Freud's Revolutionary Dream-or-The Political Theatre of Dreaming

In every revolution, there is one man with a vision. (Captain Kirk to Mr Spock in "Mirror, Mirror", watch video)

Psychoanalysis -or- Politics in a New Key in the Global Village 

In "Fin-De Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture", Carl E. Schorske talks about the "Politics in a New Key" which defined the cultural, artistic and social movements and the political-economic forces operating in Europe, Austria and Vienna during the 19th century. Vienna at the fin de siècle of the 19th century had paradoxically become a political crucible for both Zionism and anti-Semitism. The political character of Adolf Hitler was nurtured by this fin de siècle mass hysterical anti-Semitic rhetoric of hatred in the Viennese and European political theatre surrounding the "Jewish Question". It has been argued, that the European Jewish Question began with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. 

Theodor Herzl the political founder of modern Zionism who also lived in fin de siècle Vienna, asked; "Do you know out of what the German Empire arose? Out of dreams, songs, fantasies and black-red-gold ribbons...Bismarck merely shook the tree that fantasies had planted." (Read the dream interpretation "Otto von Bismarck's Dream -or- The Culture Wars"). According to Schorske, Herzl believed that; "The task of politics was to present a dream in such a form as to touch the sub-rational well-springs of human desire and will." Schorkse sees Herzl as the Bismarck of the Jews, whose political driving force and dream was to restore the glory of the Jews and to create his vision of a Jewish State (Der Juden Staat). Herzl evidently believed, that the creative productions of the unconscious, namely the dream, waking fantasy and art were the powerful ancient cultural sources that shaped inner and outer psychological social, political and religious reality. 

Living at the same time as Herzl in this political rhetorical crucible that was Vienna, Sigmund Freud followed a different path, one of scientific inquiry, one which researched the idea of universal understanding of human motivation and psychopathology. In a few words, Freud searched for the political and scientific keys to unlocking and understanding the ancient riddle of human nature and the human condition. Freud discovered the symbolic code keys for such understanding where they had always been hidden for safe keeping since recorded Biblical times, in our dreams. It could be argued, that Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" and "psychoanalysis" was scientifically and politically motivated by what has been called Freud's "Revolutionary Dream". As Freud himself states; "In this boastful dream I was evidently proud of having discovered these processes." (p248, Interpretation of Dreams, footnote 3, added 1911) 

Here is Freud's revolutionary dream; 

"A crowd, a students' meeting. . . . A certain Count Thun (or Taaffe) is making a speech. Being asked to say something about the Germans, he declares with a contemptuous gesture, that their favorite flower is colts foot, and he then puts into his button-hole something like a fern leaf, really the crumpled skeleton of a leaf. I jump up, that is, I jump up (sic), but I am surprised at my implied attitude" . 

(Then, less distinctly:) It was as though I was in the Aula, the entrances were cordoned off and we had to escape. I made my way through a series of beautifully furnished rooms, evidently ministerial or public apartments, with furniture upholstered in a colour between brown and violet; at last I came to a corridor, in which a housekeeper was sitting, an elderly stout woman. I avoided speaking to her, but she evidently thought I had a right to pass, for she asked whether she should accompany me with the lamp. I indicated to her, by word or gesture, that she was to stop on the staircase; and I felt I was being very cunning in thus avoiding inspection at the exit. I got downstairs and found a narrow and steep ascending path, along which I went.

(Becoming indistinct again)...It was as though the second problem was to get out of the town, just as the first one had been to get out of the house. I was driving in a cab and ordered the driver to drive me to a station. 'I can't drive with you along the railway-line itself,' I said, after he had raised some objection, as though I had overtired him. It was as if I had already driven with him for some of the distance one normally travels by train. The stations were cordoned off. I wondered whether to go to Krems or Znaim, but reflected that the Court would be in residence there, so I decided in favour of
Graz, or some such place. I was now sitting in the compartment, which was like a carriage on the Stadtbahn [the suburban railway]; and in my buttonhole I had a peculiar plated, long-shaped object and beside it some violet-brown violets made of a stiff material. This greatly struck people. (At this point the scene broke off.)

