Manifest content is the narrative that the dreamer tells about his or her dream. In contemporary usage, the criterion manifest is also applied to other types of verbal production and to behaviors. Sigmund Freud contrasted manifest content to the latent dream thoughts brought out by psychoanalytic interpretation.
The Freudian theory of dreams "is not based on a consideration of the manifest content of dreams but refers to the thoughts which are shown by the work of interpretation to lie behind dreams" wrote Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a, p. 135).
Manifest and latent are notions by the "dream work." During sleep, wishes linked to childhood events, normally repressed, are actualized owing to the relaxation of censorship. Dreaming requires, however, that "selfish," sexual, sadistic, or incestuous wishes be transformed. The dream fulfills these wishes ("latent thoughts," "latent contents," "dream thoughts"); only if they are modified, distorted, and/or transformed in their expression, which is the manifest dream. But the manifest dream is also a product of the effects of certain events of the previous day (day's residues) or of bodily sensations on the unconscious. The manifest dream results from a combination of the day's residues, bodily sensations, and latent dream-thoughts. The regression to archaic forms of thought provoked by sleep entails the repression and transformation of the latent thoughts. A secondary revision, which gives the dream a certain coherence, then seconds to these transformations. What is manifest may therefore function as a "façade" or "trompe-l'oeil."
Interpretation of the manifest dream entails following the path of the dream work in reverse and, by tracking associations and uncovering the latent thoughts, although Freud stressed that there were limits to the interpretation of dreams (see his discussion of the "dream's navel," 1900a, p. 525).
Over time, the opposition between manifest and latent posited by Freud in his earliest works was reconsidered. However, he continued to refer to it even as late as his "Outline of Psycho-Analysis" (1940a ), as a means of understanding and working out dreams.
The exigencies of the second topography (or structural model), with its complex picture of the mental agencies (the ego being deeply rooted in the id) made the opposition between manifest and latent more difficult in relation to dreams. The dream became one form of material among others, caught up in the movements of transference and resistance. The analyst's goal was no longer conceived as the revelation of what was unconscious or rather as latent through the interpretation of dreams, but rather as development of the psychoanalytic process. Manifest and latent were seen as interpenetrating instead of radical opposites. The manifest could therefore be treated, much like the latent, in the work of the session.
The initial importance assigned in the theory of dreams to the manifest, making it as important, in fact, as the latent, was reduced: Analytical treatment came to focus on the dynamics of the latent psychic functioning of the analyst and the analysand. Dreams were also considered in their totality, as a space of projection/protection, and as a mode of expression for the dreamer in their very nonsense (Jean-Claude Lavie)—simply another mode for apprehension of the manifest.
In the treatment, behaviors (attitude, gestures, somatization) are manifest forms of a latent mode of psychic functioning in the patient. But because they are outside the patient's consciousness and verbalization, they elude the process of working over. They can be related to early modes of psychic functioning, when the dynamics of the one remained indistinctly linked to the primal other. The mechanisms involved are thus splitting, repetition, and reversal into the opposite.
The nonverbal manifest and the latent it conceals can be discovered by the patient, notably in situations where bonds of identification and transference are developed by means other than those used in treatment, and where expressiveness through the body, actions, and attitudes emerges in situations such as analytic role-playing and/or small-group situations with analysts.
See also: Apprenti-historien et le maítre-sorcier, L' [The apprentice historian and the master sorcerer]; Censorship; Condensation; Conflict; Displacement; Dream; Dream symbolism; Dream work; Interpretation of dreams (analytical psychology); Interpretation; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Language and disturbances of language; Latent; Latent dream thoughts; Representability; Secondary revision; Symbol.
Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5: 1-625.
——. (1940a ). An outline of psycho-analysis. SE, 23: 139-207.
Lavie, Jean-Claude. (1972). Parlerà l'analyste. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse, 5, 287-298.
man·i·fest1 / ˈmanəˌfest/ • adj. clear or obvious to the eye or mind: the system's manifest failings. • v. [tr.] display or show (a quality or feeling) by one's acts or appearance; demonstrate: Ray manifested signs of severe depression. ∎ (often be manifested in) be evidence of; prove: bad industrial relations are often manifested in disputes and strikes. ∎ [intr.] (of an ailment) become apparent through the appearance of symptoms: a disorder that usually manifests in middle age. ∎ [intr.] (of a ghost or spirit) appear: one deity manifested in the form of a bird. DERIVATIVES: man·i·fest·ly adv. man·i·fest2 • n. a document giving comprehensive details of a ship and its cargo and other contents, passengers, and crew for the use of customs officers. ∎ a list of passengers or cargo in an aircraft. ∎ a list of the cars forming a freight train. • v. [tr.] record in such a manifest: every passenger is manifested at the point of departure.
So vb. XIV. manifestation XV. — late L. manifesto † proof; public declaration. XVII. — It., whence also manifest sb. † manifestation XVI; † manifesto XVII; list of ship's cargo XVIII.