Civilization and Its Discontents
Civilization from the Perspectives of Freud and Sarmiento
Sigmund Freud’s essay, “Civilization and its Discontents”, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s book, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, both make bold and thought-provoking statements about their respective societies and contemporary civilization. Although Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas appear similar at first, the split between their notions of civilization grows noticeably wider as their works are more closely compared. This is mostly due to the disparity in their motivations for studying civilizations. Sarmiento, an Argentine statesman and revolutionary, wants to educate his countrymen about the benefits of civilized, cultured life as opposed to the barbaric ways of the Argentine gauchos and caudillos. In contrast, Freud scientifically analyzes civilization for the sake of gaining an understanding of the human psychological makeup. Sarmiento’s claims about civilization appear to only serve his own political needs. They are based on false assumptions and contain numerous contradictions, which is especially evident when Sarmiento is compared to Freud, who bases his interpretations of human society solely on fundamental human instincts and clear logic. Thus, Freud’s arguments are more plausible and more firmly grounded than those put forth by Sarmiento.Freud explicitly defines civilization as “the whole sum of the achievements and the regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes-namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations.” In essence, a civilization is a community of people that works together in order to create a sophisticated means for easier survival. This includes the study of the sciences, especially medicine, in order to allow for disease treatment and prevention. Also, in order for the community to function properly, rules or laws must be established to govern the relations between individuals. These concepts are echoed in Sarmiento’s writing. Although he never truly defines civilization, there are several concepts that Sarmiento continuously associates with civilized society. These are mentioned when he speaks of the decline of civilization due to the rule of the caudillos and gauchos: “In San Luis, for the past ten years there has been only one priest, and there is no school or even one person who wears a tailcoat.” He continues by outlining a similar situation in San Juan. “Only three young people are studying outside the province. There is only one doctor native to San Juan. There are not three young people who know English, or four who know French.” Apparently, Sarmiento sees civilization as a community in which education, medicine, religion, and European culture thrive. A group of people without these properties is considered barbaric. Both Freud and Sarmiento stress the importance of technological and cultural advancement in their definitions of civilization. The two authors describe civilization similarly, but Freud provides a much more rigorous and lucid account. On the other hand, Sarmiento, who uses vague language in comparison to Freud, essentially describes civilization as European society, which makes his definition narrower and less applicable.The ambiguous language that Sarmiento utilizes creates certain contradictions throughout his text. For example, in describing the history of the Argentine revolution, he states, “In the Argentine Republic before 1810, there were two distinct, rival, and incompatible societies, two diverse civilizations: one Spanish, European, cultured, and the other barbarous, American, almost indigenous.” Sarmiento certainly makes a clear distinction between the civilized and the barbaric. In fact, his description of the cultured, European society acts as a condensed version of his definition of civilization, which was discussed previously. However, he designates both cultured societies and barbaric societies as “civilizations.” This is a problem because throughout the remainder of his book, Sarmiento uses the word “civilization” to refer to educated, cultured societies. He refers to barbarism as simply a primitive way of life that is separate from civilization. As a result of this imprecise language, Sarmiento’s idea of civilization becomes blurred to the reader. It is entirely possible that the confusing wording is a product of the translation of the text into English. Nonetheless, it makes Sarmiento’s notions about civilization appear fuzzy and almost careless, especially when compared to Freud’s meticulous descriptions.Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas about civilization begin to differ in the discussion of what factors threaten civilization and where these factors originate. Freud emphasizes repeatedly that the greatest threat to human civilization is the aggressive nature of human beings. In other words, people are not naturally kind or generous, which guarantees conflicts when a group of individuals live closely together in a community. These often-violent confrontations have the potential to destroy civilization. In fact, Freud makes the point that one of the most important tasks in a successful society is the control of human aggressiveness and tendency towards violence. Sarmiento believes that the greatest threat to civilization is barbarism, which he essentially depicts as the opposite of civilization. Sarmiento describes the decline of Argentine cities towards barbarism by stating: “with the spirit, government, and civilization of the cities dominated, the final formation of the central, unitarist, despotic government of the rancher Don Juan Manuel Rosas, who sticks the gaucho’s knife into cultured Buenos Aires and destroys the work of centuries, of civilization, law, and liberty.” Sarmiento uses the name “Rosas” synonymously with “barbarism”, since Rosas was the leader of the caudillos and gauchos who held authoritarian control over Argentine cities throughout the early 19th century. Sarmiento gainfully utilizes the imagery of the gaucho’s knife in order to show the aggressive, violent, and barbaric methods employed by Rosas during his control of Argentina. While it first appears that Freud and Sarmiento have the same outlook on the threats to civilizations, their ideas are actually fundamentally different. They both believe that aggressiveness is the main threat, but Freud refers to internal aggressiveness while Sarmiento describes external aggressiveness as the menace to civilization. Freud makes it clear that every individual in society has a tendency towards violence, writing that “the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man.” These aggressive impulses, if not controlled or limited by society, can explode, leading to the destruction of civilization. On the other hand, Sarmiento believes that the threat to society lies in the violent ways of Rosas and his gaucho followers. He never acknowledges that cultured, European individuals have a natural tendency towards violence and destruction. Hence, while Freud and Sarmiento share in the belief that civilization is threatened by aggressiveness, their specific notions of this aggressiveness are quite different.The split between Freud’s and Sarmiento’s views on civilization continues to expand when both men express their ideas about the origins of aggressiveness. Freud takes the scientific viewpoint in describing these origins: throughout “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud