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Eigen, M. (1983). On Time and Dreams. Psychoanal. Rev., 70(2):211-220.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(2):211-220

On Time and Dreams

Michael Eigen, Ph.D.

Dreams teach us much about our experience of time and are filled with such experience. It is an illusion to think of dreams as wholly outside of temporality or merely confined to an eternal present. Freud's1 dictum that the unconscious is timeless cannot be applied to dreams in any global, indiscriminate way. Insofar as ego mechanisms structure dreams, time is very much of the essence. Thought processes such as reversal, condensation, symbolization, and displacement are frequently intimately interwoven with deep-seated wishes related to lived time. Similarly, Straus's (1966) observation that dreams possess only a discontinuous present must be highly qualified. I will indicate below that the structure of dreams, singly or in sequence, often contains a temporal arc, an implied developmental sequence which could have no genuine meaning without a temporal reference. Actions in dreams carry directional tendencies. They arise in temporal pulsations which link before and after and act like vectors. The inarticulate dreaming experience (Khan, 1976), it seems to me, also possesses a temporal arc and is so meaningful precisely because of the intangible way it spreads a path through time.

It is, of course, most difficult to stay close to the presenting dream text or experience of the dream, in whole or part. Some might say impossible. The processes that create the dream are perhaps always operative. There may be no such thing as a completed dream. Still different attitudes or ways of paying attention to a dream may be discriminated. One may simply try to pay attention to it, as openly as possible, and see what experiences and imaginative suggestions it will give rise to. Or one may catch oneself foreclosing the possibilities of meaning by seizing on one or another piecemeal suggestion in order to relieve tension. In the latter instance one may study ways one

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