Freud: Conflict & Culture

Dreams and Everyday Life

Freud understood dreams (like jokes, slips of the tongue, and other symptoms) to be signs of concealed, conflicting desires. He considered powerful desires to be always in conflict, and his theories tried to account for how these conflicts give rise to unintentional expression. Dreams and other unconscious acts conceal even as they reveal wishes that we would rather not face more directly.

Mourning and Guilt

Freud understood dreams (like jokes, slips of the tongue, and other symptoms) to be signs of concealed, conflicting desires. He considered powerful desires to be always in conflict, and his theories tried to account for how these conflicts give rise to unintentional expression. Dreams and other unconscious acts conceal even as they reveal wishes that we would rather not face more directly.

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Psychoanalysis is not so much a question of science as a matter of taste, Dr. Freud being an artist who lives in the fairyland of dreams among the ogres of perverted sex.

J. M. Cattell, 1926

Imagine St. Augustine weaving his Confessions into The City of God, or Rousseau integrating his Confessions as a subliminal plot into The Origins of Inequality: such is the procedure of Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams.

Carl E. Schorske, 1979

A Dream is a Wish

In part description of his methods and results, in part autobiography, and in part speculation on the workings of the mind, The Interpretation of Dreams marks the beginning of psychoanalysis. The book also reveals Freud's powers as a writer, weaving intriguing stories together with ambitious theory. Its key idea on which so much else is built: the dream is the expression of a disguised wish. He returned to this idea throughout his career.

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Freud was already a pseudo-scientist from the hour he published The Interpretation of Dreams.

Frederick Crews, 1988

What is so galling about Freud's dream theory -- why many are tempted to call it unscientific, pseudoscientific, or antiscientific -- is that it succeeded far out of proportion to the strength of the evidence in its favor.

Patricia Kitcher, 1992

The Unconscious in Everyday Life

The books Freud wrote after The Interpretation of Dreams explored other areas of everyday life in which disguised wishes appear. These books provide more examples of how the unconscious finds some outlet in even the most familiar aspects of our lives. Freud collected jokes that seemed to him particularly expressive, even jokes on war. From his perspective, strong desires will always find some way of expressing themselves.

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The old theory of Aristotle seems to do it better than Freud's. Dreams are products of imagination which continues its work in sleep, nothing more, nothing less.

Die Zeit, 1901

He establishes connections between the dream content and the waking state so willfully and with such arbitrariness that it is difficult to keep a straight face.

Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie, 1901

Why does meaning express itself in the dream?

Michel Foucault, 1954

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"Repression" is Freud's term for the mechanism that turns our unacceptable desires away from us. Those unruly desires are repressed, made inaccessible to our thinking. The "unconscious" and later the "id" are the terms Freud uses for this realm of inaccessibility. Our repressed desires, according to psychoanalysis, only appear to us disguised as dreams, symptoms, and other seemingly incoherent, uncontrolled actions.

Exploring the Mind

In the spring of 1915, Freud wrote a series of papers on metapsychology, the fundamental principles that guide the mechanisms of the mind. He destroyed some of these essays but did publish five. This particular one explains why Freud thought it crucial to posit the existence of an unconscious that interacts with conscious life.

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He who has eyes to see and ears to hear becomes convinced that mortals can keep no secret. If their lips are silent, they gossip with their fingertips; betrayal forces itself through every pore.

Sigmund Freud, 1905

The theory of repression is the cornerstone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests.

Sigmund Freud, 1914

Mapping the Mind

By the 1920s Freud had developed a new map of the mind to better explain the dynamic interaction of the conscious and unconscious. In this text, he explores how the conscious ego helps one navigate in the world even as it tries to find ways of both satisfying the desires of the id and meeting the high standards of the super-ego.

"The Ego and the Id." Holograph manuscript, 1910. Page 11. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (73A)

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How can we conceive of a knowledge which is ignorant of itself?

Jean-Paul Sartre, 1943

Dividing the Mind

In this paper from the series on metapsychology, Freud explicates the concept of "repression," which he called the cornerstone of psychoanalysis. Desires are repressed (bringing distress) because satisfying them would bring even greater distress. But the repressed desires remain active within us, seeking some expression or gratification, even as they are denied. The manuscripts on narcissism and masochism explore some of the ways in which these desires remain active.

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What Freud says about the unconscious sounds like science but in fact is just a means of representation

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1946

There is one word which, if we only understand it, is the key to Freud's thought. That word is "repression."

