Why Coleridge Was Not a Freudian

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The history of oneiroiogy may be divided into explanations of the causes of dreaming and interpretations of the content of dreams. Because these schools of thought are opposed to each other, the distinction between them can be used to falsify Kathleen Coburn’s claim that Coleridge was a forerunner of Freud. Although both sought to bring the unconscious under the control of the conscious, rational mind, their oneirological approaches nonetheless differed fundamentally. Freud did not reject the etiological explanation of dreams, but his emphasis on unconscious rather than somatic and other external causes placed him at odds with earlier psychologists and imposed on him a hermeneutic burden of proof, consisting in establishing that dreams are wish-fulfillments even when they do not appear to be. Furthermore, his theory of symbolism had strong affinities with both ancient and Romantic oneirocriticism. Coleridge for his part found the traditional causal explanations of dreams inadequate, but habitually resorted to them anyway because he could not bring himself to interpret oneiric imagery-perhaps out of fear of what he might discover about himself.

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