these same categories of critical feeling. For instance, he asks what we should make of those times when we say to ourselves, while dreaming, "this is only a dream" (6.10.1).
  • Freud offers an intriguing argument here, as he notes that the reassuring phrase "this is only a dream" often seems to occur as "a prelude to waking up." With this in mind, he concludes that "it is aimed at reducing the importance of what has just been experienced and at making it possible to tolerate what is to follow" (6.10.1).
  • Freud takes this argument one step further when he claims that "the contemptuous critical judgment, 'it is only a dream,' appears in a dream when the censorship, which is never quite asleep, feels that it has been taken unawares by a dream which has already been allowed through. It is too late to suppress it, and accordingly the censorship uses these words to meet the anxiety or the distressing feeling aroused by it" (6.10.1).
  • In other words, the critical judgment "it is only a dream" is intended to distract and pacify the dreamer, who has just been confronted with potentially distressing dream-thoughts.
  • As Freud says, this means that some dream-elements may not be "derived from the dream-thoughts," but instead might come from "a physical function which is indistinguishable from our waking thoughts" (6.10.2).
  • Freud argues that this particular "function" doesn't only appear as an exception to the rule but actually "plays a habitual part in the construction of dreams" (6.10.2).
  • Whereas Freud has previously implied that this "censorship" function can only "limit" and "omit" portions of the dream-content, he now argues that it "is also responsible for interpolations and additions to it" (6.10.3).
  • Freud says that these interpolations and additions "are often reported with hesitation, and introduced by an 'as though'" (6.10.3). Their role is to "serve as links between two portions of the dream-content or to bridge a gap between two parts of the dream" (6.10.3).
  • Freud advances another intriguing proposition here, as he argues that "the common complaint of having dreamt a lot, but of having forgotten most of it and of having only retained fragments, is based upon the rapid disappearance precisely of these connecting thoughts" (6.10.3). In his view, they are weaker and "less easily retained in the memory" than the dream-contents that emerge directly from the dream-thoughts (6.10.3).
  • In Freud's view, the purpose of secondary revision is that "it fills up the gaps in the dream-structure with shreds and patches"—making dreams seem more cohesive and logical as a result (6.10.4).
  • With this in mind, Freud argues that the dreams that seem most complete, logical, and "reasonable" to us are those in which "the secondary revision has played about with the material the most freely, and has retained the relations present in that material to the least extent" (6.10.4).
  • In this way, the secondary revision is itself an "interpretive" force. Freud argues that apparently "logical and reasonable" dreams "are dreams which might be said to have already been interpreted once, before being submitted to waking interpretation" (6.10.4).
  • Freud suggests that secondary revision works by selecting materials from the dream-thoughts, and he argues that secondary revisions can select materials from elsewhere as well—like from our waking day-dreams and imaginative fantasies (6.10.5).
  • To support this point, Freud discusses a number of close similarities between "night-dreams" and daydreams.
  • Because Freud is now arguing that our conscious fantasies can be roped into the dreams we have while we're asleep, he devotes some attention to how this happens.
  • As an example, Freud recounts a dream from one of his patients. In it, the patient was threatened with arrest and also saw a woman carrying a child. Later, he saw that the woman had a beard (6.10.10).
  • Freud's interpretation of the dream suggests that a "phantasy of arrest" has been constructed by the dream-work, and that it hides a more obscure "phantasy of marriage" (6.10.10).
  • Freud's conversation with the patient revealed that the patient had been having some second thoughts about his upcoming marriage. In Freud's view, those qualms "were evidently preventing the dreamer from throwing himself into the phantasy of marriage with any enjoyment" (6.10.10). For this reason, "marriage" and "arrest" ("loss of freedom") were easily brought together in the dream.
  • Freud now moves on to consider the speed with which dreams can come together. He returns to a discussion that he started very early in the book—an example in which a dreamer, "having been struck in his sleep on the back of his neck by a piece of wood, woke up from a long dream which was like a full-length story set in the days of the French Revolution" (6.10.11).
  • Many theorists before Freud—and even some of his contemporaries—had argued that the speed of thought in dreams must be way faster than the speed of thought in waking life. Freud argues differently.
  • Freud suggests instead that when a "long" dream seems to have unfolded in the space of a few seconds or a few minutes, the dream represents a fantasy that had been stored up, ready-made, in "[the dreamer's] memory for many years" (6.10.12).
  • According to Freud, this phantasy is then "aroused" or "alluded to" by whatever physical stimulus gives rise to the dream, and the dream-work simply slots the fantasy in.
  • In Freud's view, it isn't necessary for the entire fantasy to be enacted by the dream. He says that even if it is "touched on" very briefly, the dreamer will feel as though he or she has had a very long dream (6.10.13).
  • To illustrate this point, Freud notes that "a few bars of music" from a familiar composition can rouse a whole host of memories and impressions in a listener. In his view, the exact same thing happens with fantasies and dreams (6.10.13).
  • After providing some other examples, Freud returns to his discussion of the relationship between dream-condensation, dream-displacement, considerations of representability, and secondary revision.
  • Freud asks, "Are we to suppose that what happens is that in the first instance the dream-constructing factors—the tendency towards condensation, the necessity for evading the censorship, and considerations of representability by the psychical means open to dreams—put together a provisional dream-content out of the material provided, and that this content is subsequently re-cast so as to conform so far as possible to the demands of a second agency?" (6.10.15).
  • Freud's answer is "no." Instead, he argues that "from the very first the demands of this second factor constitute one of the conditions which the dream must satisfy, and that this condition, like those laid down by condensation, the censorship imposed by resistance, and representability, operates simultaneously in a conducive and selective sense upon the mass of material present in the dream-thoughts" (6.10.15).
  • In other words, dream-condensation, dream-displacement, and considerations of representability don't happen one after the other, nor is the secondary revision saved up for last. Instead, all of these factors work simultaneously in the construction of a dream.
  • Freud also argues here that the "psychical function" that carries out the secondary revision should be "identified with the activity of our waking thought" (6.10.16).
  • Freud notes that many other thinkers and theorists have observed the work of secondary revision—though they haven't called it that—and he reviews some of the most noteworthy examples (6.10.21-24).
  • Freud then turns to another element of dream-work—the fact that dreams will sometimes represent the "fatigue," "effort," and "unpleasure" that arise from difficult intellectual activity (6.10.25).
  • To support this point, Freud offers some examples of dreams in which the "manifest" content represents "an intention to wake or the process of waking" (6.10.32).
  • In these examples, Freud is responding to research conducted by another scholar, Herbert Silberer. Although Freud states that he is willing to accept some of Silberer's conclusions, he suggests that his own theory of secondary revision is more significant (6.10.35).
  • Freud concludes the chapter by summarizing his argument that "[t]wo separate functions may be distinguished in mental activity during the construction of a dream: the production of the dream-thoughts, and their transformation into the content of the dream" (6.10.36).
  • In Freud's view, the dream-thoughts "are constructed with an expenditure of all the psychical energy of which we are capable"—that is, they constitute a kind of psychological "release" (6.10.36).
  • The "transformation" of the dream-thoughts into dream-content (i.e., the dream-work) is very different. According to Freud, the dream-work "does not think, calculate, or judge in any way at all; it restricts itself to giving things a new form" (6.10.36). It does this, moreover, to "evade the censorship" (6.10.36).

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