Dreams that Turn Over a Page: Paradoxical Dreams in Psychoanalysis (Book Review)

Author:  Quinodoz, Jean-Michel (Translated by Philip Slotkin)
Publisher:  Brunner-Routledge
Reviewed By:  Howard H. Covitz, PhD, NCPsyA, ABPP, Winter 2006, pp. 53-56

Apparently soon after the God of Genesis despaired about the self-referenced meanderings of mankind (Genesis 6:1ff) and in a rage destroyed all but the Noahs with torrential rains and floods, He found himself once again confronted by the narcissistic nature of his creations:

“The entire Earth was of one language and but several purposes. And it came to pass ... that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and dwelled there. They said, one to their friend ... Come let us build up a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a reputation for ourselves” (Genesis 11:1-8).

God became worried about these folk and their ambitions and said: “Come let us go down and confuse their tongues, so that they might not understand each other’s languages.” Scripture continues: “That is why it was called Babel, because it was there that God babeled the language of the entire Earth and it was from there that he scattered them over the face of the Earth.”

Sigmund Freud created a movement in Eastern Europe and he, too, sought to create with it a monolithic towering edifice — one, this time, which might proffer a coherent model for explaining the inner stirrings of mankind. The processes that babeled his students’ languages, however, were presumably not divine and the scattering of their centers of learning was not preordained (not at least in the usual sense), though what is a nascent contemporary rapprochement in the psychoanalytic discussion is, perhaps, not all that difficult to have predicted. As Young-Eisendrath has suggested: “Now that the field of Psychoanalysis has been attacked and devalued by various outside economic and cultural forces, it behooves us to function as a cooperative group and to heal the step-family mentality that has hurt us badly” (2004, p. 4). If only it were so simple to bring about such commonalities – as necessary as they might be for our survival!

It is notable that the diverse psychoanalytic camps — their existence being the byproduct of 100 years of schisms and temporary alliances, beginning perchance with Freud’s tongue-lashing of Adler in October, 1907 (Nunberg, p. 237) — have often functioned in such thorough isolation from each other that the similar results they produced failed to cohere into a single body of thought but rather remained “in the box” constructions within these differing models. It is often difficult to determine whether progress is being made toward integration or whether we remain in the Babel phase of our development wherein languages continue to proliferate and speakers of differing languages continue to vie against each other and to unwittingly reproduce each other’s works under differing titles.

This situation may or may not be more pronounced but, assuredly, is odder than schisms in other scholarly fields. In the psychoanalytic enterprise, two people locked into idiosyncratic ways of relating (transferences and countertransferences) attempt to make room for the Other in these endeavors and, indeed, when successful, develop a joint language that encourages relationship over symptom-formation and enactments. How odd it is that we who are often successful in executing such a conjoining of difference among differents in the consultation room, clumsily stumble in negotiating cooperation and common ground between and among inter-collegial groups.

This having been said, it is no wonder that one such as I (who theoretically lives somewhere in the world of Object Relations thinking) would be painfully struggling (as demonstrated by the first four paragraphs, above) to get started on reviewing a volume by one such as Jean-Michel Quinodoz (who borrows broadly from neo-Kleinian thinking), as I attempt such a review for an audience of Classicalists, Relationists, Ego-Psychologists, Self-Psychologists and others representing the dozens of (broadly speaking) psychoanalytic positions extant, today. I find myself oftentimes thinking how fortunate it was that I trained more than thirty years ago when Hartmann, Kris and Loewenstein’s students ruled psychoanalysis, at least in the United States. One at least knew, so to speak, where one’s footfalls landed in those days – whether into a land of orthodoxy or heterodoxy. Borrowing from The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Browning, 1888), one might say that our suffering in the contemporary psychoanalytic world is due not to the presence of too many rats, but rather due to the large number of theoretical Pied Pipers, each playing their own unique tune and each cloistered and leading bands of adherents in their own isolated communities.

