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Timms, E. (2001). Freud's Imagined Audience: Dream Text and Cultural Context. Psychoanal. Hist., 3(1):3-17.

(2001). Psychoanalysis and History, 3(1):3-17


Freud's Imagined Audience: Dream Text and Cultural Context

Edward Timms

The Interpretation of Dreams is, by common consent, Freud's most subjective book. The narrative depends on the first-person singular pronoun ‘ich’, and the book acquires a confessional tone through the prominence Freud gives to his own dreams. For an author who prided himself on the ‘scientific’ status of his work, this subjectivity is rather surprising. One only has to compare The Interpretation of Dreams with the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, published five years later, to see that in his more rigorous writings he prefers impersonal narrative structures, using the word ‘ich’ very sparingly. An even more striking feature of The Interpretation of Dreams is Freud's use of ‘we’, the first person plural ‘wir’. He consistently prefers it to the word ‘one’ (‘man’), which in German would have offered a more impersonal alternative. He rarely says ‘one dreams’, almost always ‘we dream(‘wir traumen’). Who is this ‘we’ with whom the narrator expresses his solidarity? To answer this question, I shall try to define Freud's imagined audience, basing my paper on the first edition of Die Traumdeutung, translated by Joyce Crick. This will involve restoring Freud's arguments to their original context in the Vienna of the late 1890s, which was very different from that around 1910, when he prepared the revised and expanded second, third and fourth editions for the press.

The Reading Public

The prominence given to ‘we’ in the celebrated first chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, the review of ‘Scientific Literature’, might suggest that Freud was appealing to a scientific consensus. This is the ‘we’ that one uses in a statement like: ‘we know how much Freud's theory owed to his friend Wilhelm Fliess’.

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