By looking at the dreamlike practices of dreamy scholars, illustrious or cultivated amateurs, we may wonder why did scholars take an interest in their dreams and try to write them down?
For scientific purposes, philosophers, doctors and psychologists, but also cultivated amateurs, use their own examples to build a psychology based on dreams, interpreted as resulting from transformed external perceptions, intimate impressions, sometimes sexual, or associations of ‘ideas.
These nocturnal experiences appear to them mainly as a return to a past, either recent or very old, which more often than not remained unconscious. Furthermore, we continue to give nocturnal visions a premonitory meaning, in particular in the keys to dreams, widely disseminated at the time. Finally, during the Great War, recording them in writing became a precious refuge to escape a reality experienced as a nightmare.
Recent advances in dream interpretation
Over the past fifty years, history has claimed sectors of human activity that were once thought to be not subject to change. It has been argued, for example, that childhood, the climate and madness all had a story. How far can this colonization movement expand?
Exploration is the only way to find out. This article is conceived as the preliminary recognition of a border, that of dreams. The data considered will come almost entirely from the world of the seventeenth century onward, but the general purpose is to prove that dreams have a story, that it will someday be possible to write a social story of dreams.
The idea that dreams have a story is implicitly denied by what we might call the “classical theory” of dreams advanced by Jung and Freud. According to them, there are two levels of meaning of dreams, one individual and the other universal. On an individual level, Freud sees dreams as the expression of the dreamer’s unconscious desires, while for Jung, they perform more varied functions, such as alerting the dreamer of the dangers of his way of life, or provide compensation for his conscious attitudes.
At the universal level, Freud paid particular attention to achieving under the manifest content of the dream its latent content. He suggested, for example, that, in dreams, all elongated objects can represent the organ masculine ”and all the boxes, the uterus; that kings and queens represented usually the dreamer’s parents, and so on.
He explained the content manifested by diurnal reminiscences but this point was secondary in relation to his essential concern. Jung was more interested in overt content dreams but he also considered that some dream symbols were universals; the Old Sage and the Great Mother, for example, were archetypes of the collective unconscious.
Modern experts in dream interpretation
Both scientists drew attention to analogies between dream and myth, but Freud tended to interpret the myth according to the dream and Jung, on the contrary, the dream according to the myth.
Neither Freud nor Jung were prepared to treat dream symbols as fixed, although they have often been criticized. Significance at the level individual interested them too much for that. It is for his negligence of a third level of significance, the social level, than classical theory may be more rightly criticized.
These are psychologist anthropologists, who, trained in two disciplines, and working on two cultures, put forward the first arguments tending to give social meaning to dreams. In a study, which constitutes pioneering work on this subject, J. S. Lincoln suggests that in primitive cultures, we had two types of dreams, both of which had social meanings.
Dream interpretation is deeply rooted in many cultures. People always need to have someone to help them better understand their dreams. This is in human nature to question all mysteries, and dreams are still a mystery for the most part.