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. 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. 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.
Freud saw the same mechanism of condensation at work in phantasies and neurotic symptoms, as well as in parapraxis and jokes: he often cited as an instance Heine's quip about the rich man treating him 'famillionairily'.
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. 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.
- J Childers ed., Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (New York 1995) p. 51-2
- S Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 205-6
- S Freud, New Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis (PFL 2) p. 107
- O Fenichel, Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 217
- P Gay, Reading Freud (Yale 1990) p. 144
- E Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Cambridge 2005) p. 271
- J Lacan, Ecrits (London 1997) p. 60