makes numerous references to Darwinian theory and its consequences. Thus, it is clear that he believes aggression in human beings to be an integral part of their survival. In other words, humans must be instinctually aggressive in order to compete for food, shelter, and sexual partners, as outlined in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Sarmiento has a completely different view of the origins of aggressiveness. He believes that aggressiveness, namely the gaucho way of life, arises due a lack of education, isolation, and poor discipline. While describing the early development of a gaucho in Facundo, Sarmiento makes the point that the gaucho participates in few relations or activities with other people. This creates a feeling of restlessness in the gauchos. They begin to roam the plains of Argentina looking for any sort of excitement or action. They partake in dangerous horse racing, knife fighting, and gambling, fostering the fiercely competitive and aggressive gaucho character. Since these men are often not forced to answer to any type of authority, their aggressive and violent ways become uncontrollable due to their lack of discipline. Furthermore, since gauchos are not formally schooled, they cannot be taught the civilized way to live. Sarmiento, a pioneering educator himself, continuously advocates the importance of education for the advancement of society and for preventing individuals from developing the barbaric gaucho personality. He describes the inhabitants of San Juan: “how much they could progress if the government would concern itself with fomenting education and culture, the only means of raising the level of a people.” Apparently, Sarmiento feels that individuals can be taught that violence is wrong and can be led towards a more civilized way of life. If people do not receive this type of education, they become violent and aggressive like the gauchos. In attempting to support his claim, he states that crime in San Juan declined when “moral precepts were inculcated in students with special diligence.” Sarmiento refuses to acknowledge that violence is a natural tendency in human beings, but instead argues that it is a product of the lack of education and discipline in barbaric societies. Nonetheless, Freud’s position on the origin of aggressiveness is much more cohesive than Sarmiento’s because Freud’s argument is built on scientific evidence and basic human instincts, while Sarmiento’s claims are, essentially, his own observations and judgments.Naturally, since Freud’s and Sarmiento’s ideas about civilization are so different, it is not surprising that their insights into prospects for future civilizations are also diverse. Although Freud is careful not to adopt a strong opinion on what future civilizations will be like, his notions of civilization throughout the book suggests his viewpoint on the future. Throughout “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud explores the idea of the purpose of life and concludes, based on the pleasure principle, that happiness is the ambition for the majority of individuals. Hence, people created civilizations in order to bring about a more advanced society, which they thought would lead to greater happiness. However, as society became more advanced, the natural human instincts, namely aggressiveness and sexuality, became more repressed. Thus, Freud makes the point that people are less happy in advanced societies than they were in primitive societies. As a result, Freud implies that as civilization becomes even more advanced in the future, people will become less and less happy. Their stored and repressed aggressive instincts will come out through violence, and civilization will decline to a more primitive state.Sarmiento has the exact opposite view of civilization in the future. He believes that cultured society will eventually absorb the barbaric individuals of Argentina, namely the followers of Rosas, and civilization will flourish. Sarmiento describes Rosas’ control as, “an absurd, insupportable government that has not yet ceded to the impulse of the many forces that must, of necessity, bring its destruction.” Sarmiento implies that Rosas and his authoritarian system of control over Argentina is the only thing keeping the nation from becoming a great civilization. Once Rosas is defeated, Argentina can become a cultured, civilized society through widespread education and a democratic government. Although Sarmiento’s reasoning appears sound, there is one factor that he fails to consider. Sarmiento never considers whether a cultured, civilized society will lead to greater happiness than the primitive society embodied by the gaucho lifestyle. In fact, Sarmiento assumes that a more advanced society will lead to greater happiness, but this is not necessarily true as pointed out by Freud. For instance, since the gauchos enjoy their rural lifestyle, they see no appeal in an advanced civilization, since it does not bring them greater happiness. Sarmiento’s claims about the future of civilization therefore lack credibility because they are based on a faulty assumption.Sarmiento’s and Freud’s insights into civilization have contrary implications concerning politics and culture. Sarmiento looks forward to the day when Argentina will be controlled by a democratic political system. His views imply that, through a democratic government and high-quality education, the Argentine people will be able to create one of the most cultured and successful civilizations in the world. It is much more difficult to pinpoint what Freud’s arguments on civilization mean for politics. However, one can form an opinion by analyzing Freud’s view of communism: “In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness.” Freud is a strong opponent of communism because he believes that it cannot change human nature. Although greed is eliminated, the tendency towards aggressiveness is still present. Hence, Freud implies that no type of government exists that that can truly govern well, because no government can change human nature. In essence, a political system only needs to control the innate aggressiveness of human beings to keep the civilization together. There is no purpose in attempting to eliminate greed or other such factors since they are intertwined in human nature.In comparing the two views of civilization, one realizes that Sarmiento’s ideas contain contradictions and depend on suppositions that are not generally accurate. These issues make his assertions about civilization seem careless and unimportant. On the other hand, Freud forms his views based on objective, scientific evidence and lucid logic. Sarmiento never explains how he formulated his understanding of civilization at all. He merely uses his own observations and unsupported opinions to create an image of civilization that will benefit him in gaining popular support to defeat Rosas, an impetus that stems from personal interests. Not only are Sarmiento’s ideas narrower and thus less useful than Freud’s, but they are also difficult to believe because the fundamental assumptions supporting them are inaccurate. In conclusion, the two authors differ in their ideas on civilizations because their motivations are dissimilar. Sarmiento formed his ideas with the sole purpose of demonstrating Rosas’s barbarism and malevolence, while Freud hoped to further society’s understanding of the human psyche. Therefore, Freud’s account is much more objective, precise, and reliable than Sarmiento’s.
