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Chapter 3: Freud on culture


A culture is a complex phenomenon and problematic concept (whether so called, or considered as 'civilization', or 'community', or 'society'), to deal with which it is necessary to break it down into smaller components. Furthermore, one may organise the analysis into a hierarchy from the simplest through the more complex. Such an analysis is proposed in this chapter. In that my informing procedure is textual analysis, as I have said, I shall organise my discussion in those terms, speaking of texts, 'authors' and contexts. I shall establish the nature of textual psycho-analysis by beginning with the smallest units available to me, which, following Freud, I shall take to be parapraxes, and I shall read them as textual fragments. I shall then analyse Freud's own analysis of a text within a text: dreams as set out in a literary work - for Freud, the text par excellence is that of the dream - and then consider the creative sources of texts, before looking at the broader contexts in which they exist and are received. And I reiterate my proposition of the existence of a culture-text of an encompassing nature, which I call 'supertext'.

The curious thing, finally, about the Freudian method of textual analysis, is that although when applied to itself it finds itself crucially flawed, it still remains paradoxically intact, having proved itself functional in operation. The distortions wrought by desire - the condensations and displacements - turn out to be an essential part of any account and any interpretation, including a Freudian one.

In the opening pages of one of his last great works Freud considers the problem of the interpretation of culture, and he concludes that there too it is a question of getting the patient on the couch: '... one is justified [he writes] in attempting to discover a psychoanalytic - that is, a genetic explanation ...' - in that psychoanalysis is a method of explaining the origins of present condition of such things as states of mind, to which culture more generally is analogous.1 Understanding may be an end in itself, but there may be a more practical purpose in bringing psychoanalysis to bear: a culture may become sick, neurotic, and psychoanalysis may be able to play a part in understanding the nature of the problem, if not also in treating it. The book concludes with the idea that '... we may expect that one day someone will venture to embark upon a pathology of cultural communities.'2

In order to show how Freud is able to arrive at the idea of the possibility of diagnosing the 'pathology of a cultural community', it will be necessary, not merely to map a micro-analytic methodology onto a macro-, but to show a series of intervening stages, in the form of a hierarchy of subjects for analysis, in the same way that Freud himself does, in an Œuvre which ranges from the study of the tiniest parapraxes through a consideration of individual texts, individual authors, and then to epochs, species, and to culture as a whole.

What Freud has to say about culture can be read, I propose, on three levels. The smallest elements which begin to reveal meaning - which are capable of being differentiated in a meaningful way, and therefore analysed as texts - are parapraxes and the minute revelations of the psychoanalytic techniques of free association and dream analysis. A second level of text is that produced by an unitary, identified author, such as Wilhelm Jensen's Gradiva, or Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin with St Anne. (An author itself is more complex, and is analysed separately.) An epoch, such as Freud's Civilization (and its Discontents), and his view of a species (as in Totem and Taboo), each with its own teleology, each forms a text of a higher order.

A few points of a general kind should be made at the outset about Freud's methodology - more as a writer than as a psychoanalyst - as they will be recurrent themes. Firstly, there is Freud's method of argument by analogy. On some occasions he makes clear the extent to which he is dependent on analogies of the description of his method, as when he writes in The Question of Lay Analysis: '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.'3

In a key moment in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, he explicitly uses analogy instead of argument, writing: 'Instead of a discussion, however, I shall bring forward an analogy to deal with the objection.'4 This is a point at which he is dealing with the reason for the forgetting of names, and although he is not yet prepared to indicate what is in his view the precise reason for this (namely: repression), he wishes to persuade his reader to stay with him; and so he inserts a narrative about what we would now call a mugging, an event with just the right combination of violence and yet familiarity to allow readers to accept that such things happen but that the agents are usually unknown. That he is confident of the efficacy of this procedure is indicated by that fact that he uses the same analogy again in the Lecture 3 of the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.5

There is a specious argument that because the unconscious must communicate in figures of speech it is appropriate to discuss it in a similar style, an argument supported by Bruno Bettelheim.

