Back to top

Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 6B


Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter


Another and probably no less significant relation must have already forced itself upon our attention while we were collecting examples of dream-condensation. We may have noticed that these elements which obtrude themselves in the dream-content as its essential components do not by any means play this same part in the dream-thoughts. As a corollary to this, the converse of this statement is also true. That which is obviously the essential content of the dream-thoughts need not be represented at all in the dream. The dream is, as it were, centred elsewhere; its content is arranged about elements which do not constitute the central point of the dream-thoughts. Thus, for example, in the dream of the botanical monograph the central point of the dream-content is evidently the element 'botanical'; in the dream-thoughts we are concerned with the complications and conflicts resulting from services rendered between colleagues which place them under mutual obligations; later on with the reproach that I am in the habit of sacrificing too much time to my hobbies; and the element 'botanical' finds no place in this nucleus of the dream-thoughts, unless it is loosely connected with it by antithesis, for botany was never among my favourite subjects. In the Sappho-dream of my patient, ascending and descending, being upstairs and down, is made the central point; the dream, however, is concerned with the danger of sexual relations with persons of 'low' degree; so that only one of the elements of the dream-thoughts seems to have found its way into the dream-content, and this is unduly expanded. Again, in the dream of my uncle, the fair beard, which seems to be its central point, appears to have no rational connection with the desire for greatness which we have recognised as the nucleus of the dream-thoughts. Such dreams very naturally give us an impression of a 'displacement'. In complete contrast to these examples, the dream of Irma's injection shows that individual elements may claim the same place in dream-formation as that which they occupy in the dream-thoughts. The recognition of this new and utterly inconstant relation between the dream-thoughts and the dream-content will probably astonish us at first. If we find in a psychic process of normal life that one idea has been selected from among a number of others, and has acquired a particular emphasis in our consciousness, we are wont to regard this as proof that a peculiar psychic value (a certain degree of interest) attaches to the victorious idea. We now discover that this value of the individual element in the dream-thoughts is not retained in dream-formation, or is not taken into account. For there is no doubt which of the elements of the dream-thoughts are of the highest value; our judgment informs us immediately. In dream-formation the essential elements, those that are emphasised by intensive interest, may be treated as though they were subordinate, while they are replaced in the dream by other elements, which were certainly subordinate in the dream-thoughts. It seems at first as though the psychic intensity[1] of individual ideas were of no account in their selection for dream-formation, but only their greater or lesser multiplicity of determination. One might be inclined to think that what gets into the dream is not what is important in the dream-thoughts, but what is contained in them several times over; but our understanding of dream-formation is not much advanced by this assumption; to begin with, we cannot believe that the two motives of multiple determination and intrinsic value can influence the selection of the dream otherwise than in the same direction. Those ideas in the dream-thoughts which are most important are probably also those which recur most frequently, since the individual dream-thoughts radiate from them as centres. And yet the dream may reject these intensively emphasised and extensively reinforced elements, and may take up into its content other elements which are only extensively reinforced.

This difficulty may be solved if we follow up yet another impression received during the investigation of the over-determination of the dream-content. Many readers of this investigation may already have decided, in their own minds, that the discovery of the multiple determination of the dream-elements is of no great importance, because it is inevitable. Since in analysis we proceed from the dream-elements, and register all the ideas which associate themselves with these elements, is it any wonder that these elements should recur with peculiar frequency in the thought-material obtained in this manner? While I cannot admit the validity of this objection, I am now going to say something that sounds rather like it: Among the thoughts which analysis brings to light are many which are far removed from the nucleus of the dream, and which stand out like artificial interpolations made for a definite purpose. Their purpose may readily be detected; they establish a connection, often a forced and far-fetched connection, between the dream-content and the dream-thoughts, and in many cases, if these elements were weeded out of the analysis, the components of the dream-content would not only not be over-determined, but they would not be sufficiently determined. We are thus led to the conclusion that multiple determination, decisive as regards the selection made by the dream, is perhaps not always a primary factor in dream-formation, but is often a secondary product of a psychic force which is as yet unknown to us. Nevertheless, it must be of importance for the entrance of the individual elements into the dream, for we may observe that in cases where multiple determination does not proceed easily from the dream-material it is brought about with a certain effort.

It now becomes very probable that a psychic force expresses itself in the dream-work which, on the one hand, strips the elements of the high psychic value of their intensity and, on the other hand, by means of over-determination, creates new significant values from elements of slight value, which new values then make their way into the dream-content. Now if this is the method of procedure, there has occurred in the process of dream-formation a transference and displacement of the psychic intensities of the individual elements, from which results the textual difference between the dream-content and the thought-content. The process which we here assume to be operative is actually the most essential part of the dream-work; it may fitly be called dream-displacement. Dream-displacement and dream-condensation are the two craftsmen to whom we may chiefly ascribe the structure of the dream.

I think it will be easy to recognise the psychic force which expresses itself in dream-displacement. The result of this displacement is that the dream-content no longer has any likeness to the nucleus of the dream-thoughts, and the dream reproduces only a distorted form of the dream-wish in the unconscious. But we are already acquainted with dream-distortion; we have traced it back to the censorship which one psychic instance in the psychic life exercises over another. Dream-displacement is one of the chief means of achieving this distortion. Is fecit, cui profuit. We must assume that dream-displacement is brought about by the influence of this censorship, the endopsychic defence.[2]

The manner in which the factors of displacement, condensation and over-determination interact with one another in dream-formation -- which is the ruling factor and which the subordinate one -- all this will be reserved as a subject for later investigation. In the meantime, we may state, as a second condition which the elements that find their way into the dream must satisfy, that they must be withdrawn from the resistance of the censorship. But henceforth, in the interpretation of dreams, we shall reckon with dream-displacement as an unquestionable fact.

[1]The psychic intensity or value of an idea -- the emphasis due to interest -- is of course to be distinguished from perceptual or conceptual intensity.

[2]Since I regard the attribution of dream-distortion to the censorship as the central point of my conception of the dream, I will here quote the closing passage of a story, Träumen wie Wachen, from Phantasien eines Realisten, by Lynkeus (Vienna, second edition, 1900), in which I find this chief feature of my doctrine reproduced:

'Concerning a man who possesses the remarkable faculty of never dreaming nonsense . . .'

'Your marvellous faculty of dreaming as if you were awake is based upon your virtues, upon your goodness, your justice, and your love of truth; it is the moral clarity of your nature which makes everything about you intelligible to me.'

'But if I really give thought to the matter,' was the reply, 'I almost believe that all men are made as I am, and that no one ever dreams nonsense! A dream which one remembers so distinctly that one can relate it afterwards, and which, therefore, is no dream of delirium, always has a meaning; why, it cannot be otherwise! For that which is in contradiction to itself can never be combined into a whole. The fact that time and space are often thoroughly shaken up, detracts not at all from the real content of the dream, because both are without any significance whatever for its essential content. We often do the same thing in waking life; think of fairytales, of so many bold and pregnant creations of fantasy, of which only a foolish person would say: ''That is nonsense! For it isn't possible.'' '

'If only it were always possible to interpret dreams correctly, as you have just done with mine!' said the friend.

'That is certainly not an easy task, but with a little attention it must always be possible to the dreamer. -- You ask why it is generally impossible? In your case there seems to be something veiled in your dreams, something unchaste in a special and exalted fashion, a certain secrecy in your nature, which it is difficult to fathom; and that is why your dreams so often seem to be without meaning or even nonsensical. But in the profoundest sense, this is by no means the case; indeed it cannot be, for a man is always the same person, whether he wakes or dreams.'

Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

Personal tools