Rabu, 15 Agustus 2007

The "Key of Dreams" and Psychoanalysis

A comparative analysis of the classical and psychoanalytical
method in the interpretation of dreams points out striking similitudes.

By Horia Vasilescu

In his peerless work dedicated to dreams and their interpretation in psychoanalysis - Traumdeutung ["The Interpretation of Dreams", 1900] - Freud also mentions the famous "keys of dreams", these genuine interpretation guides of common use. Considering the fact that the popular mentality grants signification to the dreams, unlike the scientists contemporaneous with him to whom dreams appear only as aberrant nervous manifestations, Freud doesn't linger in bringing them forward in a critical manner.

A "key of dreams" is, in fact, a "deciphering method", " because it treats the dream as a secret writing, in which case every sign is translated by a correspondent sign, by means of a certain key" (1). Starting from the deciphered key words, all we have to do is to comprise them in a relation, regarded in a future's prospect. Because, we shouldn't forget, in the popular mentality dreams are always premonitions concerning future events.

- Sigmund Freud:
The Basic Writing of Sigmund Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams)

- Artemidorus:
Interpretation of Dreams: Oneirocritica

- Macrobius
Commentary on the Dream of Scipio

- Eric R. Dodds
Greeks and the Irrational

That's how we could use such a "deciphering method". Let's suppose I have dreamt the following: I went to the station to take up the train and I suddenly discovered that I had forgotten my luggage home.
I open a key of dreams and find out that: "going by train" means "a trouble that lies in wait for you from an unexpected direction". "Luggage" means "good news" or "rapid unexpected enrichment". "To forget" (the luggage) - "something you don't know about yet, but you'll find out in its season"; "news (from the other end of the world)".
It's easy to elaborate the interpretation of dream if I build up a logical connection between all these elements: Overnight enrichment due to a misfortune (probably decease) of a distant person (relative); inheritance.

There is another alternative to this method, Freud continues, expounded in the writings of Artemidor from Daldis: "Here we take into account not only the content of the dream, but also the personality and circumstances of the life of the author of the dream: so-and-so detail has different significances from one individual to another, as he/she is rich or poor, married or single, orator or merchant"(2). What is characteristic to this proceeding is the fact that "the interpretation doesn't take into account the whole dream, but each of his content elements, as if the dream would be a conglomerate in which each mineral fragment demands a special determination"(3).

"The deciphering method", Freud concludes, cannot be used in the scientific treatment of the dreams. Because it depends upon a "key", and therefore it lacks any warrant"(4). It's impossible for us to detect how was drawn up this correlation between the raving element and its significance from the "key of dreams". For instance, we can't see how we could come from "going by train" to "trouble that lies in wait for you from an unexpected direction", or from "luggage" to "good news, rapid unexpected enrichment".

* Psychoanalytical method

We must emphasize that psychoanalysis doesn't consider dreams as a product of our mantic aptitude, neither as gods' messenger. The scientific approach, which Freud himself hints at, rejects those "virtues" of the dream that cannot pass the examination of the scientific investigation.
As far as it concerns him, Freud states that dream is always the hallucinating expression of a repressed wish. He insists on the fact that the interpretation cannot be deprived of the dreamer's associations, of his recollections and impressions that the elements of the dream, considered separately, evoke to him. In the above quoted dream, Freud would obtain the following information:

- Travel by train . It suggests to the dreamer a travelling manner, which he doesn't like. Because it's uncomfortable. He (the dreamer) prefers to go by his personal car, especially when he spends his weekend in a trip to the mountains or at the seaside.

- Forgetting luggage. The dreamer complains of the fact that, from some time, he noticed a suspect change of his character. He forgets easily, he is absent-minded, confused, inattentive, with his thoughts far away. All these happenings, apparently harmless annoy him. Adding to these, he was never so "scatter-brained" and, of course, he imitates his wife, who embodies the distraction itself, by this behavior.

Further examining dreamer's impressions, Freud would find out that dreamer's wife behaves like a "little princess" to him, arrogant and all airs and frills, she looks down on her husband, she treats him with an air of self-satisfied superiority. The conclusion of the dream imposes so without saying: it expresses dreamer's wish to change places with his wife (this is where the idea of imitating her comes from), for him to be "the prince" and his wife "the servant"(5).


Freud's statement that dream is the accomplishment of an unconscious desire creates the impression that psychoanalysis brought a revolutionary contribution in the realm of interpretation. Because it is supposed to posses, in this regard, a vision considered as "scientific", radically opposite to the popular or traditional one.

The facts are not at all like that. Anyone that studies the classification of dreams in the Antiquity period, and I especially refer here to Macrobius' work "Comments upon Scipio's vision", would notice that the tradition also remarked the dreams with a "scientific" content, the same type as those approached by psychoanalysis.

On short, Macrobius distinguishes four categories of dreams. Three of them are interesting to the interpretation effort, while the last one remains, so to say, the appanage of common people. The first three categories include: symbolical dream, vision dream and oracular dream (6). The last one refers to the dreams that comes from the nocturnal ebullition of our daytime impressions. We could clearly notice that the last category defines the dreams examined by Freud.

The conclusion imposing to us as a consequence of the above-mentioned (facts) would be: the ancient mentality also had the knowledge of the dreams of "profane" nature, namely those that aren't worth to interpret them, but which, later on, represented the subject matter of the psychoanalytical "scientific" research. On the other hand, it's obvious that, being interested in the "profane" dreams, having doubts concerning the traditional mentality, from a scientific position, Freud ignored the sacred dreams (the first three categories at Macrobius). He gave the sensation that these could be included to the chapter of desire-dreams, familiar to him, when they are not the result of the poetical creation or of an ideological conjuncture.

1. S. Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams", Science Publishing House, 1993, p. 91.
2. Ibid. p. 92.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. It's clearly understood that the dream is not fully interpreted through psychoanalytical method illustrated here. We have restricted to an example of psychoanalysis applied to dream, simplified at the most.
6. The symbolical dream "covers in metaphors, as in a riddle, a significance that cannot be understood without interpretation". The vision dream, horama, "is a premonitive development of a future event". The oracular dream, or chrematismos, is recognized when, while sleeping, the parent of the person who dreams or some other respected or impressive person, maybe a priest or a god, reveals, without any help of the symbols, what will happen, what should or shouldn't be done". (Eric R. Dodds, "Greeks and the Irrational", Meridiane Publishing House, 1983, p. 130).

Translation by Ochea Corina

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