The Concept of Dread (Anxiety) : 1844: Søren Kierkegaard

by Julia Evans on June 17, 1844

Originally published as:

THE CONCEPT OF DREAD: A simple psychological deliberation oriented in the direction of the dogmatic problem of original sin

By Vigilius Haufniensis

Copenhagen. To be had from the University Bookseller C. A. Reitzel

Printed by Bianco Luno’s Press 1844 [June 17]

A note:

In Walter Lowrie’s 1957 translation, Kierkegaard’s title is translated as ‘The concept of dread’.  I prefer this translation of L’Angoisse, as in Seminar X, to the usual one of Anxiety.  See dictionary definition at the end of this text.  

{‘The Concept of Dread’ trans. by Walter Lowrie, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1957. In Wikipedia here.}

From e-publication:

To read, translated by Walter Lowrie, here

Or published as:

The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin (Kierkegaard’s Writings, Volume 8) by Søren Kierkegaard, Reidar Thomte (Editor), Albert B. Anderson (Editor)

Books description: A work that “not only treats of irony but is irony,” wrote a contemporary reviewer of The Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates. Presented here with Kierkegaard’s notes of the celebrated Berlin lectures on “positive philosophy” by F.W.J. Schelling, the book is a seedbed of Kierkegaard’s subsequent work, both stylistically and thematically. Part One concentrates on Socrates, the master ironist, as interpreted by Xenophon, Plato, and Aristophanes, with a word on Hegel and Hegelian categories. Part Two is a more synoptic discussion of the concept of irony in Kierkegaard’s categories, with examples from other philosophers and with particular attention given to A. W. Schlegel’s novel Lucinde as an epitome of romantic irony. The Concept of Irony and the Notes of Schelling’s Berlin Lectures belong to the momentous year 1841, which included not only the completion of Kierkegaard’s university work and his sojourn in Berlin, but also the end of his engagement to Regine Olsen and the initial writing of Either/Or.

Published February 1st 1981 by Princeton University Press (first published 1844)

References by Jacques Lacan to ‘The Concept of Dread (Anxiety)’

1.  Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955

Translated by Sylvana Tomaselli

With notes by John Forrester

Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller

Published as The Seminar of Jacques Lacan – Book II – The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis

Published: W. W. Norton & Co 1988

Seminar II: 26th January 1955: Introduction to the Entwurf:

Sub-headings: On the level of psychosomatic reactions; The real is without fissure; The rediscovery of the object: p100 op. cit.:

Apropos of states of desire, what Freud puts into play is the correspondence etween the object which appears and the structures already constituted in the ego. He stresses the following 0 either what appears is what is expected and that isn’t in the least interesting, for any kind of construction of the object world is always an attempt to rediscover the object, Wiederzufinden [Footnote: See SE I 329 (JE notes: Probably – Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950 [1895]). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I ( 1886-1899))  and GWII/III 572: Stud II 540; SEV 566] Freud distinguishes two completely different structurations of human experience – one which, along with Kierkegaard, I called ancient, based on reminiscence, presupposing agreement, harmony between man and the world of his objects, which means that he recognises them, because in some way, he has always known them – and, on the contrary, the conquest, the structuration of the world through the effort of labour, along the path of repetition. To the extent that what appears to him corresponds only partially with what has already gained him satisfaction, the subject engages in a quest, and repeats his quest indefinitely until he rediscovers this object.

See here  for a list of references to ‘The Concept of Dread’ within Seminar X.

2. Seminar XI: The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis: 1964

Published as: Jacques Lacan- The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis

Translated by Alan Sheridan

Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller

Published by Penguin Books 1977

2a) Seminar XI: 29th January 1964: Of the subject of certainty:

subheadings: Neither being, nor non-being; Finitude of desire; The elusive; The status of the unconscious is ethical; That all theory has to be revised; Freud, Cartesian; The desire of the hysteric; Chapter 3 op. cit.: p34:

What is the point, then, of sustaining the theory according to which the dream is the image of a desire with an example in which, in a sort of flamboyant reflection, it is precisely a reality which, incompletely transferred, seems here to be shaking the dreamer from his sleep? Why, if not to suggest a mystery that is simply the world of the beyond, and some secret or other shared by the father and the son who says to him, “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?” [See below for Freud’s text] What is he burning with, if not with that which we see emerging at other points designated by the Freudian topology, namely, the weight of the sins of the father, borne by the ghost in the myth of Hamlet, which Freud couples with the myth of Oedipus? The father, the Name-of-the-father, sustains the structure of desire with the structure of the law – but the inheritance of the father is that which Kierkegaard designates for us, namely, his sin.

