Artists illustrate Freud’s ‘Dreams’

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When Sigmund Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ was first published in 1899, he initially believed it a flop, that it had failed to make any impact. And it took nearly a decade before a second print run was required. The revolutionary book introduced key psychological techniques for interpreting dreams and laid the foundation for psychoanalysis.

A new illustrated edition (Sterling Innovation, $45) breathes fresh life into an academic subject. Accompanying a translation by A.A. Brill of the original text are full-color, dream-centric illustrations by Modern and Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali, René, Magritte, Frida Kahlo and Paul Gauguin. A detailed biography of Freud’s life with family photos is interspersed throughout the chapters, as are excerpts of analysis from leading psychoanalysts and writers such as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, Karen Horney and Jacques Lacan.

The introduction and 16 essays on Freud’s theories are critiqued by Freud scholar Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Enlisting Masson to provide commentary would seem an unorthodox choice: Masson, who has a PhD in Sanskrit from Harvard, was dismissed as project director of the Sigmund Freud archives in 1980 when he challenged Freud’s disbelief in sexual abuse as the source of female misery.

‘I didn’t think I was the right person because of my reputation as a Freud critic,’ Masson said from his home in Auckland, New Zealand, where he has written several books on the emotional lives of animals. ‘I had the occasion to talk about anything other than child abuse,’ he added, saying he wasn’t as critical as he thought he would be. ‘Freud didn’t fail us when it came to dreams. This book rehabilitates me in a sense.’


Blending visual art with Freud’s dream text would seem a natural presentation. ‘One of the hardest things is to put our dreams into words,’ Masson said. ‘Visual artists have easy access to that form and can express on a canvas what Freud conveys in print.’

Freud heavily influenced the Surrealism movement -- in particular, Dali. ‘Dali is all about dreams; he was the perfect fit for this book,’ Masson said. Included are the artist’s famous melting clocks from ‘The Persistence of Memory’ as well as French Post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau’s ‘The Dream.’ Both are prime examples of the arbitrary, nonsensical nature of dreams.

Mini flip books containing Masson’s commentary are cleverly blended and hidden within the main pages. Multilayered cutouts of the artwork give the reader that disconnected feeling of a dream yet fully engaged.

Masson believes Freud’s theories in this book are still relevant because no one has cracked the code of dreams, and Freud thought he had. ‘The best we can do is cherish our own dreams,’ he said.

-- Liesl Bradner

Images, from top: Featured on the book’s cover is ‘Dream About the Red Bird,’ by Olga Bulgakova, 1989. ‘The White Horse’ (‘Le Cheval Blanc’), 1898, by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903/French). Reprinted with permission of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams,’ copyright 2010, Sterling Innovation.