Is the bold section of the following text correct about Freud's hypothesis? Does it mean to use the manifest dream thoughts in order to find the meaning of the latent ones?

According to Derrida, Freud paid excessive attention to content and was insufficiently concerned with relations, locations, processes and difference. Freud was a man of his time, and it is his uncertainties about his own discoveries and hypotheses that are of interest in contemporary aesthetics. Freud’s initial hypothesis that the work of interpretation could proceed by translating the manifest dream thoughts into the latent ones is continually being undermined in his text, and it is this doubt and oscillation that we find of interest today (Art and Psychoanalysis by Maria Walsh).

  • Maybe a "basic" direct knowledge of Freud's work and thinking may be useful. See e.g. Sigmund Freud. Obviously "Freud was a man of his time"; why not so ? Also Derrida will be... Oct 24 '19 at 14:25
  • "Freud’s theory of the unconscious is highly deterministic—a fact which, given the nature of nineteenth century science, should not be surprising. Freud was arguably the first thinker to apply deterministic principles systematically to the sphere of the mental, and to hold that the broad spectrum of human behavior is explicable only in terms of the (usually hidden) mental processes or states which determine it. Thus, instead of treating the behavior of the neurotic as being causally inexplicable—which had been the prevailing approach for centuries ... Oct 24 '19 at 14:27
  • —Freud insisted, on the contrary, on treating it as behavior for which it is meaningful to seek an explanation by searching for causes in terms of the mental states of the individual concerned. Hence the significance which he attributed to slips of the tongue or pen, obsessive behavior and dreams—all these, he held, are determined by hidden causes in the person’s mind, and so they reveal in covert form what would otherwise not be known at all. " Oct 24 '19 at 14:27
  • This means simply that "the manifest [content of] dreams is determined by the latent ones, and thus the work of interpretation could proceed by translating the manifest content into the latent one". Oct 24 '19 at 14:29

Freud does suggest to use the latent to understand the manifest, just as it sounds. It sounds counterintuitive because the "latent" and the "manifest" are not used in the usual sense, they are not the latent and the manifest of the same material. The "latent" is the content that comes from Freud's technique of free association. It is assumed that it reveals what the "manifest", the dream content, conceals. In other words, the "latent", elicited by the psychoanalyst, is more manifest, in the colloquial sense of the word, about the unconscious than the "manifest" of the dreams. So their interpretation proceeds by translating the "manifest" terms into those uncovered in psychoanalytic sessions, the "latent" terms. Here is from Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1913):

"ALL previous attempts to solve the problems of the dream have been based directly upon the manifest dream content as it is retained in the memory, and have undertaken to obtain an interpretation of the dream from this content, or, if interpretation was dispensed with, to base a judgment of the dream upon the evidence furnished by this content. We alone are in possession of new data; for us a new psychic material intervenes between the dream content and the results of our investigations: and this is the latent dream content or the dream thoughts which are obtained by our method. We develop a solution of the dream from this latter, and not from the manifest dream content. We are also confronted for the first time with a problem which has not before existed, that of examining and tracing the relations between the latent dream thoughts and the manifest dream content, and the processes through which the former have grown into the latter".

Derrida's objections to Freud are unlike those of modern psychology, which rejects Freud's entire presupposition of unconscious mind to be "uncovered". That he accepts. He rather objects to Freud interpreting the filler of this unconscious mind as "content". It is not specific to the unconscious, he objects to the same treatment of overt language on general post-structuralist grounds. To him, it is the web of extrinsic relations, the play of contrasts, his famed différance, that carries the meaning, not some intrinsic "content".


Derrida was a structuralist, and so he's looking for patterns and relationships whereas Freud is interested in the specific, the particular and the concrete which makes sense given he's a dream therapist and so concerned with the therapy of the patient in front of him.

The two, however, are inter-related. If ten people came to Freud with the same obsessive dream of some-one hitting them in the head with a hammer, or a large nose encircling them. Even Freud, I take it, would be looking for explanations that look more widely than the subjectivity of the patient.

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