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Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Delusion and Dream. 1917.

Part II. Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva by Dr. Sigmund Freud

Section II

IT was really our intention to investigate with the aid of definite analytic method only the two or three dreams which are found in the tale “Gradiva”; how did it happen then that we allowed ourselves to be carried away with the analysis of the whole story and the examination of the psychic processes of the two chief characters? Well, that was no superfluous work, but a necessary preparation. Even when we wish to understand the real dreams of an actual person, we must concern ourselves intensively with the character and the fortunes of this person, not only the experiences shortly before the dream, but also those of the remote past. I think, however, that we are not yet free to turn to our real task, but must still linger over the piece of fiction itself, and perform more preparatory work.

Our readers will, of course, have noticed with surprise that till now we have considered Norbert Hanold and Zoë Bertgang in all their psychic expressions and activities, as if they were real individuals and not creatures of an author, as if the mind of their creator were absolutely transparent, not a refractory and cloudy medium; and our procedure must seem all the more surprising when the author of “Gradiva” expressly disavows the portrayal of reality by calling his tale a “Fancy.” We find, however, that all his pictures copy reality so faithfully that we should not contradict if “Gradiva” were called not a “Fancy,” but a study in psychiatry. Only in two points has Wilhelm Jensen made use of his license, to create suppositions which do not seem to have roots in the earth of actual law: first, when he has the young archaeologist find a genuinely antique bas-relief which, not only in the detail of the position of the foot in walking, but in all details, the shape of the face, and the bearing, copies a person living much later, so that he can consider the physical manifestation of this person to be the cast endowed with life; second, when the hero is caused to meet the living girl in Pompeii, whither his fancy has transported the dead girl, while he separates himself, by the journey to Pompeii, from the living girl, whom he has noticed on the street of his home city; this second instance is no tremendous deviation from the possibilities of life; it asks aid only of chance, which undeniably plays a part in so many human fates, and, moreover, makes it reasonable, for this chance reflects again the destiny which has decreed that through flight one is delivered over to the very thing that one is fleeing from. More fantastic, and originating solely in the author’s arbitrariness, seems the first supposition which brings in its train the detailed resemblance of the cast to the living girl, where moderation might have limited the conformity to the one trait of the position of the foot in walking. One might then have tried to let one’s own imagination play in order to establish connection with reality. The name Bertgang might point to the fact that the women of that family had been distinguished, even in ancient times, by the characteristic of a beautiful gait, and by heredity the German Bertgang was connected with those Romans, a woman of whose family had caused the ancient artist to fix in a bas-relief the peculiarity of her walk. As the individual variations of human structure are, however, not independent of one another, and as the ancient types, which we come upon in the collections, are actually always emerging again in our midst, it would not be entirely impossible that a modern Bertgang should repeat again the form of her ancient forbear, even in all the other traits of her physique. Inquiry of the author of the story for the sources of this creation might well be wiser than such speculation; a good prospect of solving again a bit of supposed arbitrariness would probably then appear. As, however, we have not access to the psychic life of the author, we leave to him the undiminished right of building up a thoroughly valid development on an improbable supposition, a right which Shakspere, for example, has asserted in “King Lear.”

Otherwise, we wish to repeat, Wilhelm Jensen has given us an absolutely correct study in psychiatry, in which we may measure our understanding of psychic life, a story of illness and cure adapted to the inculcation of certain fundamental teachings of medical psychology. Strange enough that he should have done this! What if, in reply to questioning, he should deny this intention? It is so easy to draw comparisons and to put constructions on things. Are we not rather the ones who have woven secret meanings, which were foreign to him, into the beautiful poetic tale? Possibly; we shall come back to that later. As a preliminary, however, we have tried to refrain from interpretations with that tendency, by reproducing the story, in almost every case, from the very words of the writer; and we have had him furnish text as well as commentary, himself. Any one who will compare our text with that of “Gradiva” will have to grant this.