Norman O. Brown, 1959

Tracing the Mind

Freud was fond of creating metaphors for the psychological mechanism of repression. An archaeological excavation or a children's toy called the "wunderblock," were for him excellent tangible representations of this mechanism. On a wunderblock, the writing can be erased from the covering paper, but its traces remain, if barely visible, in the soft tablet underneath. Erasure, like repression, is only partially successful.

"Wunderblock." Holograph manuscript, 1925. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (74)

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The unconscious would appear to be a region resembling the zoological gardens, with all the keepers on strike.

Quarterly Review, 1922

Schopenhauer, as psychologist of the will, is the father of all modern psychology. From him the line runs, by way of the psychological radicalism of Nietzsche, straight to Freud and the men who built up his psychology of the unconscious and applied it to the mental sciences.

Thomas Mann, 1939

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Sexuality and Aggression

According to Freud, sexual desires conflict with one another, with social conventions, and most critically, with reality. He saw them as fundamental yet never fully satisfied. We desire what we do not have or what we feel we have lost, and these unsatisfied desires find expression in surprising, sometimes disturbing ways. After World War I, Freud paid increasing attention to the phenomenon of aggression. He speculated that a death drive was as important as the sexual drive in our psychic constitutions. He saw the basic conflict in our lives as that between Eros and Thanatos, Love and Death — a conflict never to be resolved and with fateful consequences in daily life and in world events.

Fantasy, Memory and Truth

Through the 1890s, Freud confided his doubts, anxieties, ideas and ambitions in letters to Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin physician. These letters form a record of Freud's self analysis, as well as some of his attempts to diagram neurological components of sexuality. In this letter, Freud announces that he no longer believes that neurosis is caused by sexual attacks on children, and that he is now concentrating on the interrelationship of fantasy and memory.

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I'm hipped on Freud and all that, but it's rotten that every bit of real love in the world is ninety-nine per cent passion and one little soupçon jealousy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, 1920

Freud was merely a diagnostician for what Feminism purports to cure.

Shulamith Firestone, 1970

Prohibiting Desire: Oedipus

The Oedipus myth seemed to Freud to be an allegory of his ideas on human development. His own Oedipus tale emphasizes neither the child abandoned to die nor the adult who solves the riddle of the Sphinx. Freud's Oedipus is the boy fated to kill his father and marry his mother, a fate indicative of the most fundamental human desires. For Freud, accepting the prohibition against incest -- accepting the renunciation of a primordial desire -- is the crucible in which human subjectivity and culture are formed.

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  • "The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex." Holograph manuscript, 1924. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (82)

  • Bookplate designed for Freud with inscription: "He who comprehended the famous riddle and is the most excellent of men." Luigi Kasimir, artist. Copyprint. Austrian National Library, Vienna (83)

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However it may have been used psychoanalysis is not a recommendation for a patriarchal society, but an analysis of one.

Juliet Mitchell, 1974

Theory of Sexuality

Freud considered this book one of the pillars of psychoanalysis. It contains his thinking on infantile sexuality, on the fundamental bisexuality of humans, on the continuum between normal and unusual sexual practices, and on the Oedipus complex. Freud's theories brought countless responses, including a query from an American mother worried about her homosexual son. The 79-year-old Freud's response to her encourages tolerance and an acknowledgment of the varieties of sexual expression.

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Freud never showed much concern with the destiny of woman; it is clear that he simply adapted his account from that of the destiny of man, with slight modifications.

Simone de Beauvoir, 1949

Freud is the father of psychoanalysis. It had no mother.

Germaine Greer, 1970

Enter Death and Aggression

In his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, written in the aftermath of World War I, Freud speculated that there existed death drives in conflict with sex drives. This opposition, he thought, could explain much about the fundamental forces shaping individuals and societies, while also pointing toward explanations for their self-destructive and outwardly aggressive behavior.

"Beyond the Pleasure Principle." Bound holograph manuscript with typescript, 1920. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (86)

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Where psychoanalysis and feminism join is in the phrase: "lies make you sick."

Carol Gilligan, 1993

What do Women Want?

Even as Freud confessed his relative ignorance about the desires of women, he speculated that their sex drives helped form a distinctive female subjectivity. These speculations provoked lively controversies among his followers and critics which continue today. In Freud's view, the little girl had to come to terms with her self-perception of being a failed boy. As he put it, "Anatomy is destiny."

"Female Sexuality." Holograph manuscript, 1931. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (88)

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The beginning of religion, morals, society and art all converge in the Oedipus complex.

Sigmund Freud, 1913

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