The Prisoner’s Nightmare

1. Mandela claims he uttered these words during a meeting he called with various local and foreign members of the press after the three-day workers’ stay-away had been crushed in May 1961. See Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994), 270. He says something similar during his first televised interview, which he gave to the British television network ITN around the same time.

2. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 390.

3. Ibid., 496.

4. Excerpts of Mandela’s speech are reprinted in his autobiography, and the complete text is available online at An audio recording is also available on the Guardian’s website:


1. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Standard Edition 4 (1900): 506n2. Freud makes a similar point in “Remarks on the Theory and Practice of Dream-Interpretation,” Standard Edition 19 (1923): 112; “History of the Psychoanalytic Movement,” Standard Edition 14 (1914): 65; and “Some Neurotic Mechanisms,” Standard Edition 17 (1922): 229.

2. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 48–50.

3. Claude Lévi-Strauss, “The Science of the Concrete,” in The Savage Mind, trans. George Weidenfeld, 1–33 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1966).

4. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 570.

5. Reading psychoanalytically, negative statements are generally understood as taking cognizance of what is repressed. In his 1925 paper called “Negation,” Freud writes, “With the help of the symbol of negation, thinking frees itself from the restrictions of repression.” Sigmund Freud, “Negation,” Standard Edition 19 (1925): 239.

6. Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis,” in The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, trans. Joyce Crick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 29.

7. For a discussion of humanity and the gaze, see Hélène Cixous’s “Volleys of Humanity,” in Volleys of Humanity: Essays from 1972–2009, 264–85 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

8. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 1.

9. For more on psychoanalysis as a critique of scientific reason, see Léon Chertok and Isabelle Stengers, A Critique of Psychoanalytic Reason: Hypnosis as a Scientific Problem from Lavoisier to Lacan, trans. Martha Noel Evans (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992).

10. Jacqueline Rose, “Review of What Is Madness by Darian Leader,” Guardian, October 1, 2011.

11. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin 1968), 6. The Frankfurt School’s absence in Arendt’s narrative is noticeable. As Elizabeth Young-Bruehl has documented, Arendt carried a lifelong antipathy toward the Frankfurt Institute and toward Theodor Adorno in particular. See Young-Bruehl’s Hannah Arendt: For the Love of the World, 2nd ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004), 80, 109, and 166–67, respectively.

12. Arendt, Between Past and Future, 8.

13. Ibid., 14.

14. Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, ed. Ronald Beiner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

15. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), 152. The other two maxims include the ability to think for oneself and the ability to think consistently.

16. Maya Angelou, “His Day Is Done,” in The Complete Poetry (New York: Random House, 2015), 306.

17. See Rita Barnard’s introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 3.

18. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 624–25.

19. Arendt, Between Past and Future, 146.

20. Wilfred Bion, Learning from Experience (London: Karnac, 1962), 8.

21. Arendt, Between Past and Future, 156.

22. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 623.

23. D. W. Winnicott, “Thinking and the Unconscious,” The Liberal Magazine, March 1945, repr. in Home Is Where We Start From (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), 169.

Dream-Work as Civil Defense

1. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 506.

2. Ibid., 311–12.

3. Readers of Freud will recognize that my terminology does not match what is set out in Interpretation of Dreams. Freud himself described the four mechanisms of the dream as Verdichtung (condensation), Verschiebung (displacement), Rücksicht auf Darstellbarkeit (considerations of representability), and sekundäre Bearbeitung (secondary revision). He consistently revised these terms, and subsequent analysts have further modified his language. I am leaning in particular here on a particular strand of clinical theory that treats dreaming as an unconscious form of thinking about emotional experience. Here the dream-work is taken as exemplary of a wider concept that is fundamental to contemporary clinical psychoanalysis, namely, psychic work. See Ella Sharpe, Dream Analysis (London: Hogarth, 1959); Hanna Segal, “Notes on Symbol Formation,” in The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice, 49–65 (London: Free Association Books, 1986), and Segal, “The Function of Dreams,” ibid., 89–97; Segal, Dream, Phantasy, and Art (London: Routledge, 1991); W. R. Bion, Learning from Experience (London: Karnac, 1962); J.-B. Pontalis, Frontiers in Psychoanalysis: Between the Dream and Psychic Pain, trans. Catherine Cullen and Philip Cullen (London: Hogarth Press, 1981); Donald Meltzer, Dream-Life: A Re-examination of the Psycho-analytical Theory and Technique (Oxford: Clunie Press, 1984); Thomas Ogden, This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries (London: Karnac, 2005); and Christopher Bollas, “The Wisdom of the Dream,” in The Christopher Bollas Reader, 249–58 (London: Routledge, 2011).

4. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 507. In his 1923 paper “Remarks on the Theory and Practice of Dream Interpretation,” Freud also warns analysts against the lure of trying to uncover the latent content at the expense of attending to the dream-work, the particular formal transformations that the dream performs. Sigmund Freud, “Remarks on the Theory and Practice of Dream Interpretation,” Standard Edition 19 (1923): 112.

5. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 135.

