In looking at Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, I’m interested primarily in discussing his methodology of self-analysis. Throughout the text Freud returns again to his own dreams to prove his theories. What’s more, he feels the need to point this out to the reader, and justify this choice. No doubt, there is an element of performativity to Freud’s anxiousness, but at the same time, it seems that he felt that he came up with a new way of understanding the self. I will look at the issue of self-analysis from two angles. The first is the way that self-analysis falls into Foucault’s notion of the confessional. The second deals with the way that Freud uses his own dreams as a way to decode the dreams of others.
When Freud enters into his own methodology of interpreting dreams, an analysis that emphasizes self-analysis, he quotes Delbeouf, “Every psychologist is under an obligation to confess even his own weaknesses, if he thinks that it may throw light upon some obscure problem.” (Freud 138 footnote) Thus as Freud enters into the concept of self-analysis, the notion of confession is also introduced. It is difficult to overemphasize the role that this concept plays into the various descriptions of Freud’s own dreams.
The initial description of the dream of Irma can act as an excellent example of this “confessional” mode within the book. Freud goes through his dream and breaks it down detail by detail. Freud makes a point of emphasizing particularly embarrassing assertions within the dream. He acknowledges within the description that the description of the dream is neither flattering to Irma, nor to his wife. But Freud pushes himself to continue analysis.
The dream builds up to a series of reproaches of the logic of his dream. “I was not to blame for Irma’s pains, since she herself was to blame for them by refusing to accept my solution. I was not concerned with Irma’s pains, since they were of an organic nature and quite incurable by psychological treatment…” (Freud 152) The text continues on within this vein. What interests me most is the emphasis on the word ‘I’. It once again emphasizes the nature of the subject as individuated one. It is a subject that will go to extraordinary efforts to avoid any sort of culpability.
At the end of the analysis there is a cathartic moment. The text moves from a vicious parody of his own dream logic, to a wry recognition of its ridiculousness, into a calmer examination of some of the other details of the dream. Also at this point, Freud emphasizes the fact that the accusations that he makes of his colleague. “It was a noteworthy fact that this material also included some disagreeable memories, which supported my friend Otto’s accusation rather than my own vindication.” (Freud 153) Freud ends with an admission of non-full-disclosure, and in a manner that seems to suggest the need for further therapy, he suggests, “If anyone should feel tempted to express a hasty condemnation of my reticence, I would advise him to make the experiment of being franker than I am.” (Freud 154)
But this emphasis on self-analysis has another side to it. After all, Freud makes the point of stating that he has an endless amount of dream material to work from with his patients. Although the act of self-analysis plays into, and expands, a certain form of the confessional, it also has other meanings. After all, Freud by in large dismisses the empirical efforts on the part of his colleagues, and he similarly refuses that methodology, by placing his methodology within some sort of sample or representative population.
In looking at popular methodologies of analyzing dreams, Freud spends a significant period of time discussing the idea of the decoding method of dreaming. “It might be called a form of described as the “decoding” method, since it treats dreams as a kind of cryptography in which each sign can be translated into another sign having a known meaning, in accordance with a fixed key.” (Freud 130) This method can be made even more specific, a book of interpretation by Artemidorus, “takes into account not only the content of the dream, but also the character and circumstances of the dreamer.” This system, in effect, sees a particular stable tie of the symbolic to the subject.
Freud is arguing something quite different. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, symbolic material can represent quite different things for different dreamers in different circumstances. In later descriptions of dreams, he shows how dreams are built out of a complex series of experiences, opinions, and illusions from day to day life. The dream of the failed dinner party is the best example of that. He even himself recognizes that, “one might be tempted to agree with the philosophers and the psychiatrists and like them, rule out the problem of dream interpretation as a purely fanciful task.” (Freud 132)
Freud, however, anchors his concept of interpreting dreams built upon a new place of stability, the desiring subject. The dream becomes, as Freud puts it, a way of fulfilling a wish. It becomes the way that the desiring subject expresses their desires that are suppressed, a way of circumscribing the laws that are contained within the society and/or the subject.
Freud uses self-analysis in order to accomplish this. After all, if all desiring subjects use a number of different images that are tied to a complex series event in their lives, why not move to the material that is best understood in the analyst’s life. What’s more in doing these experiments, Freud uses his own dream material as a test subject for his work for his patients. He links his own self-analysis with the attempts of his patients to express ideas without using their critical facilities.
Both of these elements move into a certain way of how the subject is formed, and how to form the subject. It gives the beginnings of recognizing how certain desires are expressed in dreams, and how that repression finds it’s way even into this realm. Although, it is not as strong as it is in waking life, so it allows for the understanding of the patient in a way that conscious, self-aware side will not allow. In making the doctor recognize these same elements in themselves, it allows for them to better understand a patient.
 “No doubt I shall be met by doubt of the trustworthiness of “self-analyses” of this kind; and I shall be told that they leave the door open to arbitrary conclusions. In my judgement the situation is in the fact more favorable in the case of self-observation than in that of other people; at all events we may make the experiment and see how far self-analysis takes us with the interpretation of dreams.” Freud, 137.