Lecture X: Symbolism in Dreams. Through a psychoanalytic framework, analyse any one of Freud's Introductory Lectures.

Authors Avatar by bevnae (student)

Lecture X: Symbolism in Dreams

From the title alone it can be inferred, according to the narration, that symbols can be found within dreams but these are only symbolic, a substitution for what the dreams actually represent. For something to be symbolic, it requires a referential counterpart of something other than itself. Even at a semiotic level, to borrow from Saussurean linguistics, the sign is only ever symbolic of the signified. This can only ever be symbolic because the intelligibility of a sign system is grounded by its conventionality and the arbitrary link between a sign and its referent. This is exposed in the numerous different words for dog (where one version does not hold exclusive validity) and the fact that meanings change over time; signs no longer become symbolic of their once signified. This outline is important here, for the term symbolism disrupts the nexus between sign and referent. The fact that these signs within the dream are ‘symbolic’ suggests that they are a substitution, to use Freud’s formulation that he uses throughout the lectures, for yet a further stage in the chain of signification.        

The opening line, which declares, ‘we have found’ (line 1 – emphasis added) claims that more than one person is implicated in this interpretation. The ‘we’ claim to have found ‘the distortions in dreams’ (line 2). The word ‘distortion’ implies that there is standard basal measurement from which the dreams distort and the ‘we’ claim to able to recognise this deviation. The distortion leads to an ‘interfering with their understanding of them [symbolism in dreams]’ (line 2). Thus far, the narration has not explicated what is at stake in the use of the word ‘understanding’. The fact that there is a distortion in a dream and that the ‘we’ are able to measure this variable suggests that the dream which they interpret the ‘distortion’ from would need to be stable in order to measure any variance. Had these distortions not been present in the dream, there would be no ‘interference’, which would render it easier to ‘understand’ (line 2), according to whatever is at stake in narration’s conception of understanding. Not only does this set up the distortions of the dream as an obstacle to this ‘understanding’, but it presupposes that a dream is something that can be understood. The use of the past tense, ‘we have found’ suggests that this process of understanding has on at least one occasion been understood - or at least a failed understanding has allowed the ‘we’ to isolate the distortions in dreams as an ‘interference’. The claim to the distortion being an ‘interference’ is predicated on knowing the successful formula from which an ‘understanding’ of a dream can take place.

According to line 3, the distortion of dreams is ‘the result of a censoring activity which is directed against unacceptable, unconscious wishful impulses’. The formulation, ‘is the result’ suggests the order which these events have taken place - namely that the ‘distortion in dreams’ is a causation of the ‘censoring activity’. The fact that these censoring activities are ‘directed against’ the unacceptable, unconscious wishful impulses (line 4) suggests that these are in some way connected, even if by their oppositional relativity - ‘directed against’ (line 3 emphasis added). Already there is an extensive nexus of causality. The proverbial ‘understanding’ of the symbolism in dreams (the title of the lecture) is the subject of analysis, the distortion in dreams provides an interference to this end but this is only manifested as a result of the ‘censoring activity’, which in turn is only present due to its orientation ‘against’ the unconscious impulses. Moreover, according to whom are these impulses ‘unacceptable’? The censoring activities are offensive yet there is no control over them as they are ‘unconscious’. Accordingly, value judgements such as ‘unacceptable’ cannot address culpability here, for these ‘impulses’ are autonomous and governed by that which we are not in control of. One can infer that the oxymoronic formulation, ‘unacceptable unconscious’ (line 4) is only unacceptable should these impulses manifest themselves in the external world. If something is unacceptable, there must be by implication a stratification of acceptability. These unconscious impulses are only unacceptable according to a particular interpretation of what is acceptable. This applies to all three terms which are used to describe these impulses. To whom are these impulses ‘unacceptable’? If these impulses are ‘unconscious’ how is one aware of it? How is one to measure the desirability of the ‘wishful’ impulses? The term ‘unconscious’ and ‘impulse’ are linked; an impulse, whilst it does not necessarily suggest unconscious action, suggests a desire that we are not entirely in control of (however, if we posit the Freudian unconscious, the degree to which we are in control of our any of our actions is disputed). Similarly, ‘unacceptable’ and ‘wishful’ are placed alongside each other. There are not strong enough grounds just from these words, despite knowledge posited of the Freudian unconscious, to claim that the unconscious desires these impulses because they are unacceptable.

Line 4 reads: ‘we have not, of course, maintained that the censorship is the sole factor responsible for the distortion in dreams’. The use of the qualification ‘of course’ suggests that according to the narration, and by extension, the ‘we’ who are also implicated in this viewpoint, to believe that the censorship found in dreams is the only cause of distortion is patently not the case. As explicated later: ‘other factors play a part in producing this result’ (line 7). The sheer fact that the qualification ‘of course’ is being made suggests that narration felt this  misconception could plausibly have been made, thus the qualification is necessary in the interests of not misunderstanding this interpretation. However, if this was as patently clear then there would be no need for this qualification. It is through ‘studying them [dreams] further’ (line 7) the ‘we’ ‘can discover’ that censored activity is not the sole cause of distortions in dreams. Because this takes further study and was not be interpreted as such initially, this is a conclusion that came subsequent to the belief that censored activity was (at least at that stage of development) the sole reason for distortions in dreams. This gives plausibility to the aforementioned qualification: ’we have not, of course, maintained that...’ (line 4) since the ‘we’ discovered that the censorship is not the sole factor for the distortion in dreams. 

Join now!

The next line changes in tense. The sentence, ‘in fact when we study them further we can discover that other factors play a part in producing this result’ (line 7 emphasis added). This is an alteration from the past tense that is used earlier: ‘we have found’ (line 1 emphasis added). The phrase ‘we can discover’ would have read ‘we discovered’ if there was continuity with the initial use of the past tense. What is at stake in the change of tenses? The use of the present tense, ‘we can’ suggests that should this methodology be pursued again, the same results ...

This is a preview of the whole essay