A General References

B Sigmund Freud writes of the dream of Irma’s injection

C Jacques Lacan’s comments on the dream of Irma’s injection

Note : For more detail, consult the original texts.

A General References

Published as Chapter II – The Method of Interpreting Dreams: An Analysis of a Specimen Dream – Interpretation of Dreams : 1st November 1899 : Sigmund Freud

Information on Interpretation of Dreams at this site /3 Sigmund Freud (18991106 Interpretation of Dreams [1900])

Interpretation of Dreams published in translation by James Strachey, in SE IV & V and PFL (Penguin Freud Library) Vol 4, 1976. See /freud (November 1899)

Published bilingual at /home page (1. The complete bilingual of THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS and ON DREAMS : links to Chapters I – IV, Chapter V, Chapter VI, Chapter VII, Bibliography & Indices for SE IV & V )

Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, translated by Joyce Crick, Oxford University Press, 1999. Also available /texts by request

Commentary & Related Texts :

Chronological table of turning points in Freud’s life (pfl) see /freud (November 1899)

Editor’s Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams :1953 : James Strachey, Information & notes see /5 Authors A-Z (Strachey James/ 1953) Download /freud (November 1899 or /authors a-z (Strachey 1953)

Documents which help explain Freud’s case of Mathilde S. and its relation to the Mathilde in Freud’s Dream of Irma’s Injection in Chapter II of The Interpretation of Dreams. Available at /Freud-Philosophy /(9. Mathilde Schleicher page)

Note : The intention is to transfer all posts from to this website, Should any still be in the queue, then go to and type in – go to the calendar and pick a date or go to or contact Julia Evans.

B Sigmund Freud writes of the dream of Irma’s injection


Interpretation of Dreams (Strachey, J. (1953). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IV (1900): The Interpretation of Dreams (First Part), i-xiii. The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis, London.)


Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, translated by Joyce Crick, Oxford University Press, 1999. Also available /texts by request

-Chapter II The Method of Interpreting Dreams: an Analysis of a Specimen Dream, SE IV p96-120

Sigmund Freud’s account of the dream of Irma’s injection

From p85 of Joyce Crick’s translation : In any case, the unpleasant feeling I had was unclear to me, nor did I give expression to it. That same evening I wrote out Irma’s clinical history, in order to give it to Dr Μ.,* a friend we had in common and the dominant personality in our circle at that time, as though to justify myself. During the night after this evening (or more probably in the early morning) I had the following dream, which I set down immediately after waking.

Dream of 23-24 July 1895

A large hall—many guests, whom we are receiving.—Among them Irma, whom I take aside at once, as it were to answer her letter and reproach her for not having yet accepted the ‘solution ‘. I say to her: If you are still having pain it is really only your own fault.—She replies: If only you knew what pain my throat and stomach and abdomen are giving me. I feel I am choking.—I am startled and look at her. She looks pale and puffy; I think perhaps I have overlooked something organic after all. I take her to the window and examine her throat. At this she shows some reluctance, like women who wear dentures. I think to myself: but she has no need to. Her mouth then opens wide and I discover to the right a big white patch, and elsewhere I see large, greyish-white scabs set on remark­ able curled structures clearly modelled on the nostrils.—I quickly call Dr M.* over, who repeats the examination and confirms it.. . Dr Μ. looks quite different from usual; he is very pale, walks with a limp, and his chin has no beard. . . My friend Otto is now also standing beside her, and my friend Leopold* is percussing her through her bodice, saying: She has an attenuation low to the left, also pointing out an infiltrated part of the skin on the left shoulder (which like him I felt, in spite of her dress) … Μ. says: No doubt about it, it is an infection, but it doesn’t matter; dysentery will set in and the poison will be eliminated … We also know directly where the infection originated. Not long before, when she felt unwell, my friend Otto gave her an injection of a propyl preparation, propylene . . . propionic acid. . . trimethylamine (I see its formula before me printed in bold type) . . . Such injections are not to be given so lightly . . . Probably the syringe was not clean, either.

This dream has one advantage over many others. It is immediately clear which events of the previous day it is connected to and what subject it deals with.

-Sigmund Freud’s Analysis

From p86 of Joyce Crick’s translation :

Towards its conclusion the dream seems to me more obscure and condensed than it is at the start. To discover the meaning of all this I have to resolve on a detailed analysis.


The hall—many guests, whom we are receiving. That summer we were living at Bellevue, a house standing by itself on one of the hills adjoining the Kahlenberg. The house was once intended to be a dance-hall, hence the unusually lofty, hall-like rooms. I had the dream at Bellevue a few days before the celebration of my wife’s birthday. During the day my wife had said that she expected that several friends, including Irma, would becoming to us as guests on her birthday. So my dream anticipates this occasion: it is my wife’s birthday and many people, Irma among them, are being received by us in the large hall at Bellevue.

…. This analysis continues


Documents showing how Sigmund Freud changes his dream from its initial description and how this compares with each quote from the dream to which he free associates. This document shows which element of the dream he did not free associate to, and in which free association he used different wording than he used in the element of the dream. And a quote from Chapter VII of how Freud handles someone who when telling the dream for the second time, uses different wording. Available, in German, compiled by Richard Klein, at /Freud-Philosophy (What Freud did and did not associate to in his Dream of Irma’s Injection)

-Conclusion of Chapter II, SE IV p121

P97 of Joyce Crick’s translation : For the moment I shall content myself with this one newly gained insight: if we follow the method of dream-interpretation indicated here, we discover that dreams really do have a meaning and are in no sense an expression of brain-activity in a state of fragmentation, as the authorities on the subject would have it. After the work of interpretation has been completed the dream reveals itself as a wish-fulfilment.