Perhaps in the judgment of the majority we are doing a poor service for him when we declare his work a study in psychiatry. An author is to avoid all contact with psychiatry, we are told, and leave to physicians the portrayal of morbid psychic conditions. In reality no true author has ever heeded this commandment. The portrayal of the psychic life of human beings is, of course, his most especial domain; he was always the precursor of science and of scientific psychology. The borderline between normal and morbid psychic conditions is, in a way, a conventional one, and, in another way, in such a state of flux that probably every one of us oversteps it many times in the course of a day. On the other hand, psychiatry would do wrong to wish to limit itself continually to the study of those serious and cloudy illnesses which arise from rude disturbances of the delicate psychic apparatus. It has no less interest in the lesser and adjustable deviations from the normal which we cannot yet trace back farther than disturbances in the play of psychic forces; indeed, it is by means of these that it can understand normal conditions, as well as the manifestations of serious illness. Thus the author cannot yield to the psychiatrist nor the psychiatrist to the author, and the poetic treatment of a theme from psychiatry may result correctly without damage to beauty.

The imaginative representation of the story of illness and its treatment, which we can survey better after finishing the story and relieving our own suspense, is really correct. Now we wish to reproduce it with the technical expressions of our science, in doing which it will not be necessary to repeat what has already been related.

Norbert Hanold’s condition is called a “delusion” often enough by the author of the story, and we also have no reason to reject this designation. We can mention two chief characteristics of “delusion,” by which it is not, of course exhaustively described, but is admittedly differentiated from other disturbances. It belongs first to that group of illnesses which do not directly affect the physical, but express themselves only by psychic signs, and it is distinguished secondly by the fact that “fancies” have assumed control, that is, are believed and have acquired influence on actions. If we recall the journey to Pompeii to seek in the ashes the peculiarly-formed foot-prints of Gradiva, we have in it a splendid example of an act under the sway of the delusion. The psychiatrist would perhaps assign Norbert Hanold’s delusion to the great group of paranoia and designate it as a “fetichistic erotomania,” because falling in love with the bas-relief would be the most striking thing to him and because, to his conception, which coarsens everything, the interest of the young archaeologist in the feet and foot-position of women must seem suspiciously like fetichism. All such names and divisions of the different kinds of delusion are, however, substantially useless and awkward.

The old-school psychiatrist would, moreover, stamp our hero as a dégénéré, because he is a person capable, on account of such strange predilections, of developing a delusion, and would investigate the heredity which has unrelentingly driven him to such a fate. In this, however, Jensen does not follow him; with good reason, he brings us nearer to the hero to facilitate for us aesthetic sympathy with him; with the diagnosis “dégénéré,” whether or not it may be justifiable to us scientifically, the young archaeologist is at once moved farther from us, for we, readers, are, of course, normal people and the measure of humanity. The essential facts of heredity and constitution in connection with this condition also concern the author of “Gradiva” little; instead, he is engrossed in the personal, psychic state which can give rise to such a delusion.

In an important point, Norbert Hanold acts quite differently from ordinary people. He has no interest in the living woman; science, which he serves, has taken this interest from him and transferred it to women of stone or bronze. Let us not consider this an unimportant peculiarity; it is really the basis of the story, for one day it happens that a single such bas-relief claims for itself all the interest which would otherwise belong only to the living woman, and thereby originates the delusion. Before our eyes there is then unfolded the story of how this delusion is cured by a fortunate set of circumstances, the interest transferred back again from the cast to the living girl. The author of the story does not allow us to trace the influences because of which our hero begins to avoid women; he only suggests to us that such conduct is not explained by his predisposition which is invested with a rather fanciful—we might add, erotic—need. We learn later also that in his childhood he did not avoid other children; he was then friendly with the little girl, was inseparable from her, shared with her his lunches, cuffed her, and was pulled around by her. In such attachment, such a combination of tenderness and aggression, is expressed the incomplete eroticism of child life, which expresses its activities first spitefully and then irresistibly and which, during childhood, only physicians and writers usually recognize as eroticism. Our author gives us to understand clearly that he has those intentions, for he suddenly causes to awaken in his hero, with suitable motive, a lively interest in the gait and foot-position of women, an interest which, in science, as well as among the ladies of his home-city, must bring him into disrepute as a foot-fetichist, and is to us, however, necessarily derived from the memory of his childhood playmate. The girl, to be sure, was characterized, as a child, by the beautiful walk with her foot almost perpendicular as she stepped out, and through the portrayal of this very gait an antique bas-relief later acquired for Norbert Hanold great significance. Let us add, moreover, immediately, that the author of “Gradiva” stands in complete agreement with science in regard to the derivation of the remarkable manifestation of fetichism. Since the investigations by Binet we really try to trace fetichism back to erotic impressions of childhood.

