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Friday, September 10, 2010

FREUD: On Dreams

This was Freud’s dream: Company at table or table d’hote…spinach was being eaten…Frau E.L. was sitting beside me; she was turning her whole attention to me and laid her hand on my knee in an intimate manner. I removed her hand unresponsively. She then said: “But you’ve always had such beautiful eyes.”…I then had an indistinct picture of two eyes, as though it were a drawing or like the outline of a pair of spectacles. Ok, that’s the dream. The dream itself is what Freud calls the manifest content. But there’s also a deeper meaning which Freud calls the latent content. Freud assures us that by critically pursuing the associations arising from any dream I can arrive at a similar train of thoughts…which are interconnected in a rational and intelligible manner. These interconnected thoughts will disclose the “latent content” of our dreams. Freud’s analysis of his own dream shows that Frau E.L. is the daughter of a man to whom I was once in debt… and Freud concludes that I have always paid dearly for whatever advantage I have had from other people. That’s an interesting interpretation of his dream. But let’s try this method out for ourselves. Let’s see what we can come up with by using Freud’s own method to analyze the same dream. Side note: Freud was Jewish and married the daughter of the chief rabbi in Hamburg. Freud insists that details matter.

So let’s start with the table. What does the table represent in the dream? In Jewish tradition a table is a lot like an altar where sacrifices of food are offered to God. And this isn’t just any old table, it’s a table d’hote. That’s the literal French term for “host’s table.” So Freud is dreaming about dining at a table where someone else is providing the food. Who could the host possibly be? In Jewish tradition Wisdom is sometimes personified in feminine terms. Proverbs 9:2, for example, says She (Wisdom) has prepared a great banquet, mixed the wines, and set the table. Coincidence? Freud says these things are important in analyzing our dreams. Let’s keep going.

A concept that often goes along with table d’hote is the prix fixe menu or “set menu.” Jewish law in Leviticus has very strict regulations about how the altar is to be set up and the food is to be prepared and eaten. Exodus 25:30 states: Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. But Leviticus speaks mostly about animals or grain being offered. In his dream Freud is very specific that it was spinach being eaten. What possible meaning can spinach have? It just so happens that spinach originated in ancient Persia. So? This is close to the ancient city of Ur. So? Abram, the spiritual father of all Jews, was from Ur. Coincidence? Maybe. Spinach is a leafy vegetable and leafy vegetables come from gardens. What’s the most famous garden of all, especially for a Jew? The Garden of Eden. Another coincidence? Maybe. But Freud insists we should pursue the thought associations arising from our dreams. No matter how trivial or coincidental they seem. So let’s go on a little further in our pursuit.

Next let’s consider the significance of Frau E.L. “Frau” is a German word that means woman. In Jewish tradition who’s the first woman? Eve. But the word “Frau” can also mean one’s wife. In Jewish tradition who’s the first wife? That was also Eve. Interesting. But so what? Well this isn’t just any old “Frau.” It’s Frau E.L. So? “El” just happens to be the ancient near Eastern word signifying “God.” For example in Genesis 35:7 we read that Jacob built an altar there and named the place El-bethel (which means "God of Bethel"), because God had appeared to him there. Remember, Freud’s wife is the daughter of a prominent rabbi. Surely Freud would have been familiar with the story in Genesis 3:8: They heard the voice of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden. Why were they hiding from God? They were ashamed because they had EATEN from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In his dream Freud was sitting beside Frau E.L. and says she was turning her whole attention to me and laid her hand on my knee in an intimate manner. She had her whole attention turned to Freud. But why would she put her hand on his knee (especially in an intimate manner)? In Jewish tradition the wisest man who ever lived was King Solomon. In the first Book of Kings we find that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication to Yahweh, he arose from before the altar of Yahweh, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread forth toward heaven. Did Freud ever get down on his knees and pray to God as Solomon did? At the beginning of his essay Freud talks about “pre-scientific men” who believed dreams were a manifestation by higher powers, demonic and divine. But Freud’s goal was to bring the psychology of dreams up to the scientific standards of the modern world. To believe in higher powers would undermine his whole program. So when Frau E.L. put her hand on his knee in an intimate manner what was Freud’s response? He says I removed her hand unresponsively. Unresponsive. Interesting. Does that mean Freud was subconsciously rejecting his wife? If so was it because she was a rabbi’s daughter? Or was he rejecting all aggressive women because they’re sexually threatening? Adam wasn’t able to resist Eve in the Garden of Eden. They both ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Was Freud rejecting his Jewish heritage? Was he rejecting God? What would Freud’s father-in-law think about all this? Remember the psychoanalytic method: analysis of dreams isn’t easy and we have to follow the train of thoughts wherever they may lead. Freud’s dream doesn’t end there.