Because of repression, or the influence of censorship, the unconscious reveals itself in symbols or metaphors, and psychoanalysis, in its concern with the unconscious, tries to speak about it in its own metaphoric language.6

Although Freud uses analogy - as a comparison between two separate and distinct and different things - what he is most interested in is primary process. This is a mode of thinking which may be capable of an awareness of the differences between things, but is more interested in their confluences (overdetermination and condensation), and their similarities and ability to replace each other (displacement). I suggest that analogy is actually primary process subjected to 'secondary revision', and that Freud is unconscious of the source of his recurrent need to use analogy.

A deeper sense of Freud's use of analogy, however, is that it is the result of a perception of homologies between what in this book are called levels. Consider the Slovakia metaphor, for example, in Lecture 23 of the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Freud introduces this in a characteristically persuasive way: 'Let me give you an analogy; analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.'7 He then proceeds to a brief description of some of the characteristics of the Slovakia of his time (without naming it) in which German, Magyars (or Hungarians) and Slovaks live, in which there are three kinds of topography and also three groups of industry. He constructs the image partly to demonstrate the complexity of the interrelationships of the parts of the mental apparatus (and partly to have a shot at the powers that at Versailles divided up parts of Europe - arbitrarily, in Freud's view), and to show that the assignment of distinct names to them tends to obscure the way in which they in fact overlap and interact. But as the image is also apt to make a point about the same kind of complexity in matters cultural, and as it has been suggested that is appropriate in detail (although deciding nothing) it implies a powerful homology between the mind and culture, two of the most important levels of text examined in this book.

We can analyse this analogy somewhat in the way that Freud would examine the account of a dream. Firstly, there are the day's residues: in this case his experiences in growing up in this part of Europe together with his reflections on the politics of defining a nation. Then we see the conflation of the two different realms of human experience, political geography and metapsychology; and the displacement of the one set of structures for the other. There is also the overdetermination of the tripartite structures: German, Magyars, Slovaks; hills, plains, lakes; cattle, cereals and wine, fish and reeds; superego, ego, id. Finally an instance of secondary revision can be clearly seen in the conclusion of Freud's demonstration.

If the partitioning could be neat and clear-cut like this, a Woodrow Wilson would be delighted by it; it would also be convenient for a lecture in a geography lesson. The probability is, however, that you will find less orderliness and more missing, if you travel through the region. ... A few things are naturally as you expected, for fish cannot be caught in the mountains and wine does not grow in the water. Indeed, the picture of the region that you brought with you may on the whole fit the facts; but you will have to put up with deviations in the details.8

The implication for my analogy (with dream-analysis) is clearly that there will be a slippage between the different meanings of the images as the process of overdetermination tries to get each to do different work at the same time, and certain elements will have to be refined or retuned, whether in the service of more or less precise correspondence.

We might note in passing that the process described by Freud in the paragraph just quoted is quite a precise description of the way in which Lévi-Strauss proceeds, and his account of the geography of the Northwest Pacific coast of British Columbia, and the way in which it interacts with the activities of the people who lived there - the correspondences and pairings and intercalated binary and ternary structures - is strikingly similar to Freud's analysis. For someone interested in the relationship between mind and culture, Freud's little mythical story recalls the story of the myth of Asdiwal, which is of course one of the tours de force of the structural anthropologist. Perhaps a brief quotation from 'The story of Asdiwal' might make the point clearer (allowing for the different conclusion) than any comparison.

