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Gross, A. (1949). Sense of Time in Dreams. Psychoanal Q., 18:466-470.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:466-470

Sense of Time in Dreams

Alfred Gross, M.D.

'The Unconscious Is Timeless': this psychoanalytic aphorism has blocked many analysts' interest in temporal relationships in dreams. Perhaps the thought that what is valid for the unconscious is valid for dreams overlooked the fact that not everything in dreams belongs or takes place in the system, Ucs. At any rate, references to the sense of time are abundant in dreams and are important to dream theory. They may be classified either according to the stage in the dream process at which they appear (manifest dream, latent dream thoughts, or the day residues), or according to different concepts of time. These differences have different practical meanings and perhaps also different theoretical implications.


The familiar fact that references to time frequently occur in the manifest dream is strange in itself for several reasons. As elements of the dream thoughts they would, according to Freud, be reduced by the dream work to more elementary mental categories and would thus appear in the manifest dream as either references to space, as figures, or as references to body elements. This general tendency of the dream work to distort notions of time into timeless mental categories can easily enough be understood as the derivative of an ego activity; for as the ego's wish to sleep is mainly achieved by a withdrawal from reality, that withdrawal would be impaired by admission of the passage of time, owing to the close relationship between time and reality.

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