The condition of continued avoidance of women gives the personal qualification, as we say, the disposition for the formation of a delusion; the development of psychic disturbance begins at the moment when a chance impression awakens the forgotten childhood experiences which are emphasized in an erotic way that is at least traceable. Awakened is really not the right term, however, when we consider the further results. We must reproduce our author’s correct representation in a mode of expression artistically correct, and psychological. On seeing the relief Norbert Hanold does not remember that he has seen such a foot-position in the friend of his youth; he certainly does not remember and yet every effect of the relief proceeds from such connection with the impression of his childhood. The childhood-impression, stirred, becomes active, so that it begins to show activity, though it does not appear in consciousness, but remains “unconscious,” a term which we now use unavoidably in psychopathology. This term “unconscious” we should now like to see withdrawn from all the conflicts of philosophers and natural philosophers, which have only etymological significance. For psychic processes which are active and yet at the same time do not come through into the consciousness of the person referred to, we have at present no better name and we mean nothing else by “unconsciousness.” If many thinkers wish to dispute as unreasonable the existence of such an unconscious, we think they have never busied themselves with analogous psychic phenomena, and are under the spell of the common idea that everything psychic which is active and intensive becomes, thereby, at the same time, conscious, and they have still to learn what our author knows very well, that there are, of course, psychic processes, which, in spite of the fact that they are intensive and show energetic activities, remain far removed from consciousness.

We said once that the memories of the childhood relations with Zoë are in a state of “repression” with Norbert Hanold; and we have called them “unconscious memories.” Here we must, of course, turn our attention to the relation between the two technical terms which seem to coincide in meaning. It is not hard to clear this up. “Unconscious” is the broader term, “repressed,” the narrower. Everything that is repressed is unconscious; but we cannot assert that everything unconscious is repressed. If Hanold, at the sight of the relief, had remembered his Zoë’s manner of walking, then a formerly unconscious memory would have become immediately active and conscious, and thus would have shown that it was not formerly repressed. “Unconscious” is a purely descriptive term, in many respects indefinite and, so to speak, static; “repressed” is a dynamic expression which takes into consideration the play of psychic forces and the fact that there is present an effort to express all psychic activities, among them that of becoming conscious again, but also a counterforce, a resistance, which might hinder a part of these psychic activities, among these, also, getting into consciousness. The mark of the repressed material is that, in spite of its intensity, it cannot break through into consciousness. In Hanold’s case, therefore, it was a matter, at the appearance of the bas-relief on his horizon, of a repressed unconscious, in short of a repression.

The memories of his childhood association with the girl who walks beautifully are repressed in Norbert Hanold, but this is not yet the correct view of the psychological situation. We remain on the surface so long as we treat only of memories and ideas. The only valuable things in psychic life are, rather, the emotions. All psychic powers are significant only through their fitness to awaken emotions. Ideas are repressed only because they are connected with liberations of emotions, which are not to come to light; it would be more correct to say that repression deals with the emotions, but these are comprehensible to us only in connection with ideas. Thus, in Norbert Hanold, the erotic feelings are repressed, and, as his eroticism neither knows nor has known another object than Zoë Bertgang of his youth, the memories of her are forgotten. The antique bas-relief awakens the slumbering eroticism in him and makes the childhood memories active. On account of a resistance in him to the eroticism, these memories can become active only as unconscious. What now happens in him is a struggle between the power of eroticism and the forces that are repressing it; the result of this struggle is a delusion.

