Histories of Meaning
Earl Jackson, Jr.
Winter 1999 Seminar
University of California at Santa Cruz
Below is Nichole Kypreos’s response in its entirety. Please read this before proceeding to Earl Jackson, Jr.’s commentary. You will find a button at the bottom of this page marked alêtheia that will take you to Earl’s side of the conversation.
Response to Aristotles On Dreams and Prophesying by Dreams with a Freudian Interface
Aristotle attempts scientific explanations for the dream. For Aristotle, the dream is a presentation of the relationship between sense perception and its effects on internal bodily functions. By understanding the nature of sense perception and its lasting impressions upon the dreaming mind, Aristotle hopes to „obtain a scientific view of the nature of the dream and the manner in which it originates by regarding it in the light of the circumstances attending sleep.“ [On Dreams, 459a, 20-25]. He borrows from the laws of physics to qualitatively understand dream processes and the passage from external to internal sensory impressions. He likens the propagation of motion to the movement of the lasting sensory impression when the visual stimulus has been removed, similar to Shakespeares „minds eye.“ Furthermore, Aristotle notes the effects of these images during sleep using biological explanations and laws of physics for clarity. Sensory impressions become distorted, usually arising from somatic and biological agitations, paralleling this particular kind of distortion to the malformed reflected image in a disturbed pool of water [460b, 15-25].
Likewise Freud alludes to the prescientific dream analysis in which dreams were believed to have originated from divine power for specific purposes (On Dreams, 5). Aristotle, then, even as Freud refers to such 19th century thinkers as Schubert and Scherner, seems to represent a turning point within the dream discussion as he favors the scientific over the divinatory inquiry into the origin and nature of dreams. In On Prophesying by Dreams, he alludes the possibility of dreams as messages from the gods, yet questions how that could be true when „inferior“ men have prophetic dreams as well as men of high intellect and status [463b, 15-20]. Both Aristotle and Freud admit to the existence of a specific area of the brain in which internal sensory perception and dreaming occurs and warn of overvaluing their contents in terms of divine inspiration. Freud instead emphasizes dream interpretation over origin, following popular opinion and interest, and thereby offers and interpretative process for dream analysis (7).
As a kind of satellite to On Prophesying by Dreams, Aristotle, in closing On Dreams, discusses the role of the dream interpreter. He who attempts dream analysis must detect resemblances, decipher the distorted image, and „at a glance, comprehend, the scattered and distorted fragments of such forms,“ [464b, 10]. Similarly, Freud employs various approaches to dream analysis and assigns the role of the dream interpreter to the psychoanalyst. Aristotle and Freud seem to offer techniques by which to decipher, study, and represent such a language. Aristotle separates dreams into three distinct categories: causes, tokens, and coincidences. Both causes and tokens present some relationship with the person dreaming in that they entail some sort of psychical and/or somatic motivation, however coincidences exist as a kind of explanation for the more extravagant and unintelligible dreams [463a]. Freud, on the other hand, does not simply dismiss unintelligible dreams as prophetic coincidences; rather he treats each dream as a dream text and composition that must be unraveled before understood for its particular meaning. He first recognizes the dream as a distortion of certain psychical and somatic stimuli, and assuming that the dream does in fact have a meaning of its own, labels the dream images the „manifest content“ and their motivations the „latent content.“ Because he endows the dream with its own interpretive process, the dream itself acts as a kind of language based upon resemblances and associations. That Freud uses „composition“ and „text“ in describing the dream becomes interesting throughout his own text. Throughout his dream work he employs the literary tropes metaphor and metonymy to describe the dream processes of condensation and displacement, respectively (7, 29-32, 34-37).
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