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Carl Jung on how to “apply a structure to the dream.”


Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940

Professor Jung:

This year I would like to forgo a longer introduction to the technique of dream analysis, and just briefly address a few general questions.

As you know, we apply a structure to the dream, that corresponds to the pattern of a drama.

We distinguish four elements: the introduction often specifies place and time, as well as the actors (dramatis personae) of the dream action.

There follows the exposition, which unfolds the problem of the dream.

It contains, so to speak, the theme, or maybe the question posed by the unconscious.

From this arises the peripateia: the dream action leads to increasing complexity, until it reaches a climax and changes—sometimes in the form of a catastrophe.

Finally, the lysis gives a solution or the result of the dream.

As you know, in every interpretation of a dream we first of all ask: How does such a dream come into being? What caused it? What are the experiences of the previous day? What happened? Is there a remarkable situation?

An important additional question is also whether the dreamer is conscious of anything about it; this must by no means be taken for granted.

In the case of children’s dreams as remembered by adults, we are only exceptionally able to ascertain the situation out of which they arose.

And yet we have to try by all means to search for it, and to keep in view the question of causality, even if we cannot answer it empirically for the time being. We have to reach a point where we can deduce the preceding situation from the dream itself.

Our dream analysis is of value only if we can subsequently detect, from the interpretation, what caused the dream.

Naturally this has to be done with the necessary care, because one can go considerably astray.

In addition, we subject each detail of the dream, its symbolic figures, and the sequence of the actions to a careful examination.

Whenever possible, we take note of the context of each idea or image.

By context, I mean the association material in which the idea is embedded.

When someone says, for example: “I dreamed of a glass,” do we then understand what this means?

We don’t understand anything yet. It could be a wine glass, a beer glass, a test-tube, a bottle, or a window pane.

First we have to know in which context the image “glass” is situated. So we can’t avoid asking about it, and then, sure enough, we may often hear the most astonishing answers.

In the case of banal ideas—as they so frequently occur in dreams—it perhaps suffices to confine ourselves to taking note of the context; this will not always be sufficient in the case of more complicated ideas, because often precisely the very important things are held back, as the complexes prevent the person from making the statement.

We also know this from the association experiment.

In these cases, we are forced to delve deeper into gathering information on the context, which I have called amplification.

In the interpretation of children’s dreams, too, we will have to revert to this method.

As I explained last winter, we have always to reckon with the fact that the child cannot provide any associations to the dream.

In addition, precisely the most important children’s dreams are frequently told only much later, so there is no possibility of getting information on the context.

This method of amplification is an expansion, a conscious enrichment.

I make the dreamer focus his interest on the image, and to bring up all associations linked to the image.

This must not be confounded with free association, in which we glide from one association to another, without regard to the initial idea.

In doing so, however, we lose the certainty that the final element still has a relation to the initial one.

Of course we encounter complexes, but for that we need no dream, and moreover we don’t want to discover complexes anyway; instead, we want to know what the dream says.

Freud adhered to this method of free association, and he could do that because for him the dream is not the essential thing, whereas for me it is.

For him, it is the façade, for me, the essence.

In this I rely on a Jewish authority, the Talmud, where it says: “The dream is its own interpretation,” meaning that we have to take the dream for what it is.

We should not see in the dream something different from what it expresses, but we actually have to learn to see differently—that’s the difficulty.

When I analyzed an Asian, I noticed the difference: he had an amazing ability to “smell” his context.

Unabashedly, he said out loud what we ourselves would have noticed only with great difficulty.

The natural faculties Asian people show in this respect are astonishing.

They are helped, however, by their language, with its richness of images, in which everything is already given.

On the other hand, they are not used to designating something precisely.

Tell an Asian man, “Please, bring me a blade of grass,” and he will bring you the whole meadow.

We have lost the larger context, because we see only the separate details; Asians, however, always have an overall picture.

William McDougall has something characteristic to say about this.

He had the typical Western mind, stuck on details.

He was interested in Chinese philosophy, and had trouble understanding the notion of Tao.

So he asked a Chinese—his pupil—about the meaning of Tao, but did not understand anything of what the Chinese explained to him.

So the latter grew impatient, dragged the professor to the window and asked him: “What do you see?” “Houses, cars, people; and also trees, clouds; it is raining and the wind is blowing.”

And the Chinese said: “Well, you see, this is Tao.”

We have to try to gain such an overall picture with the help of amplification, even in the case of very simple dream images.

So, for instance, what does it mean if someone dreams of a rabbit?

Then we must not look at it separately, by itself, but we have to see it in the field, notice how its fur matches the earth; we must also feel that the hunter belongs in this context, and the dog, the corn in the field, and the flowers.

Only then will we know what a rabbit is.

In interpreting the single dream elements, I proceed in this complementary way.

Only from this general view do I realize the meaning, and I’ve had quite a few surprises.

If someone dreams of a bicycle, for example, I will ask: “How would you describe it if I had never seen a bicycle before?”

The dreamer has to create an image for me, to write an elementary school composition, so to speak, so that I will know how he sees it.

A downright “myth” of the bicycle can result from such a description.

Perhaps we discover that it is a sun wagon, in which a ghost journey is made.

The primitive mythology of the European may come to light on such an occasion.

In using this method, we are not necessarily bound to the concrete statement of the dreamer, but can amplify the dream images ourselves.

In this, we have to revert to those images we all have in common, namely, the archetypal images of the collective unconscious, as they are found in language, myths, and so on.

So we explain a dream by amplifying the range of the image for each single element, in using all our knowledge.

To verify an interpretation, we must have a look not only at the dream by itself, but maybe also in the context of a whole series.

Then we will often discover that the dreamer had a dream right before or afterward, in which our interpretation is already contained.

In a series we can compare dreams with one another and thus eliminate errors.

Let me give you an example for such a verification: I was told a dream in which the patient’s father holds a globe, trying to divide it into two halves, such that there would be exactly the same number of people in the East as in the West.

The dream reminded me of the history of creation in Genesis, in which God also makes a division, when on the second day

He divided the waters that were under the firmament from the waters that were above the firmament.

From this I concluded that a process of growing consciousness had occurred in the dreamer, that he had started to think consciously and autonomously.

This hypothesis could later be verified.

This person had already dreamed of the act of creation the night before; he had dreamed that God had created a world with lightning and thunder.

Of this dream, however, I knew nothing.

You see how we can retrospectively verify the interpretation of a single dream image in the context of a dream series. ~Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams Seminar, Pages 236-240.