Dreams, slips and jokes
Dreams, slips and jokes Dreams, slips of the tongue, jokes and symptoms all provided material for Freud's model of the mind. It was on this seemingly trivial foundation - that the unconscious could be studied through the messages it sent out - that Freud went on to colonise other ostensibly unrelated fields: religion, anthropology, art criticism, literary studies. Freud said that dreams are the 'royal road' to the unconscious.9 Dreams have a meaning and can be interpreted: for Freud they are essentially symbolic fulfilments of unconscious wishes. They are cast in symbolic forms because if this material were expressed directly then it might be shocking and disturbing enough to wake us up, and so the unconscious conceals, distorts its meanings, so that our dreams become symbolic texts which need to be deciphered. Dreams, then, arise from an unconscious impulse seeking fulfilment, a desire not fulfilled in waking life. Dreams usually contain material, both from recent experience (the day's residues) and from distant memories involving infantile sexual wishes. However, the censorship, the force of repression, will not allow these powerfully charged memories to reach representation in their original form. This is why a dream is a disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish. Evading censorship by a disguise, the dream is a compromise between the demands of impulse and the intensity of the repressing force.lo The dream is not just the 'expression' or 'reproduction' of the unconscious: between the unconscious and the dream a process of 'production' or transformation intervenes. The dream itself is the product of an intensive transformation of these materials, known as the 'dream-work'. The dream-work transforms the 'latent' content of the dream, the forbidden dream-thoughts, into the 'manifest' dream-stories - what the dreamer remembers. The operations of the dream-work take four forms: condensation, displacement, considerations of representability, and secondary reVlSIOn. Condensation is the process in which there is a superimposition of elements; composite figures and structures are formed so that as little as possible is left out. A figure can be produced, for example,
The Freudian te"ain 7 by uniting the actual features of two or more people into a single dream-image. It is condensation that prevents there being any neat one to one correspondence between the elements of the manifest content and those of the latent content. The second activity of the dream-work is displacement. The elements in the manifest dream replace elements in the latent dream-thoughts. via a• chain of associations for the purpose of disguise. This results in the intensity of an idea becoming detached from it and passing to other ideas, which in themselves are of little value. Both condensation and displacement can produce visual and auditory images for abstract thoughts, thus contributing to the actual process of representation in dreams. Considerations of representability, the way the dream-thoughts achieve representation in the dream via images, is the third activity of the dream-work. Representation is rather like a rebus (a picturepuzzle), a series of ideograms or pictographs. Freud writes that there are dreams in which the most complicated intellectual operations take place, statements are contradicted or confirmed, ridiculed or compared, just as they are in waking thought. Even the most abstract thoughts are transposed with great ingenuity into imagery by the dream work. For example, dreams reproduce logical connection by simultaneity in time. Here they are acting like a painter of the School of Athens or Parnassus who represents J in one group all the philosophers or all the poets. It is true that they were never in fact assembled in a single hall or on a single mountain-top; but they certainly form a group in the conceptual sense. The analyst is not the first interpreter of the dream: in narrating a dream the dreamer already acts as his or her own biased interpreter. One stage of the dream-work, known as 'secondary revision', consists in the reorganisation of the dream so as to present it in the form of a relatively consistent and comprehensible narrative. Secondary revision systematises the dream, fills in its gaps and smooths over its contradictions, reorders its chaotic elemerits into a more coherent fable. Secondary revision is at work when the dream is presented in the form of a verbal account. The conscious mind prefers to put the irrational dream-sequence into recognisable and familiar logical order, involving a further distortion of the 'distortion' already achieved by the other mechanisms discussed above.ll 8 Jacques Lacan Dreams provide our main, but not our only, access to the unconscious. There are also what Freud calls 'parapraxes', unaccountable slips of the tongue, failures of memory, misreadings which can be traced to unconscious wishes and intentions. So important did Freud think these apparently casual accidents that in 1901 he wrote a whole book on the subject, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. In 1905 Freud published a work on the subject of jokes or of wit. Although appearing some time after The Interpretation of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, the book can, be seen as being directly related to them, and as being a product of the same period and concerns. As with his earlier work on dreams and- slips, Freud spent some time classifying jokes and then eXplaining how each type - word plays, puns, jests, innocent jokes, tendentious ones involving obscenity or hostility - could be rendered intelligible in terms of the release in psychic energy they produced. Just as the mechanism of dreams served as a means whereby dammed-up psychic energy could be released harmlessly, so jokes fulfilled a similar function. The mechanism of repression can be outwitted in the process of joking, and the suppressed desire can find partial fulfilment, thereby producing a measure of satisfaction.