Freud's Dream and Ours

**1 **The man who never read a book

Years ago a man in his thirties came to see me because, he said, he was in big trouble and felt depressed and very unhappy. He feared he was going to lose his job because of his extreme social inhibitions. He could not look at people in the face or talk to them. Indeed, he did not look at me in the face, his voice was hardly audible and he could only construct a few brief phrases very slowly, as if speaking were for him a torture. He had never had a girl friend, he had some perverse sexual thoughts that revolted him; he had visited prostitutes on two occasions but did not feel good about it. He was a good for nothing, he told me, and a disgrace to his family. His parents and siblings had completed university degrees and were successful professionals. Over the years he had seen a number of psychologists and psychiatrists, and even three psychoanalysts. He expressed pessimism about his future and scepticism about psychoanalysis. I wondered to myself why the man wanted to see yet a fourth psychoanalyst (the other three being known to me as very good analysts). Shortly after the first session he rang me to say that he was not coming to see me again, that he did not think that there was a cure for him and that he did not want to waste my time. However, a few days later he telephoned me again and asked me whether I would consider taking him in analysis. Some years later, he is still my patient and analysand.

        After a few sessions, and to illustrate his notion that he was hopeless, the patient told me that he had never read a book in his entire life. Minutes later, however, and thanks to one of those brilliant interventions of the unconscious, he said that _he had read in a book_ that a boy is doomed to fall in love with his mother and wish to kill his father, and that this was called the Oedipus Complex or something.

        And what is this book that you never read? I asked.

        _The Interpretation of Dreams_, he answered, by Freud, you know, Sigmund Freud, the chap who wrote about sex and stuff.

        And you dont count that as a book? I asked.

        Well, you know, its not like a novel or something, he replied.

        I learned later that the analysand had read a few other works by Freud. He concealed the fact, as he compulsively needed to maintain the position of an ignorant man with no trace of a desire to know. Yet this man, who did not sound too promising as an analysand at the start certainly not as someone with an interest in the lessons taught by the unconscious and whose demeanour and speech were (and continue to be) anything but Freudian, has nevertheless been capable of embarking in and sustaining the experience that Freud created over 110 years ago. He discovered that he could speak and learn something (sometimes, quite something) from what he had to say, as soon as he was with someone prepared to listen to him and learn something as well. This patient demonstrated again, as others before him, that, if Freud is not exactly a popular figure, the psychoanalysis that he created is nevertheless an experience that anybody can try, no matter his or her position in society _or_ in psychiatric nosological classifications. It can be tried by anyone, provided he or she is prepared to engage in an experience that is eminently _ethical_, in that it involves a radical questioning of ones subjectivity, of ones position in life concerning the things that have always been at the centre of ethical reflection: ones relation with the fellow human being, with desire, with truth, with good and evil, love and hatred,  happiness and tragedy.

        Freud inscribed the ethical dimension of the psychoanalytic experience in what he called its _fundamental rule_, the rule ironically called of free association, which he formulated as this (I quote a few lines from his paper On Beginning the Treatment):

So say whatever goes through your mind. [] Never forget that you have promised to be absolutely honest, and never leave anything out because, for some reason or other, it is unpleasant to tell it (Freud 1913c, p. 135).

Thousands and thousands of articles and entire books have been published by psychoanalysts of different schools since the birth of psychoanalysis, 111 years ago. The most dissonant arguments and discrepancies can be found in those texts. But Freuds fundamental rule has remained the reference point common to the practice of psychoanalysts of all orientations. This is indeed remarkable.

This appeal to truth and to a genuine subjective engagement with another human being has indeed the value of an ethical injunction and requires that the analyst live up to it. For if honesty is demanded of the patient it is also expected of the analyst, who can never assume the position of a mental health technician who would supposedly be neutral on ethical matters. What I am saying is not just a philosophical reflection: human ethics concern eminently _practical _matters as one of the fathers of moral philosophy, Immanuel Kant, proposed. (Kant 1956 [1788]) Ethics is practical reason, that is, pure reason applied to human affairs ultimately to making living together possible. The human being who comes to ask us for help always presents his problems in moral terms, and he or she is right in doing so, as his or her desire and his or her conception of the good are at stake. Thus, my patient defined his position in the world as that of a good for nothing. This is not simply a figure of speech: the phrase represented for him an unconscious superego mandate following which he ordained his entire life.