From Interpretation of dreams: 1900: Sigmund Freud

Freud, S (1900): Ch 7: “The psychology of the dream processes”. In, The Interpretation of Dreams: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Translated by James Strachey: Volume 4&5: London: The Hogarth Press.

Note: Last chapter of Sigmund Freud’s ‘The Interpretation of dreams’ 1900 available here

Index of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams': Vol 4 of the Standard Edition

    (A) The Relation of Dreams to Waking Life 7
    (B) The Material of Dreams—Memory in Dreams 11
    (C) The Stimuli and Sources of Dreams 22
      (1) External Sensory Stimuli 23
      (2) Internal (Subjective) Sensory Excitations 30
      (3) Internal Organic Somatic Stimuli 33
      (4) Psychical Sources of Stimulation 39
    (D) Why Dreams are Forgotten after Waking 43
    (E) The Distinguishing Psychological Characteristics of Dreams 48
    (F) The Moral Sense in Dreams 66
    (G) Theories of Dreaming and its Function 75
    (H) The Relations between Dreams and Mental Diseases 88
    Postscript, 1909 93
    Postscript, 1914 95
    (A) Recent and Indifferent Material in Dreams 165
    (B) Infantile Material as a Source of Dreams 189
    (C) The Somatic Sources of Dreams 220
    (D) Typical Dreams 241
      (α) Embarrassing Dreams of Being Naked 242
      (β) Dreams of the Death of Persons of whom the Dreamer is Fond 248
      (γ) Other Typical Dreams 271
      (δ) Examination Dreams 273
    (A) The Work of Condensation 279
    (B) The Work of Displacement 305
    (C) The Means of Representation in Dreams(D) Considerations of Representability(E) Representation by Symbols in Dreams – Some Further Typical Dreams(F)  Some Examples – Calculations and Speeches in dreams(G)  Absurd Dreams – Intellectual activity in dreams

(H)  Affects in Dreams

(I)   Secondary Revision


(A) The Forgetting of Dreams

(B) Regression

(C) Wish-Fulfilment

(D)  Arousal in Dreams – The Function of Dreams – Anxiety-Dreams

(E)  The Unconscious and Consciousness – Reality

Appendix: List of Writings by Freud dealing predominantly or largely with Dreams


Index of Dreams



Among the dreams which have been communicated to me by others, there is one which is at this point especially worthy of our attention. It was told me by a female patient who had heard it related in a lecture on dreams. Its original source is unknown to me. This dream evidently made a deep impression upon the lady, since she went so far as to imitate it, i.e., to repeat the elements of this dream in a dream of her own; in order, by this transference, to express her agreement with a certain point in the dream.

The preliminary conditions of this typical dream were as follows: A father had been watching day and night beside the sick-bed of his child. After the child died, he retired to rest in an adjoining room, but left the door ajar so that he could look from his room into the next, where the child’s body lay surrounded by tall candles. An old man, who had been installed as a watcher, sat beside the body, murmuring prayers. After sleeping for a few hours the father dreamed that the child was standing by his bed, clasping his arm and crying reproachfully: “7father, don’t you see that I am burning?” The father woke up and noticed a bright light coming from the adjoining room. Rushing in, he found that the old man had fallen asleep, and the sheets and one arm of the beloved body were burnt by a fallen candle.

The meaning of this affecting dream is simple enough, and the explanation given by the lecturer, as my patient reported it, was correct. The bright light shining through the open door on to the sleeper’s eyes gave him the impression which he would have received had he been awake: namely, that a fire had been started near the corpse by a falling candle. It is quite possible that he had taken into his sleep his anxiety lest the aged watcher should not be equal to his task.

We can find nothing to change in this interpretation; we can only add that the content of the dream must be overdetermined, and that the speech

of the child must have consisted of phrases which it had uttered while still alive, and which were associated with important events for the father. Perhaps the complaint, “I am burning,” was associated with the fever from which the child died, and “7father, don’t you see?” to some other affective occurrence unknown to us.


