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> 1926e

The Question of Lay Analysis: Conversations with an Impartial Person

Freud, Sigmund 1926e, The Question of Lay Analysis: Conversations with an Impartial Person, SE 20: 177-250. Postscript, 1927a, SE 20: 251-8.

"So it is a kind of magic," he [the Impartial Person] comments: "you talk, and blow away his ailments."
Quite true. It would be magic if it worked rather quicker. An essential attribute of magic is speed — one might say suddenness — of success. But analytic treatments take months and even years: magic that is so slow loses its miraculous character. And incidentally do not let us despise the word. After all it is a powerful instrument; it is the means by which [188] we convey our feelings to one another, our method of influencing other people. Words can do unspeakable good and cause terrible wounds. No doubt "in the beginning was the deed" and the word came later; in some cirumstances it meant an advance in civilization when deeds were softened into words. But originally the word was magic — a magical act; and it has retained much of its ancient power.

[On 189-90 Freud inserts an aside of his own between the Impartial Person says and his 'reply'.]

Science, as you know is not a revelation; long after its beginnings it still lacks the attributes of definiteness, immutability and infallibility for which human thought so deeply longs. But such as it is, it is all that we can have. 191

It will soon be clear what the mental apparatus is … For we picture the unknown apparatus which serves the activities of the mind as being really like an instrument constructed of several parts (which we speak of as "agencies"), each of which performs a particular function and which have a fixed spatial relation to one another: it being understood that by spatial relation—"in front of" and "behind", "superficial" and "deep"—we merely mean in the first instance a representation of the regular succession of the functions. Have I made myself clear?
"Scarcely. Perhaps I shall understand it later. But, in any case, here is a strange anatomy of the soul—a thing which, after all, no longer exists at all for the scientists."
What do you expect? It is a hypothesis like so many others in the sciences: the very earliest ones have always been rather rough. "Open to revision" we can say in such cases. 194

[Bettelheim:] In The Question of Lay Analysis Freud defended his use of personal pronouns in naming the different aspects of the psyche, and gave his reasons for rejecting words of a classical language for this purpose. Speaking to an imaginary interlocutor, he wrote:

You will probably object to our having chosen simple pronouns to denote our two institutions, or provinces, of the soul, instead of introducing for them sonorous Greek names. In psychoanalysis, however, we like to keep in contact with the popular mode of thinking and prefer to make its concepts scientifically serviceable rather than to discard them. There is no special merit in this; we must proceed in this way because our teachings ought to be comprehensible to our patients who are often very intelligent, but not always learned. The impersonal "it"[es] is immediately connected with certain expressions used by normal persons. One is apt to say, "It came to me in a flash; there was something in me which, at that moment, was stronger than me." "C'était plus fort que moi." [Bettelheim gives no detailed source given for quotation; but it is 1926e, SE 20: 195.]

In SE, the translation runs thus.

You will probably object to our having chosen simple pronouns to describe our two agencies or provinces instead of giving them orotund Greek names. In psycho-analysis, however, we like to keep in contact with the popular mode of thinking and prefer to make its concepts scientifically serviceable rather than to reject them. There is no merit in this; we are obliged to take this line; for our theories must be understood by our patients, who are often very intelligent, but not always learned. The impersonal "it" is immediately connected with certain expressions used by normal people. "It shot through me," people say; "there was something in me at that moment that was stronger than me." "C'était plus fort que moi." [1926e, SE 20: 195.]

[Bettelheim continues:] In the paragraph preceding the one just quoted, Freud explained that he chose to name one of the concepts the I because of the common connotations that are attached to the pronoun. He wrote:

We base ourselves on common knowledge and recognize in man an organization of the soul which is interpolated between the stimulation of his senses and the perception of his bodily needs on the one hand, and his motor acts on the other, and which mediates between them for a particular purpose. We call this organization his I. Now there is nothing new in this; each of us makes this assumption without being a philosopher, and some although they are philosophers. But we don't believe that by recognizing this part of the apparatus of the soul we have exhausted the description. Beside the I we recognize also another region of the soul, more extensive, grander, and more obscure than the I, and this we call the it. [Bettelheim gives no detailed source given for quotation; but it is 1926e, SE 20: 194-5.]

In SE, the translation runs thus.

Putting ourselves on the footing of everyday knowledge, we recognize in human beings a mental organization [195] which is interpolated between their sensory stimuli and the perception of their somatic needs on the one hand, and their motor acts on the other, and which mediates between them for a particular purpose. We call this organization their "Ich" ["ego"; literally, " I"]. Now there is nothing new in this. Each of us makes this assumption without being a philosopher, and some people even in spite of being philosophers. But this does not, in our opinion, exhaust the description of the mental apparatus. Besides this "I", we recognize another mental region, more extensive, more imposing, and more obscure than the "I", and this we call the "Es" ["id"; literally, "it"]. The relation between the two must be our immediate concern. [1926e, SE 20: 194-5.]

[Bettelheim continues:] Nietzsche, who indeed used the words "I" and "it" in a similar way, may be one of the philosophers Freud alluded to here. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche wrote, "A thought comes when 'it' wants to and not when 'I' want; thus it is falsification to say: the subject 'I' is the condition for the predicate 'think.' It thinks: but there is … no immediate certainty that this 'it' is just that famous old 'I.'" Bettelheim, Bruno 1985 [1983], Freud and Man's Soul, Fontana, London: 60-1 [no source given for quotations from Freud or Nietzsche].

GMG: Freud finds a general need to argue by analogy, as he writes (in Bettelheim's translation) in The Question of Lay Analysis.

In psychology we can describe only with the help of comparisons. This is nothing special, it is the same elsewhere. But we are forced to change these comparisons over and over again, for none of them can serve us for any length of time.

So much for Bettelheim's translation. The version in SE runs as follows.

In psychology we can only describe things by the help of analogies. There is nothing peculiar in this, it is the case elsewhere as well. But we have constantly to keep changing these analogies, for none of them lasts us long enough. Accordingly, in trying to make the relation between the ego and the id clear, I must ask you to picture the ego as a kind of façade of the id, as a frontage, like an external, cortical, layer of it. We can hold on to this last analogy. We know that cortical layers owe their peculiar characteristics to the modifying influence of the external medium on which they abut. Thus we suppose that the ego is the layer of the mental apparatus (of the id) which has been modified by the influence of the external world (of reality). This will show you how in psychoanalysis we take spatial ways of looking at things seriously. [196] For us the ego is really something superficial and the id something deeper—looked at from outside, of course. The ego lies between reality and the id, which is what is truly mental. 195

[From the Postscript, 1927a:]

After forty-one years of medical activity, my self-knowledge tells me that I have never really been a doctor in the proper sense. I became a doctor through being compelled to deviate from my original purpose; and the triumph of my life lies in my having, after a long and roundabout journey, found my way back to my earliest path. I have no knowledge of having had any craving in my early childhood to help suffering humanity. My innate sadistic disposition was not a very strong one, so that I had no need to develop this one of its derivatives. Nor did I ever play the "doctor game"; my infantile curiosity evidently chose other paths. In my youth I felt an overpowering need to understand something of the riddles of the world in which we live and perhaps even to contribute something to their solution. [1927a, SE 20: 253]


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