Before turning to my task of commenting on Dreams that Turn Over a Page, let me aver unambiguously that I, too, am caught up in these selfsame processes. When writing a volume on suggested emendations of the oedipal (Covitz, 1997), I was ignorant of the overlapping and earlier contributions made by Jessica Benjamin, Ronald Britton and, I’m confident, many others. I grew up theoretically in the American Lay Psychoanalytic movement and knew very little about folk such as Benjamin who was closer to Division 39 or Britton who was part of the neo-Kleinian movement in Europe and the UK. Alas! So it is when adherents of different isms attend churches whose preachers — generation after generation — bring us into schism and conflict based on power politics, theory and, not infrequently, such immeasurables as personality and fervor.

But enough by way of introduction. I came to Quinodoz’ book on dreams after being charmed some years ago by his Taming of Solitude (1991) and its usage of wisdom from de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince (1943) and its characters. The style of his writing remains the same: accessible, clear, and warm. Quinodoz introduces a certain class of dreams whose contents he says, are paradoxically regressive. The patient, near the termination phase of analysis, has progressed beyond the anxieties that are still and all apparent in the manifest content of these dreams. Confronted by their primitive and regressive nature, the patient is beset by fears that, since such dreams can still be dreamt, all may have been for naught and wonders if a resumption of madness may not be, after all, near at hand. The analyst, too, may be fearful that the hoped-for successful termination may have been approached in haste. He cites Hannah Segal, for instance, who confronting a similar type dream noted (Quinodoz, p. 63): “Some may think that a patient who has such primitive fantasies and defenses ... is not ready to stop. That was what my patient often tried to make me think. I had few doubts that this decision was right.”

Quinodoz’ volume is full and rich with extensive clinical examples. It argues for a bimodal interpretive method for these dreams. Emphasis is placed on the need to go beyond the classical methods of dream interpretation, which Quinodoz sees as centered in removing repressions. Interpretation, he argues, must work in the space between paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions and must attend to the splitting that is more visible seen through theses lenses.

As already noted, Quinodoz views interpretation of these dreams unfolding in two phases. A central aim of the first phase is “to achieve a preliminary degree of binding and integration of the scattered aspects of the experience of both patient and analyst” (p. 34) in response to the apparently regressive dream. The analyst is admonished to assist the analysand in understanding the degree of integration that the possibility of dreaming such a dream now represents. He goes on: “His disturbing dream is not necessarily a sign that he is seriously ill or going mad, as he imagines, but may instead reflect his increased capacity for representations of hitherto inaccessible fantasies.” Furthermore, at this stage of treatment: “It is essential for the psychoanalyst to take detailed account of the particular moment in the treatment, which is never repeated identically” (p. 35, orig. from Quinodoz, 1991). And a bit later: “It is only after the way the dream is used in the session has been interpreted that analysis of contents can ensue” (p. 36).

A second phase of interpretation is “characterized by the patient’s wish to use the psychoanalyst as a separate, different object, with a view to elucidating the manifest and latent meaning of the dream at a symbolic level” (p. 37) and symbolic interpretation of the elements of the dream. The transitional work from the first to second phases, Quinodoz reasons, correlates with a move from anxiety-ridden paranoid schizoid positions to depressive position functioning. As Quinodoz notes: “In order for a patient to realize that the manifest meaning refers back to a latent sense, he must possess an adequate capacity for symbolization. If not he will be unable to ‘detach himself’ from the manifest sense, and any interpretation by the analyst of the latent sense will seem to him to be mad” (p. 38).

I shall briefly discuss these contributions to dream analysis that Quinodoz proffers. First among Quinodoz’ contentions is that the content of the dream does not necessarily represent the degree to which progress has been made in the treatment nor does it directly represent the highest level of functioning of the patient. But as I shall note repeatedly in the forthcoming: who would argue otherwise? Has it not been a central tenet of psychoanalysis that das unbewusste, the Unconscious, continues to-the-grave to be dominated by primitive confusions (displacement) and pars pro toto thinking (condensations and the confusion of the similar with the identical)?

