Dreams for Freud, far from being absurd, religious or magic phenomena, are imbued with precise meanings: they represent the accomplishment of a desire. Their function is therefore to satisfy the dreamer so he will not wake up. In this sense, dreams are first and foremost the guardians of sleep. However the work of dreams, namely the playing out in condensed, allegorical or symbolic ways one or more desires, contributes a great deal of information about the content of the dreamer’s unconscious.
The interpretation of dreams is not an exact science governed by strict rules, but resembles the translation of ideograms, which take on their full meaning within the framework of the psychoanalytic treatment. Interpreting a dream without considering the transference between patient and practitioner is extremely unpredictable, as dreams are often intimately bound up with the dreamer’s history and the landmark events occurring in the few days preceding them.
The interest of the interpretation of dreams in sessions is exceptional, for during the evocation of the dream the unconscious content that formed them surfaces towards the conscious. As a result the free associations initiated by the practitioner shift naturally toward the repressed content. There is therefore a dual interest in the recollection of dreams in sessions: free association and the practitioner’s subsequent interpretation that will realign the patient’s emotions.
The Interpretation of Dreams is a bulky monograph on which Freud worked for several years. It is important to grasp the fact that this book is the result of intense work on himself, later referred to as “self-analysis pursued by Sigmund Freud”. Written in 1899, the book is a landmark in the history of psychoanalysis. It is the first time a scientific approach to the phenomenon of dreams as described by psychoanalysis was attempted.
Written in Freud’s rich and fluent style –a style that earned him the famous Goethe Prize– the book is a major study of dreams and reviews the different approaches of the oneiric phenomenon to date in order to discuss them and point out their weaknesses. Freud later devoted several chapters to the question of the interpretation of dreams and completed its theoretical and metapsychological foundations.
This work was planned after The Interpretation of Dreams. The book’s content centres on wordplays, Freudian slips or slips of the tongue, mental blanks and lastly parapraxes. Sigmund Freud demonstrates all the understanding of psychoanalysis in decoding the small details of our lives that demonstrate the existence of desires or instincts from the unconscious without their authors being mentally disturbed.
Pleasant, easy-to-read, even riveting and amusing owing to the large number of examples reported and interpreted, it is a work that is accessible to a wide reading public and is couched in accessible language. The last and most complex chapter develops Freud’s theory of psychosexuality, as he aimed to avoid any controversy or wild interpretations that the publication and circulation of the work might provoke.
The book is an excellent preparation for deeper study of Freudian theory, after The Interpretation of Dreams.
The Essays were published in 1905. They were revised on several occasions by their author as he elaborated his theory of psychoanalysis. The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality forms a unified work that shook up every aspect of the field of research into the mysteries of the human soul. For the first time Freud approached the psychosexuality of childhood. It was nothing new at the time; several medical studies had already tackled the subject. As an author he is not therefore the inventor of the notion of child sexuality. Later, during the dissemination of his discoveries among a wider public, there was a real scandal followed by fierce resistance from the scientific world, arising mainly from the difficulty in distinguishing sexuality from psychosexuality.
The notion of sexuality as we understand it, referring to adults’ sexual behaviour over the course of their lives, is distinguished from the notion of psychosexuality linked to the instinct for life, domination and competition among individuals and species, and which therefore has a far wider meaning than sexuality per se. Freud is also careful to distinguish genital sexuality from the symbolic, archaic and sexual forms through which the life instincts are expressed. Freud called these impulses “libido”, which is Latin for “sexual hunger”, a notion closely tied to “appetite of the soul” of Saint John of the Cross or the famous “ousia” (energy) of Aristotle. The notion of libido therefore put Freud in the ranks of the great minds and revolutionaries of the representation of the human psyche and its workings. The scandal following publication and circulation of his work centred mainly on the false accusation of pan-sexualism or sexolatry.
The work enables the reader to deepen his or her knowledge of the motivations and issues of psychoanalytic theory, of which it has since become a major classic.
This work incorporates four lectures given by Sigmund Freud in 1909 during his visit to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he had been invited by the president, writer and professor of psychology Granville Stanley Hall. Freud was accompanied on the occasion by Carl Gustav Jung and Sándor Ferenczi, but most significantly by his followers in the United States, Ernest Jones and Abraham A. Brill. A fifth lecture was subsequently added. Intended for students and physicians, the work is a good introduction to psychoanalysis, and the lectures met with great success in America among an enthusiastic public and media.
Sigmund Freud presents five case studies, including the case of Little Hans, aged five, who displays a phobia of horses, which made travelling difficult, as the horse-drawn transport was indispensable at the time. Freud’s style in the lectures is above all pedagogical and very lively, and the lectures are illustrated with numerous practical examples, making for easy reading. They have not been revised and it is important to place them in their context as being intended to advance the theory of psychoanalysis.
