Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 7, Section E

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 7, Section E

The Primary and Secondary Processes—Repression

  • Freud begins this section with another brief review of the ground he has covered so far, paying special attention to the ways in which his theory of dreaming has consolidated, synthesized, and moved beyond previous theories (7.6.2-12).
  • After this review, Freud returns to another discussion of the similarities and differences between dream-work and "rational thought-processes," or the thought-processes that we use in our waking lives (7.6.13-25).
  • While some of this material is also a review, Freud adds nuance and more detail to it.
  • Freud then moves into a deeper discussion of the relationship between dream-work and repression. In order to do so, he says, "it is necessary to proceed a stage further with our psychological scaffolding" (7.6.28).
  • Freud argues that psychical repression begins in the earliest stages of the relationship between perception and memory. In his model, "the psychical process of the memory" will studiously avoid anything that has caused a distressing excitation (7.6.32).
  • For Freud, this "ostrich policy," as he calls it, is "the prototype and first example" of repression (7.6.32).
  • In the midst of a detailed discussion about the roles played by unconscious and preconscious thought, Freud introduces two new terms: "primary process" and "secondary process" (7.6.34).
  • "Primary process" is associated with the unconscious. As editor James Strachey notes, Freud also associates it with forms of psychical energy that are "free" or "mobile" (7.6.34).
  • "Secondary process," on the other hand, is associated with the preconscious. Again, as James Strachey informs us, Freud also associates it with forms of psychical energy that are "bound" or "quiescent" (7.6.34).
  • Freud argues that "the primary processes are present in the mental apparatus from the first, while it is only during the course of life that the secondary processes unfold, and come to inhibit and overlay the primary ones" (7.6.37).
  • At the "core of our being," says Freud, there are "unconscious wishful impulses," but this core "remains inaccessible to the understanding and inhibition of the preconscious" (7.6.37).
  • So where does repression come in for all of this?
  • Freud now states his argument clearly: "Among these wishful impulses derived from infancy, which can neither be destroyed nor inhibited, there are some whose fulfilment would be a contradiction of the purposive ideas of secondary thinking. The fulfilment of these wishes would no longer generate an affect of pleasure but of unpleasure; and it is precisely this transformation of affect which constitutes the essence of what we term 'repression'" (7.6.38).
  • Although Freud has already presented the rough outline of this argument, he now develops it in relation to his complex, quasi-neurological model of human psychical processes.
  • As he advances his argument, Freud insists once again that the psychical processes he's describing are not unique to neurotics and "hysterics," but are the fundamental processes that shape all human minds (7.6.41).
  • Freud concludes this section by repeating the epigraph that appears at the beginning of the book: "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo" (7.6.41). You can check out our "What's Up With the Epigraph?" section for a full breakdown; for now, let's just say that this phrase comes from Virgil's Aeneid. Strachey translates it like this: "If I cannot bend the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions" (7.6.41).
  • Freud associates this awesome power and determination with the power of the unconscious: "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind" (7.6.42).
  • Freud ends by reiterating that dream-interpretation will allow us to "take a step forward in our understanding of the composition of that most marvelous and most mysterious of all instruments"—the human mind (7.6.43).

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