Freud, Sigmund

Assigned: Freud, Sigmund. From The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapters V-VI (789-99); from “The ‘Uncanny’” (799-816); from “Fetishism” (816-20). Also read the editors’ introduction (783-88).

From The Interpretation of Dreams (1900/1929)

From Chapter V. The Material and Sources of Dreams

1. On 789-91 (“In my experience, which is already…”), Freud introduces Sophocles’ Oedipus the King in light of the time-honored “tragedy of destiny” interpretation (790). What fault does he find with that interpretation, and how does he, within the framework of his psychoanalytic theory, account for the perpetual and seemingly universal appeal of Oedipus the King? What underlying “logic,” according to Freud, scripts Oedipus’ murder of his father Laius, his marriage to his mother Jocasta, and his subsequent fate?

2. On 791-92 (“Another of the great creations of tragic…”), Freud addresses Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet as another instance of the Oedipus Complex. How is Prince Hamlet’s problem different from Oedipus’ dilemma, and what does that difference reveal about the distinction between the two very distant epochs and places, namely Classical Athens and Elizabethan England? Which two standard interpretations of the Prince’s conduct does Freud go on to rehearse and reject? Why does he reject them? How, then, does Freud explain Hamlet’s strange reluctance to take revenge against his usurping, murderous uncle, Claudius, as well as his frantic “distaste for sexuality” in Act 3, Scene 1’s famous “Get thee to a nunnery” exchange with his love interest, Ophelia?

3. On 792 lower middle-793 (… “For it can of course only be the poet’s…”), in the course of offering his psychoanalytic explanation of Hamlet’s eccentric behavior, how does Freud reveal the “expressive poetics” involved in psychoanalytic readings by drawing upon Shakespeare’s biography and career as a dramatist to interpret Hamlet? What limitations does Freud place upon this kind of biography-based expressive criticism of a work of art? To what extent does he admit that literature is complicated material that cannot be reduced to a psychoanalytic outline?

From Chapter VI. The Dream-Work

4. On 793-94 (“Every attempt that has hitherto been…”), how does Freud define the manifest content of dreams and the latent dream-thoughts, respectively? Why have previous explicators of dreams failed so badly in their attempts, in Freud’s view—what didn’t they understand about the “dream-content,” as Freud conceptualizes that content, and about the way the analyst must relate the one to the other ? What is a “rebus” (793), and how does this device help Freud introduce the distinctions and interpretive process he is currently dealing with? In what sense do the dream-content and the dream-thoughts function like languages in need of some kind of translation process before the analyst can make sense of a patient’s dream?

(A). The Work of Condensation and (B). The Work of Displacement

5. On 794 (“The first thing that becomes clear…”), how does Freud introduce dream condensation as a feature of dream-content? What common mistake do interpreters make, in his view, with regard to the relative completeness of the dream-thoughts available to them? What often happens, according to Freud, if the analyst delves deeper into his or her work of interpreting the dream? Why is it “ultimately impossible to determine the amount of condensation” that has occurred to make the dream-content what it is?

6. On 794-95 (“Among the thoughts that analysis brings…”), how does Freud explain dream displacement? How does “displacement” amount to a kind of defense mechanism for the psyche, and the “dream-work” itself (i.e., the psychic processes that go into the making of the dream) a battle to evade a powerful internal “censorship” (795) and express something important about a person’s psychic difficulties? Ultimately, how does the displacement mechanism work together with condensation to generate the form of a dream? According to Freud, why is an understanding of these two mechanisms (condensation and displacement) essential to establishing a relationship between the dream-content and the dream-thoughts, and the overall “form” of the dream?

(C). The Means of Representation in Dreams

7. On 795-96 (“In the process of transforming…”), what question does Freud pose regarding the manner in which dream-thoughts—which he points out usually consist in “a complex of thoughts and memories of the most intricate possible structure” (795) deal with or represent logical connections? How does he initially reply to his own question? In what sense does the incapacity of dreams to represent logical connections arise from “the nature of the psychical material out of which dreams are made” (796)? Why, in Freud’s view, are even dreams in which “complicated intellectual operations” (796) seem to be carried out not evidence refuting this assertion?

8. On 796-99 (“What means does the dream-work possess…”), what insights does Freud offer regarding the manner in which the dream-work represents logical connections (797), causal relations (797), “either—or” statements (797) and negations or “contraries and contradictories” (798 bottom) that may have been a factor in the dreamer’s original “dream-thoughts”? According to Freud, what is the interpreter’s role with regard to understanding such representations when they appear in the manifest content of a given dream?

9. General question: It is obvious why Freud’s theory of the unconscious in The Interpretation of Dreams instills anxiety in many people about the autonomy of individual consciousness. How do you personally deal with this unsettling theory? What is your response when a theorist like Sigmund Freud (or for that matter Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, or Plato with his insistence on our addiction to a “world of appearances”) tells us we really aren’t in control of what goes on “below” the operations of our conscious, waking selves—that we do not, in short, control our own individual destiny or that our ideas are little more than a cover for deeply buried or repressed desires, anxieties, etc.? Is your response to such claims positive or negative? Either way, why?

