“…the fabric serving as a sort of touchstone…”

Lynley wrote at slaphappylarry.com on 17.8.16:


Although this is an original tale published by Hans Christian Andersen rather than one based on the oral tradition, Andersen still borrows a lot from the oral tradition. So it feels almost like it might have been an older tale.

Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor, 1335), a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled “So ist der Lauf der Welt”.


“The Emperor’s New Clothes has been translated into over 100 languages, inspired lots of other stories, become a metaphor for lack of substance, and is known around the world.

Sigmund Freud used “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as an example when discussing a common dream — the dreamer is naked and ashamed; onlookers are not bothered. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud basically argues that nakedness corresponds to exhibitionism:

The dreamer’s embarrassment and the spectator’s indifference [towards the dreamer’s dreamed nakedness] constitute a contradiction such as often occurs in dreams. It would be more in keeping with the dreamer’s feelings if the strangers were to look at him in astonishment, or were to laugh at him, or be outraged. I think, however, that this obnoxious feature has been displaced by wish-fulfilment while the embarrassment is for some reason retained, so that the two components are not in agreement. We have an interesting proof that the dream which is partially distorted by wish-fulfilment has not been properly understood; for it has been made the basis of a fairy tale familiar to us all in Andersen’s version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and it has more recently received poetical treatment by Fulda in “The Talisman”. In Andersen’s fairy tale we are told of two impostors who weave a costly garment for the Emperor, which shall, however be visible only to the good and true. The Emperor goes forth clad in this invisible garment, and since the imaginary fabric serves as a sort of touchstone, the people are frightened into behaving as though they did not notice the Emperor’s nakedness.”

But in The Forgotten Language, Erich Fromm counters Freud’s interpretation, because nakedness can mean many things other than exhibitionism:

Being clothed can stand for the expressions of thoughts and feelings which others expect us to have while they actually are not ours. The naked body can thus symbolise the real self; the clothes can symbolise the social self that feels and thinks in terms of the current cultural pattern. If someone dreams of being naked, the dream may express his wish to be himself, to give up pretence, and his embarrassment in the dream may reflect the fear he has of the disapproval of others if he dares to be himself.

Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language” “

*John Forrester writes in Dispatches from the Freud Wars: Psychoanalysis and Its Passions (1997):

[(Amazon.co.uk): “Concluding that Freud is a barometer for understanding how different lives are conducted, *the author asks questions central to the pyschoanalytical century’s ways of thinking and living. Freud’s importance is emphasized in a text that explores dreams, history, ethics and political theory.”]

“…Derrida has very astutely drawn attention to the fact that the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” with which Freud illustrates his account of dreams of nakedness, of exhibitionism, is, in its logic of revealing and concealing, of being naked but surrounded by (invisible) clothes, exactly the allegory of the veiling and unveiling of truth with which Freud struggles and which he attempts to master…”

From the Editor’s Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950 [1895] ), tr. James Strachey:

“…but on October 20 (Letter 32) there is an outburst of much greater optimism: ‘In the course of a busy night…the barriers were suddenly raised, the veils fell away, and it was possible to see through from the details of the neuroses to the determinants of consciousness. Everything seemed to fit in together, the gears were in mesh, the thing gave one the impression that it was really a machine and would soon run of itself…”

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