**2 **Sigmund Freud is being murdered

It is precisely the ethical position of psychoanalysis in our culture, and of the analysand and the analyst that make of psychoanalysis a living reality, that is responsible for the resistances that it continues to engender among the prevailing ideologies and the administrators of our well-being. All the mechanisms that Freud identified in the unconscious as instruments for the rejection of unpalatable truths repression, disavowal, foreclosure have been employed in sinister attempts to eradicate psychoanalysis from the lives of individuals and society at large. And it is not a coincidence that those attempts have been most implacable under totalitarian regimes. Even in societies that consider themselves democratic every fortnight or so we are told that Sigmund Freud is dead. Really? As if we had not noticed that the man born 150 years ago passed away at the age of 83. Those who so enthusiastically proclaim the death of Freud do not seem to realize that only those who are alive can be killed. I have wondered about the reasons for this _hatred _of Freud. For I do not think that hatred is too strong a word to designate this shameful demonstration of human intolerance. Sheer intolerance it is, as psychoanalysis is, as a practical experience, an entirely voluntary, non-compulsory one; and as a theory, one among others which as a rule have never been questioned in their right to exist. Why, then, such a hateful opposition? Of course, it is not only a question of Freud the man not only, but also the man; and his being Jewish has something to do with it, even if he qualified his Jewishness by calling himself a godless Jew . (Jones 1955, p. 507) But more importantly, the attempted murder of Freud concerns the revolution that he produced, the unprecedented human experience that he created, the extraordinary body of knowledge that he left for us and the generations to come the blow to human narcissism that he recognized as having inflicted on our race and that remains at bottom the source of the most formidable resistances against psychoanalysis. Who can accept without a struggle that we are not masters of our own thought, that the unconscious rules, that the sublime and the ridiculous in us have evolved from the same humble origins, the state of Hilflosigkeit (helplessness, as Freud called it) which prevails upon us, not only in our infancy, but rather during our entire existence? (Freud 1927c)

**3 **The compulsion to enjoy and be happy

Psychoanalysis was created at a time when capitalism was well established, at least in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the rest of the industrially developed world. Already during Freuds time the scientific and technological advances that made the expansion of capitalism possible were substantially transforming the lives of many people. In his seminal text of 1929, Civilization and its Discontents, Freud refers to the benefits brought about by technological advances, despite the fact that these advances were already under attack. Thus, he speaks of the much-despised era of scientific and technical advances. (Freud 1930a, p. 88)

        Since Freud, however, technological advances have been affecting our lives in unprecedented ways, and moulding what in the same essay (_Civilization and its Discontents_) Freud calls the _cultural superego_. (Freud 1930a, pp. 141-2) Normally _obscene and ferocious_ (to use Lacans terms; Lacan 2006 [1966], p. 517), our contemporary superego is more obscene and ferocious than ever before: it commands as to enjoy, to be happy at any cost and, of course, to consume, as consumption (now within the reach of many) is meant to guarantee the access to happiness.  It is perhaps rather late that as a culture we have recognized the illusions, delusions and other pathologies engendered by consumption and its greedy promotion. Freud was, however, perfectly aware of the pathogenic effects of the compulsion to be happy. He wrote, also in _Civilization and its Discontents_:

[Humans] strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so. This endeavour has two sides, a positive and a negative aim. It aims, on the one hand, at an absence of pain and unpleasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure. In its narrower sense the word happiness only relates to the last. [] What decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle. [..] There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm. There is no possibility at all of its being carried through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it. One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy is not included in the plan of Creation. [] Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, [] from the external world []; and finally from our relations to other men. (Freud 1930a, pp. 76-7)

No wonder Freud is not popular among a few (quite a few). What he wrote (and he wrote essentially on the basis of what he learned from his patients) is bad news for those who are in the business of either selling or buying happiness. For the same people all the human states and conditions that represent a threat to happiness anguish, depression, grief, loneliness, uncertainty and, in general, all forms of madness, neurosis included are to be eliminated. For some contemporary ideologies that are dominant precisely among the administrators and professionals who are meant to help those who suffer from those conditions, it is not a question of trying to learn from them (which requires listening to them, and that is what Freud did) but rather to combat them by means of biochemical agents or indoctrination into the merits of positive thinking and the demotion of false beliefs.** **

**4 **The boy who lost his smile

A boy, seven years of age, came to see me. I asked him what had brought him to talk with me. He thought for a moment and then said: I lost my smile. Then he told me many other things.

        Later in the day I reflected that I was a very fortunate man, and a privileged man; privileged to be able to occupy the position that Freud invented, that of the psychoanalyst; privileged to be able to listen to words that are increasingly rare in the world where we live; words that may well be uttered, but which normally do not reach any listener since in this world where we live many words are pronounced but very little is said, and even less is heard.

