Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fathoming Freud 11

The Centrality of Conflict 

The baseline is: life is difficult, get used to it and work from there.  Or as Stephen Hawkin puts it: life is pure chance and hence is unfair when viewed from any particular individual’s point of view.  Hence, there is no use bemoaning your “outcast state” as did Shakespeare in his famous sonnet.  Accept this fact, take the “hand of cards” you are dealt and play them as best you can.  This is all any individual can do in his/her life. Freud, in essence, is in agreement with this sort of philosophy or outlook on life.  For him conflict was not alone central to life itself, but an essential part of the makeup of the human psyche itself.  His structural model of the mind is based on this notion of internal conflict and control:  In short the Ego and the Superego together keep the base instincts and desires of the Id under control.  That these base instincts and desires get out of control when the other two aspects of the mind fail in performing their allotted functions never surprised Freud.  It did and does and will happen.  Hence, he understood all too well what was happening in the mind of Hitler and what was happening in the minds of all those who followed him both consciously and unconsciously.

We are not made Whole

A contemporary Irish poet, now in his eighties, the great Thomas Kinsella, laments of the human condition in his thirty-third year of life:

It seems again that it is time to learn,

In this untiring, crumbling place of growth

To which, for the time being, I return.

Now plainly in the mirror of my soul

I read that I have looked my last on youth

And little more; for they are not made whole

That reach the age of Christ.

By reading Freud, we realise that we were never made whole; that we were always a project in construction, and that that very project was and is a life-long journey.  We are not unified creatures at all and our very psyches are divided into parts which are usually in conflict with each other.  I love the way Edmundson describes this conflicted essence of humankind’s very nature:

The “it,” or the “id,” wants what it wants and does not easily take no for an answer.  The over-I, or the superego, the internal agent of authority, often looks harshly upon the id and its manifold wants.  The superego in fact frequently punishes the self simply for wishing for forbidden things, even if the self does not act on those wishes.  Then there is the I, or ego, trying to broker between the it and the over-I, and doing so with the greatest difficulty, in part because both agencies often operate outside the circle of the ego’s awareness.  And Freud claims that the over-I can be unconscious just as the it.  Then the “poor ego” must navigate a frequently hostile outside world.  It is easy to see how, for Freud, life is best defined as ongoing conflict.  (The Death of Sigmund Freud, 98)

Freud:  Thoughts of and on Suicide:

Many Jewish families throughout Germany and Austria considered suicide and indeed many succumbed to its allure.  Remember that Freud was a medical doctor and would have had access to medicines and drugs and have known the most painless way.  However, while Freud considered this option, he felt it was a cowardly way out:  “Why? Because they would like us to,” he said to Anna when she proposed it as a possible escape.  Let me return once again to Edmundson:

Freud, old and sick as he was, could nonetheless be spurred on by Jones and by the princess, by the future of the psychoanalytical movement and by the prospect of one more battle in his long war with tyranny.  The Moses book was still unfinished; the crucial third chapter, where Freud could add an instalment to his critique of perverse authority and its uncanny appeal, still had to be finished.  (Ibid., 85)

Freud had already written much on suicide and had written especially perceptively on Hamlet’s contemplation of it as a way out of meeting life’s problems head on.  He had always believed that the main cause of suicide is an internal imbalance in the psyche.  If Freud were to take his own life either directly or indirectly by staying put and allowing the Nazis to end his life for him in Dachau or another such dreadful camp he knew he would be showing weakness and proclaiming to the world that his psyche was somewhat unbalanced.  In fact, far from it, his psyche was never stronger and never more balanced.  His ego had both superego and id firmly in control. (See ibid 86 for a fuller account of what Freud thought of the action of suicide).

Freud with his daughter Anna near the end of his life, probably in or on the way to London.

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