Marie-Hélène Brousse

April 13-17, Buenos Aires, AR

The dream has been one of the central elements of the analytic experience ever since its origin. Freud, uprooting it from a predominantly theological tradition, approached it and put it to work for his invention, the unconscious. Die Traumdeutung made its appearance in 1900. Freud wrote that he had his book before his eyes in the winter of 1899. The first edition was followed quite rapidly by 8 editions, each making place for a new preface.


Under the title of the first edition, we find as epigraph the following Latin citation: “Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.” If I cannot make those above bend, I will move those in hell, a citation from Virgil.[1] The subject Freud, a “man of desire” as Lacan names him in his text “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power,” is to be found in this epigraph. The solution is not in heaven, it is in hell.

The first English translation dates from 1913; the first in French, that of Meyerson, from 1926. It is a seminal text. In the “Preface to the First Edition” Freud posits: “I have not, I believe, trespassed beyond the sphere of interest covered by neuropathology,” and it is for the next sentence to show that what he wants is precisely to break away, at least from pathology, since the dream is not among the “psychical phenomena… [which] are bound for practical reasons to be a matter of concern to physicians.”[2] He adds that as a consequence, “their theoretical value as a paradigm is on the other hand proportionately greater.” Finally, he underscores that the difficulties of presentation have been further increased by the peculiarities of the material[3] – [emphasis mine] – which I have had to use to illustrate the interpreting of dreams. It will become plain in the course of the work itself why it is that none of the dreams already reported in the literature of the subject or collected from unknown sources could be of any use for my purposes. The only dreams open to my choice were my own and those of my patients undergoing psychoanalytic treatment. But I was precluded from using the latter material by the fact that in its case the dream-processes were subject to an undesirable complication owing to the added presence of neurotic features. But if I was to report my own dreams, it inevitably followed that I should have to reveal to the public gaze more of the intimacies of my mental life[4] than I liked, or than is normally necessary for any writer who is a man of science and not a poet. Such was the painful but unavoidable necessity; and I have submitted to it rather than totally abandon the possibility of giving the evidence for my psychological findings… [A]nyone who finds any sort of reference to himself in my dreams may be willing to grant me the right of freedom of thought[5] – in my dream-life, if nowhere else.

Let us draw out some of the traits which characterise dreams according to Freud: facts, private life, and the liberty of opinion of the dream.

We see in this text the manner in which Meyerson’s translation, La Science des rêves,[6] though inaccurate, is not unfaithful to Freud’s subjective position: to cause to advance a knowledge hitherto unknown through a modelling of a psychical phenomenon universally shared by human beings. The value of this theoretical model therefore lies, unlike the phenomena that Freud calls pathological, in the fact that it is valid for everyone. But it belongs to the private order. He has therefore ventured into an area prohibited by the master’s discourse of that era. In the 21st century the master’s discourse has changed, and the private domain stands dissolved. Psychoanalysis has contributed significantly to this movement.


After the invitation that was made to me by the President of the WAP, for which I thank her, I asked myself the following question that quickly became a major concern: What can we in 2019, 120 years later, think and say again about this founding model of the discipline of psychoanalysis, which Freud described as the “royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious”[7] and for which he formulated the expression “the dream’s navel,”[8] a happy poetic find? What is it to take up some references from Lacan – who has himself not only reprised the dreams worked upon by Freud, but also the dreams of some of his own patients and also, albeit rarely, some dreams of his own – in order to modify the Freudian modelling in tune with the advance of his own teachings? Our fellow Directors of the future Congress have done so wonderfully in their text.

Yet it was this point – what’s new about the dream in psychoanalysis 120 years later – which gave me pause. A hypothesis nevertheless emerged.

How are we to see Lacan’s advancements and then those by Jacques-Alain Miller, on the real unconscious as distinguished from the decipherable and transferable unconscious, at work on the dream? How is this new binary manifested, and what use do we make of it, in the treatments of the Lacanian orientation?


So then, I floundered into the concepts; reread some of Lacan’s last seminars and Miller’s courses from 2007 to 2011. For example, I found this phrase in Miller’s course of 2007: “I love to interpret dreams.” He speaks there of a veritable dialogue between analyst and analysand through dreams succeeding each other on the analysand’s side and interpretation on the analyst’s. In this same course, what also caught my eye were several examples, deployed with the greatest precision, of interpretations falling under the heading of deciphering, of cryptography, not only of the dream, but of other formations of the unconscious, namely two bungled acts of Freud, dissected to the bone, the navel. A lesson then: unconscious deciphering and the real unconscious are not in a relationship of exclusion. To think that they are incompatible falls under the order of doxa, and if Lacan corrected Freud, it is well and truly in so far as all his teaching is built to prevent the transformation of the advances of psychoanalysis into doxa, a movement which had killed Freud’s transmission amongst the post-Freudians.