Feldman Put It Nicely Thirty Years Ago

“The patient and his circle are usually more impressed with the accomplishments of psychoanalysis than we are. Our theoretical training gives us more than enough reason to believe that the changes on life’s surface, in matters of love, work, aggression and self-control, even though they may bring about a life of more conscious satisfaction, instead of a life of conscious torment and distress, are really only the great surface results of a small internal shift”(1974, p. 134).

Secondly, Quinodoz’ contends that these Dreams that Turn over a Page and their primitive content represent a progressive capacity — perhaps, newly acquired in closing phases of treatment — for allowing the primitive to be represented. But again let me say, who would argue otherwise? Is it not a central tenet of psychoanalysis that the unthought is father to the deed? That is: is it not a given in our view of the Psyche that it is precisely those endopsychic images — vorstellungen, in Freud’s language — that cannot be thought that are acted out or that are defended against by compromise formations in the form of symptoms. It has been, for instance, my experience — and I suspect that of psychoanalytic clinicians, in general — that non-abusing parents occasionally have dreams and fantasies of abusing their children, while abusing parents cannot imagine that their behaviors were anything but beneficent!

I refer to the distinction and blurring between thinking and doing which has been part of the conversation since antiquity and which psychoanalysis has taken up during the past century with vigor. For instance, we see that the writers of at least one of the Gospels introduces a moral equivalence between thoughts and deeds, as they ascribe the following to the Nazarene: “And I say whoever commits adultery in his heart has committed adultery” (Matthew 5:27). While one might think this was the only view prevalent two thousand years ago, the writers of the Talmud had it quite differently and closer to the psychoanalytic model:

“He who sees in a dream that he is (sexually) entering a married woman is assured that he is a child of the world to come. He who sees in a dream that he is (sexually) entering his mother will surely succeed in his activities” (Brachoth, 57:2).

But, then, in a manner very similar to Jocasta’s admonishment to her son-husband, Oedipus, about the quotidian nature of wishes for union with mother, the writers of the Talmud conclude: “Only he should not obsess about it.”

Indeed, who would argue that it is to be expected that dreams towards the close of analysis would have a broader range of the manifestly primitive fantasies of humankind? Only one who privileges the importance of content over defense would be likely to view such primitive dreams at or near the close of analysis as paradoxical.

Thirdly, Quinodoz argues that in the initial phase of interpretation, attention must be paid to the purposes toward which the presentation of these primitive dreams aim — “the function it performs in the session” (p. 33; cited from Segal, 1991). But, for a third time let me query, who would argue otherwise? Admittedly, at the time of the Dora treatment and the writing of the Dream book (both in 1899), Freud was not yet aware of the functioning of transference resistances. Had he been aware of the need to pay attention to the communicative function of clinical productions, Dora’s dreams about her fear of being in a burning house or her being lost in a strange part of a city (Freud, SE 7: p 64ff and 94ff) would have been examined in the context of an overly eroticized treatment situation for which this adolescent girl felt ill-prepared. Furthermore, Dora’s prematurely terminated treatment might have gone on toward a more satisfying conclusion, and the narcissistically bitter woman that Felix Deutsch met much later in her life (Deutsch 1957) might have fared better in relationship to her husband and grown son. But who for the past many years would go directly for the content of a dream? This rhetorical question, indeed, has an answer: only those who don’t accept the need to work through resistances could imagine going directly for the content. The early Freud of the Dora era was to be counted in these ranks and later such content-centered analysis became largely the province of Kleinians, though in recent productions (e.g., the oft-cited work of Segal, 1991) a strong interest in resistance has appeared in workers in this camp, as well.

