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O'Donoghue, D. (2005). Lingua Flora: Deciphering the “Dream of the Botanical Monograph”. Am. Imago, 62(2):157-177.

(2005). American Imago, 62(2):157-177

Lingua Flora: Deciphering the “Dream of the Botanical Monograph”

Diane O'Donoghue

“The productions of the dream-work,” Freud (1900) contended, “present no greater difficulties to their translators than do the ancient hieroglyphic scripts to those who seek to read them” (341). This comparison reflects his belief in the existence of parallel languages within a dream, with the manifest content resembling “a pictographic script” (277) that can be decoded to render the latent “thoughts” legible. In framing his epigraphy of the unconscious in terms of hieroglyphic texts, Freud was perhaps also aligning the method of his “discovery” with the well-known accomplishments of nineteenth-century European linguists. Notable among them was Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), credited with bringing legibility to early Egyptian texts by recognizing the relationship among three inscriptions on a damaged stele brought to France from an old port city near Alexandria. Champollion identified the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone as versions of the same narrative: the pictographs could be made intelligible by recourse to the other, more readable, scripts carved below them. Freud, likewise, imagined the dual character of the dream to be “two versions of the same subject matter in two different languages” (1900, 277). He considered these to be as particular in form and syntax as the languages preserved on the fragment from Rosetta; for Freud, the operations of the dream-work made the manifest content and the latent thoughts appear to be distinct and incommensurable, as if etched into separate psychic registers, although they were really saying the same thing.

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