From “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919)

Section I

1. On 799-800 (“It is only rarely that a psycho-analyst…”), what difficulties in defining the uncanny does Freud allude to? What “two courses” (800) of inquiry does he suggest are available to the investigator from the outset? What common result do both yield with regard to the “class of the frightening” to which the uncanny register of experience belongs?

2. On 800-03 (“The German word ‘unheimlich’ is…”), what insights does Freud present based upon his close study of the German words heimlich and unheimlich and variants thereof? As he traces the denotations and connotations of these words, what becomes apparent about the unusual, “ambivalent” (803) way they relate to each other?

Section II

3. On 803-06 (“When we proceed to review the things…”), what are the basics of E. T. A. Hoffman’s tale “The Sand-Man” as Freud recounts them? What inference does Freud draw from this story concerning the nature of the unfortunate protagonist Nathaniel’s fear of suffering an injury to his eyes? What is “uncanny” about Nathaniel’s experience?

4. On 806-08 (“Moreover, I would not recommend…”), Freud examines the uncanniness of the doll Olympia in Hoffman’s “The Sand-Man,” along with a few other factors in that tale. Ernst Jentsch attributed the doll’s significance to an effect of “uncertainty” (807) about whether it is alive or inanimate, but Freud does not agree. How, then, does he begin to connect these story details to the castration complex?

5. On 808-10 (“At this point I will put forward…”), Freud sets forth “two considerations” (808) that he believes cut to the heart of the present study of the uncanny. What are those two considerations, and what examples does Freud go on to provide in support of them? In responding, consider what he writes about people’s feelings regarding dead bodies, life after death, “animism, magic and sorcery, the omnipotence of thoughts, man’s attitude to death, involuntary repetition and the castration complex…” (809). In what way do the examples you choose illustrate how das Heimlich sometimes turns into das Unheimliche, the uncanny?

Section III

6. On 811-12 (“In the course of this discussion…”), Freud refers to the doubts he supposes may have arisen in attentive readers regarding his thoughts about the uncanny. What are the main doubts he refers to, and how much importance does he lend them? What admission does Freud soon make regarding the determinants of “the production of uncanny feelings” (812)?

7. On 812-13 (“We have noticed one point which…”), what does Freud suggest about uncanny feelings that befall us in real life? How might they help to resolve any doubts we may have about the true determinants and processes involved in the uncanny? In particular, what insights does he draw from the distinction he makes regarding “repressed” infantile complexes and “surmounted” primitive ancestral beliefs? While both can lead to a feeling of the uncanny, what differences does Freud find between them, and what is significant about those differences for our understanding of the uncanny?

8. On 813-16 (“The uncanny as it is depicted in…), Freud turns to the topic of the uncanny in literature. How does he differentiate between quality and prevalence of the uncanny in literary texts and the uncanny as we experience it in everyday life? What advantages, according to Freud, does a writer of uncanny fiction have over real-life events? In sum, why is the study of literature such a “fertile province” (813) for those interested in the phenomenon of the uncanny?

From “Fetishism” (1927)

1. On 816-18  (“In the last few years I have had…”), Freud arrives at a striking conclusion from the analysis of a male patient’s fetishistic dependency on beholding a certain “shine on the nose” (816) of a female partner in order to achieve sexual gratification. What does Freud suggest is the cause of this fetish? He writes, “It is not true that, after the child has made his observation of the woman, he has preserved unaltered his belief that women have a phallus” (817 middle). What, then, is happening, and why is it necessary that it should happen? How is what Freud calls the “castration complex” involved in the mechanics of the fetish as described?

2. On 818 (“Probably no male human being is…”), how does Freud attempt to account for the common fetishes surrounding certain objects of clothing, such as shoes, fur, and velvet clothing? According to Freud, what are the mechanics involved in the development of such fetishes? In what sense do such objects substitute for the male child’s interest in the woman’s supposedly “missing” male sex organ?

3. On 818-19 (“For me, the explanation of fetishism had…”), What does Freud say he has learned about “the essential difference between neurosis and psychosis” (818)? How do these conditions relate to objective reality? What reaffirming lesson does Freud draw from his research on a pair of young men who suffered the death of their father?

4. On 819-20 (“Returning to my description of fetishism…”) Freud refers to the existence of “many and weighty additional proofs of the divided attitude of fetishists to the question of the castration of women” (819). What additional example does he provide in favor of this claim, and how does he analyze the case history he references? What conclusion does he arrive at regarding the connection between fetishism and the castration complex?

5. General question: As a student of literature, what applications can you find for Freudian notions you have encountered in texts such as The Interpretation of Dreams, “The ‘Uncanny’,” or “Fetishism”? Do you find them (or later developments in psychoanalytic theory such as the “linguistic update” provided by Jacques Lacan; see Leitch 1105-37) useful as a means of better understanding literary works? If so, how? In what sense is Freud’s approach to reading literary texts in any of the three selections we may have examined similar in its assumptions to either Romantic expressive theory (Shelley, for instance; Leitch 598-619) or myth criticism (Northrop Frye; see Leitch 1248-62)?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

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