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- Sep 19, 1994
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Although it is customary to credit Freud’s self-analysis, it may be more accurate, Alexander Welsh argues, to say that psychoanalysis began when The Interpretation of Dreams was published in the last weeks of the nineteenth century. Only by going public with his theory — that dreams manifest hidden wishes — did Freud establish a position to defend and embark upon a career. That position and career have been among the most influential in this century.
In August 1899, Freud wrote to Wilhelm Fliess of the dream book in terms reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. Beginning from a dark wood, this modern journey features “a concealed pass though which I lead the reader — my specimen dream with its peculiarities, details, indiscretions, bad jokes — and then suddenly the high ground and the view and the question, Which way do you wish to go now?” Physician that he is, Freud appoints himself guide rather than hero, yet the way “you” wish to go is very much his prescribed way.
In Welsh’s book, readers are invited on Freud’s journey, to pause at each concealed pass in his seminal work and ask where the guide is taking them and why. Along the way, Welsh shows how Freud’s arbitrary turnings are themselves wishful, intended to persuade by pleasing the reader and author alike; that his interest in secrets and his self-proclaimed modest ambition are products of their time; and that the book may best be read as a romance or serial comedy. “Some of the humor throughout,” Welsh notes, “can only be understood as a particular kind of fine performance.” Welsh offers the first critical overview of the argument in Freud’s masterpiece and of the author who presents himself as guide.