        For the loss of ones smile is a tragic loss indeed. Ren Spitz recognized in the smile the first clearly intersubjective act of symbolic communication, not simply an affective response but, more significantly, the infants active engagement in a dialogue with his or her mother. [Spitz 1965] The smile is the first word and it serves a symbolic function, in so far as it exchanged and it becomes an instrument of exchange, a most intimate exchange , in so far as it belongs in a game played by the infant and the mother that already involves a binary opposition (as the smile may be present or not) and in so far as it refers to a beyond, a satisfaction that the infant can read in the mothers face and that the mother can read in the infants face, a satisfaction that opens an enigmatic dimension, a question in both human beings as to what it is that really satisfies the other: me, _or_ something else?; me, _and_ something else? To lose ones smile is to lose the testimony, inscribed in the flesh, of those formative moments, of the experience of desire itself in the primordial relation with the mother. The smile has also been regarded as a mask; but it is a mask very sensitive to what lies behind it anybody can distinguish between a forced smile and a genuine smile.

        It was this genuine smile that my young patient was mourning. No amount of parental consolation (the boys parents were going through their divorce at the time) and no amount of technological advances could compensate for the irreversible loss that the boy was suffering, the loss of that all-too-human object, his smile; an object that is not for consumption, that cannot be bought or sold, that cannot be imposed, but which cannot be rejected either when it imposes itself.

        What was for me remarkable was the fact that, as I could ascertain as I got to know the boy better, when he said that he had lost his smile, he knew exactly what he was talking about (a rare occurrence in the case of many adults these days), and he also knew that he had to say those words to somebody who would receive them as a truthful and very serious statement, and that out of the same words something could be created.

**5 **A formative discourse

Psychoanalysis is not the only performative discourse in the sense in which Austin defined the term, that is to say, a discourse which changes, transforms the reality in which the subject lives and with it transforms the subject himself, as when one says I declare you husband and wife or, less formally, I love you. (Austin 1962) But the analytic discourse is fundamentally performative, not simply narrative or expressive. The human subject who embarks in an analysis undergoes a transformation through what he says to the analyst, who helps him to speak better. What the analysand says is formative. The analysand does not come to analysis to confess but, as Freud puts it in The Question of Lay Analysis

In Confession the sinner tells what he knows; in analysis the neurotic has to tell more. (Freud 1926e, pp. 188-9)

The neurotic tells more than he intends; through his voice the unconscious speaks, and thus the neurotic has the opportunity of getting to know what he has been, the unconscious mandates that have ruled his life in his ignorance, the destructive forms of satisfaction to which he is enslaved. This is, in fact, the therapeutic aim of psychoanalysis: how to make enjoyment compatible with life. But psychoanalysis is a therapy with a difference: it subordinates any therapeutic aims to the ethics that Jacques Lacan has called of speaking well: an ethics consistent with telling the truth and engaging oneself in a creative, formative bond with others. (Lacan 1990 [1974], p. 41)

**6 **Freuds dream

During the night of the 23rd to the 24th of July, 1895 Sigmund Freud had a dream, known as the dream of Irmas injection. (Freud 1900a, p. 96) For a few psychoanalysts, among whom I count myself, the analysis of this dream marks the birth of psychoanalysis if one can speak in those terms, which are necessarily arbitrary, as other dates could be chosen. For instance, the date of publication of Freuds paper, in French, Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses (March 30th, 1896; that is, a few months after the dream of Irmas injection), where the word psychoanalysis first appeared. The reason for assigning such prominent position to this dream in the work of Freud is because Freud himself considered its analysis to be decisive in terms of his own history, his subjective position vis--vis his creation, psychoanalysis, and the invention of the methodology that allowed him to decipher the dream and propose a new theory of human desire. Amid his vast production, it was The Interpretation of Dreams the book he most liked, both because of its scientific significance and its subjective value. He wrote in the Preface to the second edition that the book was a portion of his self-analysis, a reaction to his fathers death that is to say, to the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a mans life. (Freud 1900a, p. xxvi) He wrote in the Preface to the third English edition that insight such as this falls to ones lot but once in a lifetime. (Freud 1900a, p. xxxii) And in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess, shortly after the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, he asked, in reference to the analysis of the dream of Irmas injection and the house where it occurred, called Bellevue:

Do you suppose that some day a marble tablet will be placed on the house, inscribed with these words?

        In This House, on July 24th, 1895

        the Secret of Dreams was Revealed

        to Dr. Sigm. Freud

At the moment there seems little prospect of it. (Freud 1900a, p. 121)

Only a few hundred copies of the book were sold over the first five years after publication, although not long after it was translated into several languages and required re-editions of the original.

        Freud chose the dream of Irmas injection to demonstrate how his method of interpretation worked, and how dreams represent the fulfilment of unconscious desires historically originating in childhood. I do not have the time now to go through the analysis of what he calls a specimen dream. I only wish to say a few words on the reasons why Freud chose this dream as a paradigm and on the importance of its analysis for his own destiny and the destiny of psychoanalysis.

