James Joyce's Ulysses and Sigmund Freud - Bloom in "Circe" Interpreted Through Freud's Theory on Dreams

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

42 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework: Freud’s Theory on Dreams
2.1. The Nature of Dreams
2.2. Psychoanalytic Aim and Method
2.3. The Constitution of Dreams
2.3.1. Wish-fulfilment and the Censor
2.3.2. Means of the Dream Work

3. “Circe“ as a Dream?
3.1. Structure
3.2. “Circe” and Psychoanalysis
3.3. Dream Elements in “Circe“

4. Regression – Archaic Elements in “Circe”
4.1. Dream Material
4.2. Form

5. A psychoanalytic Reading of Bloom
5.1. Wishes and the Intra-psychic Agencies
5.2. Dreams and the Nature of Fear
5.3. Repressed Material, the Superego and the Representation of their Battle in the Dream

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

At the very turn towards the 20th century, a seminal piece of work was published, which was to irrevocably change the way of thinking of the whole Western society: psychoanalysis was introduced to the world. Setting off from the assumption that the human psyche is not as straightforward a concept as had been taken for granted before but consisted of different layers of unconscious and conscious elements which constantly interact with each other, the Viennese Sigmund Freud developed his method of psychoanalytic therapy, aiming at the exposure of the psyche’s repressed fears and conflicts. Being soon extremely popular among the educated classes, psychoanalysis soon came to be one of the most influential intellectual trends in the early 20th century.

20 years into the century, James Joyce finally managed to publish his equally revolutionary novel Ulysses. One of the many things it is renowned for is the abundance of foils and motifs taken up and interwoven in the text, some of the more conspicuous being ancient Greek mythology, Aristotelian philosophy and Catholicism. Considering this and the fact that Joyce and Freud were contemporaries, it seems very likely that there are also a number of psycho­analytic allusions to be found in the novel. And although Joyce always disparaged psychoanalysis (see Ellmann 1959: 405), he was rather familiar with Freud’s ideas (see Ellmann 1959: 351) and showed great interest in dreams and attempted interpretations himself (cf. Ellmann 1959: 450, 559). Thus it would not be surprising if he had consciously made use of psychoanalytic elements in his writing:

We ought to be persuaded by now that the Freudian motifs which crop up in Ulysses [...] are the product of deliberate mythmaking, not unlike the Homeric and Shakespearean allusions and motifs in Ulysses [...]. It is now obvious that Joyce’s many dismissive pronouncements about psychoanalysis are to be taken with a grain of salt. (Shechner 1977: 417f)

There is indeed one chapter in Ulysses which in its hallucinatory nature reminds very much of dreams and seems predestined for a Freudian analysis – “Circe”. The aim of this paper is to work out elements in this chapter alluding to Freud’s theories, and primarily his theory on dreams, since this seems the one most obviously alluded to – and it had been published before Ulysses was finished. However, at some points I will also take into account aspects of his later theories whenever they seem relevant. Moreover, the analysis will be restricted to those “dream sequences” that can roughly be considered Bloom’s, which means that those pertaining to Stephen will be neglected, so that the outcome of this paper will be a psychoanalytic reading of Bloom rather than anyone else; this means that I will not, as some critics have done, try to psychoanalyse Joyce as the author, but see the chapter as a text in its own right, analysing it without referring back to the author as a person.[1]

The paper in itself will be structured as follows: chapter 2 will provide an overview of the most important theoretical aspects of Freud’s theory on dreams. Chapter 3 will turn to “Circe”, introducing its structure, justifying the parallel to dreams and tackling the general problem of applying psychoanalysis to literary criticism. In chapter 4, I will take a closer look at Freud’s idea of regression and enumerate elements that may be considered allusions to this in “Circe”. Building on this, chapter 5 will then be an attempt at a psychoanalytic reading of Bloom, also drawing upon some additional ideas from Freud’s later theories.

2. Theoretical Framework: Freud’s Theory on Dreams

2.1. The Nature of Dreams

Freud’s seminal work, Die Traumdeutung (translated as The Interpretation of Dreams), marked the beginning of a new way of viewing dreams: they were not anymore dismissed as mere random fantasies, but as the coherent result of the dreamer’s psyche dealing with memories and preoccupations, which can be revealed by psychoanalytic analysis – “ein vollgültiges psychisches Phänomen” (Freud 1900: 141). Freud enumerates a number of psychological characteristics of dreams: for one thing, in a preliminary definition, he defines dreams as the way in which the psyche reacts to the impulses affecting it during the sleep (see Freud 1916b: 107). These impulses would cause the sleeper to wake up if they were allowed to affect the psyche directly. By “intercepting” and transforming them, the dream – the guard of sleep (“Hüter des Schlafes”, Freud 1916b: 144) – manages to process them without causing the sleep to be interrupted, thus ensuring the sleeper’s physical recuperation. These impulses can be of different kinds, e.g. sensory stimuli from the outside, such as sounds, smells, physical contact etc.[2], stimuli from inside the body (e.g. from the inner organs) or of psychic origin (see below), which can play as important a role as the other types. In the dream, then, these stimuli are alluded to, put into context and are often replaced by something else on the surface level of the actual dream, i.e. the manifest dream content (manifester Trauminhalt). This process is what Freud calls the dream work (Traumarbeit; see chapter 2.3.2.), which causes the manifest dream to frequently seem absurd or illogical when retelling it.

