Title

Sigmund Freud's Dreams of Jewishness

Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religion

Advisor(s)

Zachary Braiterman

Keywords

Dream-work, Freud, Iconic books, Images, Jewishness, Psychoanalysis

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

I argue that Sigmund Freud’s theories of dream-work and dream-interpretation, most notably in his early magnum opus, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), offer important insights into his thought on Jewishness, especially in his final, complete work, Moses and Monotheism (1939), but also across his writings more generally. I approach Freud’s work as a serious contribution to the field of modern Jewish thought in a particular, historical context: fin-de-siècle Vienna. In other words, this dissertation is less about Freud’s personal Jewish identity and more about a theory of Jewishness at the heart of his psychoanalysis. Although literary theory has been a fruitful terrain for Freud’s dream hermeneutic, I start with and insist upon the claim that images, not just language, are central to Freud’s development of his theories and techniques of dream-work and – interpretation. Drawing on the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and visual culture, I uncover the ways in which Jewishness in Freud’s work can be approached as a form of dream-work that is highly visual, embodied, and open to the imagination of other places, people, and objects beyond the vexed German-Jewish binary that dominates modern Jewish thought. I also argue that Freud’s expansion of psychoanalysis from clinical concerns to cultural critique occasioned a growing interest in and serious dedication to questions of memory relevant to his earliest work on dreams. Freud’s cultural writings contain a theory of the origins and transmission of religion in the form of embodied memory-traces that has a lot in common with his theory of dreams. If Freud describes religious traditions, and especially Judaism, in terms reminiscent of his dream project, then his radical reconstruction of Biblical tradition in Moses and Monotheism can be considered something like an “interpretation of a dream.”

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