Interpretation of Dreams -or- In the Blink of an Eye: Part 1

Science, Art and the Unconscious Mind-or-Clinical Psychological Use of Dreams 

Celebrating the centennial of Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams", Lynn Gamwell (ed) "Dreams 1900 -2000: Science, Art, and the Unconscious Mind" states that Freud's Interpretation of Dreams; "marked the founding of modern psychology. Western societies had sought the meaning of the human condition by looking to an oracle, a deity, or nature. But Freud, in the scientific spirit of the fin de siècle Europe, located it within the mind, which he described in terms of the neurology and evolutionary biology of his day as a complex organism that spontaneously generates meaning below the level of awareness. Offering a secular response to the ancient admonition know thyself, Freud looked inward and interpreted his dreams, which were ‘the royal road to a knowledge of the workings of the unconscious mind.'"  

In the book the clinical psychologist Lucy C. Daniels, "Dreams in the Pursuit of Art" begins her contribution to the celebration of Freud's work with a clinical dream from a "nine-year old boy whose beloved adoptive mother died suddenly two years before." Here is the dream; "My mother came back and stood before me. But when I blinked, she was gone again." Ironically, perhaps subconsciously, a connection can be seen, of this dream to a dream found in Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams". In the seventh chapter of Freud's Interpretation, we can find a dream of a father whose child had shortly before passed on. 

In the father's dream, "his child was standing beside his bed, caught him by the arm and whispered to him reproachfully": ‘Father, don't you see I'm burning?'. Then the father woke up. Cathy Caruth "Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History", discusses the father's dream, as a psychological traumatic problem of the father's loss, grief, and grieving. The dream dramatizes the father's agonized visual desire to keep the child alive, or at least its memory alive. Caruth associates the father's nightmare with a repetitive child's game which Freud had observed, the "fort-da game" (away-here game) which Freud associated to the child's fears of separation

In English speaking circles, the game of "peekaboo" fits the visual description of the type of game. The fear and reality of loss, and the problem of "coping" that it presents, is both our greatest fear and trauma. Viewed from an emotional perspective as the need for "object constancy" and for "object relations", these are then seen as our primary human motivations. These needs, desires, motives and fears are found in our dreams and in our nightmares. 

The child's dream that Lucy Daniels reports above, adds another psychological dimension to the trauma of loss that the nine-year old boy is faced with, namely the poetic visual moment "in the blink of an eye". Walter Murch's essay, "In the Blink of an Eye", discusses ideas about film editing and that 51% of the decision to cut (edit) is based on what the viewer should be feeling. In other words our visual thinking is edited primarily by our emotional responses to the mise en scene being viewed and experienced. By the same token, the visual scenes found in our dreams are dramatically driven, punctuated and edited by what we think, feel and sense in our desired interpersonal communication (and relationships). 

Further Reading:

  • Walter Bonime, "The Clinical Use of Dreams"
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.