Other shared characteristics of dreams are that they are distinct from the kind of thoughts that a person has when they are awake, that the dreamer experiences rather than thinks them, and that, consequently, they are experienced as visual and sometimes also acoustic images by the dreamer (see Freud 1900: 73f, 486). Dreams typically use memories and display a preference for details experienced the previous day, but also recall early childhood memories (cf. Freud 1900: 177, 180, 193). The dreamers, while dreaming, normally accept their dreams as fully coherent and real; what is actually the highly subjective process of the psyche seems to them a perfectly objective reality (see Freud 1900: 74f).[3] Dreams are egoistic in the sense they are always about the dreamer; cases in which the person of the dreamer does not figure in the manifest dream content are explained as instances of identification with another person appearing on the surface level (cf. Freud 1900: 320). Additionally, Freud claims that each dream is the fulfilment of a (mostly unconscious) wish (see chapter 2.3.1.).

2.2. Psychoanalytic Aim and Method

When talking about dreams, Freud makes a clear distinction between the manifest dream content (manifester Trauminhalt), which refers to the content of the dream on the surface level, which the dreamer is conscious of and is able to relate, and the latent dream thoughts (latente Traumgedanken), which are the unconscious (and often repressed) motives and elements that have been transformed or replaced by the dreamer’s intra-psychic forces to constitute the manifest dream content (see Freud 1916b: 128). These transformations can be more or less transparent, and it is the psychoanalyst’s task to uncover these latent dream thoughts and reverse the accomplishment of the dream work (see Freud 1916b: 178f). In order to do so, they adopt the method of free association (freie Assoziation), asking the dreamers to relate their dream and give the spontaneous associations that come to their mind when thinking of certain elements that the analysts choose arbitrarily from the dream content. The underlying assumption is that the dreamers, with the latent dream thoughts being unconscious, do not know that they “know” the “meaning” of the dream, which makes them convinced they do not know it (see Freud 1916b: 117). What the dreamers will name, then, is not any random, unrelated thought but determined by the specific element and in some way or other directly connected to it in the dreamers’ psyche:

Von den Assoziationen zum Traumelement dürfen wir [...] annehmen, daß sie sowohl durch das Traumelement als das unbewußte Eigentliche desselben determiniert sein werden. (Freud 1916b: 127)

On the basis of these initial associations, the dreamers are asked what they associate with these associations and thus produce a chain of associations which will eventually lead to the hidden dream thoughts.

In the process of this analytic work, Freud observes a phenomenon he calls resistance (Widerstand) on part of the dreamer, e.g. when the dreamer regards something as unrelated or unimportant, or when the flow of association breaks up. It is exactly the elements thus suppressed that are the most interesting for psychoanalysis: the point of the resistance is to keep crucial unconscious elements from being made conscious, and the degree of resistance is indicative of the degree in which the corresponding element is of importance for the analysis of the dream:

Wenn der Widerstand gering ist, so ist auch der Ersatz vom Unbewußten nicht weit entfernt; ein großer Widerstand bringt aber große Entstellungen des Unbewußten und damit einen langen Rückzug vom Ersatz zum Unbewußten mit sich. (Freud 1916b: 131)

2.3. The Constitution of Dreams

So far it has become clear that the latent dream thoughts form the basis for the dreams; they are converted by the dream work into the manifest dream content, whose elements have been strangely deformed; Freud refers to the replacement of latent elements with others, thus concealing the latent dream thoughts distortion (Entstellung). It still remains to be clarified why there is the need to distort the latent thoughts in the first place and which means the dream work can draw upon in order to do so.