VII B. Regression

Now that we have defended ourselves against the objections raised, or have at least indicated our weapons of defence, we must no longer delay entering upon the psychological investigations for which we have so long been preparing. Let us summarize the main results of our recent investigations: The dream is a psychic act full of import; its motive power is invariably a wish craving fulfilment; the fact that it is unrecognizable as a wish, and its many peculiarities and absurdities, are due to the influence of the psychic censorship to which it has been subjected during its formation. Besides the necessity of evading the censorship, the following factors have played a part in its formation: first, a need for condensing the psychic material; second, regard for representability in sensory images; and third (though not constantly), regard for a rational and intelligible exterior of the dream-structure. From each of these propositions a path leads onward to psychological postulates and assumptions. Thus, the reciprocal relation of the wish-motives, and the four conditions. as well as the mutual relations of these conditions, must now be investigated; the dream must be inserted in the context of the psychic life.

At the beginning of this section we cited a certain dream in order that it might remind us of the problems that are still unsolved. The interpretation of this dream (of the burning child) presented no difficulties, although in the analytical sense it was not given in full. We asked ourselves why, after all, it was necessary that the father should dream instead of waking, and we recognized the wish to represent the child as living as a motive of the dream. That there was yet another wish operative in the dream we shall be able to show after further discussion. For the present, however, we may say that for the sake of the wish-fulfilment the thought-process of sleep was transformed into a dream.

If the wish-fulfilment is cancelled out, only one characteristic remains which distinguishes the two kinds of psychic events. The dream-thought would have been: “I see a glimmer coming from the room in which the body is lying. Perhaps a candle has fallen over, and the child is burning!” The dream reproduces the result of this reflection unchanged, but represents it in a situation which exists in the present and is perceptible by the senses like an experience of the waking state. This, however, is the most common and the most striking psychological characteristic of the dream; a thought, usually the one wished for, is objectified in the dream, and represented as a scene, or – as we think – experienced.

But how are we now to explain this characteristic peculiarity of the dream-work, or – to put it more modestly – how are we to bring it into relation with the psychic processes?

Further references:

A)  Marino, Gordon D. “Anxiety in The Concept of Anxiety.”

in The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard. Eds. Alastair Hannay and Gordon Daniel Marino. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Cambridge Collections Online. Cambridge University Press. 11 April 2012. Probably available here

Content according to web-page:

The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard: Chapter 12 Anxiety in The Concept of Anxiety: Gordon D. Marino


The Concept of Anxiety is a maddeningly difficult book. In one of the most lucid commentaries on this short tract, Arne Gron has suggested that the book is too difficult; in other words, it could have profited from another rewrite. In one of the central images of The Concept of Anxiety, anxiety is likened to dizziness. One reader of Kierkegaard has commented that the book attempts to evoke the very dizziness that it describes. Another prominent Kierkegaard scholar insists that the book is simply a spoof, devoid of any serious psychological insight. While I disagree with this scholar’s assessment, I sympathize with his judgment that The Concept of Anxiety has elements of farce.

B.  The Concept of Dread Reviewed by Abraham Myerson: American Journal of Psychiatry 1945: Vol 101, No 6: p 839-839: pdf available here

C. Dictionary definition of Dread: From, here

dread (drd)v. dread·ed, dread·ing, To be in terror of.2. To anticipate with alarm, distaste, or reluctance: dreaded the long drive home.3. Archaic To hold in awe or reverence.v.intr.To be very afraid.


1. Profound fear; terror.

2. Fearful or distasteful anticipation. See Synonyms at fear.

3. An object of fear, awe, or reverence.

4. Archaic Awe; reverence.


1. Causing terror or fear: a dread disease.

2. Inspiring awe: the dread presence of the headmaster.

[Middle English dreden, short for adreden, from Old English adr[æ]dan, from ondr[æ]dan, to advise against, fear : ond-, and-, against; see un-2 + r[æ]dan, to advise; see ar- in Indo-European roots.]



Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in Earl’s Court, London


Further posts:

Lacanian Transmission here

Some Lacanian history here

Of the clinic here

By Søren Kierkegaard here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Jacques Lacan in English or here

Translation Working Group here

Use of power here