Once more I was in front of the station, but this time in the company of an elderly gentleman. I thought of a plan for remaining unrecognized; and then saw that this plan had already put into effect. It was as though thinking and experiencing were one and the same thing. He appeared to be blind, at all events with one eye, and I handed him a male glass urinal (which we had to buy or had bought in town). So I was a sick-nurse and had to give him the urinal because he was blind. If the ticket-collector were to see us like that, he would be certain to let us get away without noticing us. Here the man's attitude and his macturating penis appeared in plastic form. (This was the point at which I awoke, feeling a need to micturate.)

Freud in analyzing the dramatic mise en scene of his dream, expounds on a political montage of associations, feelings, thoughts and memories. One train of thought was associated with him seeing himself as the medical student Adolf Fischof who helped to trigger the Revolution of 1848. Freud also saw in the dream a fellow student for whom he felt rivalry and envy, Victor Adler, who became leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party. As a student, Freud had evidently believed that his occupational and career path choices were limited by the fact he was a Jew. Fischof and Adler showed Freud that Jews could be doctors, and political leaders. 

Freud also invokes and associates his own philosopher's path to other important historical characters such as Mozart, Zola and Rabalais, among others. In Mozart, Freud sees the lyrics of "The Marriage of Figaro" which are associated to a politically censored form of language (symbolic language of flowers) of the clash of the social revolutionary forces of the Jews (red carnations) and anti-Semitism (white carnations). It could be cogently argued that the French Revolution started, where Mozart's opera "The Marriage of Figaro" had left off. Freud associates the colts foot flower found in his dream to Zola's "Germinal", a social revolutionary novel. The title "Germinal" evokes the poetic body political imagery of seeds, fertility, germination, new growth and hope. 

In Rabelais's story of father and son "Gargantua and Pentagruel" Freud associates his own memories of his son-father relationship and the "megalomania of his childhood" (p250, Interpretation of Dreams). Bahktin in "Rabelais and His World" has provided a literary understanding of Rabelais work, who correlated political conflicts to human anatomy. Rabelais intention was to delineate the carnivalesque and humorous side of the body politic via the literary (reader's) sense of "grotesque realism" of the grotesque body. In this sense, Freud's revolutionary dream can be viewed from the body political perspective of grotesque realism. 

Many readers may have noticed, that I have followed in Northrop Frye's ("Anatomy of Criticism"), Freud's, Jung's (read the interpretation "The Waste Land of World War I" Swift's (read the dream interpretation "Gulliver's Travels in Visual Culture -or- The Yahoo's in the Global Village"), Robert Burton's, Rabelais', Menippus and Aristophanes (to name a few) satirical footsteps in the body political reading and writing of many of the dream interpretations posted at the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) website. 

The dream interpretation "The Kafkaeque -or- Black Comedy" underscores this dark romanticism reading and perspective of dreams. As a dramatic antidote, the human history of laughter is marked by satire that provides a therapeutic and liberating dramatic force against the politics of the grotesque, hypocrisy and deceit, as evidenced in the dream interpretation "The Holy Prostitute". 

Taking this reading of Rabelais, we can then understand that Freud not only saw in collective dream work patterns the dramatic sexual personae mask of tragedy and grief work, he also clearly understood the revolutionary mask of comedy, carnival and joke work. My own reading of Freud's revolutionary dream, sees interpretative gaps in his hermeneutic reading. I will talk about two of these gaps, the first of which surrounds Freud's reading of the meaning of flowers in dreams. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams can be seen from the perspective of symbolic flowers as a horticultural anthology (meaning collection of flowers) of dream visions. Freud's anthology includes mainly European dream visions, one's that he himself dreamed, those that his patients had dreamed, those found in the Bible, and others such as Hannibal's dream of the war on Rome, which Freud himself identified with. The IIDR has been, and is dedicated in collecting dream visions from around the planet and from all of known history. 

