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> 1901b

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

Freud, Sigmund 1901b, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, SE 6, 1-279, trs. from Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens, Berlin 1904, GW 4.
[I assume my Ernest Benn edition, 1966, has exactly the same pagination as SE, as the text is also 1-279.]

In German, 'Fehlleistung', 'faulty function.' It is a curious fact that before Freud wrote this book the general concept seems not to have existed in psychology, and in English a new word had to be invented to cover it. Editor's introduction: viii, n.

[GG:] That the classical example of a parapraxis is the forgetting of people's names is shown by the fact that Freud launches straight into this topic at the beginning of this book on this subject, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. This is, however, not in in any trivial a locus classicus of 'mischievements', as the name of the cultural object is the critical marker of the entry into culture. It follows that when culture is being resisted, a probable first sign may be the incipient loss of linguistic ability: most fundamentally perhaps the knowledge of the names of things. And the first objects of which we become aware are people: they are the first objects with which we develop relationships. The forgetting of proper names is therefore the sign of a rejection of relationships in general, a small rebellion against the demands of culture, and the return of the repressed 'experience prohibited by the rules of language': a return to the preverbal.

[GG:] The examples that Freud deals with in the opening chapters of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life are all concerned with screen associations and paramnesia. What I have suggested above takes the analysis one step further, and discusses the idea of forgetting without association or replacement: going below, as it were, the repressed thoughts of 'death and sexuality', to the final return to quiescence, to Thanatos, the return to the mother, to the womb/tomb. Freud could not have made these associations in 1901, as he had not yet conceived Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Civilization and its Discontents.

[GG:] My suggestion is lent support by an alleged actual parapraxis at the end of the second chapter of the book on parapraxes. James Strachey, Freud's editor, points out that where he should at that point have written the more general 'forgetting of words', which the editor puts into the printed text, Freud wrote 'Namenvergessen'—'the forgetting of names', suggesting, as I do, that names are originary, in the sense of being psychologically prior to words.

Types of parapraxes: bungled actions, errors, forgetting impressions and intentions, forgetting names and words, lost and mislaid objects, misreadings, slips of the pen and misprints, slips of the tongue, and symptomatic and chance actions.

Chapter 1: The forgetting of proper names: SE 6, 1-7

We shall, I think, have stated the facts of the case with sufficient caution if we affirm: By the side of simple cases where proper names are forgotten there is a type of forgetting which is motivated by repression. 7

Chapter 2: The forgetting of foreign words: SE 6, 8-14.
Chapter 3: The forgetting of names and sets of words: SE 6, 15-42.

What is common to all these cases, irrespective of the material, is the fact that the forgotten or distorted matter is brought by some associative path into connection with an unconscious thought-content [21] —a thought-content which is the source of the effect manifested in the form of forgetting. 20-1

Instead of a discussion, however, I shall bring forward an analogy to deal with the objection. 21

In order to appreciate the intensity of our informant's aversion to recalling this examination episode, the reader would have to know the high value he sets on his doctorate and for how many other things it has to serve as a substitute. 27

The mechanism of names being forgotten (or, to be more [40] accurate, the mechanism of names escaping the memory, of being temporarily forgotten) consists in the interference with the intended reproduction of the name by an alien train of thought which is not at the time conscious. Between the name interfered with and the interfering complex either a connection exists from the outset, or else such a connection has established itself, often in ways that appear artificial, via superficial (external) association.
Among the interfering complexes those of personal reference (i.e. the personal, family and professional complexes) prove to have the greatest effect.
A name which has more than one meaning and consequently belong to more than one group of thoughts (complexes) is frequently interfered with in its connection with one train of thought owing to its participation in another, stronger complex.
Among the motives for these interferences the purpose of avoiding arousing unpleasure by remembering is conspicuous.
In general two main types of name-forgetting may be distinguished: those cases where the name itself touches on something unpleasant, and those where it is brought into connection with another name which has that effect. Thus names can have their reproduction interfered with on their own account, or because of their closer or remoter associative relations.
A survey of these general propositions shows us why the temporary forgetting of names is the most frequently to be observed of all our parapraxes. 39-40

Chapter 4: Childhood memories and screen memories, SE 6: 43-52.

Chapter 5: Slips of the tongue, SE 6: 53-105.
condensation 58
A slip of the tongue is discussed in 1901b, SE 6: 79-80, where "durch die Bluse" [through the blouse] is produced by the speaker in error for "durch die Blume" [literally, "through flowers", i.e. "indirectly"]. 79-80
Chapter 6: Misreadings and slips of the pen, SE 6: 106-133.
Chapter 7: The forgetting of impressions and intentions, SE 6: 134-61.
in every case the forgetting turned out to be based on a motive of unpleasure. 136
Chapter 8: Bungled actions, SE 6: 162-90.
Chapter 9: Symptomatic and chance actions, SE 6: 191-216.
The theme of the ring leaves one once again with the impression of how hard it is for a psycho-analyist to discover anything new that has not been known before by some creative writer. 205
Chapter 10: Errors, SE 6: 217-29.
Chapter 11: Combined parapraxes, SE 6: 230-38.
Chapter 12: Determinism, belief in chance and superstition, SE 6: 239-79.

