Latent Dream-Content Defined & How Displacement and Condensation Work

In On Dreams, the condensed version of Freuds keystone and masterpiece The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud begins early on by outlining specific terminology that will help the reader to understand his new science based on the study of dreams. Freud specifies dreams, as we first remember them, as manifest dream-content so that he may contrast it with his new discovery of latent dream-content, otherwise known as dream-thoughts. Before the arrival of Freud, the account of dreams had been chiefly concerned with only manifest dream-content. Where the manifest dream can be thought of as the story we remember from our slumber, the latent dream-content, on the other hand, is the unconscious source that, while repressed, is, nevertheless, the initial cause of the dream in the first place. These causes of dreams (latent dream-content) are capable of being discovered if we just investigate our (manifest) dreams more fully. When dreams are straightforward and make sense, as often seen in the cases of children, the latent and manifest dream-contents coincide with each other. However, most dreams of adults are bewildering and often seem meaningless and it is precisely the latent dream-content that acts as the master key in deciphering the more complex dream. Through free association, one is able to decipher dreams in a process Freud coined as psychoanalysis. The exact reversal of this analysis, the moment when the mind originally alters the latent into the manifest dream-content, is the process Freud states as dream-work. This process is extremely significant because it shows, fundamentally, how psychical material transforms from one form to another. The complexity of dreams suggests that there are extraordinary mechanisms fueling them and the foremost among these is condensation. Condensation is a phenomenon that can be roughly described as the compression and combination of two or more concepts. Condensation is perpetually merging concepts together so it is always best to assume that one concept in a dream always represents several more. Freud, therefore, declares that each element in the content of a dream is over-determined, in the sense that it is not the simple concept it appears to be, but is, in fact, always representing several, sometimes very different, unconscious desires. There must be at least one, or more, common elements, however, that link all of these connected concepts. Displacement, along with condensation, is another mechanism that stimulates dream-work. Freud defines displacement as the process when in the course of the dream-work psychical intensity passes over from the thoughts and ideas which it properly belongs on to others which in our judgement have no claim to any such emphasis. The sensory vividness of a dream is often mainly due to displacements ability to morph desires into new mental images. An individuals feelings towards one object are often furtively redirected to another and, in this way, displacement seems to be almost magical in how the instinctual desires vanish and a new image is conjured up in its place.

Freuds Relations Between Sexual Touching and Sexual Looking & Scopophilia and Beauty

In Freuds The Sexual Aberrations, the first essay of his famous Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he lists numerous sexual deviations in hope of determining what constitutes normal sexual behavior and what constitutes perversion. While the normal sexual aim is usually considered the unification of different genitals, Freud notes that there are many cases that seem to contradict this popular notion and he devotes an entire section solely to concentrate on how looking and touching work as a catalyst towards copulation. Freud seems to almost equate the two senses and proclaims, rather ambiguously, that looking is an activity that is ultimately derived from touching. Freud concludes that both seeing and touching are necessary in the sexual process, to a certain extent, and that the procreation of the human race even requires the involvement of these senses. He declares Visual impressions remain the most frequent pathway along which libidinal excitation is aroused; indeed, natural selection counts upon the accessibility of this pathway - if such a teleological form of statement is permissible - when it encourages the development of beauty in the sexual object. This pleasure in looking, is often referred to by Freud by the more official name of scopophilia. Freud takes the opportunity, in this brief section, to speculate over the relationship between sex, beauty, and art and asserts that it is usual for most people to linger to some extent over the intermediate sexual aim of a looking that has a sexual tinge to it; indeed, this offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims. Freud goes farther to say that he has no doubt that the concept of beautiful has its roots in sexual excitation and that its original meaning was sexually stimulating. This definition of beauty is very radical, especially when one tries to explain what exactly Freud means when he says, beautifully reflected in the poetic fable to describe Platos myth, earlier on, in the first page of this essay. Freuds previous use of the word beautiful, and its context, tends to suggest that the lyrical beauty found in poetry is not necessarily caused by sexual excitement but can, instead, be found when complex concepts are elegantly presented to us through the use of metaphor. At least in this translation of his text, Freud seems to contradict himself. However, Freuds sexual definition of beauty is, in a way, a refreshing alternative to the overly optimistic nineteenth-century view that beauty is, somehow, indicative of the truth or the morally good. While often criticized by many feminists, Freud does also begin to shed some light on the history of the male gaze, as well as the quassi-pornographic nature of academic art that was so often justified in the guise of mythology. Freud states that sexual curiosity is diverted ('sublimated') in the direction of art, if its interest can be shifted away from the genitals on to the shape of the body as a whole. Sublimation, which often has negative connotations, is the unconscious displacement of instinctual energy into a more civilized behavior. Freud, whether he realizes it or not, therefore paints a primitive and bleak picture of the role of art in society.

Family Romances

Freuds short paper entitled Family Romances, attempts to explain the common phenomenon when children first become independent of their parents authority. The importance of this growth period is duly noted and Freud acknowledges that it is one of the most necessary though one of the most painful results brought about by the course of a childs development. In the first couple of years of life the parents are at first the only authority and the source of all belief and it is only after multiple experiences that the child gets to know other parents and compares them with his own, and so acquires the right to doubt the incomparable and unique quality he had attributed to them. Eventually, at some point in childhood, the child feels ignored and snubbed by his parents and seeks revenge through imaginary means. Typically, the child imagines that he was born to people who are wealthier than his own parents. When the child learns the facts of childbirth prove the legitimacy of his mother, he enters a second sexual stage where he now only glorifies the father but, with his new-found sexual knowledge, ponders sexual scenarios where he brings his mother (who is the subject of the most intense sexual curiosity) into situations of secret infidelity and into secret love affairs. It is not hard to see how the family romance is relevant to Freuds famous theory of the Oedipus Complex. The neurotic condition is referred to as the family romance because the individual emphasizes the nobility of his heritage and creates elaborate heroic fantasies much like fanciful romantic tales. Neurotics are particularly susceptible to this condition because their creative imaginations are geared towards weaving these elaborate tales. The creativity of these authors ensures numerous embellishments on the family romance and a particularly intriguing version is where siblings are bastardized in order to bring back significance onto the daydreamer. Freud tries to downplay his cynical and disparaging view of childhood and assures the reader that the child is only trying, desperately, to return to happier times when the parents status was omnipotent. The concept of Family Romance becomes particularly noteworthy when it is applied more broadly to the larger social movements of history. Like the child who rebels against his parents, it is interesting to see how, similarly, the new generations always rebel against the ideals inherited from their predecessors. Freud himself, in fact, acknowledges, the whole progress of society rests upon the opposition between successive generations. Disciplines like art, which are particularly associated with creativity, are particularly important, in this respect, because they deny the established traditions in order to realize a new vision. Consequently, it is easy to see how the Family Romance fits in well with the Marxist notion that the function of art is social criticism.


Thomas Cummins art philosophy