2.3.1. Wish-fulfilment and the Censor

Freud’s basic assumption is that any dream can be interpreted as the fulfilment of a (typically unconscious) wish[4]: “Der Traum ist die (verkleidete) Erfüllung eines (unterdrückten, verdrängten) Wunsches” (Freud 1900: 175; italics in the original). In a special kind of dream, i.e. children’s dreams, this is obvious; Freud relates the example of a three-year old girl dreaming of crossing a lake on a ship directly after having been on a ship for the first time in her life the day before; she had enjoyed it tremendously and was made to leave the ship sooner than she wanted (see Freud 1916b: 140). Here, the dream is the direct unconcealed fulfilment of a wish perceived during the day; this wish can be regarded as the cause for the dream, a sleep-disturbing stimulus taken up by the dream and thus disarmed (see Freud 1916b: 141f). Dreams of children are undistorted, easy to understand, coherent and unambiguous (see Freud 1916b: 139). They are not subject to distortion, the manifest dream content corresponding to the latent thoughts.

Adults’ dreams, Freud argues, follow the same principles: they are triggered by a wish, which is subsequently fulfilled in the dream. The difference is that adults have developed a second psychic system which acts like a moral censor[5], which fends off certain wishes so that the dream has to be distorted in order to pass this barrier (cf. Freud 1900: 158). The censor (Zensur) thus is preoccupied with permitting elements to enter the conscious. Freud concludes:

Wir dürfen also als die Urheber der Traumgestaltung zwei psychische Mächte (Strömungen, Systeme) im Einzelmenschen annehmen, von denen die eine den durch den Traum zum Ausdruck gebrachten Wunsch bildet, während die andere eine Zensur an diesem Traumwunsch übt und durch diese Zensur eine Entstellung seiner Äußerung erzwingt. […] Aus dem ersten System [kann] nichts zum Bewußtsein gelangen, was nicht vorher die zweite Instanz passiert [hat], und die zweite Instanz [lässt] nichts passieren, ohne ihre Rechte auszuüben und die ihr genehmen Abänderungen am Bewußtseinswerber durchzusetzen. (Freud 1900: 160)

It is important to note that the censor’s scope is restricted to deflecting – it is not creative in any kind; it is responsible for the phenomenon of displacement (Verschiebung, see 2.3.2.). The censor’s principles are recognised by the dreamer’s own judgement; it is the same element that is responsible for the phenomenon of resistance. The censor opposes tendencies which the dreamers would not acknowledge as their own when awake (see Freud 1916b: 152f); so it is not surprising, Freud argues, that the majority of dreams dreamt by adults are concerned with sexual material, since he considered this to be the drive most commonly rejected in everyday life (see Freud 1900: 387f), a fact that provides them with additional power (cf. Freud 1916b: 154). And it is these kinds of dreams that often seem the most harmless, since they are subject to a much stronger degree of distortion:

[D]ie Traumentstellung [ist] zwei Faktoren proportional […]. Einerseits wird sie um so größer, je ärger der zu zensurierende Wunsch ist, andererseits aber auch, je strenger derzeit die Anforderungen der Zensur auftreten. (Freud 1916b: 154)

All distorted dreams are wish-fulfilments of an unconscious wish. Freud distinguishes between three systems: the unconscious (Ucs; unbewusst, Ubw), the preconscious (Pcs; vorbewusst, Vbw) and the conscious (Cs; bewusst, Bw). In his publication Das Ich und das Es, Freud defines these terms in the following way:[6]

Wir [haben] zweierlei Unbewußtes [...], das latente, doch bewußtseinsfähige, und das Verdrängte, an sich und ohne weiteres nicht bewußtseinsfähige. […] Wir heißen das Latente […] vorbewußt; den Namen unbewußt beschränken wir auf das dynamisch unbewußt Verdrängte […]. Das Vbw […] steht dem Bw viel näher als das Ubw“ (Freud 1923: 284f).

Wishes can have several sources: they can either be stirred during the day without being fulfilled (recognised by the dreamer but put aside; Pcs), stirred during the day but be rejected (unfulfilled and suppressed; pushed back from Pcs to Ucs) or they can be belong to the Ucs, being totally independent from the events of the day (cf. Freud 1900: 526). Now since only elements of the unconscious have enough psychic energy to incite dreams, preconscious dreams need to wake a corresponding unconscious wish, which can then reinforce it (see Freud 1900: 527).[7] On the other hand, elements of the Ucs are unable to enter the Pcs on their own; thus, they can only trigger dreams if they attach themselves to preconscious elements, on which they transfer their intensity. These elements are typically recent impressions (rezente Eindrücke) or day residues (Tagesreste), memories or impressions of the day, and are frequently of a very indifferent nature – and as such, they can pass the censor undisturbed (see Freud 1900: 536f).[8] This is the way in which wishes manage to trigger dreams.[9]

2.3.2. Means of the Dream Work

The dream work has five different types of operations for forming the manifest dream content at its disposal:

First, it can condense the latent dream content (Verdichtung), which results in the manifest dream having less content than the latent dream thoughts. There are three means of achieving this: first, latent elements can be omitted in the creation of the manifest dream. Secondly, some complexes of the latent dream are only admitted in parts to the manifest dream, and, thirdly, certain latent elements that have some features in common[10] can be condensed into one element on the surface level; examples for this are so-called Mischpersonen, persons appearing in dreams that have characteristics of more than one person and thus stand for all of them (cf. Freud 1916b: 179f, 1900: 294ff). As a consequence of condensation, each manifest dream element is over-determined, i.e. it refers to multiple latent referents (cf. Freud 1900: 286f).