-Chapter III A Dream is a Fulfilment of a Wish SE IV p123

P98 of Joyce Crick’s translation : I propose to leave all these questions aside for the present and to pursue one particular path. We have learned that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled. Our next con­cern must be to find out whether this is a general characteristic of dreams or only the chance content of the dream our analysis began with (‘the dream of Irma’s injection’): for even if we prepare our­ selves to expect that every dream has a meaning and psychical value, we still have to leave the possibility open that this meaning may not be the same in every dream. Our first dream was a wish-fulfilment; another may perhaps turn out to be the fulfilment of a fear; a third may have a reflection for its content, a fourth simply reproduce a recollection. Are there any other wishful dreams, or are wishful dreams perhaps the only dreams there are?

-Chapter IV Distortion in Dreams, SE IV p136, PFL p216.

P107 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Let us compare the manifest dream-content and the latent content with each other. It is true that there are dreams whose manifest content is of the most distressing kind. But has anyone tried to interpret these dreams, to reveal their latent thought-content? If not, these two objections no longer apply to us: it is still possible all the same that once inter­preted, even distressing dreams and anxiety-dreams will be revealed as wish-fulfilments.

In scientific work, when there are difficulties in solving one prob­lem it is often helpful to add another, in much the same way as it is easier to crack two nuts against one another than to crack each separ­ately. In this way we not only confront the question: how can dis­tressing dreams and anxiety-dreams be wish-fulfilments? but from our previous discussions of the dream we can also raise a second question: why is it that dreams with a neutral or trivial content which turn out to be wish-fulfilments do not reveal this meaning of theirs undisguised? Take the dream of Irma’s injection which we treated in such detail: its nature is not in the least distressing, and through the interpretation it can be recognized as a flagrant wish­ fulfilment. But why does it require an interpretation at all? Why does it not say straight out what it signifies? In fact, even the dream of Irma’s injection does not at first give the impression of representing a wish of the dreamer as fulfilled. The reader will not have received this impression, but I too failed to grasp it before I undertook the analysis. If we call this tendency of the dream to require explanation the fact of dream-distortion, then the further question arises: Where does this dream-distortion come from?

-Chapter IV, SE IV p140, PFL p221

P111 of Joyce Crick’s translation : I have to continue further with the interpretation of my dream. I do not feel that I have dealt with it satisfactorily as yet. I am still perturbed by the ease with which I degrade two respected colleagues in order to keep my way open to a professorship. True, I am less dissatisfied with my behaviour now that I know how to assess the value of the statements made in the dream. I would dispute with any­ one that I really regard R. a numbskull or that I do not believe N.’s account of the blackmailing affair. Nor, of course, do I believe that Irma was dangerously infected* by Otto with a propyl preparation: here as there, what my dream is expressing is only my wish that that is how it might be. The assertion in which my wish is realized sounds less absurd in the second dream than in the first: in the second it is formed by an adroit use of a basis in fact, rather like a well-made slander where ‘there is something in it’, for my friend R. had the vote of a specialist professor against him at the time, and my friend N. unsuspectingly handed me the material for blackening his character himself. Nevertheless, I repeat, the dream still seems to me to need further elucidation.

-Sigmund Freud references Irma further at Chapter V The Material and Sources of Dreams, SE IV p163

-Chapter V A. Recent and Insignificant Material in Dreams, SE IV p173,

P127 of Joyce Crick’s translation : If at this point I consult my own experience with regard to the provenance of the elements appearing in the dream content, I must first of all affirm the proposition that a reference to the events of the day just past is to be discovered in every dream. Whatever dream I choose, one of my own or someone else’s, will confirm this experi­ence every time. Knowing this fact, I can begin the dream­ interpretation perhaps by first looking for the daytime experience which has set the dream off; in many cases, indeed, this is the short­est route. In the two dreams I subjected to close analysis in the previous section (the dream of Irma’s injection and the dream of my uncle with the yellow beard) the connection with the day is so obvi­ous that it requires no further elucidation. But to show how regularly this connection can be demonstrated, I should like to examine some items from my chronicles of my own dreams with this in view.

Chapter V A. Recent and Insignificant Material in Dreams, SE IV p180n., P138 of Joyce Crick’s translation : This is probably the right moment to set out a table of the various conditions which can be recognized as the sources of dreams.

The source of a dream can be:

(a) A recent and psychically significant experience which is rep­resented directly in the dream.[4]

(b) Several recent, significant experiences which are combined into a unity by the dream.[5]

(c) One or more recent and significant experiences which are represented in the dream-content by reference to an— unimportant—experience occurring at the same time.[6]

(d) A significant inner experience (a memory, train of thought) which is then represented in the dream by reference to a recent but trivial impression.[7]

As we see, for the interpretation of dreams one condition always holds good: one constituent of the dream-content is a repetition of a recent impression from the previous day.


