Garry Gillard > writing > Supertext > intro

Chapter 1: Introduction

The analogy between the process of civilization and the path of individual development may be extended in an important respect. It can be asserted that the community, too, evolves a super-ego under whose influence cultural development proceeds. It would be a tempting task for anyone that has a knowledge of human civilizations to follow out this analogy in detail. [1]

There is a lack in the new tradition of Cultural Studies, a tendency, not necessarily universal, which has left aside a whole area of phenomena that, if one becomes conscious of it, takes one inevitably back to Freud. This gap is revealed by a psychoanalysis of culture which discovers phenomena which are analogous with the notion of a personal unconscious, which, from the point of view of Cultural Studies, must be dynamically and intrinsically related to the nature of culture. Consideration of this lacuna leads in turn to a consideration of the representation of the kinds of cultural text which have the same function for social groups as that which projections of the superego have for individuals - and thence to the notion of 'supertext', invented by analogy with 'superego'. [2] This 'supertext' is one means of encapsulating the way in which the manifestations of culture fit into a larger economy of texts in which various aspects of repressed and unconscious meanings - and the whole dynamic flow between these - will become available for examination.

The project set out in this book is an investigation into the methodology of the psychoanalysis of culture. In establishing the nature of the Freudian methodology, I show how this actually works, both in Freud himself, in a number of major and minor works, and then in major works of two other writers who, although cultural analysts, are not necessarily thought of usually as psycho-analysts: Claude Lévi-Strauss and Gregory Bateson. I will be concerned with a notion of a cultural unconscious as much as with an individual unconscious, mapping the one onto the other. Psychoanalysis as a methodology was developed for the further investigation of the personal unconscious, and is usually thought of as being concerned with individual histories, but it will be shown to have general aspects as well, especially in the later Freud, where the methodology has greater applicability and predictability.

The second procedure I shall be carrying out is a critique of the ideas of these three thinkers. This will constitute the demonstration of the utility of the methodology of reading developed in this book: a psychoanalytic mode of textual analysis. These two parts of the project will be engaged with more or less simultaneously, asserting the coherence of what it at the same time deconstructs, in order to show that although the Freudian method of textual analysis, when applied to itself, finds itself to have fissures and lacunae requiring suture, still remains paradoxically intact, having proved itself functional in operation.

Freud himself in a sense set me my task in this book, in the passage which I have placed as an epigraph to it, a passage in which he draws an analogy between individual and cultural development, especially with regard to the superego of each. While not claiming to have the requisite 'knowledge of human civilizations' which Freud has in mind, I shall nevertheless make a contribution to this enterprise by pursuing this analogy in the detail provided firstly by Freud himself and then by two other cultural analysts: Lévi-Strauss and Bateson. The details - the reproaches and demands of the cultural superego, [3] and the way in which it 'observes, directs and threatens' [4] - I shall regard as texts for analysis. I shall examine the methodologies of these other analysts, and show how they themselves are also responsive to these reproaches and demands.

One of the ultimate aims of the exercise was also laid down by Freud. It is to work towards 'an eventual accommodation' of the 'dispute within the economics of the libido' 'between the primal instincts of Eros and death.' [5] And in order to know what are the terms of that life-and-death struggle, given that one is not normally aware of the kinds of entities with which the 'economics of the libido' is concerned, it is of course necessary to become conscious of them and therefore, if necessary, to bring them to consciousness. Hence the necessity for (psycho)analysis.

I follow Freud in the employment of the hypothesis that there are mental functions which are sufficiently separable and distinct to be able to be given names which seem to imply a topological mode of existence, though, as is generally known, their description in Freud becomes progressively less dynamic, economic and topographic and more merely descriptive. Thus the term 'ego' (in German: 'das Ich' - 'the I') refers to that part of the mental apparatus that is concerned with the reality of the self's existence in the world; the 'id' (in German: 'das Es' - 'the It') refers to the existence of unconscious 'drives' (in German: 'Trieben' - translated in the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Freud as 'instincts') for survival, sex, and so on; and the 'superego' (in German: 'das Über-Ich' - 'the Over-I' or 'above-I') refers to that part of the mind which is concerned with morality, watches over the ego and censors its actions and intentions. Freud describes the I, the it, and the above-I as the 'three provinces of the apparatus of the soul' ('die drei Provinzen des seelischen Apparats') in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in the chapter entitled 'The analysis of the psychical personality.' [6]

My investigation will follow Freud in showing the way in which the struggle in the ego between desire and fear results in the establishment or introjection of the superego, which in turn produces culture. The accounts that the ego gives of reality in Freud's own analyses and case studies unintentionally show in their traces the presence of both the other aspects of the Freudian mind, the id and the superego. All three contest the space for textuality, since it is primarily language that it is the arena of struggle: [7] the unconscious by (Freudian) definition is that which is denied access to language; and the superego is an agency for the control of what is allowed to be uttered.

It will be convenient to speak of the 'texts' appropriate to each of the (basically three) aspects - or 'levels' - of mind, and the chief methodology used throughout this book is textual analysis. It is important to be clear about the fact that 'text' is a broad category which includes behavioural as well as linguistic phenomena. Text which is seen as proceeding from 'the unconscious', or, more accurately, from the id, may be identified as 'id-text'. Such text - if and when it is permitted to emerge in disguised form - frequently takes the form of non-verbal behaviour. When it is verbal text, it often takes the form of aberrant language such as slips of the tongue, but will also appear in accounts of dreams and in jokes. The account of alleged normality which may be called 'ego text' may be interrupted and interfered with by id-text; and also by the operations of the superego, which are shown as resulting in contradictions, and in gaps, fissures and lacunae in this account: phenomena which can only be accounted for as the result of a disputation of the territory, a contestation for the control of what Freud calls the 'mental apparatus' (in the standard translation). The superego's functions are also displayed in automatised behaviours which derive from social constraint.

Manifestations of the superego may also be recuperated for analysis in textual form: in what will be called 'supertext'. This is inscribed among other things in habits and other forms of behaviour, as well as in what is normally thought of as textual form. Typical examples of the most manifest form of supertext would include: the Constitution of the United States of America, Mosaic law, social etiquette, and the rules of golf. However, as will be discussed below, items such as these are not as straightforward as they at first seem and are actually enigmatic phenomena. When any of these apparently simple object supertexts is examined it is found to have no boundaries around it, and not to be where it was thought to be. The whole question of levels of text, and supertext in particular, will be taken up again and amplified in the section on 'The nature of text.'


1 1930a, SE 21: 141.

2 I am not aware of any previous use of this term, although I note Nick Browne's proposal of the notion of the 'television (super) text,' in a different sense and context. Browne 1987 [1984].

3 1930a, SE 21: 141-3.

4 1933a, SE 22: 62.

5 1930a, SE 21: 141. 'Instincts' is the word chosen by Strachey to convey the sense of 'Trieben', a decision which has often been questioned. The word 'drive' has come into more common usage since that time, and I shall usually employ it when discussing Freud's concept. Bateson at one point calls Trieben 'inchoate forces or pushes or heavings' (1987 [1967]: 138-9).

6 1933a, SE 22: 72; GW 15: 79. These are Bettelheim's translation of the phrase and of the title of this chapter (Lecture 31), which in the standard translation is called 'Dissection of the personality,' translating 'Die Zerlegung der psychischen Persönlichkeit.' Bettelheim 1985 [1983]: 72.

7 Benveniste 1971.


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