All the paradoxes conceived by the native mind, on the most diverse planes - geographic, economic, sociological, and even cosmological - are, when all is said and done, assimilated to that less obvious yet so real paradox, the dilemma which marriage with the matrilateral cousin attempts but fails to resolve. But the failure is admitted in our myths, and there precisely lies their function.9

A final point might be made, while still on the topic of Slovakia. Freud is, as we have seen, critical to some extent of the political-geographical situation that he receives and describes in his image. The reference to the American President suggests that there might have been a better way to carry out the partition, and certainly events in the region in our own very recent past suggest that this is so. Freud, however, is ultimately accepting of many of the aspects of the picture. He takes the different kinds of primary industry as givens: agriculture, viticulture, and the human culture implied in the national names. The fact that an outsider like Wilson might get it wrong only makes clearer the implication that received political geography is meaningful and in some senses right. This is an example of a cultural unconscious about which Freud does not speak because he cannot; it is an example of the mind-culture system at work, concealing the apparent inevitability of what at the same time it makes most plain. It is not that his assumption about this matter, that which is taken-for-granted, is unthinkable: it is unsayable, something which is outside consciousness because it is so taken-for-granted. This kind of unconscious, which I am calling a kind of cultural unconscious for want of a better term - and perhaps a notion of the 'non-conscious' might be more accurate - cannot be accommodated by consciousness because it is too large in its systematicity.

I return now to the notion of association in the unconscious - to remark that although it is of the content of Freud's writing, it is of the form also - as I have suggested above. Such association may be of many kinds, and may be combined. I shall mainly be dealing here with condensation and displacement, following Freud in arguing that in the unconscious their functions are not necessarily separated. This quotation from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is one of a multitude of examples where Freud discriminates between phenomena which are not necessarily differentiated by the unconscious, and where the distinction is like that between metaphor and metonymy.

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 often unconscious - by an unexpected external association.10

Even though what Freud called system Ucs in the early, so-called 'Project for a Scientific Psychology' has since gone underground,11 he continues to see 'the unconscious' as systematic: but its systematicity is different from that of the ego, from the rational and everyday, and in some ways is opposed in its functioning.

Turning to what we might see as another 'system': it is remarkable how often Freud appeals to the authority of literature (a sub-system of the system of culture perhaps). He seems genuinely to think, and often writes, that he is merely rediscovering what creative writers have revealed before him about unconscious aspects of mental functioning, as in this typical quotation from The Interpretation of Dreams.

The theme of the ring leaves one once again with the impression of how hard it is for a psycho-analyst to discover anything new that has not been known before by some creative writer.12

He frequently quotes from works of literature, showing, I suggest, Freud's unconscious sense that this is a literary supertext which functions partly as a cultural determinant. To give a crude example, it is well known that it was the essay on nature - thought at one time to be by Goethe - which is supposed to have been the spur that pricked the side of Freud's intent and drove him into what was to become psychoanalysis. So literature not only has an inspirational effect for him, but it also evidence of the interpenetration of Freud's mind - his way of thinking by analogy and citation - and the culture of which he is the recipient, and in which he is imbricated.

His explanatory models are, on the other hand, based on nineteenth-century science. These 'hydraulic', or 'pneumatic' models, have to do with pressure and release, bypass and expulsion. Bateson mounts a powerful critique of models of this type, especially in respect of the particular kind of relationship which Freud saw between what he observed in his clinic and what he had inherited as the material for a model which would explain the behaviour. He attacked this kind of modelling repeatedly, on different occasions.

The nineteenth-century scientists (notably Freud) who tried to establish a bridge between behavioral data and the fundamental physical and chemical sciences were, surely, correct in insisting upon the need for such a bridge but, I believe, wrong in choosing 'energy' as the foundation for that bridge.13

The ordinary analogies of energy theory which people borrow from the hard sciences to provide a conceptual frame upon which they try to build theories about psychology and behavior - that entire Procrustean structure - is non-sense. It is in error.14

There is a strong tendency in explanatory prose to invoke quantities of tension, energy, and whatnot [sic] to explain the genesis of pattern. I believe that all such explanations are inappropriate or wrong. From the point of view of any agent who imposes a quantitative change, any change of pattern which may occur will be unpredictable or divergent.15