The general conclusion that emerges from the previous individual discussions [i.e. the whole book to this point] may be stated in the following terms. Certain shortcomings in our psychical functioning—whose common characteristics will in a moment be defined more closely—and certain seemingly unintentional performances prove, if psycho-analytic methods of investigation are applied to them, to have valid motives and to be determined by motives unknown to consciousness. 239

superstition 256 ff.

I assume that this conscious ignorance and unconscious knowledge of the motivation of accidental psychical events is one of the psychical roots of superstition. Because the superstitious person knows nothing of the motivation of his chance actions, and because the fact of this motivation presses for a place in his field of recognition, he is forced to allocate it, by displacement, to the external world. If such a connection exists, it can hardly be limited to this single application. In point of fact I believe that large part of the mythological view of the world, which extends a long way into the most modern religions, is nothing but psychology projected into the external world. The obscure recognition (the endopsychic perception, as it were) of psychical factors and relations in the unconscious is mirrored—it is difficult to express it in other terms, and here the analogy [259[ with paranoia must come to our aid—in the construction of a supernatural reality, which is destined to be changed back once more by science into the psychology of the unconscious. One could venture to explain in this way the myths of paradise and the fall of man, of God, of good and evil, of immortality , and so on, and to transform metaphysics into metapsychology. 258-9

'uncanny' and déjà vu 265

The disturbing thought is either connected with the disturbed thought by thought associations (disturbance as a result of internal contradiction), or it is unrelated to it in its nature and the disturbed word happens to be connected with the disturbing thought—which is [273] often unconscious—by an unexpected external association. 272-3

… I know from other sources that it is precisely automatic activities which are characterized by correctness and reliability. I should prefer to stress the fact that here, as so often in biology, normal circumstances or those approaching the normal are less favourable subjects for investigation than pathological ones. I expect that what remains obscure in the elucidation of these very slight disturbances will be illuminated by the explanation of serious disturbances. 273

The basic determinants of the normal process of forgetting are unknown. [A fascinating but long footnote at this point discusses condensation and distortion, and time in the unconscious. 'The unconscious is quite timeless.' ]
We are also reminded that not everything is [275] forgotten that we believe to be. 274-5

Analysis of the examples of forgetting that seem to require a special explanation reveals that the motive for forgetting is invariably an unwillingness to remember something which can evoke distressing feelings. 275

conflict 275

The indulgent reader may accordingly see in these discussions signs of the broken edges where this subject has been somewhat artificially detached from a wider context. 277

The mechanism of parapraxes and chance actions, as we have come to know it by our employment of analysis, can be seen to correspond in its most essential points with the mechanism of dream formation which I have discussed in the chapter on the 'dream-work' in my [278] Interpretation of Dreams. In both cases we find condensations and compromise formations (contaminations). SE 6: 277-8

In both cases the appearance of an incorrect function is explained by the peculiar mutual interference between two or several correct functions. 278

We shall not be able to form a correct picture of the strange psychical work which brings about the occurrence of both parapraxes and dream images until we have learnt that psychoneurotic symptoms, and especially the psychical formations of hysteria and obsessional neurosis, repeat in their mechanism all the essential features of this mode of working. This is therefore the starting-point for the continuation of our researches. For us, however, there is yet another special interest in considering parapraxes, chance actions and symptomatic actions in the light of this last analogy. If we compare them to the products of the psychoneuroses, to neurotic symptoms, two frequently repeated statements—namely, that the borderline between the normal and abnormal in nervous matters is a fluid one, and that we are all a little neurotic—acquire meaning and support. Without any medical experience we can construct various types of nervous illness of this kind which are merely hinted—formes frustes of the neuroses: cases in which [279] the symptoms are few, or occur rarely or not severely—in other words, cases whose comparative mildness is located in the number, intensity and duration of their pathological manifestations. But we might perhaps never arrive by conjecture at precisely the type that appears most frequently to form the transition between health and illness. For the type we are considering, whose pathological manifestations are parapraxes and symptomatic acts, is characterized by the fact that the symptoms are located in the least important psychical functions, while everything that can lay claim to higher psychical value remains free from disturbance. Where the symptoms are distributed in the reverse way—that is, where they make their appearance in the most important individual and social functions and are able to disturb nutrition, sexual intercourse, professional work and social life—this is the mark of severe cases of neurosis and is more characteristic of them than, for example, are the variety and vigour of their pathological manifestations.
But there is one thing which the severest and the mildest cases all have in common, and which is equally found in parapraxes and chance actions: the phenomena can be traced back to incompletely suppressed psychical material, which, although pushed away by consciousness, has nevertheless not been robbed of all capacity for expressing itself. 278-9

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