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Cohler, B.J. (2015). Reading the Interpretation of Dreams: Freud and the Rhetoric of Wish and Awareness. Ann. Psychoanal., 38:20-39.

(2015). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 38:20-39

II: Historical Perspectives

Reading the Interpretation of Dreams: Freud and the Rhetoric of Wish and Awareness

Bertram J. Cohler, Ph.D.

Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900b) remains the cornerstone of psychoanalytic inquiry. In a carefully argued and complex text that was revised eight times during the course of Freud's career (Grubrich-Simitis, 2000; Marinelli and Mayer, 2003), the dream book portrays a model of mental life that is founded on conflict between a nuclear wish, arising in the preschool years and always seeking satisfaction, that is opposed by personal morality founded on values learned in childhood. This wish must necessarily remain out of awareness and is able to realize at least partial satisfaction only in a disguised manner, evading censorship, such as in dreams or symptoms. the problem of the dream book is that Freud must convince the reader that our mental life is governed by this wish that by definition can never attain awareness (Kohut and Seitz, 1963). This essay discusses how Freud resolved the rhetorical dilemma he confronted by using his own biography in supporting his theory of dream interpretation, while struggling not to reveal aspects of his life that might prove embarrassing.

An additional problem posed by the argument of the dream book is that in his effort to convince the reader of his model of the mind through the analysis of dreams, Freud is unable to use the dreams of his analysands. the scientific community and lay readers would be likely to disregard these dreams as products of an abnormal mental state. of equal importance, working in a milieu in which his analysands were often family friends or neighbors and easily recognizable (Anzieu, 1986; Gay, 1988), Freud would have found it difficult to maintain confidentiality if he were to recount his analysands' dreams. There was only one alternative, that of using his own dreams. Because Freud was a physician and a University of Vienna Medical School faculty member, he believed that his own accounts of the interpretation of dreams would gain credibility.

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