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Glenn, J. (1973). Coal as an Erotic Symbol. Psychoanal. Rev., 60(2):297-300.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Review, 60(2):297-300

Coal as an Erotic Symbol

Justin Glenn, PILD

A few recorded dreams will always hold an eminent position in the history of psychoanalysis. The dream of “Irma's injection,” which first suggested to Freud the kernel of his theory of dreams, is one.1a Less famous, perhaps, but almost equally important, is the dream of “the Wagner opera,” which occupies a crucial position in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams.1b Presented about midway through the book, this dream is introduced in the course of a detailed discussion of dreamwork. Up to this point, he had limited himself basically to two major processes of dreamwork, condensation and displacement. With his interpretation of this dream (and in particular its symbolic use of a tower and coal), however, Freud launches out into the vast area of the pictorial symbolism in dreams which is so characteristic of the dreamwork. His research into symbolism proved to be perhaps the most fruitful and far-reaching contribution of this book, which he rightly regarded as his masterpiece. In view of the prominent place which this dream holds in the genesis of psychoanalysis, it is remarkable that subsequent psychoanalytic writings seem to have failed to produce any additional examples to reinforce Freud's interpretation of coal as an erotic symbol.

Before proceeding further, we should pause to recall the details of the dream in question. As related to Freud by a “lady acquaintance,” it runs as follows:

She was at the opera. A Wagner opera was being performed, and had lasted till a quarter to eight in the morning. There were tables set out in the stalls, at which people were eating and drinking. Her cousin, who had just got back from his honeymoon, was sitting at one of the tables with his young wife, and an aristocrat was sitting beside them.

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