January 30, 2008


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The theme for this week's Goat Rope is dreams and what they may or may not mean. You will also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

No discussion of dreams would be complete without spending a little time with Old Man Sig. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams made a huge splash in 1900 and is still worth a look all these years later. He also wrote a shorter, more accessible book titled On Dreams in 1901.

Freud's basic idea here is that dreams are more or less disguised wish fulfillment's usually originating from unconscious desires. Sometimes this is all too obvious and the desires are too, as when hungry people dream of food or lonely people dream of company (take that any way you want it).

In other cases this isn't so obvious. Some dreams seem scary or just senseless. He believed that dreams have both a manifest and a latent content which together make up what he called the dream work. The manifest content of a dream might involve say a house. The latent or hidden idea behind this image could mean something else entirely, for example the body.

The process of interpreting dreams for him involved breaking down the manifest or obvious content into its component parts and analyzing the things the dreamer associates with them. Dreams are tricky critters and employ a number of ruses, including metaphors and similes, condensation, substitution and other ways of disguising their meaning:

The dream thoughts which we first come across as we proceed with our analysis often strike us by the unusual form in which they are expressed; they are not clothed in the prosaic language usually employed by our thoughts, but are on the contrary represented symbolically by means of similes and metaphors, images resembling those of poetic speech. (On Dreams, ch. 6.)

Why bother with all the imagery? For Freud, people have unconscious desires, often of a sexual nature, which are repressed most of the time. When we sleep, the repression eases up enough for the varmints to get out, but they pass through what he called a "dream censor" which disguises them so as not to disturb sleep or the sleeper. A nightmare is a really disguised wish in which one part of us wants something the other parts would be creeped out by.

For Freud, dreams aren't the only way the unconscious pokes out, if you'll pardon the expression. Slips of the tongue, mistaken actions, and symptoms are other ways.

Later in life, after studying the nightmares of many World War I veterans suffering from what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he came to partially modify his theory in the book Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In that 1920 book, he developed his theory of the death instinct.

Even if we can't go all the way with Sig, he does deserve great credit for getting the study of dreams on the agenda of psychology. The problems with his theory is its reductionism. Some dreams really are Freudian, but others not so much.

I remember once waking up after a classic Freudian dream--flying, trains, tunnels, all that--and wanting to write a nasty letter to my unconscious saying "How trite! How cliched! Couldn't you come up with something a little more original?"

THE MISSING PIECE. Washington Post columnist Marie Cocco states the obvious about the need to expand unemployment benefits in a recession. Stating the obvious is necessary in these 2+2=5 days.

SMIRK OF THE UNION. More comments and links about the recession and the receding state of the union can be found here.

ANOTHER BAD IDEA would be extending the arms race into space.

YOUNG VOTERS, already saddled with debt and worried about health care and a declining middle class, are the subject of this Business Week article.

LEGISLATIVE PARADOX. Any time someone proposes that the WV legislature proposes some action benefiting working folks, they can expect to be asked "How are we going to pay for it?" Fair enough. But not too many of them seem to be saying the same thing about proposed cuts to corporate taxes.

WV INSPIRES GRISHAM. Popular courtroom novelist John Grisham's latest novel--about a rich businessman who buys a judge's election--was inspired in part by WV's 2004 Supreme Court election when Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent millions of his own dollars to elect the politically unknown Brent Benjamin.

On a similar front, Benjamin has consistently refused to recuse himself from cases involving Massey (he's usually on their side), including a pending lawsuit for $220 million. Chief justice Spike Maynard, who was photographed vacationing with Blankenship did recuse himself from the case in the wake of recent publicity.


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