4 Dream of Irma’s injection; dream of the friend who is my uncle.

5 Dream of the young doctor’s funeral oration.

6 Dream of the botanical monograph.

7 Most of my patients’ dreams during analysis are of this kind.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, A. The Work of Condensation, SE IV p292-293,

p223-225 of Joyce Crick’s translation : In reporting all three of these dreams I have used italics to high­light the points where one of the dream-elements recurs in the dream-thoughts. But since none of these dreams is analysed through to the end, it will probably be more rewarding to look at a dream where the analysis is reported more fully, and use that to demonstrate the over-determination of the dream-content. To do so I shall select the dream of Irma’s injection. It will not be difficult for us to see from this example that the work of condensation employs more than just one device in the formation of dreams. … The production of collective and composite figures is one of the main methods of condensation in dreams.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, A. The Work of Condensation, SE IV p295,

p226-227 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Studying the injection-dream has already given us an insight into the processes of condensation in dream-formation. We have been able to identify as particular functions of the work of condensation: its selection of elements occurring many times in the dream­ thoughts; its formation of new unities (collective figures, composite structures), and its production of mediating common factors. What the larger purpose of condensation may be, and what helps to bring it about, arc questions we shall not raise until we come to deal with the psychical processes of dream-formation in relation to one another. For the moment, let us be content with affirming that con­densation in dreams constitutes a remarkable relationship between dream-thoughts and dream-content.

The work of condensation in a dream can most easily be grasped if it has selected words and names for its objects. Words are often treated as things in dreams, and then they go through the same combinations, displacements, substitutions and also condensations as the representations of things.

– Chapter VI The Dream Work, B The Work of Displacement SE IV p306,

p233 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Again, in the dream of my uncle the meaning of the yellow beard that forms its centre seems to bear no relation to the ambitious wishes we have acknowledged to be the heart of the dream-thoughts. Dreams of this kind give the impression of displacement with good reason. In complete contrast to these examples, the dream of Irma’s injection shows that in the formation of a dream individual elements are also able to retain the place they occupy in the dream-thoughts. When we first recognize this new relation, which is entirely variable in meaning, between dream-thoughts and dream-content, it is likely to fill us with astonishment. … After all, there is no doubt as to which are the most valuable elements in the dream-thoughts; our judgement needs no help to tell us. But in dream-formation these essential elements, charged though they are with intense interest, are dealt with as if they were of little value, and instead their place is taken in the dream by other elements which certainly had little value in the dream­ thoughts.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, C. The Means of Representation in Dreams SE IV p310, p236 of Joyce Crick’s translation : But before continuing, even at the risk of appearing to pause on our way, I would like to look for the first time at what goes on in the course of interpreting a dream. If I am not deceived, the best way of explaining this clearly and ensuring it is proof against any objections would be for me to take one particular dream as a model, work out its interpretation, as I did in Chapter II with the dream of Irma’s injection, but then to put together the dream­ thoughts I have uncovered and from them reconstruct the process by which the dream was formed, that is, to complete the analysis of the dream by its synthesis. I have carried out this work on many examples for my own instruction; but I am unable to use them here because I am prevented by a number of considerations regarding the psychical material which most fair-minded people would approve of. These considerations were less troublesome when analysing dreams, for the analysis did not need to be complete, and retained its value even if it took us only a little way into the fabric of the dreams. But for their synthesis, the only way I knew for it to be convincing was for it to be complete. I could only give a complete synthesis of the dreams belonging to people unknown to the reading public. And as the means of doing so is only available to me from my patients, that is, from neurotics, this part of my account of dreams will have to be postponed until—in some other place—I am in a position to take the psychological explanation of neuroses to the point where it is pos­sible to make the connection to our topic.

I know from my attempts at synthesizing dreams out of the dream-thoughts that the material emerging in the course of inter­pretation varies in value.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, C. The Means of Representation in Dreams, SE IV p314,

p239 of Joyce Crick’s translation : We may learn that different dreams take them into consideration to a different extent. One dream will dis­ regard the logical coherence of its material entirely, while another will try to suggest it as fully as possible. In this respect dreams depart to a varying extent from the text they have before them to work upon. By the way, dreams show a similar variability in the way they behave towards the temporal sequence of the dream-thoughts, if the sequence is set up in the unconscious (as it is, for example, in the dream of Irma’s injection).

What means, then, is the dream-work able to use to indicate these relations, which are so difficult to represent, in the dream-thoughts? I shall attempt to list them one by one. …

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, C. The Means of Representation in Dreams, SE IV p316,

p241 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Admittedly, in most cases the causal relation is not represented at all, but submits to the inevitable one-after-the-other of the elements, inevitable even in the working of our dreams.

The dream has no way at all of expressing the alternative ‘either . . . or’. It usually takes up the two options into one context as if they had equal rights. The dream of Irma’s injection contains a classic example. Its latent thoughts clearly state: it is not my fault that Irma continues to suffer pain; the blame is to be ascribed either to her resistance to accepting my solution or to the unfavourable sexual conditions under which she lives, which I cannot change, or the nature of her pain is not hysterical at all, but organic. However, the dream presents all three of these all-but mutually exclusive possi­bilities and has no difficulty in adding the dream-wish as a fourth explanation. The ‘either … or’ was then introduced into the inter­connections of the dream-thoughts by me after I had interpreted the dream.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, C. The Means of Representation in Dreams, SE IV p322,

p245-246 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Where a feature common to the two figures is also represented in the dream, this is usually a hint to look for some other, hidden common feature which the censorship has made impossible to repre­ sent. A displacement with regard to the shared feature has taken place here, to some extent in order to facilitate its representation. The presence in my dream of a composite figure having unimportant shared features allows me to infer that a different common feature, one by no means unimportant, is present in the dream-thoughts.

