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‘Not that I can see.’

So the phantasy does not coincide completely with the childhood scene. It is only based on it at certain points. That argues in favour of the childhood memory being genuine.

‘Do you think an interpretation like this of an apparently innocent childhood memory is often applicable?’

Very often, in my experience. Shall we amuse ourselves by seeing whether the two examples given by the Henris can be interpreted as screen memories concealing subsequent experiences and wishes? I mean the memory of a table laid for a meal with a basin of ice on it, which was supposed to have some connection with the death of the subject’s grandmother, and the other memory, of a child breaking off a branch from a tree while he was on a walk and of his being helped to do it by someone.


He reflected for a little and then answered : ‘I can make nothing of the first one. It is most probably a case of displacement at work; but the intermediate steps are beyond guessing. As for the second case, I should be prepared to give an interpretation, if only the person concerned had not been a Frenchman.’

I cannot follow you there. What difference would that make?

‘A great deal of difference, since what provides the intermediate step between a screen memory and what it conceals is likely to be a verbal expression. In German "to pull one out" is a very common vulgar term for masturbation. The scene would then be putting back into early childhood a seduction to masturbation - someone was helping him to do it - which in fact occurred at a later period. But even so, it does not fit, for in the childhood scene there were a number of other people present.’


Whereas his seduction to masturbate must have occurred in solitude and secrecy. It is just that contrast that inclines me to accept your view: it serves once again to make the scene innocent. Do you know what it means when in a dream we see ‘a lot of strangers’, as happens so often in dreams of nakedness in which we feel so terribly embarrassed? Nothing more nor less than secrecy, which there again is expressed by its opposite. However, our interpretation remains a jest, since we have no idea whether a Frenchman would recognize an allusion to masturbation in the words casser une branche d’un arbre or in some suitably emended phrase.

This analysis, which I have reproduced as accurately as possible, will, I hope, have to some extent clarified the concept of a ‘screen memory’ as one which owes its value as a memory not to its own content but to the relation existing between that content and some other, that has been suppressed. Different classes of screen memories can be distinguished according to the nature of that relation. We have found examples of two of these classes among what are described as the earliest memories of childhood - that is, if we include under the heading of screen memories the incomplete childhood scenes which are innocent by very reason of their incompleteness. It is to be anticipated that screen memories will also be formed from residues of memories relating to later life as well. Anyone who bears in mind their distinctive feature - namely that they are extremely well remembered but that their content is completely indifferent - will easily recall a number of examples of the sort from his own memory. Some of these screen memories dealing with events later in life owe their importance to a connection with experiences in early youth which have remained suppressed. The connection, that is, is the reverse of the one in the case which I have analysed, where a childhood memory was accounted for by later experiences. A screen memory may be described as ‘retrogressive’ or as having ‘pushed forward’ according as the one chronological relation or the other holds between the screen and the thing screened-off. From another point of view, we can distinguish positive screen memories from negative ones (or refractory memories) whose content stands in a contrary relation to the suppressed material. The whole subject deserves a more thorough examination; but I must content myself with pointing out what complicated processes - processes, incidentally, which are altogether analogous to the formation of hysterical symptoms - are involved in the building up of our store of memories.


Our earliest childhood memories will always be a subject of special interest because the problem mentioned at the beginning of this paper (of how it comes about that the impressions which are of most significance for our whole future usually leave no mnemic images behind) leads us to reflect upon the origin of conscious memories in general. We shall no doubt be inclined at first to separate off the screen memories which are the subject of this study as heterogeneous elements among the residues of childhood recollections. As regards the remaining images, we shall probably adopt the simple view that they arise simultaneously with an experience as an immediate consequence of the impression it makes and that thereafter they recur from time to time in accordance with the familiar laws of reproduction. Closer observation, however, reveals certain features which do not tally with this view. Above all, there is the following point. In the majority of significant and in other respects unimpeachable childhood scenes the subject sees himself in the recollection as a child, with the knowledge that this child is himself; he sees this child, however, as an observer from outside the scene would see him. The Henris duly draw attention to the fact that many of those taking part in their investigation expressly emphasized this peculiarity of childhood scenes. Now it is evident that such a picture cannot be an exact repetition of the impression that was originally received. For the subject was then in the middle of the situation and was attending not to himself but to the external world.


Whenever in a memory the subject himself appears in this way as an object among other objects this contrast between the acting and the recollecting ego may be taken as evidence that the original impression has been worked over. It looks as though a memory-trace from childhood had here been translated back into a plastic and visual form at a later date - the date of the memory’s arousal. But no reproduction of the original impression has ever entered the subject’s consciousness.


There is another fact that affords even more convincing evidence in favour of this second view. Out of a number of childhood memories of significant experiences, all of them of similar distinctness and clarity, there will be some scenes which, when they are tested (for instance by the recollections of adults), turn out to have been falsified. Not that they are complete inventions; they are false in the sense that the they have shifted an event to a place where it did not occur - this is the case in one of the instances quoted by the Henris - or that they have merged two people into one or substituted one for the other, or the scenes as a whole give signs of being combinations of two separate experiences. Simple inaccuracy of recollection does not play any considerable part here, in view of the high degree of sensory intensity possessed by the images the and the efficiency of the function of memory in the young; close the investigation shows rather that these falsifications of memory are tendentious - that is, that they serve the purposes of the repression and replacement of objectionable or disagreeable impressions. It follows, therefore, that these falsified memories too, must have originated at a period of life when it has become the possible for conflicts of this kind and impulsions towards repression to have made a place for themselves in mental life - far later, therefore, than the period to which their content belongs. But in these cases too the falsified memory is the first that we become aware of: the raw material of memory-traces out of which it was forged remains unknown to us in its original form.


The recognition of this fact must diminish the distinction we have drawn between screen memories and other memories derived from our childhood. It may indeed be questioned whether we have any memories at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess. Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal, the child hood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge; they were formed at that time. And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories themselves.


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