Freud’s “Anna O” and the Meaning of Private Theater
In the case history of Anna O., Freud’s coworker Breuer makes no mention of when Anna coins the phrase “private theatre.” The abstraction reveals in itself two distinct personalities, and thus a notable self-awareness. It cannot be that in the midst of a daydream, she described the experience, as then she would no longer be daydreaming. Nor does the thought seem haphazard. It is a most refined abstraction revealing at least a partial understanding of the nature of her fantasiesif not the nature of her disease. It is coherent and artful German, the product of intelligent reflection. It is a wonder both that she was capable of this level of understanding after three pages, and that Breuerand Freud’s invisible handnever tell us exactly how far they had traveled in order to arrive there.Since the case history hides the context, the only way to make sense of the phrase is by trusting Breuer’s explanation. He writes:”The girl, who was bubbling over with intellectual vitality, led an extremely monotonous existence in her puritanically-minded family. She embellished her life in a manner which probably influenced her decisively in the direction of her illness, by indulging in systematic day-dreaming, which she described as her private theatre.’ While everyone thought she was attending, she was living through fairy tales in her imagination… She pursued this activity almost continuously while she was engaged on her household duties, which she discharged unexceptionally…”The long quotation is the best path to understanding the relationship of the phrase to the patient. What emerges first is a world of opposites: “intellectual vitality” pitted against a “monotonous existence”; “fairy tales” against “attending”; “activity” against “household duties.” Thus “private theatre” is more than simply “day-daydreaming.” It is an escape from a specific setting, a fortress buttressed against her “puritanically minded family.” Yet her “household duties” are still “discharged.” Unlike the final “direction of her illness,” daydreaming is a silent and unnoticeable rebellion. At this point early on, the patient is “always on the spot when she was spoken to.” Daydreaming is so tempered an activity, shows such restraint, that Breuer calls it a mere “embellishing” of life, a game of solitaire played for the same purpose. Only later will she act as “naughty” as she “hallucinate[s].” For now, the affliction is artistic, not violent. Hence the phrase “private theatre,” as opposed to the public nuisance that it will become.Still, the phrase has not yielded up all of its meaning. Breuer likens the plays to “fairy tales,” an analogy that strips the phrase of its realism by emphasizing vividness: a play is subject to rules that a fairy tale is not. Exact parody of real life is just as inessential, but a play is condemned to a stage whereon characters must move just as we do. Magic is possible, but dependent on the audience’s ability to abstract. On a stage, a frog cannot actually morph into a prince. In that sense, “private theatre” foreshadows the actual symptoms of Anna’s hysteria. This is a hint then that she daydreams of “throw[ing] the cushions at people,” of “tear[ing] buttons off her bedclothes,” since, of course, she cannot assume a supernatural prowess.If we put more pressure on the idea, we find that it is not clear whether Anna is the author or the audienceor, as is likelyboth. Indeed, she scripted the work in her unconscious and watches it in peak awareness. With her “great poetic and imaginative gifts,” Anna crafts plays that exist in some impossible realm, since a play is by definition public. It is a spectacle for everyone’s enjoyment. Thus a “private theatre” is an oxymoron as confusing as a “public diary.” This contradiction is perhaps the subtext of any work of art that the artist creates only for himself. In the case of a hysteric, however, the seats of the theatre must fill up. Like the suicide note that Dora hides in her desk for her father to find, the characters must speak their lines to someone, even if the delivery is so muddled that only a psychoanalyst can be a fair critic.Hysteria then is the means of making public that private theatre. Anna was visited by a compulsive need to act out her own characters. The curtain of her psyche was slowly raised and out came the fits, the coughing, the squinting, and the whole cast of symptoms no longer content to toil for the director’s eyes only. As Breuer says in his conclusion, “day-dreaming… prepared the ground upon which the affect of anxiety and dread was able to establish itself.” This implies that the greater the tension between the play and the reality, the greater the tendency to hysteria. Dora likewise suffers from the tyranny of the kitchen. “She was,” Freud writes, “on very bad terms with her mother, who was bent upon drawing her into taking a share in the work of the house.” She attended “lectures for women” in order to run away, it appears, from the call of the dishrag. Again, the two worlds are too far apart to cohere. From thence the hypnoid states take their cue. Now that the plays are for our viewing, the stories capture our attention. No longer does Anna “attend.” Instead she falls prey to “deafness brought on by being shaken” or by “fright at a noise.” Both plots have “origins” in Anna’s past. Both are reenactments. Dora too plays out events that had transpired years before, either in fact or fantasy. Thus if hysteria is theater, then only histories are on the playbill. “Hysterics,” Freud and Breuer teach us in their “Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena,” “suffer mainly from reminiscences.”Accordingly, the cure must establish a clear relationship between the memory and the rememberer, between the play and the playwright. Just as an artist may say of his most disturbing work, “I didn’t really write that” so too does a hysteric appeal to the unconscious principle,. “I didn’t really experience that.” Implicit in “private theatre” is Anna’s impossible belief that she has no part in the productions; theater is put on, always in the passive voice. The psychoanalytic method demands the absolute attribution of authorship, in daydreams, night dreams, and their physical expression, hysterical “scenes.”The means to that end is speech. Anna “talk[s] away” her hysteria. Exactly as her “poetic vein dr[ied] up” as a result of unfurling her stores, her symptoms disappeared after she explained their origin. The work of Freud and Breuer was to enable Anna to understand what each symptom represented, to explain the workings of the play to its creator. Needless to say, authors are notoriously resistant to criticism.There is, however, a catch to drawing out Anna’s metaphor as much as I have. How exactly is the concept of abreaction reconcilable to the model of private theater gone public? It would seem here that the director/playwright suddenly dissolves into his main character; the stage folds itself up; the audience is a part of the dialogue. “The particular symptom,” writes Breuer of Anna, “emerged with greater force while she was discussing it.” No longer does the memory prance about on the set, as the abreaction is by its nature a proportional reaction to the original occurrence. It is not so easy as to say this is merely the climax of the show, because abreaction is not a show.This problem is not simply the difficulty of achieving a literary trick. If Anna’s clever phrase is an apt description of her state as Breuer indicates, then we must be able to trace its application across the whole logic of hysteria. In “Mechanism,” Freud and Breuer argue that “if hypnoid states of this kind [e.g. private theater] are already present before the onset of the manifest illness, they provide the soil in which the affect plants the pathogenic memory.” If the “consequent somatic phenomena” were not analogous to a grown plant, then this particular conception of the mechanism of hysteria needs severe revision. Likewise, abreaction cannot undo our understanding of the theater of hysteria, or else Breuer is one more draft short of perfection.Is it fitting that the culmination of the treatment circumvents Anna’s metaphor? I believe the answer is in the question. The abreaction itself is entirely normal; it is, so to speak, a symptom of health. It is a reaction to the cause itself, as opposed to the twisted, unconscious memory of that cause. Thus it is not, nor should it be, on the stage of our psyche. At the end of treatment, the need to differentiate audience from actor from director vanishes, because the “talking cure” did away with the need to represent. “We may regard it as a second and theoretical aim to repair all the damages to the patient’s memory,” writes Freud. Thus psychoanalysis has reincorporated the story of the play into consciousness, thereby burning up the curtain.It might be argued that the hysteric retreats to “private theatre” exactly like the daydreamer since the language in both cases is private, whereas I have claimed that hysteria is the exteriorization of that intimate world. This is a semantic argument, rooted in the ambiguity of the word “public.” A quick reworking of the terminology clears up the confusion immediately. An escape into “private theatre” is, in all cases, a dress rehearsal.
