While memes have been implicated in a loosening of the boundary between illusion and reality during the rise of Trumpism and the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been afforded scarce attention from a psychoanalytic perspective. This essay proposes that Sigmund Freud's language on dream-work can be used to describe the psychical work that these digital items effect. If Freud's terms identify the operations by which unconscious fantasies are inscribed in certain cultural artefacts, their resonance with memetic characteristics suggests that the meme may be a privileged form for investigating the mass mediation of group dynamics. Drawing on the work of psychoanalysts such as Stephen Mitchell, Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, René Kaës, and Didier Anzieu, this text explores how their theoretical frameworks might enrich a conceptualization of the role that memes play within the psychic life of groups.

Author notes

∗ Thanks to Mignon Nixon, Juliet Mitchell, Hal Foster, and Mark Offord for their invaluable comments on various drafts of this text.