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van Velzen, H.U. (1997). Dramatization: How Dream Work Shapes Culture. Psychoanal. Rev., 84(2):173-188.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Review, 84(2):173-188

I: Culture and Imagination

Dramatization: How Dream Work Shapes Culture

H. U. E. Thoden van Velzen, Ph.D.

Dream work and the work of culture

In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Freud outlined the three mechanisms of dream work. He gave the premier place to condensation (Verdichtung) and displacement (Verschiebung), and accorded a lesser place to the third mechanism, a variety of symbolic transformations known under the unwieldy name “considerations of representability” (Rücksicht auf Darstellbarkeit) or “means of representation.”1 In the pages of The Interpretation dealing with the latter mechanism Freud discusses a repertoire of mental techniques that can transform causal reasoning or other discursive lines of thought into the language of dreams. I will argue that “dramatization” is a major process among these “means of representation.” Dramatization is at work in all major symbolic transformations, and dream work itself is centered around it. Two examples are employed to make this point. First, the role of dramatization will be shown in “The Dream of Irma's Injection,” Freud's specimen dream. A new religious cult of the Suriname Maroons, the second example, will demonstrate that such dream mechanisms, and dramatization in particular, elucidate cultural analysis.

In its most simple form, Freud dream model posits a two-tiered structure. Dream thoughts are kept from entering consciousness, from becoming dream content or manifest dream by a censor. The censor is a metaphor for the totality of dream mechanisms. In Freudian thinking, all three mechanisms join efforts to protect the dreamer against the onslaught of the latent thoughts or dream thoughts, against a host of unpleasant or frightening ideas and impulses.

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