Freud’s Dream Symbols and Jung’s Viewpoint
Actually – and I confess this to you with a struggle – I have a boundless admiration for you both as a man and a researcher, and I bear you no conscious grudge… My veneration for you has something of a “religious” crush.–Carl Jung, in a letter to Freud, 28 October 1907A transference on a religious basis would strike me as most disastrous; it could end only in apostasy, thanks to the universal human tendency to keep making new prints of the cliches we bear within us. I shall do my best to show you that I am unfit to be an object of worship.–Freud to Jung, 15 November 1907Sigmund Freud wrote copiously, though inconsistently, on the question of dream-symbolism. Picking his ideas apart will reveal their uncanny similarity to Jung’s work on the collective unconscious in dreaming. In that context, how might we understand the two thinkers in relation to another? But first, Freud’s use of the term symbol must be made clear.The manifest content is the stand-in for the latent content of a dream. Interpretation consists merely in replacing any manifest image by its determiner. Free association is the primary means of accomplishing this feat. This necessarily implies that any given dream object acts as the representative of an idea that the censorship has carefully blocked from consciousness. Following this logic, a reader ought to have little trouble calling any dream image a symbol.* The very first image Freud analyses lends itself to this all-embracing characterization:”The hall – numerous guests whom we were receiving. We were spending that summer at Bellevue, a house on one of the hills adjoining the Kahlenberg…On the previous day [before the dream] my wife had told me that she expected that a number of friends, including Irma, would be coming out to visit us on her birthday. My dream was thus anticipating this occasion.”In the dream itself there are no explicit references to Freud’s wife or to Bellevue. The hall calls up this group of ideas by association alone. The disparity between what is meant and what Freud actually sees in his sleep resolves itself easily enough into a formula: the hall is symbolic of the birthday party.This quick formula, however, seems to put a great deal of pressure on the idea of symbolism. The tension arises at first because a birthday party seems to be of so little importance. A symbol must, we tend to feel, designate some great event, a profound fraternity, a deep relationship; a cross, a flag, a lover’s lock of hair are the stuff of symbols. But this strict definition is too restrictive for psychoanalysis, which is in part the science of determining what exactly is important. Any page of Freud illustrates the insignificance of the concept of insignificance. Since a birthday party may weigh more heavily on a psyche than the Apocalypse, it is clear that a Freudian model of symbolism cannot reject a possible symbol on the grounds that it does not appear to matter enough to us. Freud himself might contend that the hall does not pass his litmus test for a symbol because it is not sexual in nature (though a hall certainly could be). Summarizing Section E (“Representation by Symbols”) of the chapter on the dream-work in the Interpretation of Dreams, he writes in On Dreams that there is only one method by which a dream which expresses erotic wishes can succeed in appearing innocently nonsexual in its manifest content…Unlike other forms of indirect representation, that which is employed in dreams must not be immediately intelligible. The modes of representation which fulfill these conditions are usually described as “symbols” of the things which they represent. This standard is inconsistent with his use of the term. In The Interpretation of Dreams, he points to luggage as symbolic of “a load of sin,” and earlier claims that Wilhelm Stekel has elucidated our understanding of the “symbolism of death.” According to Freud’s definition, the phrase “symbolism of death” is utterly incomprehensible, as all symbols are supposedly sexual. The other point Freud makes above, namely that symbols must “not be immediately intelligible,” is unintelligible itself in the context of his method. Some of the associations Freud makes are terrifically obscure at first glance. The “preparation of propionic acid,” does not prima facie suggest itself as symbolic of Freud’s “great prudence;” a great chain of associations is required before the dreamer is allowed to make that connection. Freud confesses that such a link may be the result of a “far-fetched and senseless chain of thought.” Therefore neither sexuality nor unintelligibility suffices to distinguish a symbol from any meaningful (representative) object in a dream.The last conceivable objection to the notion of the “symbolic hall” as featured in the Dream of Irma’s Injection is that this particular representation is not common enough to qualify as a symbol. Everyone knows what the Cross symbolizes, whereas only Freud knows the meaning of the hall. Indeed, the commonality or sheer popularity of a representation is what Freud assumes makes a symbol a symbol – despite his explicit writing to the contrary. There is no other possible explanation for the assertion that “rooms represent women” and “staircases or going upstairs represent sexual intercourse,” while the “propionic acid” achieves only the rank of a “substitution,” other than the fact that staircases and rooms work their magic on an almost universal scale.Freud, however, tries to make perfectly clear that some “symbols [are] constructed by an individual out of his own ideational material.” Still, examples of this sort in the Interpretation of Dreams are nonexistent. If a symbol could emerge from a dreamer’s personal “ideational material,” symbolism would no longer be an expedient for the interpretation of dreams or “popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms, proverbial wisdom [or] current jokes.” And above all, symbolism is an expedient, a trick, a ready-made explication. In the opening passages of “Representation by Symbols,” Freud offers us an explanation of our own dreams without demanding that we sit ourselves down on his couch to fight against resistant associations. Symbols “fill the gap,” as it were, when “the dreamer’s free associations leave us in the lurch.” This presents a problem. For if Freud would have us believe that a symbol can transcend the associations of the dreamer, then does he not therefore suggest that the formation of a symbol is fundamentally different from the formation of a non-symbolic dream object, such as the propionic acid? Freud’s recommendation of a “combined technique” which attacks the latent content by relying on both the “dreamer’s associations” and the “interpreter’s knowledge of symbols” begs this question. Inasmuch as he assumes that one can analyze a given portion of a dream without