This week, we enter into the essential details of how dreams are crafted out of the materials and wishes that instigate them. This is somewhat technical, but it is crucial to the completion of your own dream analysis that you understand the concepts and the processes they describe.
We’ll focus especially on condensation, displacement, symbolism and secondary revision. With condensation, we’re dealing with the way in which dreams create unstable and composite figures, places, even phrases. See particularly his description of the composite figures behind Irma in his specimen dream and his reference to Galton’s composite photography (pp. 310-311). Since so many elements of a dream might well be composites, the associative method of dividing up the elements becomes quite central to effective analysis, in Freud’s view. And condensation points toward another key Freudian idea: overdetermination, or the idea that there can be multiple causes behind a single effect. We do not have to choose just one explanation for a particular dream image, or identify a dream figure as just one person. Things in a dream are intensely hyperlinked to myriad other things.
With displacement, on the other hand, we are often dealing with structured absences and disconnections, not hyperlinks. What is not appearing as evident in the dream, yet might still be behind it? This concept speaks to the arbitrary misalignment between the latent and manifest, in Freud’s view. In a dream, we often find something emotionally intense that is hard to account for. In fact, you should immediately seize on such things, Freud thinks, because any mismatch between feeling and content is proof that something has been purposefully skewed. Disconnection and unlinking are ways the mind defends itself from powerful, repressed thoughts in the dreamwork process.
Just as condensation provides for the complex, overly rich content, displacement increases the sense of mystery, arbitrariness, uncanniness. “Dream displacement and dream-condensation are the two governing factors to whose activity we may in essence ascribe the form assumed by dreams,” he says (324). We therefore have to get a good sense of how these ideas work.
Symbolism, of course, is something Freud is notorious for—but if you read pp. 364-373, you will see he is very wary of a simplistic importation of dream symbols as the “key” to understanding dreams. In a way, the idea of the symbolic inheres in the idea of condensation: something symbolizes something else, or many things at once. But note Freud’s warning about overestimating the importance of dream symbols at the expense of the dreamer’s associations (372). Freud wants to keep dream analysis on a very personal, subjective level. Much as we might find exciting the prospect that our dream content is “universal” in some sense, this has little value for Freud, once divorced from the individual desires and needs of the dreamer.
Lastly, with secondary revision, Freud invites back in the censoring agency to act more creatively this time by reordering and tidying up the mess caused by condensation, displacement and the recourse to symbolism. In that it puts the already transformed elements into some shape, it is seen as a secondary kind of dreamwork, one subsequent to the major shifts caused by the more invasive techniques of dreamwork. It’s a bit like polishing the surface of the manifest, once all the latent elements have been tucked underneath the façade.
So the task before you now is: can you make use of these concepts to arrive at some new understanding of the content of your dreams?
Reading: Chapter VI, Interpretation of Dreams, especially pp. 295-326, 363-392, 493-511.