R. Gray

German 390/Comp Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Study Questions:

Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents


1) Freud proposes a radical reevaluation of the value of culture and civilization. Instead of representing a pact or contract that provides human beings with security, he regards civilization as one of our greatest sources of unhappiness, the "discontent" he at one point designates as "cultural frustration." How can one explain (psychologically) this purported hostility to civilization? Can you think of examples that speak for or against Freud's thesis?


2) In Civilization Freud makes a sustained argument for the role of "guilt" in our psychic lives, and he goes to great pains to distinguish "guilt" from "remorse." What is the basis of this distinction? In other words, how is remorse different from guilt? And why is it that guilt, or guilty feelings, play such a major role in our psychic lives?


3) Freud is known for his emphasis—some might say exaggerated emphasis—on sexual and erotic impulses in our psychic lives. But in Civilization he moves off in a very different direction, suggesting that we are driven not only by erotic impulses, but also by aggressive instincts, which he associates with "Thanatos," or the death drive. How can we explain this dramatic shift of direction in his theory? Do you think this revision makes the position of Freudian psychoanalysis seem more plausible? Or are you inclined to reject the idea of an aggressive (death) instinct?


4) In Civilization Freud theorizes that the origin of social bonding derives from the conspiracy of the band of brothers against the dominance and tyranny of the primitive father. The brothers join forces—renounce their instinctual hostilities—in order to pool their energies against the all-powerful father. Draw out some of the implication of this theory for the nature of "civilization" and human social interactions. Does this theory have analogues in other Freudian theories we have become acquainted with?


5) In Civilization Freud revisits the notion of the pleasure principle and provides an expanded theory of how it operates. In this context he discusses the so-called "palliative methods" that help us deal with the pains inherent in life. He places these in 3 categories: deflections; substitute satisfactions; intoxication. What might be examples for each of these categories? Which strategies hold out the most promise for providing long-term increments of pleasure, or for building the strongest barriers against displeasure?


6) Freud presents arguments in Civilization both against the Christian doctrine of "Love thy neighbor" and against what he views as the psychologically na•ve position of communism. Can one defend the hypothesis that Freudian theory provides a psychological justification for the dog-eat-dog, radically competitive world of modern capitalism? What speaks for or against this hypothesis?