Accordingly, identification, or the formation of composite figures, serves different purposes: first, to represent a feature both persons have in common; secondly, to represent a displaced common feature; but thirdly, to find expression for a common feature that is merely wished for. Since wishing it to be the case that two people have something in common is often the same as exchanging them, this relation too is expressed in the dream by identification. In the dream of Irma’s injection, I wish to exchange this patient for another, that is, I wish that the other were my patient, as Irma is; the dream takes account of this wish in showing me a figure who is called Irma, but who is examined in a posture in which I have only had occasion to see the other. In the dream of my uncle, this exchange is made into the centre of the dream; I identify myself with the minister by treat­ing and judging my colleagues no better than he does.

-Chapter VI The Dream Work, D Regard for Representability, SE V p341,

p256-257 of Joyce Crick’s translation : I have already given several examples from dreams of representations which are only held together by the ambi­guity of their expression (’Her mouth is wide open’, in the injection­ dream; ‘I still can’t go’, in the last dream quoted, p. 253) and so on. I shall now relate a dream where the pictorial representation of abstract thoughts play a considerable part in its analysis. The dis­tinction between this kind of interpretation and interpretation by means of symbolism can still be sharply defined; in symbolic dream­ interpretation the key to the symbolization is arbitrarily chosen by the dream-interpreter; in our instances of verbal disguise these keys are generally known and given by established linguistic usage. If one has the right idea on the right occasion it is possible to resolve dreams of this kind wholly or piecemeal, even without recourse to what the dreamer has to say.

-Chapter VII The Psychology of the Dream-Processes, A The Forgetting of Dreams, SE V p513,

p333-334 of Joyce Crick’s translation : Indeed, we found one authority (Spitta [64]) surmising that any kind of order or coherence in the dream at all is imposed upon it only when we attempt to recall it. In this way, we are in danger of having the very object whose value we have undertaken to assess wrested from our hands.

In our interpretations so far we have not listened to these warn­ ings. Indeed, we have found the smallest, the most inconspicuous, the most uncertain components of the dream’s content demanding interpretation no less audibly than its distinct and securely retained elements. In the dream of Irma’s injection, there are the words: ‘I quickly summon Dr. Μ.’, and we assumed that even this extra little item would not have got into the dream if it did not admit of a particular derivation. In this way we arrived at the story of that unfortunate patient to whose bedside I ‘quickly’ summoned my older colleague. …

Examples from every analysis could confirm how it is precisely the slightest features of a dream that are indispensable for its interpret­ation, and how long the delay in completing the task drags out if we notice these things only late in the day. In interpreting dreams, we paid equal attention to every nuance of the verbal form in which the dream before us was expressed; indeed, if we were presented with nonsensical or inadequate wording, as if the effort to translate the dream into the right version had not succeeded, we heeded these faults of expression as well. In short, what in the opinion of our authorities is supposed to be an arbitrary improvisation, concocted when at a loss, we have been treating like a sacred text. This con­tradiction needs explaining.

-Chapter VII The Psychology of the Dream-Processes, B Regression SE V p534,

p347-348 of Joyce Crick’s translation : If we look more closely, we are likely to notice that two distinctive characteristics, almost independent of each other, are perceptible in the dream in the form in which it appears. One is representation in terms of an immediate situation, with no ‘perhaps’ about it; the other is the transposition of the thought into visual images and into speech.

The transformation undergone by the dream-thoughts when the expectation they express is put in the present tense may not appear very striking in this particular dream. This is related to the curious, actually secondary role of wish-fulfilment in this dream. Let us take another dream, where the wish in the dream is not separated from the waking thoughts continued into it, for example, the dream of Irma’s injection. The dream-thought that reaches representation here is an optative: if only Otto were to blame for Irma’s illness! The dream represses the optative and replaces it by a simple present: Yes, Otto is to blame for Irma’s illness. This, then, is the first of the transformations that even a dream with no distortions performs with the dream-thoughts. However, we shall not linger long over this first peculiarity shown by dreams. We can settle it by referring to con­scious fantasies, to daydreams, which treat their content of imagined ideas in the same way. When Daudet’s Μ. Joyeuse* wanders idle and unemployed through the streets of Paris while his daughters are obliged to believe he is sitting in his office holding down a job, he daydreams of the chance events that are to help him towards a patron and a position, likewise in the present tense. The dream, then, uses the present in the same way, and with the same justification, as the daydream does. The present is the tense in which the dream is represented as fulfilled.

However, only the second characteristic is peculiar to the dream as distinct from the daydream: its content of imagined ideas is not framed as thoughts, but transformed into sensory images which we believe in, and which we think we are actually experiencing.

-Chapter VII The Psychology of the Dream-Processes, E The Primary and Secondary Processes, SE V p595,

p391-392 of Joyce Crick’s translation : From then on the train of thought undergoes a series of trans­formations which we no longer recognize as normal psychical processes, and which produces a disconcerting result, a psychopathological formation. Let us single them out and put them together.

