It seemed to me almost indecent in a country which is devoted to practical aims to make my appearance as a ‘dream-interpreter,’ before you could possibly know the importance that can attach to this antiquated and derided art. The interpretation of dreams is in fact the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious.
Only in the third of his five 1909 lectures on psychoanalysis, delivered at Clark University during what would turn out to be his sole U.S. visit, did Sigmund Freud feel comfortable enough to raise the topic of dreams, but when he did, he allowed for no resistance to their gravity. He declaimed:
If I am asked how one can become a psycho-analyst, I reply: ‘By studying one’s own dreams.’
He once described himself as seeking “to agitate the sleep of mankind,” or, as we might now say, to waken us from the dream of our pre-20th century existence. Dreams offered Freud a doorway into an otherwise unreachable internal labyrinth, a glimpse of an infinite galaxy within, and an undertaking that would initiate a big bang in the history of ideas: mapping the unconscious mind.
The map remains unfinished and Freud can take credit neither for discovering the unconscious nor for coining the term, but his work made this axial idea so prominent that it could not be forced back into obscurity.
It seems helpful to read Dora alongside both the earlier Interpretation of Dreams (full text) and the later Five Lectures on Psycho-analysis, because the lectures offer one of the clearer explications of Freud’s then-new “science.” On top of that, his Dora case analysis arguably rests on his interpretation of two of his patient’s dreams. It does not rest easy.
In his introduction to a 2010 illustrated edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, editor, trained psychoanalyst and Freud critic Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson touches on some of the challenges to Freud’s treatment of dreams:
We will forever be in Freud’s debt for his recognition of the importance of dreams, but we are less bound by his insistence on the one and only way to interpret them or indeed even accord them importance for the personal life of the dreamer.