Hands up, if you remember the Cold War…or have read any spy novels by John Le Carre or Len Deighton…or maybe saw the movie Funeral in Berlin, starring Michael Caine. In fact and fiction, the little bridge, spanning the Havel River between Potsdam & Berlin, has been the venue for several spy swaps between the Soviet Union and the US, under cloak of darkness. First, Gary Powers, the downed U-2 pilot [no, not part of the Irish band, you Young Ones], in 1962. [Followed by the fictional “Harry Palmer” in 1966.] Then in 1985 the US got back 23 agents in exchange for 4 Soviet agents [such a deal!]; and finally, a 4 (of ours) for 5 (of theirs) swap in 1986.
If you keep in mind that these exchanges happened at night, between warring factions, the metaphor I’m about to lay on you will work better. As a Young One, myself, in the UK of 1960, I used to fall asleep listening to Radio Luxembourg play the latest English & American hit tunes…only to wake up with a shriek @ midnight, when the station switched over to broadcasting Voice of America “information,” only to be promptly and cacophonously jammed by transmitters in the USSR. What a racket! What a rude awakening! What an apt analogy for Freud’s theory of the interpretation of dreams!
Initially, he thought the purpose of dreams was two-fold. They serve to preserve sleep. C’mon, admit it. Have you never concocted an elaborate dream which “accounts” for the sound of your alarm clock, transforming it into something else entirely, just to allow you a bit more shut-eye? Secondly [pace Walt Disney], Freud opined that “A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” His example of this is the sad story of a man whose child has died, for whom he is now sitting shivah. He falls asleep and dreams that he and his child are walking together through a field, with the warm sun beating down on them…until finally, the smell of burning cloth intrudes on his reverie, and he wakes up, to discover that a candle has fallen over onto the dead child’s bedding and set it on fire. While it lasted, this Restoration dream fulfilled the wish that his child had not died; and, for a time, it “accounted” for the heat & light of the fire [transforming it into a sunny day], thereby postponing the mourning father’s rude awakening.
“Oh, really?” said the skeptics of his time, “Do you mean to tell me that the nightmare I had last night was a wish?” Stand by for a large loophole. The language of dreams is Primary Process (more of an Indie film than a conventional Disney narrative); and the way you express “not” in a dream is to begin a scene and then “yell ‘Cut!'” before its logical conclusion. Always? Not always. Just when the dream makes more sense as a wish, with a “not” thrown in.
Enough quibbling, already. Let’s cut to the chase [scene]. There is an “Iron Curtain” between the Unconscious [where dreams are produced] and the Conscious [where they are shown, shared with friends, underappreaciated…]. Like the Soviets who jammed the Voice of America signal, there is (in most individuals) an intra-psychic “censor,” whose job it is to filter, spin, and otherwise obfuscate the message from the Unconscious. How come? Because the censor thinks “The Conscious can’t handle the truth!” Maybe the truth is inconvenient to the current regime. It might incite the dreamer to challenge the status quo, rock the boat, do something wild & crazy. The more “buttoned-down” an individual, the more powerful his censor is; and fewer of his dreams make it across the Glienicke bridge.
Here’s where the “tradecraft”–the cloak & dagger passing of secrets, as described in the novels of le Carre & Deighton–comes in. The message has a better chance of slipping past the censor if it is encrypted. Freud described two common forms of encryption: displacement & condensation. In dreams, actors rarely appear as themselves [except, like Hitchcock, for brief cameos]. So where do the characters come from? And, for that matter, where do the plotlines come from? Often, from current events, mass media, and the dreamer’s daily routine. Freud called this Day Residue. In his dream decoding algorithm, Day Residue is “subtracted” from the Manifest Content of the dream; and the remaining images (especially the odd ones) are assumed to be displacements or condensations of two (or more) images, which need to be deconstructed, for the dream’s Latent Content to be discovered. Got all that?
Let’s use a dream I had in graduate school, to practice decryption. “I have just come out of the 72nd Street subway station and am waiting to cross to the East, but there is traffic from both Broadway & Amsterdam Avenue. I don’t have time to wait for a ‘walk’ sign, so I intend to jay-walk, when there is a lull in traffic. Here comes a furry limousine, moving very slowly. I could definitely dart across in front of it…but I feel the need to reach out and touch it as it passes by.”
Day residue: That’s my real-life subway stop, my etoile of streets to cross, and my typical late-for-a-very-important-date mindset. What’s left, if we take that away?
Odd image: “Furry limousine, moving very slowly.” My free association: “Looked like a Cadillac. Hate them! Make me carsick. Grandparents always drove them. Why furry? This is Springtime. Who wears fur in the Spring? My maternal grandmother wears those weasels biting each other around her neck, even in mild weather. Why moving slowly? Like a hearse? ‘Reach out, reach out and touch someone’ is the current jingle for Bell long distance telephone.”
Latent content: I wish to call my grandmother, before she dies.
“BFD!” I hear you say. But, for complex tribal and power subtext reasons, I had been estranged from my grandmother for about 5 years. Still, having deconstructed a possible meaning for the dream, I went ahead and enacted the “latent wish,” and called her. [She mistook me for my sister, and mentioned she was feeling her end was nye; but when she realized she was talking to me, she back-peddled and hung up.] And, verily, she died later that week. No, I didn’t cause her death, or even really predict it. [She was in her 80s, after all.] I did allow a coded message from my Unconscious to affect my behavior regarding her; and I am very grateful that I did.
Next time you remember one of your dreams, why not see if you can decode it? You are not obliged to enact every “wish your heart makes”; but dreamwork (like wolf-work) often provides valuable “inside information,” to those brave enough to undertake it.