This work is about extending psychoanalytic theory to another discipline, namely, anthropology. It is not about widely applied psychoanalysis, but the contribution of psychoanalysis to this separate science and vice versa. The exercise was heavily criticized, as it included anthropological data that have been called into question since the work was written. Freud nevertheless felt that the work allowed a two-way exchange between anthropology and psychoanalysis to the benefit of the theorization under development.
While readers are warned not to take the anthropological data too literally, as the ideas contained in the book are presented as established facts, and to look at the work solely as a piece psychoanalytic thinking, they will appreciate the remarkable contribution of the analysis of archaic tribal behaviours and images to Freudian theory. Freud deployed the same technique in other areas, particularly in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) and in Civilisation and its Discontents (1930).
From the 1910s on, the brand new field of psychoanalysis began to find a huge public. Over the period 1915-1916 Freud lectured regularly to get his message across. In light of their success among the scientific community he published a large volume summarizing these teachings in 1917.
From a literary point of view the texts are intended to be read aloud in public. The reader can see how Freud challenges the audience, makes use of rhetoric, and does not think twice about developing antitheses to advance his thesis and disseminate his knowledge, a knowledge acquired in the recent years of confrontation within his young movement, and of the contrast between theoretical discoveries and clinical results.
The work as a whole takes up familiar subjects with the addition of certain theoretical contributions, notably in the realm of metapsychology.
After stagnating during World War I the psychoanalytic movement then took off again and the international organization spread to several countries, where it consolidated itself. This is when Freud published the work that brought a swift reaction in the organization he had founded. He launched a theoretical overhaul of his metapsychology, which he was to pursue throughout the decade.
Freud realized that the comparison of clinical practice to his theory of psychosexuality and the pleasure principle came up against repetition compulsions that were distinct from these principles. To take account of this reality he introduced the theoretical notion of the death instinct, a fundamental tendency in living beings to return to the inanimate state. It is this notion of the death instinct that caused a scandal. However, with hindsight it is easy to understand how a public desperate for the First World War to be the last would find Freud’s ideas shocking.
This theoretical revolution was initiated in 1915 during the war by the development of narcissism and the unfinished essays on metapsychology. At the summit of his genius, Freud merits close reading.
Aged and ill, but still a tireless writer, Freud set about the culmination of his theoretical revolution, generally known as the “second schema”. Written after Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, this work developed the relations between the Ego, the Id and the Superego and laid the foundations for modern psychoanalysis.
The work was well received and brought fresh unity to the divergent trends in the psychoanalytic movement. The new schema did not, however, attempt to replace the first schema of Unconscious, Conscious, Preconscious, but to augment it. Still the tendency in contemporary psychoanalysis has been to neglect the first schema in favour of the second in representing object relation. This work is to be read and kept carefully for later consultation.
Undoubtedly Freud’s most disturbing work. He was very elderly when he wrote it, and was suffering from an incurable cancer of the jaw. It was also a period when he received the honours and distinctions of fame, but when he also saw the dangers in the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Germany. However, gradually handing over the running of the psychoanalytic movement to a new generation, he finally took the time to explore his great passion: philosophical reflection on the human condition.
Freud drew up an inventory of both religious and philosophical models and then, through a rigorous analysis drawing on his clinical experience, he demonstrated the scope of the mechanisms necessary for social life, the compromises indispensable for maintaining them, and their precariously balanced forces. He brought a lucid, incisive approach to the human soul’s destructive power and the cultural means implemented to contain it. This work invites deep reflection over the fate of humanity and the nature and purpose of culture.
Although his illness now prevented him from speaking publicly, Freud wrote a series of lectures intended to be read out in public by others, for example, his daughter, Anna Freud. These lectures followed on from those published in 1917 as Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Faithful to his style, Freud expertly wields thesis and antithesis to challenge his audience with extremely vivid examples and the work makes for pleasant reading.
He used this work as an opportunity to set the record straight regarding the progress of the new schema, in which his considerations on the Superego and its relationship with Ego were crucial. In one lecture Freud maintains his time-bound stance on female sexuality while showing signs of opening up. This work concludes the development period of the modern theory of psychoanalysis and can be read itself immediately after the Introduction to Psychoanalysis.
Freud was a frail invalid over eighty years of age. But he was also a man recently exiled in London, snatched from the clutches of Nazi persecution in the nick of time. He therefore set about publishing his work in English, abandoning his beloved German for the international vernacular. His last work has a special purpose in his œuvre.
Freud had long been fascinated by the personality of the prophet Moses. He had already published an anonymous opuscule on Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Hebrew prophet in 1914, just before World War I. One can imagine that the image of the man wild with anger clutching to his breast the Tablets of the Law was not a far cry from the oppressive threat of Nazism in 1939 to the fate of the entire human race. For Sigmund Freud, physician psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, a man of high classical and Jewish culture, though a non-believer, gathering his last thoughts on the figure of Moses was matter of necessity.
The book is the last in a succession of philosophical, anthropological and sociological works over the course of which Freud reflected deeply on culture and the recurrence of the death instinct and the highly relative notions of progress and good. Such notions formed the very core of his thought.