6. Of course, totalitarian governments have always found various ways to “disappear” individuals and groups deemed undesirable, whether through purification laws (such as the racial policies in Nazi Germany) or individually targeted political exile (such as Madame Germaine de Staël’s banishment from France during Napoleon’s reign).

7. Jenny Edkins, Face Politics (London: Routledge, 2015).

8. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 144.

9. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998); Jacques Derrida, “The Force of Law: ‘The Mystical Foundation of Authority,’” Cardozo Law Review 11 (1990): 920–1046; Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, 2 vols., ed. Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud, trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009–2011).

10. In Truth and Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer outlines how the noun Erlebnis, in the first instance, means “to be alive when something happens” and thus speaks to the sense of proximity and immediacy—something that one has experienced for oneself. But the form das Erlebte also refers to a sense of sustained insight that is achieved as a result of the immediate experience: “Something becomes an ‘experience’ not only insofar as it is experienced, but insofar as its being experienced makes a special impression that gives it lasting importance.” Erlebnis, therefore, refers to a kind of defining moment, an exceptional experience that is nevertheless tied to the everyday, which, in turn, is folded back to fertilize a larger, historical understanding of a life. Phenomenologists privilege this category of lived experience because it captures a sense of immediacy that precedes the more rationalized processes of description. See Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), 55–56.

11. Christopher Bollas’s term, the “unthought known,” refers to unconscious knowledge that is not emotionally digested enough to be able to be consciously “thought.” See Bollas, The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis and the Unthought Known (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).

12. Didier Anzieu, The Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Self, trans. Chris Turner (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989). As mentioned earlier, I am condensing a particular strand of psychoanalytic theory that has theorized dream-work as a process of thinking that is akin to “working through.” This approach modifies Freud’s thinking about symbolization. Whereas Freud had a somewhat rigid sense of symbol formation—he imagined a constancy of the relationship between the symbol and what it represents—later analysts emphasize symbolic function: what the particular use of the symbol allows in terms of psychological development.

13. Hannah Segal wrote extensively on the subject of dreaming and symbol formation. Two important papers include “Notes on Symbol Formation,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1957), and “The Function of Dreams,” both reprinted in Work of Hanna Segal.

14. Mandela, Conversations with Myself (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010).

A Discourse That Acts

1. Freud elaborated his thoughts about the function of words as a complex presentation that combines auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic elements in Appendix C of “The Unconscious,” Standard Edition 14 (1915): 209–15.

2. See Sándor Ferenczi, “To Whom Does One Relate One’s Dream?” (1912), reprinted in Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-analysis, 349 (London: Hogarth Press, 1950), and Ferenczi, “Dreams of the Unsuspecting” (1916–17), reprinted ibid., 346–48.

3. Masud Khan, “The Use and Abuse of Dream in Psychic Experience” (1972), reprinted in The Privacy of the Self, 306–15 (New York: International Universities Press, 1974).

4. Pontalis, Frontiers in Psychoanalysis, 28.

5. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, xxiiv.

6. Masud Khan, “Dream Psychology and the Evolution of the Psychoanalytic Situation” (1962), reprinted in Privacy of the Self, 27–41; Khan, “The Use and Abuse of Dream in Psychic Experience” (1972), reprinted ibid., 306–15; and Khan, “The Changing Use of Dreams in Psychoanalytic Practice,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 57 (1976): 325–30.

7. Khan, “Use and Abuse of Dream,” 314.

8. Khan, “Changing Use of Dreams,” 328.

9. Pontalis, Frontiers in Psychoanalysis, 33.

10. Ibid., 37.

11. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 496–97.

12. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962).

13. From the address Nelson Mandela made to the ANC (Transvaal) Congress, September 21, 1953. Available online at

14. Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom, trans. Bridget McDonald (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), 8.

15. Mandela, Conversations with Myself, 350.

Dreaming as a Practice of Freedom

1. Verne Harris, introduction to Mandela, Conversations with Myself, xv.

2. Philip Holden, Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity, and the Nation-State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008).

3. Richard Stengel, Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage (New York: Crown, 2010), 16. See also Nadine Gordimer, Living in Hope and History (London: Bloomsbury, 1999), and Daniel Roux, “Mandela Writing/Writing Mandela,” in The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela, 205–23 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

4. Shortly before his death in 1984, Foucault spoke of an idea for a new book on “technologies of the self.” He gave several lectures on the topic, including a seminar presented at the University of Vermont in fall 1982. A partial record of the seminar is published in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton (London: Tavistock, 1988).

5. Michel Foucault, “The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom,” in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: New Press, 1997), 283–84.

6. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 624–25.

7. Achilles Tatius, The Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon, cited in Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self, vol. 3 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1988), 5.

8. Foucault, Care of the Self, 35.

9. Mandela kept a series of desk calendars on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons, which run from 1976 to 1989. These particular entries are reprinted in Mandela, Conversations with Myself, 267–68. The calendars and other items can be viewed at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory,

Dream Matters

1. Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), viii. As Arendt acknowledges, “dark times” is a phrase borrowed from Bertolt Brecht’s poem “To Posterity.” Scott Horton provides an original translation and discussion of Brecht’s poem on Harper’s Blog, January 15, 2008,