Book Review: The Interpretation of Dreams

The featured audiobook is ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ by Sigmund Freud and narrated by Robert Whitfield. The narrator reads clearly and slowly and is able to hold the listener’s attenti0n which is important in this unabridged version of Freud’s classic text.

This is one of Freud’s most important works laying down some of the foundations of psychoanalysis. In listening to Freud’s work there were many striking features. Firstly on hearing of Freud’s technique during psychoanalysis in which he reveals little of himself, acting as a mirror for the analysand, in this work which was published he is paradoxically open and reveals some of his hopes and fears when for instance analysing his own dreams. Although he remarks that he has limited some of this analysis in order to protect his privacy, there is still much about his inner life that he reveals to the reader and he can readily be considered as courageous for doing so. What is also striking is his focus on understanding underlying theoretical principles while recognising and pointing out the limitations of his analysis. Occasionally however, a degree of dogmatism is evident when for instance relating infantile development to the neuroses. Also of interest is that Freud lapses into French or Latin, quoting in the original language without translation and thereby placing an expectation that the reader is similarly versed in these languages. Freud of course spoke several languages which is of interest to the main portion of this work.

In the initial section of the book, Freud reviews some of the literature on the subject of dreaming. In so doing, it is possible to see that rather than creating this work de novo, Freud has explored his subject thoroughly and shows a great interest in what other scholars in the field are thinking. Thus it is unlikely that his principles are entirely derived from his own analysis but also builds on the insights and works of others in the field which in itself would be unsurprising. However this is significant when Freud draws inferences from some of his personal observations which by themselves might provide insufficient evidence for some of the principles. Freud’s writing is lucid and his analysis convincing particularly when applied to the analysis of the field. He focuses on aspects of dreams which the reader will no doubt experience themselves. Thus he describes the case of a person who wakes from a dream about being guillotined to find that a shelf has fallen on his neck. Freud notes from this observation that the dream sequence must have generated a response to the sensory stimulus extraordinarily quickly, and this tells us something about the process. Other sensory experiences are described which are incorporated meaningfully into the narrative of the dream content providing us with numerous examples of the powerful processes that are at play.

Freud explores both his and other people’s dreams using a number of types of associations. At this stage, I have some difficulties with some of his arguments. With his extensive education in the classics and being fluent in many languages as well as medicine, together with his eloquent writing (albeit this could result in part from the translation of this book from German by Crick also) it is evident that we are witness to an intellect of the highest order, able to traverse inner experiences, cultural relationships, linguistic associations and then to suddenly collect and synthesise the material with effortless ease before once again exploring the myriad associations. However, these skills and knowledge may take him down a different path to some of the subjects that he analyses. Thus one person’s dream may trigger in Freud an association with a particular scene from Greek mythology which then becomes incorporated into his further analysis. This is the danger inherent in Freud’s analysis for he assumes in the process that the dream is satisfying the ego and achieving wish fulfilment. If however he begins with these assumptions, then given his knowledge and skills he is well able to generate the necessary associations to confirm these assumptions, be that a relevant and immediate personal experience, a distant memory, a character from mythology or even a play on the semantics of a word in German. To some extent therefore we can see Freud’s versatility in using multiple lines of evidence to confirm his theory. Indeed there is some suggestion that Popper’s experience in psychoanalysis led him to develop his philosophy of science partly as a reaction to the differences he saw between this approach and the natural sciences. However this is not to take away from what Freud has written here but merely to suggest that he may have been trying to demonstrate his approach to the reader enabling them to employ this analytical approach themselves, while at the same time creating a work that is not to be taken literally. Freud instructs that the reader undertake their own analysis later in the book.

Through the course of the book Freud introduces us to the Oedipus Complex, wish fulfilment, develops the concepts of the psyche and the unconsciousness and describes the principles of condensation whereby several associations are represented in an object in the dream and displacement of emotions onto other objects in the dream. The Interpretation of Dreams is one of Freud’s most important works and in this translation is made accessible to the listener.


The Interpretations of Dreams (Unabridged). Narrator Robert Whitfield. Blackstone Audiobooks.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

27 thoughts on “Book Review: The Interpretation of Dreams

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    This is really interesting and important discussion. It is something I have not thought about very much, or looked at in that light. Its certainly an eye opener and thanks for the insightful piece.


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    It’s arduous to find educated folks on this matter, however you sound like you understand what you’re talking about! Thanks


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