She then said: “But you’ve always had such beautiful eyes.” Why would Frau E.L. pick Freud’s eyes? Why not his hands? Or why not “you’ve always had such a logical mind”? No, it was his eyes that affected her. Why? We see with our eyes; they give us our “vision” of life. If we’re blind we can’t see; like Oedipus the King. But sometimes we can’t see even if we have eyes to see with. Let’s follow this train of thought. In Deuteronomy 9:17 Moses tells his fellow Jews:
I took the stone tablets and threw them to the ground, smashing them before your eyes. God had given Moses two stone tablets to take back to the Jewish people. They contained the Ten Commandments and were supposed to help lift the Jews out of slavery and darkness. Freud’s eyes were beautiful but had he lost that Jewish vision? Had he traded the ancient Hebrew vision for a modern theory of his own: psychoanalysis? If so, his Jewish heritage would no longer sustain Freud. In Job 32:1 we read that these three men gave no more answers to Job, because he seemed to be right in his own eyes. Was Freud so convinced of his own theory that he rejected three thousand years of cumulated Jewish experience? The Jewish holy books seem to have no more answers for Freud. Why? Because Freud seemed to himself to be right in his own eyes. Ironically, the heritage that Freud rejects had confronted the interpretation of dreams over a thousand years ago. It’s nothing new: Daniel 2:6 says if you tell me the dream and its meaning, I will give you gifts, awards, and high honors. Now tell me the dream and its meaning.

Finally, Freud says I then had an indistinct picture of two eyes, as though it were a drawing or like the outline of a pair of spectacles. Maybe “spectacles” form our vision of life. Were the spectacles of psychoanalysis Freud’s best friend or his worst enemy? Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture and this complicated analysis brings us right back where we started: at the table. It’s almost like a dream: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Coincidence?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is hysterical. I am not sure if you intend the humor, but it is very amusing. It mocks how Freud proceeds with his free association in interpreting dreams. As you say, people have been interpreting dreams for thousands of years, with more or less the same success rate as Freud and his devoted followers. It is not significantly different from reading the entrails of a dead chicken. Every thing that happens to us can be mulled over, analyzed, discussed and made into a great theatrical production. Is it science? Well, I suppose it can be if you consider soothsaying, palm reading, or Dianetics to be scientific. Like taking a Rorschach test, you see pretty much what you want to see. On the other hand, interpreting holy scripture raises a lot of the same issues that you apply to the interpretation of dreams. But no one in his right mind claims that reading scripture is equivalent to doing science. They operate in different spheres of human experience. It was inexcusable and pathetic for Freud to dismiss religion as a form of irrational longing (the oceanic mysticism of faith), while pretending that his own work rested upon a secure intellectual foundation. Yeah, right! That whole theory of infantile sexuality sounded real convincing. Freud was a snake oil salesman, a rainmaker, a flim-flam man who ran an intellectual ponzi scheme on the whole world and became famous in the process. But was he a scientist? Sure he was, and P.T. Barnum was the first psychoanalyst to probe the human condition.

10/07/2010 1:51 PM  

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