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Over a century after its publication, Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams maintains a firm position in the textual canon of the Western world. Thus it shares the fate of many classics in being among the most bought and, at the same time, the most unread book. Freud's magnum opus has produced numberless commentaries that claim to reveal the true content of the book and the intentions of its author.
In stark contrast to the countless exegeses and interpretations, however, there has been hardly any attention to their basis, the history of the book itself. The clearest sign of this discrepancy is that, right up to the present day, there has been no critical edition of Freud's work.
The subject of this valuable study is the connection between a discursive formation and a social formation whose origin and vicissitudes run parallel to each other: the connection between the psychoanalytic theory of the dream, as presented in The Interpretation of Dreams, and the psychoanalytic movement. Accordingly, the historicization of Freud's book that is undertaken here tracks the multiple movements within its text, always in relation to the growing social movement referring to the text. Or, in contrast to to other works that have become canonical, the text of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams was continually being altered during the formative stage of psychoanalytic collective by a series of interventions on the part of its first readers. The complicated textual history of the book over the course of eight editions between 1899 and 1930 points to an ongoing reciprocial interaction between the author and his readership of disciples, critics, colegues, and patients. The conflicts over the form of the text and the theories it set forth had a lasting effect on the psychoanalytic movement issuing from Vienna and Zurich during this time.
The status of The Interpretation of Dreams as the foundational text of psychoanalysis was determined by the fact that it bore witness to a unique and unrepeatable event: Sigmund Freud's self analysis. This event took on meaning retrospectively in a model of intelectual history that portrayed Freud as the discoverer of the unconscious.
During Freud's lifetime, the text of The Interpretation of Dreams was not a closed unit but still a rather open field. The relations between the readers and and its author were reciprocal and played a decisive role in the evolving form of the text. Thus The Interpretation of Dreams is not a fixed reference point in the history of the psychoanalytic movement. The first phase comprises the founding years of the psychoanalytic movement (1899-1909), in which The Interpretation of Dreams serves as a predecessor and substitute for a first book of methodology. The second phase (1909-1918) begins with the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association. Freud and his pupils, in a collective and increasingly conflictual process, try to broaden the book in the direction of a symbol lexicon. In the third phase (1919-1930), the book is declared a historical document by its author.
With this book, during its earlier years, Freud does not develop a methodology in the traditional sense. What he offers instead is a technique of self-observation, derived from his dream theory. The first and constitutive decades of The Interpretation of Dreams shows Freud in a continual process of dealing with his readers.
In this study, Mayer and Marinelli systematically emphasize the involvement of the readers who have not been taken into consideration or have been insufficiently accounted for in the editions to date. The authors provide strong arguments for the case that psychoanalytic theory is the outcome of collective and conflictual processes, revealing that The Interpretation of Dreams is inextricably intertwined with the formation of the psychoanalytic movement and its bifurcation's. The question of history is the question of reception – critical and rather polyphonic reception. The history of the text (Freud's texts) is, as we can see, the question of its critical reception.
This highly recommenced book could be relevant for all who are really interested in the history of psychoanalysis and all its (manifest or latent) implications for the history of science, social thought, and literature. The book is supplemented by the texts and correspondence that have long remained unpublished, including two important works of Otto Rank, a text by Sigmund Freud's brother Alexander, and letters from Eugen Bleuler and Alphonse Mader.
© 2004 Petar Jevremovic
Petar Jevremovic: Clinical psychologist and practicing psychotherapist, author of two books (Psychoanalysis and Ontology, Lacan and Psychoanalysis), translator of Aristotle and Maximus the Confessor, editor of the Serbian editions of selected works of Heintz Kohut, Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, author of various texts that are concerned with psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and theology. He lives in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
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