Our author has omitted to give the motive whence originates the repression of the erotic life in his hero; the latter’s interest in science is, of course, only the means of which the repression makes use; the physician would have to probe deeper here, perhaps in this case without finding the foundation. Probably, however, the author of “Gradiva,” as we have admiringly emphasized, has not hesitated to represent to us how the awakening of the repressed eroticism results from the very sphere of the means which are serving the repression. It is rightly an antique, the bas-relief of a woman, through which our archaeologist is snatched and admonished out of his alienation from love to pay the debt with which we are charged by our birth.

The first manifestations of the process now stimulated by the bas-relief are fancies which play with the person represented by it. The model appears to him to be something “of the present,” in the best sense, as if the artist had fixed the girl walking on the street from life. The name, Gradiva, which he forms from the epithet of the war-god advancing to battle, Mars Gradivus, he lends to the ancient girl; with more and more definitions he endows her with a personality. She may be the daughter of an esteemed man, perhaps of a patrician, who is associated with the temple service of a divinity; he believes that he reads Greek ancestry in her features, and finally this forces him to transport her far from the confusion of a metropolis to more peaceful Pompeii, where he has her walking over the lava stepping-stones which make possible the crossing of the street. These feats of fancy seem arbitrary enough and yet again harmlessly unsuspicious. Even when from them is produced, for the first time, the impulse to act, when the archaeologist, oppressed by the problem whether such foot-position corresponds to reality, begins observations from life, in looking at the feet of contemporary women and girls, this act covers itself by conscious, scientific motives, as if all the interest in the bas-relief of Gradiva had originated in his professional interest in archaeology. The women and girls on the street, whom he uses as objects for his investigation, must, of course assume a different, coarsely erotic conception of his conduct and we must admit that they are right. For us, there is no doubt that Hanold knows as little about his motives as about the origin of his fancies concerning Gradiva. These latter are, as we shall learn later, echoes of his memories of the beloved of his youth, remnants of these memories, transformations and disfigurements of them, after they have failed to push into consciousness in unchanged form. The so-called aesthetic judgment that the relief represents “something of the present” is substituted for the knowledge that such a gait belongs to a girl known to him and crossing streets in the present; behind the impression “from life” and the fancy about her Greek traits, is hidden the memory of her name, Zoë, which, in Greek, means life; Gradiva is, as the man finally cured of the delusion tells us, a good translation of her family-name, Bertgang, which means splendid or magnificent in walking; the decisions about her father arise from the knowledge that Zoë Bertgang is the daughter of an esteemed university instructor, which is probably translated into the antique as temple service. Finally his imagination transports her to Pompeii not “because her calm, quiet manner seems to require it,” but because, in his science, there is found no other nor better analogy to the remarkable condition in which he has traced out, by vague reconnoitering, his memories of his childhood friendship. If he once covered up what was so close to him, his own childhood, with the classic past, then the burial of Pompeii, this disappearance, with the preservation of the past, offers a striking resemblance to the repression of which he has knowledge by means of so-called “endopsychic” perceptions. The same symbolism, therefore, which the author has the girl use consciously at the end of the tale, is working in him.

“‘I said to myself that I should certainly dig up something interesting alone here. Of course, I had not reckoned at all on the find which I made.’” (G. p. 98.) At the end (G. p. 117), the girl answers to the announced desire about the destination of their journey, “by her childhood friend who had, in a way, also been excavated from the ashes.”

