German 390/Comp. Lit. 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298
"Freud and the Literary Imagination"
Lecture Notes: Civilization and Its Discontents
II. Re-Articulation of the Pleasure Principle
A. Double-sided nature of the pleasure principle:
B. Palliative Measures: Strategies that help us avoid life’s miseries:
Typical responses to this need for pleasure and protection from displeasure:
1) retreat, asceticism, life of the "monk"; killing off the instincts;
2) go on the attack = the person of action, the politician, reformer, etc.; controlling the instincts;
3) displacement or sublimation = finding pleasure through substitute sources over which one has better control, such as scientific work, scholarship, etc.; substitute satisfactions, exchanging inhibited avenue for one more easily achieved;
4) escape into illusions = fantasy, religion, drugs, etc.;
5) adopting an "aesthetic" attitude = cultivating a love of beauty (essentially another substitutive satisfaction), art; a particular mode for finding satisfaction = finding what is beautiful in the world, seeing the "positive" side of everything;
6) embracing or transforming the world, turning to philanthropy and other forms of caritative engagement with the world and society = turning Eros into Caritas, general love and care for humanity; working to improve reality so that it generates fewer possibilities of displeasure for all.
III. Civilization: Learning to "sip" rather than "guzzle"!
CIVILIZATION: strategy for renouncing powerful individual pleasures whose occurrence is unpredictable and sporadic in favor of more constant but less intensive pleasures. Instead of being "episodic" and appearing by chance, pleasure can be managed and controlled--like having a full cupboard or pantry to which you can turn whenever you have a need to be stilled.
In the economy of pleasure, we sacrifice intensity (binge drinking!) in favor of more limited but constant pleasures.
EXCESS GIVES WAY TO MODERATION. (See Freud Reader 740)
Civilization itself as a mechanism or tactic for the re-distribution of pleasure;
-- not only in economy of individual pleasure, but also
-- more equal distribution of pleasure among individuals;
-- demands compromises in our innate ego-centrism. (Freud Reader 752)
We learn both to SHARE and to HOARD for later use.
IV. The Three Sources of Human Suffering
V. Civilization as a Source of Our Unhappiness, Our Malaise or Discontent
1) What is the purpose of civilization?
a. It protects humans from nature, provides a line of defense
b. It adjusts and regulates the mutual relations among human beings; it establishes conventions for our organization and interaction.
c. But aside from these more pragmatic, utilitarian aspects, civilization also promotes things that seems useless: e.g. beauty (art), order, rules of cleanliness, etc. In short, civilization also produces "luxuries." It enhances the "quality of life."
2) What are the negative aspects of civilization that cause it to produce unhappiness?
a. The power of the individual is sacrificed to the power of the group; strong individuals find that they are marginalized and must make greater concessions. (Here Freud alludes to a prominent Nietzschean thematic: the subordination of the powerful individual to the norm of a morality sanctioned by the weak for their own protection.)
b. Civilization diminishes the liberty and freedom of the individual. We mistakenly believe that social institutions promote and protect our liberties, but in fact they limit them and hence are the cause of considerable displeasure.
c. The conditions of civilization demand from us renunciation of instinct; as we know from Freud's theory, this is the most difficult thing for human beings to do because we are inherently egocentric and driven toward the satisfaction of our instincts. Moreover, Freud believes these renunciations can come back to haunt us; they can recur in pathological forms as the "return of the repressed."
d. Civilization places limitations on sexuality; it not only dictates what forms of sexual expression are "permissible," and censors all others, but it even places strict restrictions on the forms of sexuality it allows. E.g., society insists on monogamy, faithfulness to a single partner, it limits sexual expression according to gender roles, etc.
Bottom line: When humans enter into social bonds and the strictures of civilization, they sacrifice a portion of their happiness in the interest of greater security. Note how this is essentially an economic decision: we trade immediate gratification for long-term stability. In other words, we renounce pleasure in one large and intensive "payment" and opt instead for pleasure on the installment plan, spread out in smaller increments over a longer period of time.
According to Freud, all of this leads to a sense of what he calls "cultural frustration": we feel inhibited, limited by our accession to culture. What civilization and the management of our drives and instincts offers us, in short, is a greater degree of predictability, and this helps compensate for the renunciations we have to make.
VI. How Does Civilization Emerge?
B. Eros and Thanatos, Love and Death, Affection and Aggression
1) Freud revises his theory of the instincts; where he had previously focused primarily on libidinal drives (Eros), he now acknowledges what he calls the "aggressive instinct," which he associates with the god of death, Thanatos. Freud had earlier opposed those who postulated the existence of an aggressive instinct and resisted the acceptance of this notion; in his later writings (after WWI), however, he reluctantly comes to accept this hypothesis.
fragmentation, dissolution of bonds
love and "caritas"
drive for integration
war of all against all
2) Freud conceives of civilization–in parallel to his conception of the individual psyche–as a product of the struggle between these two fundamental instincts. Civilization itself, thus, is "conflicted," the product of antagonistic drives and impulses. The types of civilization that arise can reflect different blends of these two drives, so that societies themselves, or cultures, might be seen to have a particular or peculiar psychologically determined "character."