reference to the dreamer’s associations, he posits the difficult idea that a dream’s content can in part be determined by something other than the dreamer’s experience. In short, does the existence of symbols (in the sense that Freud actually uses the term) require that there be some kind of “collective unconscious” floating about in some transcendental psychic realm?The first time Freud addresses the question of the formation of symbols, in his “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” he makes reference to such an odd and seemingly unscientific abstraction:”[T]here has been an occurrence which consisted of B+A. A was an incidental circumstance; B was appropriate for producing the lasting effect. The reproduction of this event in memory has now taken a form of such a kind that it as though A had stepped into B’s place. A has become a substitute, a symbol for B.”The mechanism is as individual as digestion. A is associated in the mind with the more important B by “incidental circumstance,” and therefore A represents B. This simple, almost Pavlovian model anticipates Freud’s later explanation of our need to mask erotic/traumatic content specifically: it is certainly of a more “lasting effect,” as he puts it. But if we follow the model to the letter, we find ourselves once again having to label personal dream images like propionic acid as symbols. Hence this early attempt to explain the mechanism of symbol-formation, though to some degree prophetic, is not particularly useful. There is no hint of the uniformity across personal boundaries that comes to define symbolism.Is it possible, however, to expand this model such that it can account for uniformity? If A were to occur to everyone who experiences B, then we might easily dispense with the discomforting idea of a “collective unconscious” or an “inherent meaning.” Freud indeed suggests something along these lines in explaining why it is a staircase – one example out of a hundred – comes to denote intercourse. He writes in his essay “Future Prospects of Psycho-analysis” that “the rhythmical pattern of copulation,” i.e. B in the model, “is reproduced in going upstairs,” i.e. A. The linguistic explanation for staircase symbolism fits the model in the same way. All Germans “incidentally” associate climbing stairs, or mounting (“steigen”) with the sexual mounter (“Steiger”), so to speak. In English, the relationship is roughly analogous: in slang, we do “mount,” or climb aboard. Common experience seen in this light is neither profound nor confusing. It is merely the sum of personal experiences, linguistic or physical. Symbolism-formation is therefore restored to the individual.This easy explanation, however, does not jive with one striking claim that Freud makes, alluded to earlier by the phrase “combined technique,” namely that the symbols the dream-work makes use of are entirely unknown to the dreamer. Such meaning must be unknown or else there is no reason for the dreamer’s associations, or lack thereof, to leave an interpretation “in the lurch.” The B+A model necessarily implies that the dreamer could come to understand the meaning of any symbol by a basic associative chain: A staircase – rhythm of footsteps – rhythm of the body – up, up, up – intercourse. Resistance is not blocking the revelation here, because one can only resist unconscious knowledge. Here there is no knowledge, in the conventional sense of the term. The dreamer does not know in any way that staircases are sex. And yet they are.Thus there is a basic contradiction. It is impossible that the dreamer is completely unaware of the equation that he is in fact using. He must know it somehow. We are stuck. The road out of this quagmire is, indeed, that otherworldly demon, the questionable prehistory of the psyche, the collective unconscious, as Jung would later term it. Now utterly impersonal knowledge is possible. For here, as Freud writes in his essay “An Outline of Psychoanalysis,” published posthumously, certain “material” is accessible which cannot have originated either from the dreamer’s adult life or from his forgotten childhood. We are obliged to regard it as part of the archaic heritage which a child brings with him into the world, before any experience of his own, influenced by the experiences of his ancestors…Thus dreams constitute a source of human prehistory which is not to be despised. It is no coincidence that Freud wrote this stunning, and perhaps anti-Freudian, passage at the very end of his career. He had only hinted at this bizarre idea in the Interpretation of Dreams, writing that those “things that are symbolically connected today were probably united in prehistoric times by conceptual and linguistic identity.” But this confusing sentence does not demand that we accept the borderline mystical idea of knowledge before experience. Our ancestors might have simply walked up the same staircases that we do today. In 1900, a Freudian could still hold fast to the lovely A+B model. By 1940, the astonishing frequency with which the same symbol had visited unrelated dreamers, often “extend[ing] further than a use of a common language,” suggested to Freud something deeper than a mere pattern of experience. If Vienna’s Dora and Genesis’ Jacob can dream up such a similar picture, then there must be a “human prehistory.” All of a sudden, Freud looks like a Jungian.Indeed, the similarities between the late Freud and his greatest dissenter Jung are striking. Jung defines the collective unconscious as the “store of latent memory traces inherited from man’s ancestral past, a past that includes not only the racial history of man as a separate species but his pre-human or animal ancestry as well.” Freud’s “archaic history” and Jung’s “ancestral past” differ in diction, not essence. Both presuppose that a child can somehow inherit memories and experiences. The unbeliever might try to reconcile such a notion to conventional scientific (or Freudian) thinking by arguing that we have inherited only the predisposition to represent ideas the way our ancestors did, much in the same way that we probably tend to like similar types of foods. This reply sidesteps the problem only because it does not address it; unconscious “material” and “memory traces” are hardly predispositions.Yet the two thinkers differed dramatically on dream theory. Jung had the advantage of basing his most innovative work on the “personal unconscious” on what he knew of the collective unconscious, whereas Freud focused his energies on common, perhaps universal, childhood stories. Thus Jung can see a dream of ladders or staircases as symbolic of a drama that is rooted in a land far more fertile than the narrow swamp of our unfulfilled sexual longings. In his essay, “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy,” wherein he attempts to locate a particular individual’s unconscious in relation to the