Lydia Marinelli and Andreas Mayer, Dreaming by the Book: Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and the Psychoanalytic Movement

With the celebration of the centenary of Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, the Traumdeutung (1899/1900), scholars have come to recognize that this is one of the great books of the world. Yet much of what one can say about the Traumdeutung has already been said by the ever growing number of researchers who have produced a staggering amount of scholarship in the second half of the 20th century, fueling the so-called “Freud industry.”

Lydia Marinelli and Andreas Mayer have offered a shifted vantage point. They frame Freud scholarship within a study of the book; that is, the authors move the history of psychoanalysis into a recently developed genre, the “history of the book.” In doing so, they provide an interesting and very enlightening perspective on a story generally known to many intellectuals.

The authors take pains to differentiate their work from Freud hagiography and from didactic works in the history of psychoanalysis designed to influence how one should understand psychoanalysis. They also skip over a more recent generation of thinkers who were preoccupied with psychoanalytic theory and who, in their concern with theory, focused on Freud the thinker, enabling practitioner scholars to use the history of ideas to open up ways of modifying and extending the teachings of Freud and of other classic psychoanalysts. Indeed, it is striking how few of the many secondary sources cited in this work come from the period between the 1960s and 1980s—probably an advantage for an innovative work, especially given that many recent writers, like John Forrester, who is cited, simply summarize and assimilate what their predecessors wrote. Be that as it may, Marinelli and Mayer show an easy familiarity with the relevant output of the “Freud industry.”

Three-fifths of the book consists of text while the remaining part contains appendices that illustrate and reinforce the points made in the text. Much of the material in the appendices has not appeared in English before. A short essay from 1900 on dream interpretation by Freud’s brother, Alexander, as well as some letters, are taken directly from the Freud archives.

In pursuing their fresh approach to the book, Marinelli and Mayer are initially concerned to read the text, but then to go beyond the text to study the audience. That is, they do something more than revisit the controversies over “the reception” of the Traumdeutung; indeed, they find evidence of a variety of readers—besides Fliess—from the very beginning. Even the Freud family was caught up in discussing the interpretation of dreams.

Marinelli and Mayer argue that Freud’s book originally had two major aspects. First, while it did present ideas and theories, it also used dream interpretation to show readers how to do psychoanalysis, famously employing Freud’s own dreams as instructional models. The Traumdeutung was therefore the original instruction manual for psychoanalysts, a fact to which the authors devote much attention.

After the Traumdeutung appeared, something happened: as Freud’s original text began to reach readers, many of them reacted. Freud in turn reacted to his readers’ responses, introducing changes to subsequent editions of the book (until 1921) that constituted a discussion of issues, especially those regarding technique. The book thus was used as a kind of forum. The authors suggest that the various editions played the role of latter-day journals, permitting members of an expert community to refine, explore, revise, and extend psychoanalysis.

To the view that the Traumdeutung is a classic, Marinelli and Mayer add two new ideas: first, that the feedback from the audience actually changed the book as it was revised over the years. In showing how the Traumdeutung was transformed from Freud’s personal book into a collective product, Marinelli and Mayer suggest a potential resolution to the conflict between scholars who, on the one hand, emphasize the personal dimension of Freud’s psychoanalysis, and those, on the other hand, who seek instead to trace the various divergent streams that eventually branched off from psychoanalysis, especially from the wellspring of the Traumdeutung.

Their second idea is that at least part of the audience came to function as a psychoanalytic community, before the International Society, and even before the private Wednesday Psychological Society. Marinelli and Mayer suggest, more strongly than previous scholars, that the members of the Wednesday group did indeed eventually contribute in a substantial way towards shaping psychoanalysis. The influence of the Zurich group is less surprising, but knowing the specifics that changed each new edition adds new depth to the already known story.

The authors examine the pressure, particularly from Zurich, towards making the book more impersonal, playing down Freud’s self-analysis. They also show how, through readers’ interactions, the early psychoanalytic journals evolved just as the book did.

The evidence that Marinelli and Mayer gather to support their claims is as interesting as their theses. Some of it is very fresh, and for some they provide a new setting. They give Bleuler (seven of whose letters to Freud are in the appendix) a prominent place. Some of us brought up in “orthodox” psychoanalytic circles may find it hard to accept the evidence that Steckel had so much input into later versions of the book, especially (and notably) in the area of symbolism. But Marinelli’s and Mayer’s shifted vantage point is compelling.

For those interested in the history of ideas, the authors provide a narrative of how the Traumdeutung came to reflect so many approaches to dreams and particularly to symbols and symbolization. The specifics of the events make what happened in the pre-WW I years and following much more understandable than the standard, but less nuanced, account of the clash of ideas and personalities.

In 1921, Freud himself declared the Traumdeutung to be an historic work. He was in the process of removing segments contributed by those of the audience/collective with whom he had fallen out—notably Otto Rank, whose two essays (reprinted in Marinelli’s and Mayer’s appendices) had been added to the book and then deleted from the 1930 edition. In the process of recognizing the set, historical form, Freud and others after him turned a living, dynamic book into an icon. A century after the first publication, a close study of the Traumdeutung is more interesting than ever. The book was, and is, not just a monument.

The original German version has three illustrations that are not in the English translation, while the translation contains an index not included in the German text.

* German original:
Träume nach Freud: Die Traumdeutung und die Geschichte der psychoanalytischen Bewegung
Lydia Marinelli und Andreas Mayer
(Wien: Turia & Kant, 2002)

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis