Dream Screen

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It was Bertram D. Lewin, in his article "Sleep, the Mouth and the Dream Screen," who proposed calling upon "an old familiar conception of Freud'sthe oral libidoto elucidate certain manifestations associated with sleep" (1946, p. 419).

"The dream screen, as I define it," wrote Lewin, "is the surface on which a dream appears to be projected. It is the blank background, present in the dream though not necessarily seen, and the visually perceived action of ordinary manifest dream contents takes place on it or before it. Theoretically it may be part of the latent or the manifest content, but this distinction is academic. The dream screen is not often noted or mentioned by the analytic patient, and in the practical business of dream interpretation, the analyst is not concerned with it" (p. 420).

In developing his argument Lewin referred to the Isakower phenomenon, recalling that psychoanalyst Otto "Isakower interprets the large masses, that approach beginning sleepers, as breasts" (p. 421). Lewin expanded on this insight as follows: "When one falls asleep, the breast is taken into one's perceptual world: it flattens out or approaches flatness, and when one wakes up it disappears, reversing the events of its entrance. A dream appears to be projected on this flattened breastthe dream screenprovided, that is, that the dream is visual; for if there is no visual content the dream screen would be blank, and the manifest content would consist solely of impressions from other fields of perception" (p. 421). At the end of his article, Lewin offered this summary: "The baby's first sleep is without visual dream content. It follows oral satiety. Later hypnagogic events preceding sleep represent an incorporation of the breast (Isakower), those that follow occasionally may show the breast departing. The breast is represented in sleep by the dream screen. The dream screen also represents the fulfillment of the wish to sleep" (p. 433).

Today, over and above the attempt to link sleep and oral libido, the notion of the dream screen should no doubt be viewed in conjunction with the idea of the introjection of "containers," and with Didier Anzieu's discussion of the "skin ego," with his concepts of the skin as a "projective" or "writing surface" (1985, p. 40), and even with his view of the dream's function as a film or pellicle.

At all events, the dream screen is an aspect of the dream-work which operates as a "non-process," and which as such calls for no specific interpretation.

Bernard Golse

See also: Cinema and psychoanalysis; Dream; Dream work; Isakower phenomenon, Negative hallucination; Skin-ego; Sleep/wakefulness.


Anzieu, Didier. (1989). The skin ego. (Chris Turner, Trans.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. (Orignal work published 1985)

Lewin, Bertram D. (1949). Sleep, the mouth and the dream screen. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 15, (4), 419-34.