(1) The intensities of the individual ideas in their total amount become capable of discharge and pass over from one idea to another, so that individual ideas are formed which are invested with great intensity. With the frequent repetition of this process, the intensity of an entire train of thought can finally be concentrated in a single one of its elements. This is the fact of compression or condensation which we got to know in the course of the dream-work. It is con­densation that is mainly to blame for the disconcerting impression made by dreams, for we are quite unfamiliar with anything analogous to it in our normal inner life accessible to consciousness. Here too we have ideas possessing great psychical significance as points of intersection or as the final result of entire chains of thought, but their importance is not expressed by any characteristic obviously discernible to internal perception; the importance of the idea in this respect does not make what is presented in it any more intense. However, in the process of condensation all the psychical inter-connections are converted into the intensity of the ideational content. It is the same as if I were having a book printed, and had a word I regarded as overwhelmingly important for understanding the text printed in italics or bold. In speaking, I would pronounce the word loudly and slowly and with emphasis. The first comparison takes us directly to one of the examples borrowed from the dream-work (Trimethylamine in the dream of Irma’s injection). Art historians remind us that the oldest historical sculptures follow a similar prin­ciple to express the rank of the personages represented by their size in the sculpture. The king is represented as two or three times bigger than his entourage or his vanquished enemy. A sculpture from the Roman period will make use of more subtle means for the same purpose. It will place the figure of the Emperor in the middle, show him raised high, devote particular care to the modelling of his figure, lay his enemies at his feet, but no longer have him appear as a giant among dwarfs. Meanwhile, the bow the inferior makes to his superior among ourselves today is still a late echo of that ancient principle of representation.

The direction taken by the condensations in the dream is pre­scribed on the one hand by the rational preconscious relations of the dream-thoughts, on the other by the attraction of the visual memories in the Unconscious. The work of condensation aims to produce those intensities required to break through to the perceptual systems.

C Jacques Lacan’s comments on the dream of Irma’s injection

-Seminar II 9th February 1955 : p121 & p122 of John Forrester’s translation :

LACAN : In 1897, Freud still hasn’t got very far with his own analysis. For Anzieu’s benefit, I’ve made a note of some remarks on the limitations of self-analysis.

From Letter 75 (An/. 249; SE 1 271) (translation modified to accord the German, French and English texts). [See /Letter from Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess of 14th November 1897 : known as Letter 75]

I can only analyse myself with the help of knowledge obtained objectively (as a stranger). Genuine self-analysis is impossible; otherwise there would be no illness. Since I still find puzzles in my patients, they are bound to hold me up in my self-analysis as well.

That is how he defines the limits of his own analysis – he can only understand what he has come across in his cases. At the very time when he is with great brilliance discovering a new path – and it is exceptionally precise testimony, given its early date – he himself points out that his self-analysis isn’t an intuitive process, a divinatory mapping out within his own self, that it has nothing to do with introspection.

M. ANZlEU : Before he had the Irma dream, Freud knew that dreams had a meaning. And it was because his patients had brought him dreams whose meaning lay in their being the fulfilment of desire that he wanted to apply it to himself. That’s what his criterion of verification is.

LACAN : Exactly.

p122 M. VALABREGA : It isn’t the meaning of the dream which is at issue, but the theory of the identity of the dream and the neurotic symptom.

LACAN : In the Traumdeutung Freud insists on the family resemblance between the dream and the neurotic symptom, but also on the difference between them. The dream process is exemplary as regards understanding the neurotic symptom, but he argues that there is an absolutely fundamental economic difference between the symptom and the dream. All they have in common is a grammar. That’s a metaphor, don’t take it literally. They are as different as an epic poem is from a work on thermodynamics. The dream makes it possible to grasp the symbolic function at play, and it is, on that account, capital for understanding the symptom. But a symptom is always part of the overall economic state of the subject, whereas the dream is a state localised in time, under extremely specific conditions. The dream is only a part of the activity of the subject, while the symptom is spread out over several domains. The processes are more analogous than identical.

Valabrega gives an account of the analysis of the dream of Irma’s injection.

LACAN : At this time Freud’s conversation with Fliess is the speech which polarises, organises his entire existence. This guiding thread runs throughout his entire existence as the fundamental conversation. When all is said and done, Freud’s self-analysis takes place within this dialogue. That is what makes Freud, and it is why we still talk about it today. Everything else, the scientific discourse, the everyday discourse, the trimethylamine formula, the things we know, the things we don’t know, all that farrago is at the level of the ego. It can just as easily constitute an obstacle as signal the passage of what is in the process of being constituted, that is, this vast discourse addressed to Fliess which the entirety of Freud’s work will then become.

Freud’s conversation with Fliess, the fundamental speech, which is at this time unconscious, is the essential dynamic element. Why is it unconscious at this time? Because it infinitely surpasses what both of them, as individuals, can at this time consciously apprehend of it. After all, they are just a couple of pipsqueak scientists like any others, exchanging rather weird ideas.

The discovery of the unconscious, such as it appears at the moment of its historical emergence, with its own dimension, is that the full significance of meaning far surpasses the signs manipulated by the individual. Man is always cultivating a great many more signs than he thinks. That’s what the Freudian discovery is about – a new attitude to man. That’s what man after Freud is.