Other flowers, such as the "rose", the "poppy" and "the blue flower" of the Romantics find expression in IIDR dream interpretations; read "Valentine's Day", "Remembrance Day" and "The Dream of the Blue Flower". Freud's first hermeneutic gap focuses on the symbolic meaning of the colts foot flower found in his dream. The colts foot, was evidently once called the "Filius ante patrem" (meaning "the son before the father"), due to the growth of the star-shaped yellow flowers that whither and die before the green leaves appear. In this sense, we find the Freudian/Rabelais life story of father and son writ in the euphemistic horticultural language of flowers. Freud does not discuss this aspect and evidently did not consciously recognize the colts foot flowers symbolic meaning. 

The second key interpretative gap surrounds the psychological concept of "crowds", specifically revolutionary crowds. Freud's recall of his "Revolutionary Dream" dream (above) begins by his talking about "A crowd". Freud would later correct this oversight in his work on "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego". In terms of crowd behaviour, the figure of Count Thun provides Freud with a dramatic political antagonist, towards whom Freud can body politically "vent his spleen". We can begin to see a psychoanalytic common denominator emerging between the dramatic work of Mozart, Zola, Rabelais, and Freud, namely their revolutionary language of body political dreams. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, was his attempt to institute a medical scientific depth psychological revolution and a humanistic cultural reform in the arts, science, literature, music, economics, and politics via the understanding of dreams. 

The medical humanities crowd living in the global village today, have for the most part, yet to grasp Freud's "Revolutionary Dream" let alone embrace the dream. Failed dream work is a primary source of many individual and collective medical problems that exist on the planet, as we speak. Kelly Bulkeley (ed) "Among All These Dreamers: Essays On Dreaming and Modern Society" asks; "Can dreams be any use in addressing social problems like violent crime, sexual abuse, ethnic and racial conflict (read hatreds), environmental degradation, and the worsening lives of underprivileged children? Can dreams provide any insights into the deeper causes of the ills that afflict our society, and offer any possible cures for those ills?" The IIDR has continually affirmed and worked to provide answers to these Socratic questions. One of the major "ills" afflicting our society, is that we live in a divorce culture, which has detrimental and often harmful effects on the family's and specifically children's dreams (read the dream interpretation "Ex-Files -or- The Divorce Culture". 

My own philosopher physician's path, dream research and vision is based on an evolutionary anthropological depth psychological model of human nature, culture, and natural history, and calls for a peaceful collective creative "revolution in dreaming". A depth psychological revolution, that restores the ecological balance of healthy human growth and development of our individual and collective dreams in the global village and on our planet, Earth. Driven by research in the Earth sciences, there is a human epistemological need for an ecological depth psychological paradigmatic shift and change in our collective anthropological dreaming patterns of our planet. 

This epistemic need for paradigmatic change in the individual and collective creations of the mind screams out continuously, even as we speak. Our future ecological survival depends on the social, political, economic and religious reform of the millions of environmentally destructive dreams (directed towards oneself and/or towards others) people have on the planet every night. These failed and destructive dreams and thought patterns are often acted upon and carried out. We get to read about them in the newspaper everyday. For the most part, they constitute the nightmares of the lives of perhaps billions of people, of those living on "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (read dream interpretation). 

The future of our children's dreams and our planet depends on such political reform. Whether Freud understood explicitly or not, humans, human crowds and human populations have two primary dramatic paths they can follow, the tragedy of the commons and/or the comedy of the commons. We can see the dramatic anthropological symptoms of the tragedy of the commons in human populations acted out in many dreams posted at the IIDR website. The tragedy of the commons is being most likely being acted out in dreams somewhere on the planet, as we speak. You make, the political existential choice. We can leave this dream interpretation on a final popular musical note, with The Beatles "Revolution". 

Further Reading; 

  • Carl Schorkse, "Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture", chapter IV, "Politics and Patricide in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams"
  • Elias Canetti "Crowds and Power"
  • Gregory Bateson, "Steps to an Ecology of Mind"
  • Edith Cobb, "Ecology of the Imagination in Childhood"
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger., "The Politics of Hope"
  • Antoine De Baeque, "The Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France, 1770-1800".
  • John O'Neill, "Sociology as a Skin Trade: Essays towards a reflexive sociology".
  • Frederic Jameson, "The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act"
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.