Thus we find at the very beginning of the performances of Hanold’s fancies and actions, a two-fold determination, a derivation from two different sources. One determination is the one which appears to Hanold, himself; the other, the one which discloses itself to us upon reexamination of his psychic processes. One, the conscious one, is related to the person of Hanold; the other is the one entirely unconscious to him. One originates entirely from the series of associations connected with archaeological science; the other, however, proceeds from the repressed memories which have become active in him, and the emotional impulses attached to them. The one seems superficial, and covers up the other, which masks itself behind the former. One might say that the scientific motivation serves the unconscious eroticism as cloak, and that science has placed itself completely at the service of the delusion, but one may not forget, either, that the unconscious determination can effect nothing but what is at the time satisfactory to the scientific conscious. The symptoms of delusion—fancies as well as acts—are results of a compromise between two psychic streams, and in a compromise the demands of each of the two parties are considered; each party has been obliged to forego something that he wished to carry out. Where a compromise has been established, there was a struggle, here the conflict assumed by us between the suppressed eroticism and the forces which keep it alive in the repression. In the formation of a delusion this struggle is never ended.

Attack and resistance are renewed after every compromise-formation, which is, so to speak, never fully satisfactory. This our author also knows and therefore he causes a feeling of discontent, a peculiar restlessness, to dominate his hero in this phase of the disturbance, as preliminary to and guarantee of further developments.

These significant peculiarities of the two-fold determination for fancies and decisions, of the formation of conscious pretexts for actions, for the motivation of which the repressed has given the greater contribution, will, in the further progress of the story, occur to us oftener and perhaps more clearly; and this rightfully, for in this Jensen has grasped and represented the never-failing, chief characteristic of the morbid psychic processes. The development of Norbert Hanold’s delusion progresses in a dream, which, caused by no new event, seems to proceed entirely from his psychic life, which is occupied by a conflict. Yet let us stop before we proceed to test whether the author of “Gradiva,” in the formation of his dreams, meets our expectation of a deeper understanding. Let us first ask what psychiatry has to say about his ideas of the origin of a delusion, how it stands on the matter of the rôle of repression and the unconscious, of conflict and compromise-formation. Briefly, can our author’s representation of the genesis of a delusion stand before the judgment of science?

And here we must give the perhaps unexpected answer that, unfortunately, matters are here actually just reversed; science does not stand before the accomplishment of our author. Between the essential facts of heredity and constitution, and the seemingly complete creations of delusion, there yawns a breach which we find filled up by the writer of “Gradiva.” Science does not yet recognize the significance of repression nor the fact that it needs the unconscious for explanation to the world of psychopathological phenomena; it does not seek the basis of delusion in psychic conflict, and does not regard its symptoms as a compromise-formation. Then our author stands alone against all science? No, not that—if the present writer may reckon his own works as science. For, he, himself, has for some years interceded—and until recently almost alone—for the views which he finds here in “Gradiva” by W. Jensen, and he has presented them in technical terms. He has pointed out exhaustively, for the conditions known as hysteria and obsession, the suppression of impulses and the repression of the ideas, through which the suppressed impulse is represented, as a characteristic condition of psychic disturbance, and he has repeated the same view soon afterwards for many kinds of delusion. Whether the impulses which are, for this reason, considered are always components of the sex-impulse, or might be of a different nature, is a problem of indifference in the analysis of “Gradiva,” as, in the case chosen by the author, it is a matter only of the suppression of the erotic feeling. The views concerning psychic conflict, and the formation of symptoms by compromises between the two psychic forces which are struggling with each other, the present writer has found valid in cases professionally treated and actually observed, in exactly the same way that he was able to observe it in Norbert Hanold, the invention of our author. The tracing back of neurotic, especially of hysterically morbid activities to the influence of unconscious thoughts, P. Janet, the pupil of the great Charcot, had undertaken before the present writer, and in conjunction with Josef Breuer in Vienna.

It had actually occurred to the present writer, when, in the years following 1893, he devoted himself to investigations of the origin of psychic disturbances, to seek confirmation of his results from authors, and therefore it was no slight surprise to him to learn that in “Gradiva,” published in 1903, an author gave to his creation the very foundation which the former supposed that he, himself, was finding authority for, as new, from his experiences as a physician. How did the author come upon the same knowledge as the physician, at least upon a procedure which would suggest that he possessed it?