collective, Jung analyses the following dream: “A dangerous walk with Father and Mother, up and down many ladders.” We know immediately what Freud would make of it. A ladder is “analogous” to a staircase and hence serves the same symbolic function – copulation. He would see the “danger” as a manifestation of the fear of incest, the “up and down” as the fulfillment of the infantile wish. As to the supposedly bisexual element of the dream (“Father and Mother”), Freud certainly would posit volumes of conjecture. Jung is a hair more poetic:”Regression [in this case, to the mother and father] spells disintegration into our historical and hereditary determinants, and it is only with the greatest effort that we can free ourselves from their embrace. Our psychic prehistory is in truth the spirit of gravity, which needs steps and ladders because, unlike the disembodied airy intellect, it cannot fly at will.”If we accept the collective unconscious, there is absolutely no reason not to follow Jung in seeing “regression” as potentially a regression back into our primordial roots, as “every man, in a sense, represents the whole of humanity and its history.” Why stop at childhood, when before childhood there lurks another important developmental stage? The Freud who wrote the Interpretation of Dreams would undoubtedly see this Jungian analysis as mystical fluff, not as regression to a psychic prehistory but instead “to the technique of interpretation used by the ancients, to whom dream interpretation was identical with interpretation by means of symbols.” One can follow Freud a few steps in this hypothetical criticism. The question of proof certainly does loom over Jung’s complicated analysis. How does he know that a ladder stands for the vicissitudes of the individual unconscious as it struggles to escape its “hereditary determinants”? At least Freud can substantiate his formulas by pointing to, say, an experiment by Betlheim and Hartmann (1924), in which Korsakoff patients who were told “grossly sexual” stories substituted staircases (or shootings or stabbings) for intercourse when they reproduced those stories. Jung instead relies completely on context – the widest conceivable context. “Scientific knowledge,” he rightly argues, “only satisfies the little tip of personality that is contemporaneous with ourselves, not the collective psyche.” He must always convince us on the preponderance of the evidence, while Freud may cite scientific papers.Jung, however, can claim consistency. He integrates the collective unconscious and even telepathy into his theory of dreams. Freud’s last minute revision condemns him to incongruity, as he never refers to pre-life experience in analyzing any dream in the Interpretation of Dreams. The fact that in Korsakoff patients staircases emerge as a symbol of fornication does not necessarily mean that a staircase is only a fornication symbol. In the same way that the dream-work constructs a double story, reflective both of the present organization of events and the remnants of childhood, the dream-work might very well construct a triple story in which the “archaic heritage” finds it expression. One could detect that third story in a dream only if one assumes beforehand that it does, in fact, exist. Literary analysis works much the same way, insofar as a critic assumes a framework. Here, then, is a staircase dream from Pushkin’s play Boris Godunov. The speaker is the protagonist, Grigory, a monk who is wondering if he should give free reign to his ambition to become the Czar.I dreamed that a steep staircaseLed me up a tower; from the topAll of Moscow appeared to me like an anthill;Below, people were swarming in the squareAnd pointing up at me, laughing;And I became ashamed and frightened – And, falling headlong I awoke…Michael Katz, in his book Dreams and the Unconscious in Nineteenth Century Russian Fiction, makes the obvious suggestion that the dream is a “subconscious warning.” Grigory will indeed make his way up the “steep staircase” of politics to the castle: he will become the Czar. Katz sees the beginnings of the “downfall” foreshadowed in the last scene of the play.* This is one possible story.A Freudian analysis might equate the “steep staircase” with “falling headlong.” By climbing up alone, the celibate Grigory effectively masturbates, releasing his long built-up excitation. For a monk, such a pleasure would indeed imply a Fall (and hence “shame”), a tenuous connection that Freud readily makes in The Interpretation of Dreams. That he awakes immediately after falling stamps this as an anxiety dream, one that “represent[s] a repressed wish, but do[es] so with insufficient or no disguise.” Grigory’s perspective allows him the superiority he craves, while the ridiculing crowd offers him the pleasure of punishment. All in all, Freud could make a great deal of sense out of this trifling passage, but only because he sees it already within a certain symbolical framework.An ambitious Jungian approach might throw light on Grigory’s universalistic desire to be closer to heaven. As a monk, Grigory may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect this particular aspect of the “gray mists of antiquity,” the collective unconscious. The ancient Egyptians, for example, had a notion – symbolized by a ladder – of an “ascent through the seven spheres of the planets,” which dramatizes the “return of the soul to the sun-god from whom it originated.” The fall in the dream leads us to the daunting question of whether the “standpoint of morality, handed down through the ages, is itself meaningful or meaningless.” That “standpoint” might be reflected in Grigory’s superior perspective. The “swarming,” ant-like people at the foot of the tower can stand for our “animal ancestry,” from which the monk is trying to separate himself. This framework, though more obscure, is not without its appeal. Furthermore, the interpretation is not hindered by Grigory’s personal predicament, since it admits from the first that a dream’s material may outstrip its dreamer. Once one assumes this towering perspective, this supra-personal viewpoint, one can convincingly imbue a dream with all kinds of insights.Jung cracks open that primordial safe. He speculates beautifully. Freud’s chronology saves him from such artful conjecture. He never works out the implications of the collective unconscious on his dream theory. He does not say anywhere in The Interpretation of Dreams that there must in fact be a collective unconscious to explain how it is that the dreamer’s associations sometimes fail. A guess as to why Freud himself failed us in the regard is that the collective unconscious smacks of fantasy, not science. Jung, however, was wise enough to admit he was plunging into a new realm “somewhere between earth and heaven,” as Hamlet puts it. From there, Freudians must look like ants “swarming in the square.”