It may be seen from this that the kinds of models with which Freud and Bateson are working are quite different. Freud's basic science does not allow for aleatory factors, and - which is extremely interesting in a 'science' based on case study and observation - does not allow for an observer effect in its description of the determinants of the data presented for observation (although it does of course depend heavily on what will later be called the Heisenbergian uncertainty principle in his use of the notions of transference and the 'talking cure' generally). In terms of the time up until the moment when the Identified Patient arrives at the consulting rooms in the Berggasse, she (or he) has been the passive subject of the forces which drive her: innate drives for survival and sex, a superego which oversees and bullies, and cultural forces which constrain and channel her desires. Only the psycho-analyst can bring about change. For Bateson, the systems which operate between mind and culture are capable of variation at any time by participants or outside forces. I shall take up his model of the mind-culture system again in Chapter 5.

Another distinction which is maintained in Freud as being fixed is that between the normal and the abnormal. In argument, his typical move is from the abnormal to the normal, in his use of the pathological to illuminate the normal. He points out that the boundary between what are described as normal and as pathological states of mind is not fixed, and in fact we all cross it many times a day.16 'We are all a little neurotic.'17 However, it is more useful, he stresses, to study those that are pathological because the data provided by grosser phenomena will be easier to read and interpret than those provided by slighter.18 It will still, nevertheless, be useful to study commonplace phenomena such as parapraxes, chance actions and symptomatic actions, because they are analogous to (pathologically) neurotic symptoms.19 The exchange of meaning flows both ways.

It might be useful to stress, albeit in passing, that although Freud does write, as I have just quoted, that 'we are all a little neurotic,' he really does mean only 'a little,' and is not asserting, as has often mistakenly been thought, that we are all irretrievably mad. Norman O. Brown, for example, is one writer who has built an impressive edifice on what begins as a slight misunderstanding and goes on to become what is really a betrayal of Freud.20 Brown writes for example: 'Between "normality" and "abnormality" there is not a qualitative but only a quantitative difference, based largely on the practical question of whether our neurosis is serious enough to incapacitate us for work.' This is not Freud's view (although that is how it is presented by Brown): he is interested in both the abnormal and the normal, and studies the former precisely in order to be able to make the leap across the qualitative gap between the two.

Finally, and most importantly, attention has and will be given here to the lacunae, gaps and fissures which appear in Freud's texts as being revelatory of his own unconscious desires. Such phenomena, it is argued may perhaps be due to repression and to the return of the repressed. In this example he himself refers to 'broken edges', although without referring to any possibly unconscious reasons for the breaks. (I deal with this in more detail in the section on 'Epoch and species'.)

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.21

I shall suggest that there are some 'broken edges' which indicate that Freud's conclusions are untimely ripped from his cultural setting which is the unconscious reason for the artificiality of the detachment. Freud, like the rest of us, is also a receiver and consumer of supertext, and, like all of us, subject to the machinations of the mind-culture system.


The smallest texts considered by Freud, and therefore also in this book, are what are called 'parapraxes'; the most minute of parapraxes is linked with the overarching culture, however, through the workings of the mechanism of repression. (James Strachey introduced the neologism 'parapraxis' for the translation of 'Fehlleistungen';22 'mischievements' is Walter Kaufmann's suggestion;23 Bruno Bettelheim, in his discussion of the standard translation, prefers 'faulty achievements.'24) 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 - all of these represent the return of the repressed. They are all evidence of the existence of unconscious mental activities or states. In the unconscious realm of psychical activity there are functions which are presumed to follow obscure rules: and Freud's hypotheses concerning these include the four mechanisms he analysed: Verdichtung (condensation), Verschiebung (displacement), Rücksicht auf Darstellbarkeit (considerations of representability) and sekundäre Bearbeitung (secondary revision). What condensation and displacement have in common, as do metaphor and metonymy, are association, and the striking thing about the way these mechanisms work, is that it does not seem to matter which of the two kinds of association are in play - similarity or contiguity - provided that either one is available. One alleged proof of this assertion is that in favourable circumstances they may replace each other or operate together. The only really important consideration is association. And such undifferentiated association is characteristic of the mode of existence of a hypothetical originary mental state (or indeed organism).