As fundamental as this seemed to me, I was led more toward the study of interpretation and its processes than toward the dream itself. In such cases, either I react according to the demands of my training, a red light switches on: beware of the “off-topic,” or, I momentarily put them aside and according to the discipline of analysis, I obediently bend myself to the movement that has taken hold of me.

In complying with it, I can deduce from this that in a certain space of discourse, the analytical discourse – a very specific space because it does not fall under the domination that organizes the three other discourses – dream and interpretation are equivalent.


Who interprets? The dream is an interpretation, but the interpretation is not confined to the dream. This can be written in circles that overlap only partially.

But truly to say that the dream interprets is a Lacanian thesis. For Freud, it is the analyst who interprets the analysand’s dream according to a precise method, knowing that the analyst can be the dreamer. So then, the matter becomes complicated: the dream is interpretable according to certain rules of decryption, which in essence respond to metaphor and metonymy, thus to substitution: it is the “royal road” side of the Freudian unconscious. But the dream interprets as well: it is its “navel” side. The dream interprets the inaugural trauma, that of the moment when the subject and the object coincided, in their abolished difference. So, on the one hand, the “royal road” leaning on the mad tyranny of meaning which is always servile, as Lacan will show, and on the other hand, the navel, a hole in knowledge, a hole that resounds and produces waves. Troumatisme Lacan will say.[9]

Of what matter is the dream made? It is an account, a narration issued from the transference within the analytical setup. These are the facts that Freud spoke about in the quotation I mentioned above. Miller defines the fact as the first level of interpretation. These facts are words or bits of words or an empty place, with or without syntax, which can range from a simple description to a complicated story full of twists and turns, a fiction, which unlike the reverie, imposes its scene on the dreamer in spite of himself: the other scene, not the contrary of conscious life, but the Moebian other side of life as it unfolds. The “true” life is seen there from an elsewhere which is composite and heteroclite. In 1977 Lacan said: “In the order of the dream, which gives itself the field of usage of language, there is a blunder (bavure) which is what Freud calls wunsch… Words make up l’achose Freudian… precisely because there is an inadequation of words to things. The adequation of the symbolic makes them things only fantasmatically.”[10] So between the real and the symbolic, that holds up only through the suppleness by means of the imaginary. But despite this epic meaning, the unconscious appears only upon condition of this wunsch: “and that is why Freud has recourse to what is called the drive… which is supported only by being named.” And this wunsch, it escapes meaning and leaves traces for the ones who consent to hold themselves in this to the reduction of the dream to a signifier, the ever-changing and diverse name of the wunsch as object. At the beginning of my practice Eric Laurent was my supervising analyst. In connection to a case I was trying to unpack, he simply told me: “It lacks something of object.” This was like an arrow that rendered the target, until then invisible, visible, and this, at the very moment when it reached it. I have never forgotten this sentence; it always accompanies me and I have the opportunity today to thank him for it.

What does the dream produce? Some effects of holed knowledge, no sooner apparent than vanishing, because the nominations that the dream produces are situated at the edge of the I-don’t-want-to-know. But also, effects of the body: diverse movements, sexual pleasure, happiness, discomfort, discontent, tears, anxiety, horror, laughter, enigma. The dream is always accompanied by bodily phenomenon, it is truly interpretation in action.

Having arrived at this point, the question – what is new in the time of the binary: unconscious of deciphering linked to the symbolic, and the real unconscious linked to the imaginary? – could receive a draft answer.

The barred subject, the effect of S1-S2, the subject represented by one signifier for another signifier, is not without holding to the speaking body and to different modes of jouissance. In other words, the fantasy is located in the shadow of the sinthome. It would, therefore, be logical that in the time of the real unconscious, the dream remains a central element of the analytical experience. Thus, I went to reread some testimonies by Analysts of the School, in order to verify, by putting them in series – because as everyone knows, the series is the approach to the serious – what place dreams have in today’s analytical practice to the extent that the testimonies allow access to it.


Based on a research that is certainly insufficient and somewhat aleatory as a function of the texts I had at my disposal, I propose to you the following points:

1. There were no testimonies without a narrative of dreams, whether interpreted or not. The dream thus remains one of the fundamental materials of the practice of psychoanalysis, 120 years after its invention.

