The Navel of the Dream: Freud, Derrida and Lacan on the Gap where “Something Happens”


Jacques Lacan, who made a career of placing the Freudian oeuvre in unexpected philosophical contexts, admitted in 1955 that “I’m not the only one to have had the idea of taking up the dream of Irma’s injection again” (Seminar II 147). That dream of Freud’s, the analysis of which constitutes one of the most famous passages of The Interpretation of Dreams, has occupied a central place in the psychoanalytic canon for several reasons: it is the first dream that Freud subjects to a rigorous analysis, and it is his own dream; moreover, its analysis, unusually thorough, leads Freud to two essential formulations (the dream as a fulfillment of a wish, and the logic of the broken kettle). Freud returns to this dream several times throughout The Interpretation, just as post-Freudian psychoanalytic thinkers have consistently returned to Irma to theorize aspects of the dream-work and the unconscious. The body of scholarly work on Irma is so voluminous that, some forty years after Lacan, Joan Copjec could call Irma’s injection “that overinterpreted anxiety dream” (119); two years after that, undaunted by “the enormous analytic literature that, throughout the world, has submitted it to investment and investigation from every angle,” Jacques Derrida would publish his own close reading of the dream in a 1996 essay entitled “Resistances” (“Resistances” 5). The dream has, to borrow a phrase from another context and J. Hillis Miller, “an inexhaustible power to generate commentary” (Miller 177).

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