Inasmuch as this state continues to exist - as Freud suggests, like the buried strata of a sedimented city like Troy or Rome - and inasmuch as we are not normally able to be conscious of it - it exists in 'the unconscious'.25 Lou Andreas-Salom... also saw analysis as analogous to archeology: 'The analytical excavations had been carried out with infinite methodological care and caution, bringing to light, layer by layer, increasingly deeper levels of our primal being ... from the very first grandiose spadework of Freud ...'26 Freud himself came to believe, however, that the unconscious was not so much a location as a system. He saw this as so unitary a phenomenon in 1895 that he invents a special term for it, calling it system Ucs.27 But what is fascinating about his 'system' is that it is - in any usual sense of the word - quite unsystematic. Seeking to define the unconscious as a system, Freud lists its specific characteristics as follows: 'Exemption from mutual contradiction, primary process (mobility of cathexes), timelessness, and replacement of external by psychical cathexes - these are the characteristics which we may expect to find in processes belonging to the system Ucs.'28 Freud's 'shaking of the Cartesian picture of a unitary consciousness'29 among other things consists in this contradiction (as it would in any other than this psychoanalytic context be seen) of calling part of the human mind a 'system' when it can countenance the simultaneous existence of propositions which contradict one other, where present, past and future times are all the same time, and where nothing, by definition, can be asserted to be the case. And yet it is a useful though paradoxical hypothesis, inasmuch as it 'promises to clarify the workings of our ordinary conflictual moral experience.'30 To show how this is possible it will be necessary to map the micro onto the macro, and vice versa.

I begin, then, with so-called 'parapraxes'. That a 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 the subject, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.31 The forgetting of proper names is, however, not in in any trivial sense a locus classicus of parapraxis, in that the name of the cultural object is the critical marker of the entry into culture. As Elizabeth Wright succinctly puts it, when dealing with the signal relationship between psychoanalysis and language:

Through language, desire becomes subject to rules, and yet this language cannot define the body's experience accurately. What is of peculiar interest to psychoanalysis - some would say peculiar in the sense of both special and bizarre - is that aspect of experience which has been ignored or prohibited by the rules of language.32

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, resistance to being drawn into the system, and the return of the repressed 'experience prohibited by the rules of language': a return to the preverbal.

The authority of Lacan provides circumstantial evidence in support, when he points out that the assignment of a proper name is the mark of the enforced entry into culture, into the Symbolic Order: it is the first supertext - as he writes: 'Thus the subject, too, if he [sic] can appear to be the slave of language is all the more so of a discourse in the universal movement in which his place is already inscribed at birth, if only by virtue of his proper name.'33

The examples that Freud deals with in the opening three chapters of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life are all concerned with screen associations and paramnesia. What I have suggested about the forgetting of proper names takes the analysis one step further, in proposing the idea of forgetting without association or replacement: going below, as it were, the 'repressed thoughts' of 'death and sexuality,'34 to the final return to quiescence, Thanatos, the return to the mother, 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.35)

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 English editor puts into the printed text, Freud wrote 'Namenvergessen' - 'the forgetting of names,'36 suggesting, as I do, that names are originary, in being psychologically prior to words of other than this primary kind in the sense that 'naming' is an originary form of language as such.

In making this point, I am equating certain kinds of primary forgetting with the return of the repressed, rather than with repression as such. This will become clearer in a re-examination of the mechanism of jokes, a part of which, in many cases, is a momentary resistance to the membership of the culture (through the temporary lifting of repression), while at the same time being a reaffirmation of some of its aspects (in a unspoken recognition of those aspects which are in play in the joke-work, though unconscious). To put it more briefly: a joke is a cultural symptom. The clearest example in Freud will of course be found in Jewish jokes.