Norbert Hanold’s delusion, we said, acquires further development through a dream, which he has in the midst of his efforts to authenticate a gait like Gradiva’s in the streets of his home-city. The content of this dream we can outline briefly. The dreamer is in Pompeii on that day which brought destruction to the unfortunate city, experiences the horrors without, himself, getting into danger, suddenly sees Gradiva walking there and immediately understands, as quite natural, that, as she is, of course, a Pompeiian, she is living in her native city and “without his having any suspicion of it, was his contemporary.” He is seized with fear for her, calls to her, whereupon she turns her face toward him momentarily. Yet she walks on without heeding him at all, lies down on the steps of the Apollo temple, and is buried by the rain of ashes, after her face has changed color as if it were turning to white marble, until it completely resembles a bas-relief. On awakening, he interprets the noise of the metropolis, which reaches his ear, as the cries for help of the desperate inhabitants of Pompeii and the booming of the turbulent sea. The feeling that what he has dreamed has really happened to him persists for some time after his awakening, and the conviction that Gradiva lived in Pompeii and died on that fatal day remains from this dream as a new, supplementary fact for his delusion.

It is less easy for us to say what the author of “Gradiva” intended by this dream, and what caused him to connect the development of this delusion directly with a dream. Assiduous investigation of dreams has, to be sure, gathered enough examples of the fact that mental disturbance is connected with and proceeds from dreams, and even in the life-history of certain eminent men, impulses for important deeds and decisions are said to have been engendered by dreams; but our comprehension does not gain much by these analogies; let us hold, therefore, to our case, the case of the archaeologist, Norbert Hanold, a fiction of our author. At which end must one lay hold of such a dream to introduce meaning into it, if it is not to remain an unnecessary adornment of fiction? I can imagine that the reader exclaims at this place; “The dream is, of course, easy to explain—a simple anxiety-dream, caused by the noise of the metropolis, which is given the new interpretation of the destruction of Pompeii, by the archaeologist busied with his Pompeiian girl!” On account of the commonly prevailing disregard of the activities of dreams, one usually limits the demands for dream-explanations so that one seeks for a part of the dream-content an external excitation which covers itself by means of the content. This external excitation for the dream would be given by the noise which wakens the sleeper; the interest in this dream would be thereby terminated. Would that we had even one reason to suppose that the metropolis had been noisier than usual on this morning! If, for example, our author had not omitted to inform us that Hanold had that night, contrary to his custom, slept by an open window! What a shame that our author didn’t take the trouble! And if an anxiety-dream were only so simple a thing! No, this interest is not terminated in so simple a way.

The connection with the external, sensory stimulus is not at all essential for the dream-formation. The sleeper can neglect this excitation from the outer world; he may be awakened by it without forming a dream, he may also weave it into his dream, as happens here, if it is of no use to him from any other motive; and there is an abundance of dreams for whose content such a determination by a sensory excitation of the sleeper cannot be shown. No, let us try another way.

Perhaps we can start from the residue which the dream leaves in Hanold’s waking life. It had formerly been his fancy that Gradiva was a Pompeiian. Now this assumption becomes a certainty and the second certainty is added that she was buried there in the year 79. Sorrowful feelings accompany this progress of the formation of the delusion like an echo of the fear which had filled the dream. This new grief about Gradiva will seem to us not exactly comprehensible; Gradiva would now have been dead for many centuries even if she had been saved in the year 79 from destruction. Or ought one to be permitted to squabble thus with either Norbert Hanold or his creator? Here, too, no way seems to lead to explanation. We wish, nevertheless, to remark that a very painful, emotional stress clings to the augmentation which the delusion derives from this dream.

Otherwise, however, our perplexity is not dispelled. This dream does not explain itself; we must decide to borrow from “Traumdeutung” by the present writer, and to use some of the rules given there for the solution of dreams.

