When I follow out the dream thoughts closely, I ever find only scorn and contempt as correlated with the dream’s absurdity. It is well known that the discovery of a cracked sheep’s skull on the Lido in Venice gave Goethe the hint for the so-called vertebral theory of the skull. My friend plumes himself on having as a student raised a hubbub for the resignation of an aged professor who had done good work (including some in this very subject of comparative anatomy), but who, on account of decrepitude, had become quite incapable of teaching. The agitation my friend inspired was so successful because in the German Universities an age limit is not demanded for academic work. Age is no protection against folly. In the hospital here I had for years the honor to serve under a chief who, long fossilized, was for decades notoriously feebleminded, and was yet permitted to continue in his responsible office. A trait, after the manner of the find in the Lido, forces itself upon me here. It was to this man that some youthful colleagues in the hospital adapted the then popular slang of that day: “No Goethe has written that,” “No Schiller composed that,” etc.
We have not exhausted our valuation of the dream work. In addition to condensation, displacement, and definite arrangement of the psychical matter, we must ascribe to it yet another activity—one which is, indeed, not shared by every dream. I shall not treat this position of the dream work exhaustively; I will only point out that the readiest way to arrive at a conception of it is to take for granted, probably unfairly, that it only subsequently influences the dream content which has already been built up. Its mode of action thus consists in so coördinating the parts of the dream that these coalesce to a coherent whole, to a dream composition. The dream gets a kind of façade which, it is true, does not conceal the whole of its content. There is a sort of preliminary explanation to be strengthened by interpolations and slight alterations. Such elaboration of the dream content must not be too pronounced; the misconception of the dream thoughts to which it gives rise is merely superficial, and our first piece of work in analyzing a dream is to get rid of these early attempts at interpretation.
The motives for this part of the dream work are easily gauged. This final elaboration of the dream is due to a regard for intelligibility—a fact at once betraying the origin of an action which behaves towards the actual dream content just as our normal psychical action behaves towards some proffered perception that is to our liking. The dream content is thus secured under the pretense of certain expectations, is perceptually classified by the supposition of its intelligibility, thereby risking its falsification, whilst, in fact, the most extraordinary misconceptions arise if the dream can be correlated with nothing familiar. Every one is aware that we are unable to look at any series of unfamiliar signs, or to listen to a discussion of unknown words, without at once making perpetual changes through our regard for intelligibility, through our falling back upon what is familiar.