        Freud says that the analysis of this dream is incomplete. Yet he exposes what he believes to be the message contained in the dream, a message that represents the realization and fulfilment of an unconscious desire. I leave aside any objection that may arise and legitimately so concerning the fact that we are dealing with a dream dreamt by Freud and analysed by himself: this is a _partial _analysis in all senses of the term. This could the topic for another paper. But here I am interested in what Freud writes as conclusions and interpretation of the ultimate sense of the dream, in all probability without being fully aware of what he is saying which is a law of discourse that he himself discovered.

        He writes towards the end of Chapter II that the wish fulfilled by his dream concerns his exculpation from Irmas illness. The diverse ideas that the dream expresses converge into a single preoccupation, that Freud labels concern about my own and other peoples health professional conscientiousness. In response to the accusation that he does not take his medical duties seriously enough, in his dream he produces evidence of how highly conscientious I was, of how deeply I was concerned about the health of my relations, my friends and my patients. It was a noteworthy fact that this material also included some disagreeable memories, which supported my friend Ottos accusation rather than my own vindication. The material was, as one might say, impartial; but nevertheless there was an unmistakable connection between this more extensive group of thoughts which underlay the dream and the narrower subject of the dream which gave rise to the wish to be innocent of Irmas illness. (Freud 1900a, p. 120)

A few analysts have attempted to analyse Freuds analysis of his specimen dream in order to identify its real subjective significance. Again, I leave aside the epistemological validity of such exercises, which could be found to involve what Freud called wild analysis. What have interested me are the reflections, the after-thoughts and original elaborations that Freuds dream has stimulated. These are more important than the questions concerning the validity of the interpretation of second hand material. It is clear that nobody is in a position to analyse Sigmund Freud, but we are all in the position of always being able to learn from his works something new.

        Both Erik Erikson and Jacques Lacan have proposed that Freuds plea for exculpation concerns a fault which is more fundamental than what Freuds analysis reveals.

        Erikson suggests that the guilt involved in the dream concernsthe wish to be the one-and-only who would overcome the derisive fathers and unveil the mystery. It helped him in the necessity to abandon well-established methods of sober investigation (invented to find out a few things exactly and safely to overlook the rest) for a method of self-revelation apt to open the flood gates of the unconscious. (Erikson 1954, p. 51)

Lacan re-interpreted Freuds dream-wish as follows:

I am he who wants to be forgiven for having dared to begin to cure these patients, who until now no one wanted to understand and whose cure was forbidden. I am he who wants not to be guilty of it. [] Here I am only the representative of this vast, vague movement, the quest for truth, in which I efface myself. I am no longer anything. My ambition was greater than I. No doubt the syringe was dirty. And precisely to the extent that I desired it too much, that I partook in this action, that I wanted to be, myself, the creator, I am not the creator. The creator is someone greater than I. It is my unconscious, it is this voice that speaks in me, beyond me. (Lacan 1988, pp. 170-1)

Because Sigmund Freud was not scared of the unconscious and assumed full responsibility for his desire, he was able to realize his dream. Some desires, he wrote (also in The Interpretation of Dreams), can be fulfilled, if only one gathers enough courage. For years he had to work in what later he called splendid isolation, because his psychoanalysis did not bring him many friends or fame. It was different later, when the world started to recognize that Freud is one of those rare human beings who have made it, the world, liveable. Betraying his own desire was for Freud completely out of the question, in the same way in which he never betrayed his origins, his history or his convictions. When Max Graf, the father of Little Hans, asked for his advice on whether to convert his son to the Christian faith (concerned as he was about the anti-Semitism prevailing in Vienna), Freud did not hesitate to write to him:

If you do not let your son grow up as a Jew, you will deprive him of those sources of energy which cannot be replaced by anything else. He will have to struggle as a Jew, and you ought to develop in him all the energy he will need for that struggle. Do not deprive him of that advantage. (Graf 1942, p. 473)

**7 **Our dream

In so many ways Freud remains ahead of us. We may complain about the hostility and the indifference with which psychoanalysis has been treated lately, particularly by the public institutions which are responsible for the care of so many fellow human beings whose words have been silenced. But it was not easier for Freud. If he succeeded (although towards the end of his life he declared that the struggle was not over), it was because he defended his creation without giving concessions that is, without attempting to make it more palatable for those who only want to be happy.

        My dream is to have the strength, the dignity and the courage to follow Freuds path, to live up to the trust that those who have read some books and who have lost their smiles have placed on me, to help them decipher their dreams and say their word.