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Mayer, A. (2015). Thinking in Cases, Picturing Types: On the Afterlife of Galton's Composite Photographs in Psychoanalysis. Ann. Psychoanal., 38:71-86.

(2015). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 38:71-86

Thinking in Cases, Picturing Types: On the Afterlife of Galton's Composite Photographs in Psychoanalysis

Andreas Mayer, Ph.D.

In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud makes recurrent use of various metaphors in order to illustrate the peculiar mechanisms of distortion that occur in the mental fabrication of dreams. In his discussion of one of the principal operations of “dream work,” the work of condensation, he refers repeatedly to the then widely known technique of composite photography originally invented by the scientist Francis Galton for the detection and depiction of statistical types (Freud, 1900a, pp. 139, 293; Galton, 1878). In this essay I address the meaning of this reference and its relevance to the epistemic practice of psychoanalytic interpretation. I start by expounding the relationship between Galton's new technique and his own psychometric self-experiments in order to reconstruct a largely ignored connection between associationist psychology and photography. Galton's photographic tool for picturing statistical types has been interpreted mostly as an instrument of social control and racial eugenicist politics (see, e.g., Green, 1984; Sekula, 1986). In a more finely nuanced contribution, Carlo Ginzburg (2004) pointed persuasively to the subversive use that many twentieth-century thinkers (such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Gregory Bateson) made of the metaphor of the composite image. According to such a reading, the Galtonian photograph became a tool to think with not necessarily connected to the eugenicist agenda of its inventor. My aim in this essay is to clarify how the reference to Galton's device operated in Freud's interpretation of his own dreams and in subsequent extensions of psychoanalysis to the field of literature and mythology.

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