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The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
DISTORTION IN DREAMS

IF I now declare that wish-fulfilment is the meaning of every dream, so that there cannot be any dreams other than wish-dreams, I know beforehand that I shall meet with the most emphatic contradiction. My critics will object: "The fact that there are dreams which are to be understood as fulfilments of wishes is not new, but has long since been recognized by such writers as Radestock, Volkelt, Purkinje, Griesinger and others. * That there can be no other dreams than those of wish-fulfilments is yet one more unjustified generalization, which, fortunately, can be easily refuted. Dreams which present the most painful content, and not the least trace of wish-fulfilment, occur frequently enough. The pessimistic philosopher, Eduard von Hartmann, is perhaps most completely opposed to the theory of wish-fulfilment. In his Philosophy of the Unconscious, Part II (Stereotyped German edition, p. 344), he says: 'As regards the dream, with it all the troubles of waking life pass over into the sleeping state; all save the one thing which may in some degree reconcile the cultured person with life- scientific and artistic enjoyment....' But even less pessimistic observers have emphasized the fact that in our dreams pain and disgust are more frequent than pleasure (Scholz, p. 33; Volkelt, p. 80, et al.). Two ladies, Sarah Weed and Florence Hallam, have even worked out, on the basis of their dreams, a numerical value for the preponderance of distress and discomfort in dreams. They find that 58 per cent of dreams are disagreeable, and only 28.6 positively pleasant. Besides those dreams that convey into our sleep the many painful emotions of life, there are also anxiety-dreams, in which this most terrible of all the painful emotions torments us until we wake. Now it is precisely by these anxiety dreams that children are so often haunted (cf. Debacker on Pavor nocturnus); and yet it was in children that you found the wish-fulfilment dream in its most obvious form."

* Already Plotinus, the neo-Platonist, said: "When desire bestirs itself, then comes phantasy, and presents to us, as it were, the object of desire" (Du Prel, p. 276).

The anxiety-dream does really seem to preclude a generalization of the thesis deduced from the examples given in the last chapter, that dreams are wish-fulfilments, and even to condemn it as an absurdity.

Nevertheless, it is not difficult to parry these apparently invincible objections. It is merely necessary to observe that our doctrine is not based upon the estimates of the obvious dream- content, but relates to the thought-content, which, in the course of interpretation, is found to lie behind the dream. Let us compare and contrast the manifest and the latent dream-content. It is true that there are dreams the manifest content of which is of the most painful nature. But has anyone ever tried to interpret these dreams- to discover their latent thought-content? If not, the two objections to our doctrine are no longer valid; for there is always the possibility that even our painful and terrifying dreams may, upon interpretation, prove to be wish fulfilments. *

* It is quite incredible with what obstinacy readers and critics have excluded this consideration and disregarded the fundamental differentiation between the manifest and the latent dream- content. Nothing in the literature of the subject approaches so closely to my own conception of dreams as a passage in J. Sully's essay, Dreams as a Revelation (and it is not because I do not think it valuable that I allude to it here for the first time): "It would seem then, after all, that dreams are not the utter nonsense they have been said to be by such authorities as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. The chaotic aggregations of our night-fancy have a significance and communicate new knowledge. Like some letter in cipher, the dream-inscription when scrutinized closely loses its first look of balderdash and takes on the aspect of a serious, intelligible message. Or, to vary the figure slightly, we may say that, like some palimpsest, the dream discloses beneath its worthless surface-characters traces of an old and precious communication" (p. 364).

In scientific research it is often advantageous, if the solution of one problem presents difficulties, to add to it a second problem; just as it is easier to crack two nuts together instead of separately. Thus, we are confronted not only with the problem: How can painful and terrifying dreams be the fulfilments of wishes? but we may add to this a second problem which arises from the foregoing discussion of the general problem of the dream: Why do not the dreams that show an indifferent content, and yet turn out to be wish-fulfilments, reveal their meaning without disguise? Take the exhaustively treated dream of Irma's injection: it is by no means of a painful character, and it may be recognized, upon interpretation, as a striking wish- fulfilment. But why is an interpretation necessary at all? Why does not the dream say directly what it means? As a matter of fact, the dream of Irma's injection does not at first produce the impression that it represents a wish of the dreamer's as fulfilled. The reader will not have received this impression, and even I myself was not aware of the fact until I had undertaken the analysis. If we call this peculiarity of dreams- namely, that they need elucidation- the phenomenon of distortion in dreams, a second question then arises: What is the origin of this distortion in dreams?

If one's first thoughts on this subject were consulted, several possible solutions might suggest themselves: for example, that during sleep one is incapable of finding an adequate expression for one's dream-thoughts. The analysis of certain dreams, however, compels us to offer another explanation. I shall demonstrate this by means of a second dream of my own, which again involves numerous indiscretions, but which compensates for this personal sacrifice by affording a thorough elucidation of the problem.


Table of Contents
DISTORTION IN DREAMS
Preliminary Statement
Analysis

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