From the archive: The interpretation of Freud, September 22 1953

September 22 1953: When Freud embarked on his study the subject of dreams was taboo in learned quarters and a cold silence greeted the first edition.

The Interpretation of Dreams: Volumes IV and V of the Standard Edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Hogarth Press £36 the set of 24 volumes)

"Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime," wrote Freud in the preface to the second edition of The Interpretation of Dreams. "It contains ... the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make." After half a century, we still share this view and we must, I believe, accept the judgment of Freud's editor that "the book is one of the major classics of scientific literature".

The present version appears as the first two volumes of the Standard Edition of Freud's complete psychological works to be published in 24 volumes. The remaining works will appear in the next few years in honour of the centenary of Freud's birth in 1856, and they will have the great advantage of being arranged in chronological order. Much material including some correspondence will be included which has not previously appeared in English.

When Freud embarked on his study the subject of dreams was taboo in learned quarters and a cold silence greeted the first edition. Only 350 copies were sold in six years. Subsequently it passed through eight German and three English editions.

Freud was led to the study of dreams by the method of free association, which he had invented. He developed the theory that a dream represents the fulfilment of a wish repellent to consciousness. In view of frequent misunderstandings I should add that Freud never attributed a sexual content or motive force to all dreams.

The singular importance which Freud attached to his investigation of dreams is due to the fact that it inevitably became a searching self analysis written as a reaction to his father's death, which signified for him "the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man's life". Furthermore it now became clear to him that psychoanalysis was not only of medical interest. He had opened the way for applications to literature, aesthetics, pre-history, history of religion, mythology, education, and other spheres as well.

It is to be hoped that the Standard Edition will lead to a wider and deeper understanding of the achievement of Freud, to whom 20th-century thought owes as much as to any other man.

John Cohen

The GuardianTramp

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