– Seminar II 16th February 1955 : Chapter XI Censorship is not resistance : p123 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : The Interpretation of Dreams does not offer just the theory of dreams. Freud’s second working up of the schema of the psychic apparatus is also to be found in it. With the first, he concluded his neurological work. The second corresponds to his advance into the specific field of the neuroses, into what will become the domain peculiar to analysis.

So it is concerned with the dream, but also, in the background, the neurotic symptom, whose structuration proves to be the same – it puts into play the structure of language in general, more precisely the relation of man to language. My commentary will show you this, thereby bringing you testimony as to the fact that the terms used by us here to understand Freud’s work anew are included in it.

We want to apply to the development of Freud’s thought the same mode of interpretation as Freud employs with respect to what happens in the psychic organ. Something moves, shifts, in relation to these f, j, w systems whose characteristics and also impasses, so well perceived by Freud, Valabrega and I have underlined. I urge you to reread the Irma dream. Already last year, I made you read it and explained to you certain of its stages, to illustrate the transference. Read it again in connection with what we are in the process of doing, namely trying to understand what the compulsion to repeat [automatisme de repetition] means, trying to give a meaning to this expression, and to this end, trying to grasp to what duplicity of relations between the symbolic and the imaginary we are led.

The schema from last time, that of the triode valve, already puts Irma’s dream in a different light for you. In his manuscript, Freud reduces its themes to four elements, two conscious, two unconscious. We have already pointed out how these two unconscious elements should be understood – one is the revelation of the creative speech of the dialogue with Fliess, the other is the transversal element, illuminated by the passage of this current. What is on display in an almost unconscious way in the dream, is the question of Freud’s [124] relations with a series of feminine sexual images, which are all caught up with some element of tension in his marital relations. What is even more striking is the essentially narcissistic character of all these feminine images. These are fascinating images and all of them have a certain narcissistic relation to Freud. Irma’s pain, when the physician percusses her, is in the shoulder, and Freud mentions that he suffers from rheumatism in the shoulder.

All this is always said in a way which amazes us, and which enables us to see beyond what Freud himself was capable of grasping at the time. The point is that Freud is an exceptional, absolutely brilliant observer. In what he has given us, we always have more of (What we call, for the sake of rapidity) material, to orientate us, than what he himself had conceptualised of it, which makes him an exceptional case in the history of scientific literature.

Seminar II 2nd March 1955 : Chapter XII The difficulties of regression : p135-137 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : We must be precise – what is the meaning of the behaviour of our neighbour, when we are placed with him in this very special relation inaugurated by Freud in his approach to neuroses? Must we look for the answer in some exceptional, abnormal, pathological features of the other’s behaviour? That isn’t what Freud does. He seeks the answer by asking the question just where the subject himself can ask it of himself – he analyses his own dreams. And it is precisely because he talks about himself, that he makes it apparent that someone other than himself talks in his dreams. That is really what he imparts to us in this note. Someone else it would seem, a second character has a relation with the being of the subject. That’s the question raised in Freud’s work, from its beginning to its end.

Think of the little Project, from the time of his beginnings. We saw that, at each moment, while keeping to an atomistic language, Freud deviates from it, because he raises the problem of the relations of the subject and the object, and [p136] he does so in remarkably original terms. Wherein lies the originality of this sketch of the human psychic apparatus? In that it is in fact about the subject. What distinguishes Freud here from all the authors who have written on the same subject, and even from the great Fechner to whom he constantly refers, is the idea that the object of the human quest is never an object of rediscovery in the sense of reminiscence. The subject doesn’t rediscover the preformed tracks of his natural relation to the external world. The human object always constitutes itself through the intermediary of a first loss. Nothing fruitful takes place in man save through the intermediary of a loss of an object.

… This is what proves that we are indeed on the right lines, in continually asking afresh Freud’s question – what is the subject?

What the subject does makes sense, his behaviour speaks just as his symptoms do, just as all the marginal functions of his psychic activity do. The psychology of the period, as you know, holds the terms consciousness and psyche to be equivalent, and Freud shows at every tum that this is precisely what creates the problem. That is what is made present in this small sketch of the psychic apparatus, which we have more or less finished with. One mustn’t confuse, he says, just when he is undertaking the psychological discussion of the dream-processes, the primary process and the unconscious. In the primary process, all kinds of things appear in consciousness. What one wants to know is why it is these which do so. Of course, we are conscious of the idea, the dream­thought, since we would otherwise know nothing about it. Through an exigency of the theory, a certain quantity of interest must have been turned towards what is unconscious. And yet, what motivates and determines this quantity, is in an elsewhere of which we aren’t conscious. We have to reconstruct that object as well.

This is what we have already seen made apparent apropos of the dream of Irma’s injection, and a propos of the initial small schema Freud gives of it in the Entwurf (See / The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud). He shows us that, when one studies the structure and the determination of associations, what appears in the dream as most heavily charged, in terms of quantity, is the point towards which the most things to be signified converge. What results is the point of convergence of maximum psychic interest. But that doesn’t cast any light on the motives themselves.