2. These dreams are treated as either delivering a knowledge, or producing a scansion, or even effectuating a cut. In short, they function on the model of the different forms taken by interpretation. The part in common between dream and interpretation is thus validated.

3. In the testimonies, it appears clearly that the interpretations they produce are of a different make from the interpretations delivered by the analyst, which often take the form of an assignation to a signifier: “you are…,” “it is…,” i.e. the form of a transitory nomination or even of a sentence at first understood as a reproach or a demand from the Other. The form of silence, of the “no one anymore” of which Miller speaks in one of his last courses, is the one that approaches nearest to the dream.

4. The modality of the analytical interpretations that remain in the testimonies, therefore those which have left a mark, is that of the surprise. In the text by Freud with which I began, the liberty of expression of the dream is that which produces an effect of surprise, of the unexpected in relation to the master’s discourse. A few words on surprise. A theory and a technique always tend to become a doxa, a master’s discourse. They turn their backs on the surprise. But the unexpected is generally the result of contingency. Freudian doctrine had fallen into this rut. In a way, it was this point that I had been led to encounter during my thesis on the mother-child relation among the post-Freudians and in Lacan. Lacan’s effort has been to go against this slope, in all the ways possible, in all the analytical domains (practical, theoretical and ethical), and in the use he makes throughout his teaching of the references and models that he puts to work, whether it be Freud, Descartes, de Saussure… He does not stop applying this treatment even to his own teaching. You thought the unconscious is symbolic, mistake! You have it that the object a was…, not at all! Each time, through cut or displacement, he produces an effect of surprise that disbalances the slope to homeostasis, this slope of the dream: a fervent defender, according to Freud, of homeostasis. “You, who enter the psychoanalysis of the Lacanian orientation, must renounce all homeostasis.”

5. In analysis there is no dream that is not transferential, even if this be after the fact, like some recurring dreams from childhood recounted years later. A dream becomes a formation of the unconscious only if it is addressed. The transference permits the address and includes the Other in the dream. Thus, it falls under the remit of either a representation, be it theatral or cinematographic, therefore a fiction, or of the letter, always stolen.

6. The dream is as much present at the beginning, the instant of the glance, as at the unfolding of the treatment, the time for comprehending, but it generally participates in the end of analysis, often furnishing the elements of the conclusion.

7. The dreams mobilized in the transmission of testimonies – but also outside the context of the apparatus of the pass, the dreams already recounted during a previous analysis – pass to the status of writing. They thus escape the forgetting that is the most frequent modality of memory.


Some dreams give an epic form to the structure. You will have recognized the Lacanian definition of myth. To what structure do they give this form? I think that it is to the structure of the fantasy, whose ways and means they help reveal to the analysand. They interpret the fantasy through an orgy of enjoyed meaning, situating it in relation to, or within, an Other that is not barred because there is here a without limit of meaning.

Some other dreams are of the order of writing. They write a word or a few letters that are indecipherable and outside meaning at first. They mobilize the equivoque, implying a reading, sometimes a witticism, i.e., an invention and not a narrative or a story.

It happens that the same dream, at two different moments of the treatment, gives rise to one and then the other of these categorizations, which thereby turn out to be in communication.


Perhaps to flesh out all this a bit more, I can refer to an example taken from two testimonies of Bernard Seynhaeve who, through the same dream, puts to work, at two different moments of his testimony, these two modalities of which I speak.

This dream had arisen following an intervention by the analyst and would fall under the category of the nightmare. I give its account as it appears during the presentation Seynhaeve made at Miller’s course on March 25, 2009: “I am walking around in the corridor of the Holy Family Clinic – it is the hospital where my mother gave birth to all her children. This corridor has the form of the letter L. It is checkerboard tiled, some tiles wobbly, black and white. I move about taking care not to walk on the joins. Suddenly I feel the pressing need to urinate. The toilets are at the corner of the L. They have two doors, one on each side of the L. A door must be chosen. I enter the toilet and start urinating in the toilet bowl without power to stop myself. The toilet bowl overflows, and I wake up urinating in bed.” First interpretation: nightmare of castration and appearance of transitory symptoms linked to the setting up of an S1-S2 binary.

