R. Gray

German 390/Comp Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Elements of Freud's Dream Theory as Manifest in the "Dream of Irma's Injection" (Freud Reader, 130-42)


Day residue, or "trigger": News from Otto about Irma's condition; act of writing up Irma's case history.


Condensation, or "composite" images: 1) Irma in the dream is made up of a fusion of several different figures: 1) Irma herself; the governess whose oral cavity Freud once examined, connected to Irma by posture at window (p. 133); Irma's intimate woman friend, linked to Irma by posture at window, patient of Dr. M., hysteric suffering from hysterical choking, recalcitrance to treatment, and fact of being a young widow (p. 133-34; 139); third woman (unnamed), whose pale complexion and puffy face are incorporated into the Irma figure in the dream, and who is linked to her by recalcitrance (p. 134).

2) Dr. M. in dream: he is pale, clean-shaven, and walks with a limp; composite of Dr. M. himself (pale) and Freud's elder brother, who is clean-shaven, who generally resembles Dr. M., and who has a limp due to arthritis of the hip; they are further linked by the common emotional response Freud (the dreamer) has to them: he is angry that both rejected a suggestion he recently made to them (p. 135).


Dramatization: Freud wants Irma as patient to "open her mouth properly," that is, to be more candid and open up to him more during their analytic sessions. This wish is made concrete in the dream when Freud is forced to ask Irma to open her mouth widely so he can examine her throat to find the cause of her choking (pp. 133-34). [Note that this is also an example of the ways in which in dream logic, figurative language ("open your mouth properly" as a metaphor for speaking up openly) is taken literally.]


Displacement: The entire dream tends to be structured around a complex series of displacements. In the dream thought (the latent meaning) Freud is accusing himself of being too incautious and putting his patients at unnecessary risk; in the dream this accusation is transferred to several other people: to Otto, who gives needless injections and fails even to clean his syringes properly; to Dr. M., who make a diagnosis that is not only false, but veritably absurd (no intervention necessary, because dysentery will supervene; Irma herself is responsible for her own problem, since she refuses to take Freud's advice, which would expedite her treatment.

Irma's actual symptoms are transformed in the dream to symptoms of which she never complained, to pains in the throat, choking, and pain in the abdomen (pp. 132-33).


Wish-Fulfillment: All of the displacements shift blame for Irma's suffering to other people; they represent the dreamer's (Freud's) wish that he is not to blame for Irma's condition. This the dream expresses a wish-fulfillment by shunting off responsibility and "guilt" to others and declaring Freud himself "innocent" (p. 140). This is a dream of exculpation (p. 133).


Overdetermination: The formula for trimethylamin, which Freud sees printed in bold type. Several ideas from the dream thoughts converge here: it recalls for Freud his friend Otto, one of the people the dream is accusing of careless treatment of patients (and hence it refers to Freud's self-accusation that he is not as careful as he should be); it alludes to the powerful notion of sexuality, which plays such a central role in all of Freud's theories; but also connects up with his good friend in Berlin (Wilhelm Fliess), with whom he is usually in agreement and who consoles Freud when he feels that others are belittling his medical views (pp. 138-39).


Associative networks, based on similarities: Recalcitrance to treatment (connects Irma with her friend, the governess, and is related to the general rejection of Freud's advice (Dr. M., Freud's elder brother); paleness links Irma to the third woman, and also lines up with Dr. M.'s paleness; toxic injections connect Otto to Irma, Freud to his patient Mathilde (who succumbed to an injection he gave her), and the name Mathilde points to Freud's daughter; Irma and her friend are both young widows.


Structural revision: The dream collects a large set of independent incidents, associated with a diverse set of individuals, and choreographs a scene in which they all come together around a central event: Irma's symptoms and the need to diagnose and cure her. The ballroom setting and the circumstance of a party form the context in which all the figures and events can converge with some semblance of verisimilitude. Like a writer of fiction, the dreamer superimposes a setting and a plot on the ideas he wants to raise.