Freud’s Impact on 1984
In his treatise Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud makes an interesting statement about advanced society. He argues that “the price of progress in civilization is paid in forfeiting happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt,” to defend his argument that guilt is becoming an issue in modern cultures (Civilization 35). In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the party uses Freudian concepts involving guilt, repressed instincts, and physical pain in order to control its members.
One of the very first Freudian concepts that we see in 1984 involveds guilt. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud briefly discusses the three parts of the mind – the ego, id, and superego. According to Freud, the id represents a person’s natural instincts and desires, for example, the desire to have sex or be a more independent being. However, Freud argues that the id is an unconscious part of the mind, so that many people are not aware of these urges that they naturally have. On the other hand, the superego is partially conscious, and is what controls guilt. The superego a person has depends on the society he or she lives in, because society and culture determine what someone might think is right or wrong, making it easy to see what the superego is – a conscience. The ego is somewhere in the middle. It determines the choices you make each day by finding a compromise between the instincts of the id and the guilt of the superego. For all societies, Freud argues that there are going to be disagreements between the id and the superego that the ego can’t handle, causing unhappiness for some people.
However, Orwell takes this setup a step further, creating a society where there is a strong disagreement between the superego and the id. The party in 1984 creates a strong superego in its members, starting from a very young age. It encourages children to abstain from sex, many even deciding to join groups like the Junior Anti-Sex League: “In an indirect way it was rubbed into every party member from childhood onwards. There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League, which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes” (1984 65). This society also encourages children to repress their id desires to love and protect their families, by rewarding them for turning over family members to the police for acts like thoughtcrime, and making them feel guilty for not doing so. However, guilt on its own can only go so far. If someone decides that the party’s morals are wrong, that person could break the rules and not have enough guilt to have any reason to stop. Because of this risk, the party adds another level of control to the superego – the telescreens. The telescreens were installed almost everywhere, even in people’s houses. These devices gave the party a way to keep an eye on its members and make sure nobody was giving into rebellious instincts and desires. If someone were caught, that person would be punished, depending on the severity of the crime, with torture or sometimes death:
“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were. . . within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide” (1984 62).
If that wasn’t extreme enough, the party made sure people couldn’t get away with anything at all by creating a special type of crime – thoughtcrime. According to Winston, “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death” (1984 28). Thoughtcrime was punished in the same way as a normal crime, through either torture or death. With thoughtcrime, the party made sure that people would not only refrain from committing crimes, but also that they would refrain from even thinking about them at all. This tactic was incredibly important for the goal of complete control. When Winston points out to O’Brien that the party is unable to control things like matter, gravity, climate, and disease, O’Brien responds that the party “[controls] matter because [it controls] the mind. Reality is inside the skull” (1984 264-265).
Although the party already had quite a bit of control over its members with telescreens and thoughtcrime, it also understood that it couldn’t repress people’s desires entirely – since that would lead to a revolt in no time. As Freud said, “even in so-called normal people the power of controlling the id cannot be increased beyond certain limits. If one asks more of them, one produces revolt or neurosis in individuals or makes them unhappy” (Civilization 39). Instead, the party decided to use those instincts and desires to its advantage. The “two minutes hate” was a short event that the party organized each day: the party members would all gather in one room and have a chance to let out their aggression towards a variety of images on a screen representing enemies of Oceania. At the end of the two minutes, a picture of Big Brother, the leader of the party, would show up on the screen, calming everyone down. Because of this process, party members would learn to subconsciously connect the party and Big Brother to feelings of safety and love, while connecting any enemies to feelings of anxiety and anger. Because of such manipulative pacification, people are less likely to think about turning on the party, since they’d rather feel safe and secure. Another time that this idea of compliance was put into action was when Winston was being tortured near the end of the novel. He “had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it” (1984 250); what he is doing to himself is exactly the same as what the party was doing to its members in creating aura of loyalty and dependency.
Orwell used physical pain a few times throughout the novel as one of the party’s methods of control. For example, when he was first taken to his cell, Winston was imagining the pain that he might feel later: “He felt the smash of truncheons on his elbows and iron-shod boots on his shins; he saw himself groveling on the floor, screaming for mercy through broken teeth” (1984 228). Despite how much he thought he loved Julia, and how much he wanted to hate the party, the pain was so bad that he was willing to do anything to get out of it. Freud mentioned this a little bit in his essay, discussing the pleasure-principle. This principle says that the id will do anything to get a person out of pain or a painful situation, and instead go look for pleasure. The party used this factor to its advantage, giving the id an escape from pain in the form of betrayal of Julia and loyalty to the party, which Winston took in response to being exposed to his greatest fear – the rats.
Throughout 1984, Orwell used many of Freud’s concepts regarding civilization, like the superego and the id, repressed aggression and sexual desire, and physical pain, in order to show how the party gained so much control over most of its members. This group of overpowered individuals, sadly, included Winston himself at the end.
Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality
Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud offer bold critiques of human morality that greatly differ from the commonly accepted views of virtue and ethics. Both reject the idea of morality as an instinctive or natural element of human life. Rather, they contend that morality has been created in reaction to the realities of human existence. Although Freud and Nietzsche both claim that morality is a reactive creation, they greatly differ in their accounts of the value of morality. Nietzsche claims that reactive morality is “bad air” to humans and has prevented humanity from flourishing. Freud, however, argues that morality is a necessary aspect of civilization and has enabled humans to peacefully live together. The disagreement between Freud and Nietzsche over the value of morality in human existence is a function of the different motivations that drive their critiques of morality. While Nietzsche’s critique seeks to explore the effect of morality on the individual, Freud’s critique seeks to outline the function of morality in society as a whole.In his book On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche attempts to explore the “value of [human] values” (7) by investigating the origins of morality through a number of hypothetical narratives. One such narrative that is critical in understanding Nietzsche’s account of morality is his metaphor of a powerless lamb that is constantly preyed upon by a powerful bird of prey. The lamb, powerless to stop the bird from preying, labels the bird as evil for preying upon the lamb. Furthermore, the lamb declares itself as good because it is nothing like the bird. In this reaction to the bird, the lamb compensates for its ressentiment at its powerlessness by becoming the stronger moral being despite the fact that it is physically weaker. The lamb’s reaction to the bird is the result of the lamb’s will to power. The will to power is every individual’s drive “for an optimum of favorable conditions in which to fully release [its] power” (76). To create conditions that enable the lamb to release its power, the lamb invents an alternative criterion of strength — moral strength, virtue, and goodness — that it can use to make its weakness powerful. In Nietzsche’s view, morality thus springs from and compensates for powerlessness.Nietzsche uses the metaphor of the powerless lamb to explore the reactive tendencies of all powerless beings. Like the powerless lamb, powerless humans have reacted to their lack of power by labeling weakness as morally good. Actions that are a result of a lack of power — weakness, timidity, submission, or cowardice — are revalued by powerless beings as moral. Weakness is thus revalued as accomplishment, timidity as humility, submission as obedience, and cowardice as patience. Meanwhile, the actions of powerful humans — dominance, physicality, or the accumulation of wealth — are revalued as evil. As a result, the power relationship between the powerful and the powerless is translated into a moral relationship.An important part of Nietzsche’s critique of morality is his argument that reactive “slave” morality is bad for the individual and has “obstructed human flourishing” (5). There are many aspects of reactive morality that Nietzsche finds problematic. One factor is the aspect of deception that morality involves. Morality labels the powerless beings as morally better than the powerful beings. However, Nietzsche argues that these powerless beings are not better than the powerful beings. In fact, he claims that powerless beings “want to be powerful one day” (29). Morality thus requires powerless beings to deceive themselves into believing that being weak and “moral” is better and more desirable than being strong and “evil.” Another problem Nietzsche identifies with human morality is that it is merely a reaction to powerlessness. He argues that this reactivity is unhealthy for the individual as it causes the powerless individual to become “rankled by poisonous and hostile feelings” (21) toward those who are powerful. The individual comes to define him or herself by his or her powerlessness and thus becomes deeply invested in his or her own impotence. As a result, the individual is unable to act or flourish; powerlessness becomes the foundation of the individual’s existence.Freud’s account of human morality shares many similarities with Nietzsche’s account. Like Nietzsche, Freud argues that human morality has been created in reaction to the realities of human existence. Unlike Nietzsche, however, Freud claims that human morality has been created by civilization as a reaction to the aggressive instincts of human beings. He states that human morality takes form in the individual through the superego. The superego is the voice inside the individual that tells the individual “no.” It constrains the individual to morality and goodness, and that tells him or her how he or she “should” behave. The superego internalizes the parental voice of childhood and prevents the expression of our destructive aggressive instincts in the same way that parents prevent the expression of these instincts as children. Freud’s critique of the superego suggests that he believes that human morality is a necessary aspect of existence. He claims that the superego is civilization’s greatest invention in dealing with aggression. Through the superego, aggressivity is “introjected, internalized, and sent back to where it came from… directed towards [one’s] own ego” (Civilization and Its Discontents 756). The superego reroutes human aggressivity away from other human beings and instead directs it inward. Civilization requires this “internalization of the aggressive impulses” (214). Without the superego, humans would always give in to their aggressive impulses, leading to chaos and the complete breakdown of society. Although Freud admits that the superego exacts a psychic toll on the individual by punishing the individual’s ego for its desires, he nevertheless remains supportive of the demands of civilization. He contends, “We owe to the process of [civilization] the best of what we have become, as well as a good part of what we suffer from” (215). Freud’s critique of the superego suggests that he sees human morality as a necessary — if somewhat damaging — aspect of existence if humans are to live peacefully together.Freud’s conception of human morality shares many similarities with Nietzsche’s critical approach. Both Freud and Nietzsche claim that morality is a creation and is not a natural or instinctive aspect of existence. Furthermore, both argue that morality is primarily a reaction to the realities of human life. Despite these critical similarities, Freud and Nietzsche reach very different conclusions as to the overall value of morality. This disagreement is a function of the different motivations that drive their critiques. Nietzsche’s critique is extremely concerned with the impact of human morality on the individual. He begins On the Genealogy of Morality by claiming that humans need “a critique of moral values” and an examination of “the value of [our] values” (7). Throughout his critique, Nietzsche makes constant reference to the effect of morality on the individual. He explores how reactive morality can negatively define an individual’s existence and prevent personal growth. Nietzsche’s conception of the origins of morality demonstrates his individual-centric approach to morality. He essentially claims that morality is a creation of powerless individuals in response to powerful individuals. Nietzsche’s critique of morality is thus distinctly indifferent to society. When Nietzsche claims that morality might have obstructed human flourishing, he is primarily concerned with how morality has prevented the individual from maximizing his or her capacities for originality, expression, and personal progress. In contrast, Freud’s critique of morality is primarily interested in how human morality functions within society as a whole. Unlike Nietzsche, Freud argues that human morality is not a human creation. Rather, he claims that morality has been created by civilization in response to human aggression. When Freud explores morality and the superego, he emphasizes how these structures enable humans to peacefully coexist. Although Freud does recognize that morality exacts a psychic toll on the individual, his primary concern is that of society as a whole. Freud’s critique suggests that he believes that the individual costs of morality are necessary for civilization to function. In essence, Freud is supportive of the demands of civilization. Freud would definitively reject Nietzsche’s claim that morality has prevented human flourishing. On the contrary, Freud would claim that morality has enabled human flourishing.Freud and Nietzsche both offer compelling critiques of human morality that provide fresh perspectives on an extremely complicated aspect of existence. Although Freud and Nietzsche conceptualize morality in a similar manner, their critical approaches to morality are driven by much different motivations. While Freud seeks to outline the function of morality in society and civilization, Nietzsche attempts to explore the effects of morality on the individual. As a result of these different motivations, Freud and Nietzsche reach dramatically different conclusions regarding the value of human morality in our world.