Condensation (psychology)

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In Freudian psychology, a condensation (German: Verdichtung) is when a single idea (an image, memory, or thought) or dream object stands for several associations and ideas.

In dreams/symptoms/jokes[edit]

Freud considered that "dreams are brief, meagre and laconic in comparison with the range and wealth of the dream-thoughts." Images and chains of association have their emotional charges displaced from the originating ideas to the receiving one, where they merge and "condense" together.[1] Thus for example a dream figure may resemble A, wear B's clothes and act like C, but nevertheless we know somehow that they are 'really' D - rather as with the composite photographs of Francis Galton.[2] While condensation could serve the purposes of the dream censorship by disguising thoughts, Freud considered condensation as primarily the preferred mode of functioning of the unconscious Id.[3]

Freud saw the same mechanism of condensation at work in phantasies and neurotic symptoms,[4] as well as in parapraxis and jokes: he often cited as an instance Heine's quip about the rich man treating him 'famillionairily'.[5]

In metaphor/metonymy[edit]

In the 1950s the concept was used by linguist Roman Jakobson in his influential article on metaphor and metonymy. Comparing the linguistic evidence to Freud's account of the dream-work, Jakobson saw symbolism as relating to metaphor, condensation and displacement to metonymy.[6] Jakobson's work encouraged Jacques Lacan to say that the unconscious is structured like a language, though he himself linked condensation to metaphor, not metonymy.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ J Childers ed., Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (New York 1995) p. 51-2
  2. ^ S Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 205-6
  3. ^ S Freud, New Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis (PFL 2) p. 107
  4. ^ O Fenichel, Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 217
  5. ^ P Gay, Reading Freud (Yale 1990) p. 144
  6. ^ E Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Cambridge 2005) p. 271
  7. ^ J Lacan, Ecrits (London 1997) p. 60


  • Alain de Mijolla (ed.). International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 1st vol.: "Condensation", Macmillan Reference Books, ISBN 0-02-865924-4