Displacement, the second means of dream work, is owed to the censor. It can cause certain latent elements to be replaced by something further apart (e.g. an allusion) or the psychic emphasis to be transferred to a less important element. Being incomprehensible, it is one of the most important means of achieving distortion and is to a great extent responsible for the manifest dream content seeming so strange (see Freud 1900: 307f, 1916: 181f).

Thirdly, the dream work is responsible for converting thoughts into visual images (see Freud 1916b: 182ff). Since its visual character[11] is one of the dream’s essential characteristics, everything that surfaces in the manifest dream must be expressed in a vivid and concrete way; this leads e.g. to the concept of adultery (Ehebruch) being expressed as the image of a broken leg (Beinbruch; see Freud 1916b: 183). In addition to this, logical relations, which cannot be expressed directly on the manifest level, come to the surface as linear features, if at all: elements occurring simultaneously is a sign of a logical connection of the corresponding latent elements, and causal connections can be expressed by dream sequences closely following one another (cf. Freud 1900: 312ff).

The fourth means that the dream work has at its disposal is what Freud calls secondary revision (sekundäre Bearbeitung): Freud derives this agency from the observation that it is possible for the dreamers to feel astonished by the dream content while dreaming and being aware of the fact that they are dreaming (cf. Freud 470f). In the same manner, sequences can be added in between two dream sequences that serve as a link between them, making them coherent and logically plausible. These added pieces, which normally are of a more fleeting character, do not have a correspondent in the dream thoughts (see Freud 1900: 472) and often appear clear to the dreamer while those parts of the content untouched by secondary revision seem more muddled (see Freud 1900: 480); they are a result of the secondary revision. Its aim is to bring the dream closer to the model of a cognitively intelligible experience (see Freud 1900: 472, 480), although its demands are the least obligatory of all the demands the dream content has to meet (cf. Freud 1900: 479). The nature of this agency is nothing else but the mental functioning typical of conscious thinking, which then acts towards the dream content as if it was common sensory impressions (Freud 1900: 480):


[1] This issue will be discussed in chapter 2.2.

[2] Freud mentions the well-known example of dreams that transform the ringing of the alarm clock into some related kind of sound inside the dream in order to prevent waking up (see Freud 1916b: 110).

[3] Freud concedes that there are dreams in which the dreamer experiences a feeling of absurdity; this, however, Freud explains as an element belonging to the latent dream thoughts which finds its way into the manifest dream (cf. Freud 1900: 420ff).

[4] These wishes are typically of an infantile or archaic nature, see chapter 4.

[5] In his later theories, Freud develops his concept of the superego (Über-Ich) from the notion of the censor. The superego is that part of the psyche which accommodates moral values and can put pressure on the ego by creating a feeling of guilt. In the development of the individual, it is the result of the first identification of the individual, namely with the father, thus internalising his authority into the psyche. The superego, then, is the heir of the Oedipus complex (cf. Freud 1923: 298-303).

[6] A detailed discussion on these terms and their justification can be found in Freud 1912.

[7] Freud maintains that the wish that figures in the dreams must be of infantile (and thus archaic) nature, coming from the realm of the unconscious in the case of adults (see Freud 1900: 528).

[8] Freud terminologically distinguishes between Traumerreger (the wish) and Traumquellen (day residue; cf. Freud 1900: 192f, 525ff).

[9] For a detailed discussion of these processes see Freud 1912: 34f.

[10] It is important to note that the dream work treats opposites exactly the same as identical or very similar elements. This leads to the phenomenon that in the analysis of the manifest dream, every element can also be interpreted as the opposite of what it would normally be (or as both simultaneously; see Freud 1916b: 185).

[11] Freud claims that this visual character a regressive feature of dreams, since all thought and language developed from sense stimuli; the dream work, reversing this development, can thus be seen as a regressive or archaic processing of the dream content (see Freud 1916b: 187).

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James Joyce's Ulysses and Sigmund Freud - Bloom in "Circe" Interpreted Through Freud's Theory on Dreams
University of Augsburg  (Englische Literaturwissenschaft)
James Joyce
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Ulysses, Traumdeutung, Freud, Joyce, Circe
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Elisabeth Fritz (Author), 2008, James Joyce's Ulysses and Sigmund Freud - Bloom in "Circe" Interpreted Through Freud's Theory on Dreams, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/130737


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