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Palombo, S.R. (1984). Deconstructing the Manifest Dream. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 32:405-420.

(1984). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 32:405-420

Deconstructing the Manifest Dream

Stanley R. Palombo, M.D.


A major part of the analyst's task is to discover the basis for the patient's misidentification of his present life situation with significant but threatening events of his earlier life, now repressed and inaccessible to conscious recall. Reconstructing the patient's history is a crucial step in this process of discovery, but the dynamic relation between the present and the past must be reconstructed as well.

The structure of the manifest dream contains the key to this relation. The imagery of the dream is a composite of experiential materials drawn from important drive-related events of the present and the past. The complex formed by the manifest dream and the patient's associations provides the analyst with data about both of these distinct sets of drive-related experiences.

As Freud's discussion of his Mélusine dream illustrates, one associative thread can be traced to an experience that incorporates a conflicted current wish. Another thread will lead to

an experience in which a repressed wish of childhood has been expressed. Where the two associative threads converge, in the composite imagery of the dream, the basis for the identification between the wishes of the present and the past will be exposed.

An understanding of the structure of the manifest dream helps to clarify some of the important theoretical issues left unresolved in Freud's writings. These include: the function of the day residue and the mechanism through which it is formed, the relation of the screen memory to the associative process, and the differing roles of condensation and displacement in dream construction and free association. A simple procedure is described for enhancing the recovery of the significant childhood memories whose details have been incorporated into the composite imagery of the manifest dream.

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