R. Gray

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

Freud and the Literary Imagination

 

The Aggressive Instinct and the Generation of the Super-Ego

(Civilization and Its Discontents)

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.

 

3) Freud admits that these 2 possibilities seem 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, that 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.

 

The Super-Ego and the Sense of “Guilt”

 

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 suppressing our aggressive instincts.
–We feel guilty for the very wish or desire to do evil.