Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why Freud is worth the effort...

I've put the Interpretation of Dreams aside for Michel Tournier's The Ogre. Freud in the raw at this late date makes for difficult reading. How do you handle the contradictions? Postponing the second half, not putting it away. A post on Larval Subjects: a critique of synchronous explanations--not at all confined to the structuralists. There's a long quote from Civilizations and Its Discontents--a good example of why reading Freud is worth the effort.

"When we look at an object or at another person we necessarily apprehend them in space. There they stand before us, alongside other things, in three-dimensional space. This phenomenological presentation of persons and objects thus gives the impression that those things are in space together, that they are side by side in space, but also, under the order of temporality, that they are simultaneous. Before my apprehending gaze I encounter the entities there, together, as being “at the same time”. Perhaps this would be one of the basic premises of structural approaches to social formations, for the structuralist tells us to approach the social formation in its "synchonicity, as a set of interdependent relations that are simultaneous with one another." Perhaps the problem with this view is that social formations are accompanied by archives, whether in the form of texts or in stories, such that they do not follow a trajectory of simultaneity, but rather are punctuated, like staves of a musical score, at a variety of different temporal levels, interacting in highly complex ways. Here it is worthwhile to recall Freud’s famous description of the topology of the mind in Civilization and Its Discontents. There Freud writes,

Let us, by a flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past– an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine and that the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beaitufl statues which graced it until the siege by the Goths, and so on. But more than this. In the place occupied by the Palazzo Caffarelli would once more stand– without the Palazzo having to be removed –the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not only in its latest shape, as the Romans of the Empire saw it, but also in its earliest one, when it still showed Etruscan forms and was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes. Where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero’s vanished Golden House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we would find not only the Pantheon of to-day, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but on the same site, the original edifice erected by Agrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built. And the observer would perhaps only have to change the direction of his glance or his position in order to call up the one view or the other.

For the latest in this series HERE

For the latest, Larval Subjects


  1. These are wonderful quotes indeed - I always think Freud is worth the effort, although his long case histories are my favourites among his work.

    And how are you getting on with the Tournier? That is one powerful book.

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  3. Just getting started with Tournier, but like what I'm reading so far. Wonderful post, btw, on Tales from the Reading Room. I enjoy your revisiting of old classics, like Tropic of Cancer. It takes some courage to believe one has something fresh to say about books that come to you with oceans of ink spilled in their name--a feat you manage to pull off
    like Little Jack Horner... with a plum!

    News that stays news, indeed.