The first Jewish joke that Freud introduces in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious is explicitly about anti-semitism: it is in fact a play on the word: antisemitism/antesemitism, thus announcing one of Freud's interests in jokes concerned with Jews.37 This is what might be called the sociological view, as represented here by Bruno Bettelheim.

The anti-Semitism that was rampant in Vienna aroused strong feelings among the Jewish populations, feelings it may have been unwise to show openly, and Jewish jokes often permitted the ventilation of these feelings; they were often metaphors for the true feelings of Viennese Jews.38

Most of the Jewish jokes, however, are of the kind which Jews are supposed to be able to enjoy telling each other, despite being disparaging of the Jewish character to some degree. The first of the first main group is to do with the play on words 'taking a bath'. ('What? Is there one missing?') The joke simultaneously establishes both pluses and minuses about a given culture: although one may be dirty, one may at least be witty about it; although one may allow oneself to be seen as capable of misappropriating the property of others, one may at the same time deny this by implication, packing this into the ironical question: 'I could have taken it and got away with it, but on this occasion I chose not to. If someone took a bath, it wasn't me.' Freud obviously wants to identify with this clever culture, while at the same time understressing his participation in any less desirable characteristics it may have - or part of it: he specifies 'Galician Jews' aversion to baths.' (It is probably relevant to remember that Freud's father Jacob was from Galicia, although Sigmund himself was born on the other side of the Carpathians.) He makes an extraordinary claim concerning his use of Jewish jokes generally: that he collects them and cites because they are simply better jokes, rather than because they reveal anything about a particular culture, or about membership of any culture. He writes: 'For we do not insist upon a patent of nobility from our examples. We make no enquiries about their origin but only about their efficiency - whether they are capable of making us laugh and whether they deserve our theoretical interest. And both these two requirements are best fulfilled precisely by Jewish jokes.'39 It is a case of having your bagel and eating it too.

The second joke of this group is concerned with an 'impoverished bon vivant' who claims the right both to borrow money and also to eat the most expensive of food: salmon mayonnaise. Freud writes that although 'it is again a Jewish joke ... this time it is only the setting that is Jewish, the core belongs to humanity in general.'40 This assertion exhibits the same contradiction, affirmation/denial, found in the joke itself, which makes culture-heroes of men who live splendidly on credit, who dine out on other people's money: 'it's a general characteristic (so I needn't be especially ashamed), but some of us are better at than others (so I can be especially pleased).' Note that the Schnorrer (Jewish beggar) jokes exhibit exactly the same structure, but it cannot be claimed in their case (because of the cultural specificity of the phenomenon) that they have a general human core.41

Immediately after re-telling these two jokes, the 'taking a bath' joke, and the 'salmon mayonnaise' one that follows, Freud introduces for the first time in this book the notion of displacement. 'I propose to describe it as "displacement",' he writes, 'since its essence lies in the diversion of the train of thought, the displacement of the psychical emphasis on to a topic other than the opening one.'42 It is therefore strikingly noticeable, if one is looking at relations between language, culture and the unconscious that Freud is himself writing about 'technique' - in a technologisation of this cultural phenomenon ('First we must give a name to the technique brought to light in it'),43 - rather than about the nature of the collective unconscious that produced it and about his own displacement of the word ('multiple use,' 'double meaning') for the thought (cultural identity).

Both these jokes and Freud's attitude display a profound ambivalence towards the joke-work that engineers them: to be at the same time both smart and dirty, rich and poor, is both good and bad, also simultaneously. To combine each of these pairs into one is to be cynical, which Freud exposes himself to be when he unpacks the salmon mayonnaise joke.44 A similar cynicism, at the basis of another self-contradiction, is to be found in the Schadchen (Jewish marriage-broker) jokes, the point of which is precisely misrepresentation: the misrepresentation of the personal characteristics or circumstances of a proposed spouse.45 The self-contradiction at least partly resides in the imposition of a cultural means (arranged marriage) on a natural end (sexual desire), or a confusion of the two. The cynicism resides in the jokes' demonstrating that the marriage-broker institution is doomed to be less than perfect in effecting what it is set up to carry out, while showing how its efficiency allows it to go on operating.

