Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Freud, on How to Read...

Without comment: from Freud's Interpretation of Dreams: origninal (in translation) wording substituted with words in [brackets].

It is easy to show that dream-distortion [literary artifice] too profits from displacement of expression: If one ambiguous word is used instead of two unambiguous ones the result is misleading: and if our everyday; sober method of expression is replaced by a pictorial [figurative] one, our understanding is brought to a halt, particularly since a dream [literary work] never tells us whether its elements are to be interpreted literally or in a figurative sense or whether they are to be connected with the material of the dream-thoughts [literary text] directly or through the intermediary of some interpolated phraseology. In interpreting any dream-element [lit text] it is in general doubtful
(a) whether it is to be interpreted historically (as a recollection)
(b) whether it is to be interpreted symbolically, or
(d) whether its interpretation is to depend on its wording. Yet, in spite of all this ambiguity; it must be remembered, it is fair to say that the productions of the dream-work [literarty text], which; it must be remembered, are not made with the intention of being understood, present no greater difficulties to their translators than do the ancient hieroglyphic scripts to those who seek to read them.

One could do worse than use this as foundamental guidlines for literary critical reading.

Everything hangs on the phrase... "not made with the intention of being understood," itself, if applied to literary work, as abiguous and disputable as any statement one could possibly make... and as incontravertibly, if not indisputably, true.


  1. This is great, I have so little experience with Freud but seeing a connection to literary criticism like this makes me eager to read him(even if I should have read him anyway long ago).

  2. When Freud turns directly to literature or art (Three Caskets, Michaelangelo's Moses...), he can make the work seem a mere prop to what he wants to derive from it. With dreams (for me) his approach is more interesting and suggestive.

    We don't really have the dream itself, do we? Not the way we have Merchant of Venice (Three Caskets) or the marble Moses); we have verbal (mostly) reconstructions that supposidly represent the dream--which is no longer there: a text that purports to stand in for the absent dream, which is assumed to stand in (piece by piece, word by word, letter by letter, image by image) for ... something else, another unknown--but a text, nonetheless. Before it can be subjected to interpretation, it must become a text.

    Where his approach is most powerful, if you are thinking about literary texts, is how he is able to break the text down into its components and invest every part with significance, treat every part as important as the whole--or rather: demonstrate that there is no whole but through the parts. Not a bad place to start if you want to think about fisction or poetry.