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A fresh vision of Freud's 'The Interpretation of Dreams'

A new illustrated edition of the psychologist's 1899 work features fantastical works by such artists as Salvador Dali, René Magritte and Frida Kahlo along with essays by Freud scholar Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

November 28, 2010|By Liesl Bradner, Special to the Los Angeles Times

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, $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."

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

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