It is as a result of work of this kind (which - if it were not to use an absurdly long word - we might agree to call 'metapsychoanalytic') that we can see how analysis of the smallest cultural production reveals the relationships between the individual textual producer (speaker, dreamer, joke-reteller) and the culture(s) with which individuals are imbricated. The change of one letter (antisemitism/antesemitism, in Freud's example) may make all the difference.

Jokes are texts whose usefulness is in testing the boundaries of the culture, and to debate what is acceptable as opposed to what is abject, that which 'does not respect borders, positions, rules ... the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.'46 By always being in a position of straddling the boundaries of various cultural norms (to do with race, sex, aging, ab/normality, and so on), they are continually involved in the process of cultural redefinition. It is in this complex way that these supertexts transmit their unconscious messages.

Freud's re-telling Jewish jokes has provided an example of the conveying of the demands of the cultural superego, and the latent way in which it 'observes, directs and threatens.' The jokes condense the Jew's multiple attitudes to his culture: the membership of which may be dangerous and is typically at least threatened. Telling and retelling such jokes represent the observation of the complexity of Jewishness, and the direction to admit to participation - but also the threat of the contempt which arises from what we euphemistically call 'prejudice': racial hatred. This is particularly poignant in the case of Freud including a joke negatively critical of the Galician people from among whom his own father came. The joke itself, however, by the force of the joke-work, appears to turn what might otherwise have been an unfortunate characteristic into a positive attribute, and thus displays in its structure the operation of the resolution of the Œdipus complex. The attack on the father is repressed and disguised, and by the operation of unconscious condensation turned into a kind of homage.

I have identified a number of texts of different kinds so far: jokes, slips, supertexts; and have argued that there are two primary kinds of text for Freud: one the dreamtext, and the other the patient's presentation (though the second will often include versions of the first). I have dealt with these theoretical questions in the section on 'The nature of text', but in the present section discuss how Freud goes about analysing text. Rather than treat at this point what might be seen as the simplest kind of text (such as Freud's own dream of 24 July 1885, which I have discussed above), I shall examine what is apparently the most complicated, nested text, as I believe that, paradoxically perhaps, the complexity of the task will prevent the analyst from being as self-conscious as he might otherwise be, thus permitting the revelation of the repressed, unconscious aspects of his procedure. So I shall deal with accounts of dreams dreamt by a fictional character in a text produced by an author who did not make himself available for analysis, in the expectation that the analyst will, in dealing with this complicated situation, be less aware of what he is betraying of his own drives and therefore making available for our analysis.

'How was it that the author arrived at the same knowledge as the doctor - or at least behaved as though he possessed the same knowledge?'47 The author, in this sentence from Freud's book on the Gradiva story (Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva), is its writer, Wilhelm Jensen, the 'doctor' is of course Freud himself. Part of the answer to Freud's question is to be found in the fact that he himself is also an author: winner of the Goethe Prize for Literature in 1930. And Freud has a story to tell: about Wilhelm Jensen and 'his' dreams.

In order to continue to support his argument for his method of dream-analysis and for the support it in turn gives to his hypothesis of the unconscious, Freud turned to this text, following Jung's suggestion, because it itself uses dream analysis. There are two dreams recounted in the story: one we may interpret (in the literary sense) as being concerned with the method of analysis, the other with the symbolisation of which dreams are capable, that is, with what the method is designed to interpret (in the psychoanalytic sense). The first dream may be seen as a metaphor for repression, for the laying down of the layers which have to be carefully excavated. ('... There was a perfect similarity between the burial of Pompeii - the disappearance of the past combined with its preservation - and repression ...')48 The dreamer, Norbert Hanold, finds himself in Pompeii on the day of the eruption of Vesuvius and witnesses the city's destruction.49 He also witnesses the death and burial of 'Gradiva', who will later turn out to be his childhood sweetheart, the girl-next-door, Zoë Bertgang, whom he will realise he loves and presumably will marry and live happily ever after with. But first he has, as it were, to dig her up out of his unconscious. (Freud quotes the story itself speaking of the 'childhood friend who had been dug out of the ruins.')50