One of these rules is that a dream is regularly connected with the day before the dream. Our author seems to wish to intimate that he has followed this rule by connecting the dream directly with Hanold’s “pedestrian investigations.” Now the latter means nothing but a search for Gradiva whom he expects to recognize by her characteristic manner of walking. The dream ought, therefore, to contain a reference to where Gradiva is to be found. It really does contain it by showing her in Pompeii, but that is no news for us.

Another rule says: If, after the dream, the reality of the dream-pictures continues unusually long so that one cannot free himself from the dream, this is not a kind of mistake in judgment called forth by the vividness of the dream-pictures, but is a psychic act in itself, an assurance which refers to the dream-content, that something in it is as real as it has been dreamed to be, and one is right to believe this assurance. If we stop at these two rules, we must decide that the dream gives real information about the whereabouts of Gradiva, who is being sought. We now know Hanold’s dream; does the application of these two rules lead to any sensible meaning?

Strange to say, yes. This meaning is disguised only in a special way so that one does not recognize it immediately. Hanold learns in the dream that the girl sought lives in the city and in his own day. That is, of course, true of Zoë Bertgang, only that in his dream the city is not the German university-city, but Pompeii, the time not the present, but the year 79, according to our reckoning. It is a kind of disfigurement by displacement; not Gradiva is transported to the present, but the dreamer to the past; but we are also given the essential and new fact that he shares locality and time with the girl sought. Whence, then, this dissimulation and disguise which must deceive us as well as the dreamer about the peculiar meaning and content of the dream? Well, we have already means at hand to give us a satisfactory answer to this question.

Let us recall all that we have heard about the nature and origin of fancies, these preliminaries of delusion. They are substitution for and remnants of different repressed memories, which a resistance does not allow to push into consciousness, which, however, become conscious by heeding the censor of resistance, by means of transformations and disfigurements. After this compromise is completed, the former memories have become fancies, which may easily be misunderstood by the conscious person, that is, may be understood to be the ruling psychic force. Now let us suppose that the dream-pictures are the so-called physiological delusion-products of a man, the compromise-results of that struggle between what is repressed and what is dominant, which exist probably even in people absolutely normal in the daytime. Then we understand that we have to consider the dream something disfigured behind which there is to be sought something else, not disfigured, but, in a sense, something offensive, like Hanold’s repressed memories behind his fancies. One expresses the admitted opposition by distinguishing what the dreamer remembers on waking, as manifest dream-content, from what formed the basis of the dream before the censor’s disfigurement, the latent dream-thoughts. To interpret a dream, then, means to translate the manifest dream-content into the latent dream-thoughts, which make retrogressive the disfigurement that had to be approved by the resistance censor. When we turn these deliberations to the dream which is occupying us, we find that the latent dream-thoughts must have been as follows: “The girl who has that beautiful walk, whom you are seeking, lives really in this city with you;” but in this form the thought could not become conscious; in its way there stood the fact that a fancy had established, as a result of a former compromise, the idea that Gradiva was a Pompeiian girl, and therefore nothing remained, if the actual fact of her living in the same locality and at the same time was to be perceived, but to assume the disfigurement: you are living in Pompeii at the time of Gradiva; and this then is the idea which the manifest dream-content realizes and represents as a present time which he is living in.

A dream is rarely the representation, one might say the staging, of a single thought, but generally of a number of them, a web of thoughts. In Hanold’s dream there is conspicuous another component of the content, whose disfigurement is easily put aside so that one may learn the latent idea represented by it. This is the end of the dream to which the assurance of reality can also be extended. In the dream the beautiful walker, Gradiva, is transformed into a bas-relief. That is, of course, nothing but an ingenious and poetic representation of the actual procedure. Hanold had, indeed, transferred his interest from the living girl to the bas-relief; the beloved had been transformed into a stone relief. The latent dream-thoughts, which remain unconscious, wish to transform the relief back into the living girl; in connection with the foregoing they speak to him somewhat as follows: “You are, of course, interested in the bas-relief of Gradiva only because it reminds you of the present, here-living Zoë.” But this insight would mean the end of the delusion, if it could become conscious.