VII. The Aggressive Instinct and the Generation of the Super-Ego
A. Freud returns in the context of the aggressive instinct to his deliberations on the super-ego and contemplates three different possible developmental origins for this psychic agency whose sole purpose (as conscience) is the discipline and punishment of the ego.
1) The super-ego represents the introjection into the psyche of an external authority figure, especially the father or the parents in general. This thesis is consistent with what Freud theorizes in the context of his discussion of the Oedipus complex and its dissolution.
2) The super-ego develops as the internalization of those aggressive instincts that one cannot successfully turn outward.
-- The economy of the psyche demands that instincts can never be dispelled but only diverted or re-directed. Since civilization forces us to check and repress our aggressive instinct, those instinctual impulses that are suppressed are turned against the ego itself. These internally directed aggressions become the basis for the super-ego and its ego-punishment.
-- The more aggression that is diverted inward, the greater the power of the super-ego becomes. That explains why often those who are least inclined to immoral acts are also those who are most severely punished by their own conscience.
-- Note that for Freud all drive are bi-directional, can be either externally or internally oriented; those impulses that can not be directed against outside objects can be turned inward against the self, and vice versa.
3) Freud admits that these 2 possibilities seems potentially contradictory. To suspend this contradiction he suggests that the first and second reflexes are actually both operative and work in tandem with one another, making the super-ego even more powerful. He then suggests that it is perhaps not so much introjection of external authority, as in thesis 1, whose introjection explains the relationship between the ego and external disciplinary figures, but perhaps simply the aggression the ego senses against the father (or parents) that cannot be directed at its true object, and hence turns inward against the ego, that is responsible for this relationship. Thus Freud essentially fuses thesis 1 and thesis 2 to form thesis 3 about the generation of the super-ego. It arises both from introjection of external authority and from the internalization of aggression against that authority.
For a graphic that depicts the growth of the super-ego based on these 3 sources, click here.
B. The Super-Ego and the Sense of "Guilt".
1) The theory of the super-ego explains why we feel guilty not only for misdeeds we actually commit, but for the simple intention of committing some misdeed, without ever carrying through on this intention.
-- Guilt is produced by the super-ego as that internal psychic control mechanism that serves the interests of civilization by suppression our aggressive instincts.
-- We feel guilty for the very wish or desire to do evil.
2) We must distinguish remorse from guilt. Remorse we feel after committing some unacceptable deed. Guilt does not require action, but merely the thought or intention of carrying out that act. Remorse is after the fact; guilt is before, or in absence of the fact.
3) Freud concludes by asking why our dissatisfaction with civilization, which inhibits our instinctual life and ultimately becomes, in the form of the super-ego, our most severe tyrant and taskmaster, expresses itself merely as a vague feeling of malaise.
-- His answer: Because it is a form of psychic anxiety, and like all anxiety it is unconscious, not recognized or even recognizable directly, because it is repressed and censored.
4) The price of human accession to civilization, according to Freud, is thus that we become civilized at the price of sacrificing a degree of our egoistic happiness and succumbing to a pervasive sense of guilt. This is what constitutes our "discontent" with civilization, despite the obvious benefits it brings us.
VIII. Implications of and Critical Observations on this Theory
A. The conflict with civilization transforms our psyche into a masochistic mechanism bent on punishment and disciplining of the ego.
-- This distinguishes fundamentally the super-ego from its earlier theoretical formulations, such as the censoring mechanism of the "pre-conscious."
B. The super-ego is not an innate psychic agency, it is not an original part of the psyche at birth. It is not given a priori, as are the unconscious (the id) and the ego.
-- The super-ego is a derivative psychic function, produced by the tensions between the individual ego and the disciplinary mechanisms of the society with which it must interact.
C. This tends to de-universalize Freud’s theory, since the super-ego is not a universally uniform psychic agency, as are id and ego, but rather a psychic construct that varies according to the societal context with which it is confronted.
D. This suggests—and perhaps this is what Freud means when he talks briefly at the conclusion of Civilization about "cultural neuroses"—that different types of societies will produce different forms of super-egos. For example: Has the U.S. become a "paranoid" society after 9/11? What about things like Nazi Germany, with the "Gestapo"? Can such an oppressive institution transform the social super-ego, maker it more "repressive"? The "roaring 20s" as a pleasure-seeking society?