It was during an intervention at the evening of the Analysts of the School at the ECF on March 8, 2011 with Éric Laurent, an evening devoted to nomination,that Seynhaeve returns to this dream. During his intervention, titled “Naming that which can Fasten the Knot” (Nommer ce qui peut agrafer le nœud), he returns this time to the L, with a new datum. “The L knots the signifier to the body. I am isolating the letter L, which knots language and sexuated body in the missive that presided over my parents’ union: ‘Take care of her’ (Occupe-toi d’elle). This letter L emerged from the unconscious at the moment of the dream of entering the treatment… I am isolating it when the drive returned on the body. This letter L not only constitutes an identification “you are that,” but a Je souis cela dans mon corps: I am, I follow, I hear myself, I say yes to – that in my body.” We see that the L, which returns three times in the dream, is an equivoque, elle (her), from which Seynheave makes his name of jouissance, his sinthome.

Concerning the dream, the reduction of meaning effaces the myth and thus the domination of the Other and of the modality of the necessary. This reduction thus allows a writing that is outside of meaning and linked to the furrowing of the contingent traumatic kernel that makes up the “bone” of the sinthome.

In the testimonies of the pass, we find in very different forms this same reduction to the written, or to the hole. It suffices to mention for example: Ormeaux, Twingo, “emergence in a dream of a hole impossible to name,” Encarnada, Payaso, OMO, Sin/toma, secret services, canote, Niteroi, CPUT, W, A-R-E-N, Crac, À l’arrache… Each time its model is different and surprising: letter, word, sentence. But the dream, no longer myth to be recounted but writing to be read, then contributes to furnishing the sinthome with a name that makes a knotting of the subject with the object.

“It is written all the same the real,” or the dream as artifice

I return to Seminar XXV.

We have the suggestion that the real does not stop being written. It is well and truly through writing that a forcing is produced. It is written all the same, the real, because it must be said, how would the real appear if it were not being written? …Writing is an artifice. Thus, the real doesn’t appear except through an artifice, an artifice linked to the fact that there is speech and even some saying.

Right after this Lacan evokes the Pass. Then he adds: “Impossible to know who reads. [But] there is surely some writing in the unconscious. [Otherwise] it wouldn’t be that the dream, principle of the unconscious – that is what Freud said – the lapsus, and even the witticism, would be defined by the readable.” The dream, the delights of the “once upon a time” stuffed with meaning, in the poem or the Witz, a black hole in much the sense that current astrophysics defines it: a very simple object characterized by its mass and its number of rotations per second and which has no structure, a mathematical surface defined by the fact that any information or object which enters it, disappears in it. Of the hole, one will catch hold of nothing more than the waves it emits.

For the evening of the WAP organised by Angelina Harari, President, at the ECF on Monday, 28 January 2019.

1. Life and the one of the Body

In our discipline, which is clinical, life presents itself to us in the form of the individual body, and we can remain there. We are even obliged to remain there.

It is there that one can make a distinction between life and body, as in the expression “living body.” Life is not reduced to body in its beautiful and evident unity. There is evidence of the individual body, of the body as One, which is a sign of the imaginary order.

Let us take care to be a little flexible in questioning thestatus of the individual in regard to life, and especially the status of this One who appears in some way natural. All of Lacan’s Seminar called Encore is pervaded by this insistent interrogation: must we think that the One comes to us from the pretext of this imaginary evidence of the unity of the body? What is the value of the otherposition, the thesis that the One comes to us from the signifier andnot from the One of the body? Lacan did a lot to test this evidence. In particular he wrote a sentence about zoology which merits atten- tion and development. “Zoology can proceed from the pretense of the individual to make being (être) of life (vivant), but the individual is diminished by this discipline to the level of a polypary.”

When we are dealing with animal, with the living (vivant), it is the individual, the body-one. We can say that the living being is realized in an individual. But what can we then make of the polyps, the polyparies that inspired our 18th century materialists—Trem- bley’s famous polypary which was conceived as simultaneously mineral, vegetable and animal? What to make of the colony of coral in which corporeal individuality becomes eminently problematic?We find ourselves before a sort of collective semi-individualized being which seems to be there in order to fill the gaps in the chainof beings.




Translated from the French by Arunava Banerjee and Samya Seth.
Reviewed by Maria Cristina Aguirre.


Virgil, The Aeneid,Book VII: 312.
Sigmund Freud, “Preface to the First Edition,” The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4: xxiii.
Meyerson’s translation has faits (facts) instead of materials.
Meyerson’s translation has vie privée (private life) instead of intimacies of my mental life.
Meyerson’s translation has liberté d’opinion (liberty of opinion) instead of freedom of thought.
Sigmund Freud, La Science des rêves, trans. Ignace Meyerson (Paris: PUF, 1926).
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 5:608.
Ibid., SE 5: 525.
Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire. Les non-dupes errent, lesson of 19 February 1974.
Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire. Le moment de conclure, lesson of 15 November 1977.