But back to Quinodoz’ recent discoveries. Fenichel (1941, p. 52) put forth his view of the need to first isolate that which later will be interpreted and generations of analysts have looked at the transference implications of the dream and when and how it was given by that patient to that analyst at that specific time in that treatment. It is plain to me (and I assume to Quinodoz), especially from the treatment of other therapists, that our expertise as analysts is not situated in our abilities to interpret dream material but in our understanding of the manner in which the dreamwork and the relationship in the immediacy of the treatment relationship extant on that day interweave with transferences and countertransferences.

I am reminded of the lesson of the Fox in de Sainte-Exuperey’s Little Prince (1943) that serves as a literary leitmotif in Quinodoz’ earlier volume. The Fox (very much a psychoanalyst type) is trying to help his disillusioned friend deal with the discovery that his much-beloved and needy Rose, which he left behind on some distant asteroid in the galaxy, is identical to an entire field of roses that he stumbled upon in his travels. The Prince, about to return to his Rose, bears three messages from the Fox: “What is essential is invisible to the eye….It is only the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important....(And) you become responsible, forever, for whatever you have tamed” (p. 70). One hundred years of the treatment of obsessionals has taught us, if nothing else, that interpretation of content bears few fruit without an understanding of and a resumption of love and relationship. Whether this is understood by us in the language of Klein or object relations or relational analysis matters very little; “what is essential is,” indeed, never a matter of parsing symbols and sentences and always a matter of understanding the vagaries of human relatedness.

Quinodoz’ work is, in some sense, reminiscent of one facet of the Freud-Adler controversy and psychoanalytic discourse, in general. Freud discounted Adler’s emphasis on aggression; Adler was thereafter extruded from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and not too long afterwards we find Freud revising his instinct theory to include the aggressive drive. Fifty years later, we find Horney and Rosenfeld, Sullivan and Kardiner marginalized in the New York Societies, though within a short time we find the essentials of their work creeping into even the mainstream journals of psychoanalysis. And now, at least in my reading of Quinodoz’ Dreams that Turn over a Page, there is to be found a rediscovery of the functions of resistance in dream interpretation.

I can think of no better way to close these brief comments on Dreams than with a passage Quinodoz cites from Hannah Segal:

“Following only the content of the dream has its limitations. If we analyze not the dream but the dreamer, and take into account the form of the dream, the way it is recounted, and the function it performs in the session, our understanding is very much enriched and we can see how the dream’s function throws an important light on the functioning of the ego” (Quinodoz, p. 33).

But as I have said now many times before: Who could possibly disagree?


Browning, R. (1888). The pied piper of Hamelin. London: Frederick Warne and Co.
Covitz, H. (1997). Oedipal paradigms in collision: A centennial emendation of a piece of Freudian canon. New York: Peter Lang.
Deutsch, F. (1957). A footnote to Freud’s “Fragment of a case of hysteria.” Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 26, 159-167.
Feldman, H. (1974). A psychoanalytic addition to human nature. Psychoanalytic Review, 61, 133-139.
Fenichel, O. (1941). Problems of psychoanalytic technique. New York: The Psychoanalytic Quarterly.
Nunberg, H., & Federn, E. (1962). Minutes of the Vienna psychoanalytic society, vol. I: 1906-1908. New York: International Universities Press.
Quinodoz, J-M. (1991). The taming of solitude: separation anxiety in psychoanalysis. London and New York: Routledge.
Segal, H. (1991). Dream, art, phantasy. London: Routledge.
Young-Eisendrath, P. (2004). Subject to change: Jung, gender and subjectivity in psychoanalysis. Hove, UK: Brunner-Routledge.

Reviewer Note

Howard Covitz is in private practice in Melrose Park and for many years was Director of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies in Bryn Mawr. His Œdipal Paradigms in Collision, 1997, was nominated for NAAP’s Gradiva Book of the Year Award in 1998. He is Visiting Professor of Mathematics at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.


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