Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia-or-Dream of the Blue Flower

Language of Flowers -or- Freud's Botanical Monograph 

Freud in his "Dream of the Botanical Monograph" provides a hermeneutic key to understanding his problems in writing "Interpretation of Dreams", as well as providing a door to his personal memories and motivations. Here is the text of Freud's dream; 

"I have written a monograph on a certain plant. The book lay before me and I  was at the moment turning over a folded colored plate. Bound up in each copy there was a dried specimen of the plant as though it had been taken from a herbarium." (1) 

Freud had apparently been experiencing writers block in relation to completing his "dream book". Shortly after receiving a letter from his confidant Wilhelm Fliess, Freud's "Dream of the Botanical Monograph" provided inspiration to continue and complete his dream book. 

While Freud's dream is "overdetermined" touching on numerous memories, "trains of thought", feelings and associations about his personal growth and development, it is none the less a story spoken in the communal and personal poetic "language of flowers". In part, this romantic language alludes to the poetic relationship between men and women. The poetically unspoken coded language of flowers had found a home in the Victorian emotionally repressive era, an era Freud found himself living in. 

The language of flowers has a long history. From a literary perspective, anthologies are metaphorically seen as "gathering of flowers". The mythological tale of Narciss, informs us that after he died he was transformed into a narcissus flower. The poppy is symbolically used as a memorial communal expression on Remembrance Day. The US White House, has a "rose garden". 

Roses can be found in popular culture, such as the "rose ceremonies" seen in the TV shows the Bachelor and Bachelorette, as well as in our modern dreams. Women are said to be "deflowered". The title of the semi-autobiographical novel "I Never Promised you a Rose Garden" by Joanne Greenberg is poetic shorthand for the psychological battle with schizophrenia. The popular song "Delta Dawn" (watch Tanya Tucker's music video) poetically speaks of the faded rose of a southern belle. 

Seen in this light, Freud's dream book "Interpretation of Dreams" represents a poetic collection and illustration of the narcissistic language of flowers, a Victorian era anthology of dream visions. Freud's trains of thought do not turn to the most obvious dried flowers of the past, namely the literary "specimen" provided by the German poet Novalis in his unfinished coming of age story  Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Heinrich has a dream of the "blue flower" which symbolizes the poetic connections of nature, growth, longings of desire, and the numinous feelings of love. 

Novalis "Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia" can be seen as his own poetic inspiration and longings for the romantic dream of the blue flower. Romanticism was a ontological reaction against the scientific rationalizations of nature. We can compare Novalis romantic numinous dream of the blue flower and Freud's dried poetic "specimens", and can begin to see and understand why the always rational Freud could not let himself experience the "oceanic feeling" of limitless narcissism, the numinous and the mystical, yet understood of its existence in others dreams.   

Speaking of others dreams, Carl Jung "Psychology and Alchemy" reported a short dream provided by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Here is the dream; 

"The dreamer goes for a long walk, and finds a blue flower on the way." 

Jung's interpretation is that Pauli is searching for something. Jung poetically tells the reader; "The dreamer finds a blue flower blossoming aimlessly by the wayside, a chance child of nature, evoking friendly memories of a more romantic and lyrical age, of the youthful season when it came to bud, when the scientific view of the world had not yet broken away from the world of actual experience-or rather when this break was only just beginning and the eye looked back to what was already the past. The flower is in fact like a friendly sign, a numinous emanation from the unconscious, showing the dreamer, who as a modern man has been robbed of security and of participation in all the things that lead to man's salvation, the historical place where he can meet friends and brothers of like mind, where he can find the seed that wants to sprout in him too." 

Condensing Jung's interpretation, we can see that Pauli is searching for Novalis's numinous blue flower, "as a chance child of nature, evoking friendly memories of a more romantic and lyrical age...." Jung is critisizing the scientific view of the world for having broken away from "a more romantic and lyrical age...." Like Freud, Jung does not formally recognize Novalis romantic inspirational dream of the blue flower. Unlike Freud, Jung clearly does experience the "numinous emanation" of the blue flower. Jung's human need for the "participation in all the things", alludes to his ideas about "participation mystique". Is it surprising that Jung and Pauli would later go on to write a book together with the title "Interpretation of Nature and Psyche"? 

"Field Notes of a Dream Researcher: 1001 Nights in the Global Village" is  dedicated in part, to the dream of blue flower and the individual and collective poetic narcissistic language of flowers. 

Further Reading: 

  1. Sigmund Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams" (Angela Richard ed.), Penguin Books, paperback, 1988, p254.
  2. Carl Gustav Jung, "Psychology and Alchemy", (translated by RFC Hull), 2 edition, Bollingen paperback, 1993, p79.
  3. Didier Anzieu, (1986). Freud's self-analysis. (P. Graham, Trans.).
  4. David Foulkes, (1978). A grammar of dreams.
  5. Alexander Grinstein, (1980). Sigmund Freud's dreams.
  6. J.M. Masson, J.M. (1985) (Ed.) The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904.
  7. Marshall W. Alcorn Jr., "Narcissism and the Literary Libido"
  8. Lawrence D. Kritzman, "The Rhetoric of Sexuality and the Literature of the French Renaissance"
  9. Paul de Man, "The Rhetoric of Romanticism" 
  10. Nicholas Roe, "Romanticism: An Oxford Guide"
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.