What appears in Irma’s dream is doubly determined – there is, on the one hand, the speech of the dialogue being conducted with Fliess, and on the other, the sexual foundation. The sexual foundation is double. He is interested in this speech, since it is the notion that it exists which thus comes to determine the dream – it is the dream of someone who is trying to find out what dreams are. But also, Freud finds himself in a complex relation not only with his patient, but with the entire, mutually contrasting, feminine series, which is sketched out behind her. What there is in the unconscious can only be reconstructed, that is the meaning to which Freud is leading us. It is what we are going to tackle today, with the second part of Chapter VII (Interpretation of dreams) on regression.

The coalescing of at least two series of motivations is necessary to the production of any symptomatic form. One is sexual, the other is, according to the name we give it here, symbolic – it is the factor of speech, as it is assumed by the subject. But the same question is raised again – by whom? By which subject?

-Seminar II 9th March 1955, Chapter XIII The dream of Irma’s injection p146-160 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation.

See /Seminar II, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis : 1954-1955 : from 17th November 1954 : Jacques Lacan

-Seminar II 9th March 1954 : p157 of Sylvana Tomacelli’s translation :

Here. then. is an entirely different triad from the preceding one. but which is just as much in the dream. Freud’s interpretation allows us to understand its meaning. But what is its role in the dream? It plays with speech, with decisive and adjudicating speech, with the law, with what torments Freud under the form – Am I right or wrong? Where is the truth? What is the outcome of the problem? Where am I placed?

The first time around, accompanying Irma’s ego we’ve found three feminine characters. Freud remarks that there is such a profusion of intercalations at this point that in the end things are knotted together and one ends up confronted with some unknown mystery.

When we analyse this text, we must take into account the text in its entirety, including the notes. This is when Freud indicates that point in the associations where the dream is connected up to the unknown, which he calls its navel.

We’ve arrived at whatever it is that lies behind the mystic trio. I say mystic because we now know its meaning. The three women, the three sisters, the three caskets, Freud has since shown us its meaning. The last term is death, as simple as that. [6 Freud, ‘The Theme of the Three Caskets’ (19131) GW X 24-37: Stud X 183-93; SE XII 291-301]

That in fact is what it is all about. We can even see it coming to the surface in the middle of the hubbub of speech in the second part. The story of the diptheric membrane is directly tied to the threat, of real significance, to the life of one of Freud’s daughters two years previously. Freud had taken it to be a punishment for a therapeutic blunder he’d committed when he’d given one of his patients an excessive dose of a drug, sulphonal, unaware that its habitual usage might have harmful side-effects. He thought he was thereby paying the price for his professional mistake.

In the second part, the three characters together play a ridiculous game of passing the buck with regard to these fundamental questions for Freud – What is the meaning of the neurosis? What is the meaning of the cure? How well-founded is my therapy for neurosis? And behind all this, there is the Freud who dreams whilst being a Freud who seeks the key to the dream. That is why the key to the dream is the same thing as the key to neurosis and the key to the cure. …

Seminar II 9th March 1954 : p159 of Sylvana Tomacelli’s translation : These threes which we keep encountering, again and again, that’s where, in the dream, the unconscious is – what is outside all of the subjects. The structure of the dream shows us clearly enough that the unconscious is not the ego of the dreamer, that it isn’t Freud in the guise of Freud pursuing his conversation with Irma. It is a Freud who has come through this moment of great anxiety when his ego was identified with the whole in its most unconstituted form. Quite literally, he escaped, he called upon, as he himself wrote, the congress of all those who know. He fainted, was reabsorbed, was abolished behind them, And finally another voice is heard. One can play around with the alpha and omega of the thing. But even if we had N instead of AZ it would be the same nonsense -­ we could give the name Nemo to this subject outside the subject who designates the whole structure of the dream. [10. The last two sentences rely on the symbol for nitrogen in French chemical nomenclature being ‘AZ’ from ‘azote‘ (from the Greek, ‘a-‘, ‘without’ and ‘zôë, ‘life’); hence the reference to alpha and omega. ‘Nemo‘ is Greek for ‘no one’.

So this dream teaches us the following – what is at stake in the function of the dream is beyond the ego, what in the subject is of the subject and not of the subject, that is the unconscious.

Seminar II 9th March 1955 : p160 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation : The concluding 3 paragraphs of this session :

… the meaning of the dream (Irma’s injection) is revealed to Freud – that, there is no other word of the dream than the very nature of the symbolic.

The nature of the symbolic. I myself also want to introduce you into it by telling you. to serve you as a marker – symbols only ever have the value of symbols.

A traversal is accomplished. After the first part. the most loaded. imaginary part, something comes into the dream at the end which we could call the crowd. But it is a structured crowd. like the Freudian crowd. That is why I would prefer to introduce another term. which I will leave to your reflection with all the double meanings it contains – the inmixing [immixtion] of subjects.

The subject enters and mixes in with things – that may be the first meaning. The other one is this – an unconscious phenomenon which takes place on the symbolic level, as such decentred in relation to the ego, always takes place between two subjects. As soon as true speech emerges, mediating, it turns them into two very different subjects from what they were prior to speech. This means that they only start being constituted as subjects of speech once speech exists, and there is no before.

Note on ‘inmixing’

Also used in Seminar II 26th April 1955 (quote following) &

in Of Structure as an inmixing of an Otherness prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever : 21st October 1966 : Jacques Lacan

-Seminar II 16th March 1955, Chapter XIV The dream of Irma’s injection (conclusion) p161-171 of Sylvana Tomaselli’s translation.