Is it our duty to substitute unconscious thoughts thus for every single bit of the manifest dream-content? Strictly speaking, yes; in the interpretation of a dream which had actually been dreamed, we should not be allowed to avoid this duty. The dreamer would then have to give us an exhaustive account. It is easily understood that we cannot enforce such a demand in connection with the creature of our author; we will not, however, overlook the fact that we have not yet submitted the chief content of this dream to the work of interpretation and translation.

Hanold’s dream is, of course, an anxiety-dream. Its content is fearful; anxiety is felt by the dreamer in sleep, and painful feelings remain after it. That is not of any great help for our attempt at explanation; we are again forced to borrow largely from the teachings of dream-interpretation. This admonishes us not to fall into the error of deriving the fear that is felt in a dream from the content of a dream, not to use the dream-content like the content of ideas of waking life. It calls to our attention how often we dream the most horrible things without feeling any trace of fear. Rather the true fact is a quite different one, which cannot be easily guessed, but can certainly be proved. The fear of the anxiety-dream corresponds to a sex-feeling, a libidinous emotion, like every neurotic fear, and has, through the process of repression, proceeded from the libido. In the interpretation of dreams, therefore, one must substitute for fear sexual excitement. The fear which has thus come into existence, exercises now—not regularly, but often—a selective influence on the dream-content and brings into the dream ideational elements which seem suitable to this fear for the conscious and erroneous conception of the dream. This is, as has been said, by no means regularly the case, for there are anxiety dreams in which the content is not at all frightful, in which, therefore, one cannot explain consciously the anxiety experienced.

I know that this explanation of fear in dreams sounds odd, and is not easily believed; but I can only advise making friends with it. It would, moreover, be remarkable if Norbert Hanold’s dream allowed itself to be connected with this conception of fear and to be explained by it. We should then say that in the dreamer, at night, the erotic desire stirs, makes a powerful advance to bring his memory of the beloved into consciousness and thus snatch him from the delusion, experiences rejection and transformation into fear, which now, on its part, brings the fearful pictures from the academic memory of the dreamer into the dream-content. In this way the peculiar unconscious content of the dream, the amorous longing for the once known Zoë, is transformed into the manifest-content of the destruction of Pompeii and the loss of Gradiva.

I think that sounds quite plausible so far. One might justly demand that if erotic wishes form the undisfigured content of this dream, then one must be able to point out, in the transformed dream, at least a recognizable remnant of them hidden somewhere. Well, perhaps even this will come about with the help of a suggestion which appears later in the story. At the first meeting with the supposed Gradiva, Hanold remembers this dream and requests the apparition to lie down again as he has seen her. Thereupon the young lady rises, indignant, and leaves her strange companion, in whose delusion-ridden speech she has heard the suggestion of an improper, erotic wish. I think we may adopt Gradiva’s interpretation; even from a real dream one cannot always demand more definiteness for the representation of an erotic wish.

Thus the application of some rules of dream-interpretation have been successful on Hanold’s first dream, in making this dream comprehensible to us in its chief features, and in fitting it into the sequence of the story. Then it must probably have been produced by its author with due consideration for these rules. One could raise only one more question: why the author should introduce a dream for further development of the delusion. Well, I think that is very cleverly arranged and again keeps faith with reality. We have already heard that in actual illness the formation of a delusion is very often connected with a dream, but after our explanation of the nature of dreams, we need find no new riddle in this fact. Dreams and delusion spring from the same source, the repressed; the dream is, so to speak, the physiological delusion of the normal human being. Before the repressed has become strong enough to push itself up into waking life as delusion, it may easily have won its first success under the more favorable circumstances of sleep, in the form of a dream having after-effects. During sleep, with the diminution of psychic activity, there enters a slackening in the strength of the resistance, which the dominant psychic forces oppose to the repressed. This slackening is what makes the dream-formation possible and therefore the dream becomes, for us, the best means of approach to knowledge of the unconscious psyche. Only the dream usually passes rapidly with the reestablishment of the psychic revival of waking life, and the ground won by the unconscious is again vacated.