Notes & Information at /4 Jacques Lacan (November 1954)

-Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” : 26th April 1955 : Jacques Lacan

Notes & Information at /4 Jacques Lacan (April 1955)

P10 of Bruce Fink’s translation (p16 of the French edition of Écrits), see Écrits : October 1966 : Jacques Lacan, Notes & Information at /4 Jacques Lacan (October 1966)

… Thus three moments, ordering three glances, sustained by three subjects, incarnated in each case by different people.

The first is based on a glance which sees nothing: the King and then the police.

The second is based on a glance which sees that the first sees nothing and deceives itself into thereby believing to be covered what it hides: the Queen and then the Minister.

The third is based on a glance which sees that the first two glances leave what must be hidden uncovered to whomever would seize it: the Minister and finally Dupin.

In order to get you to grasp in its unity the intersubjective complex thus described, I would willingly seek patronage for it in the technique legendarily attributed to the ostrich [autruche] when it seeks shelter from danger. For this technique might finally be qualified as political, distributed as it is here among three partners, the second believing himself invisible because the first has his head stuck in the sand, all the while letting the third calmly pluck his rear. We need but enrich its proverbial denomination by a letter, producing ‘La politique de l’autriche’, for this technique in itself to finally take on a new everlasting meaning.

Having thus established the intersubjective module of the action that repeats, we must now indicate in it a ‘repetition automatism’ in the sense that interests us in Freud’s work.

The fact that we have here a plurality of subjects can, of course, in no way constitute an objection to those who are long accustomed to the perspectives summarized by my formulation: ‘the unconscious is the Other’s discourse’. I will not remind you now what the notion of the ‘inmixing of subjects’ [See Seminar II 9th March 1955], recently introduced in my reanalysis of the dream of Irma’s injection, adds here.

What interests me today is the way in which the subjects, owing to their displacement, relay each other in the course of the intersubjective repetition.

We shall see that their displacement is determined by the place that a pure signifier – the purloined letter – comes to occupy in their trio. This is what will confirm for us that it is repetition automatism.

-Seminar III 11th April 1956 : Chapter XIV – The signifier as such signifies nothing : p193 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

But the essential point, which isn’t highlighted, is that the delusion began the moment the initiative came from the Other, with a capital O, when the initiative was founded on a subjective activity. The Other wants this, and above all he wants this to be known, he wants to signify it.

As soon as there is a delusion, we enter at full tilt upon the domain of intersubjectivity, where the whole problem is to know why it’s fantasized. But in the name of fantasy, omnipresent in neurosis, attached as we are to its meaning, we forget its structure, namely that it’s a question of signifiers, of signifiers as such, handled by a subject for signifying aims, signifying so purely that the meaning very often remains problematic. What we have encountered in this symptomatology always implies what I indicated to you last year in relation to the dream of Irma’s injection – the inmixing [5 “immixtion;” term used by Damourette and Pichon for the semantically different ways the subject’s participation in an event or action can be described by a verb alone or by one of the verbs “faire,” “voir,” or “laisser” plus an infinitive: e.g., “operer,” “faire operer,” “voir operer,” and “laisser operer.” See Essai de grammaire de la langue francoise 5:791-817.] [Further comment on inmixing in Seminar II 9th March above] of subjects.

It’s characteristic of the intersubjective dimension that you have a subject in the real capable of using the signifier as such, that is, to speak, not so as to inform you, but precisely so as to lure you. This possibility is what is distinctive about the existence of the signifier. But this isn’t all. As soon as there is a subject and use of the signifier, use of the between-I [l’entre-je] is possible, that is to say, of the interposed subject. This inmixing of subjects is one of the most obvious elements in the dream of Irma’s injection. Recall the three practitioners called in one by one by Freud, who wants to know what it is that’s in Irma’s throat. And these three farcical characters operate, defend theses, talk only nonsense. They are the between-I’s, who play an essential role here.

They are marginal to Freud’s inquiry, whose major preoccupation at this [p192] time is defense. In a letter to Fliess he says this – I am right in the middle of what is outside nature.6 [6 This may be a reference to the remark, “All I was trying to do was to explain defense, but just try to explain something from the very core of nature!” Letter of August 16, 1895, Freud-Fliess, 136; Letter 27, Origins, 123] This is what defense is, in effect, insofar as it has an essential relationship to the signifier, not to the prevalence of meaning, but to idolatry of the signifier as such. This is merely a pointer.

Isn’t it precisely the inmixing of subjects that appears in delusion? This is a characteristic that is so essential to any intersubjective relation that, it may be said, there is no language that doesn’t include quite special grammatical expressions to indicate it.

That level of the signifier which is that of the sentence comprises a middle, a beginning, and an end, and thus requires a conclusion. This is what enables [p195] the play upon expectation, a slowing down that occurs at the imaginary level of the signifier, as if the solution to the enigma, for want of being able to be formulated in any really open manner other than through the primordial assertion of the other’s initiative, is given by showing that it’s a question of the signifier.

Just as the formula in bold letters that appears at the conclusion to the dream of Irma’s injection shows the solution to what is at the end of Freud’s desire – nothing more important in effect than a formula of organic chemistry – so we find, in the phenomenon of delusion, in the commentaries and in the buzzing of discourse in its pure form, the indication that it’s a question of the signifier.