Norbert's second dream involves Gradiva setting a trap to catch a lizard, which is however carried off by a bird instead. In the dream Gradiva says 'Our lady colleague is right; the method is a really good one and she has made use of it with excellent results.'51 What a wonderfully opportune text for Freud to work on: one which not only offers symbolisation of sexual drives but which also refers to the efficacy of a method of capture! The lizard itself is a perfect example of overdetermination: it is the hero of the story (Norbert), who is to be caught by the girl; it is also the girl herself, who at another point in the story slips through a narrow gap, 'like an agile little lizard';52 it is also that part of a young man's body which is apt to slip into narrow gaps (though Freud - no vulgar Freudian - is too discreet to say so); and, I suggest, it is also Jensen's and then Freud's readers, who will be caught by the intricate trap set by the tale and then the analysis in its turn.

Freud slowly and carefully constructs narratives alternative to the one in the given text (the printed text in this case - or else to the oral text with which his patient presents - or else to the manifest dream) so that, bit by bit, we are to be persuaded by this trope, by his rhetoric, to suspend our disbelief in the fiction he is creating, and to allow ourselves to be caught by his demonstration. Another example - there are many throughout his Œuvre - is in the Leonardo story, which will be discussed below.

There are two kinds of meta-statement in use. The first is the kind sometimes called 'signposting': where the author refers to the writing process, and gives directions as to his argument or procedure. Examples are scattered everywhere in Freud's text, and many examples could be given, such as these: 'It is not so easy for us to say what the author intended with this dream ...;'53 'We may declare ourselves dissatisfied with the explanation that has hitherto been given ...;'54 'And what if now, growing bold, we were to try to find a representation in the content of the dream ...;'55 and the most tendentious of all, perhaps: '... we have probably often roused a suspicion that what we pretended was the author's meaning was in fact only our own. I am anxious to do all I can to dissipate this suspicion, and for that reason I will gladly enter into more detail over one of the most delicate points ...'56

A second kind of meta-statement is the technique where Freud actually constructs the words of a dialogue for himself and his reader, and even for the text under examination itself. Thus he will write: 'I can well imagine that at this point a reader may exclaim: "The dream is quite easily explained ...;"'57 and: 'If we apply these notions to the dream we are concerned with, we shall find that its latent dream-thoughts can only have been: "the girl you are looking for with the graceful gait is really living in this town with you."'58

As can be clearly seen, Freud actually uses the persuasive techniques of a creative writer - or orator - not only to convince his readers by rational argument, but also to persuade them by rhetoric, to accept the force of what he is saying and feel that they are in agreement with him.

Jensen's story is something of a Bildungsroman, in that we see the hero coming to understand something he needs to know to live 'correctly' - that he should marry the girl next door. More profoundly: he should look into the present of his own German culture for the satisfaction of his needs before seeking further afield in a past Empire and a more southerly civilization.

In showing this forth, Freud's analysis in its turn proposes a conclusion that is not dissimilar: by bringing to consciousness examination previously unconscious phenomena such as dreams, puns (such as Bertgang, meaning 'bright step,' which is related to Gradiva, meaning 'she who steps'), and symbols (such as the lizard), the subject is able to be clear about his own desires - which turn out to involve a recognition of and identification with the culture which produces him and which is in a sense co-extensive with his mind, in that it is the source or system of the meaning of his life-in-culture.

In discussing this text - as is often the case when analysing detective stories, or sciencefiction stories containing a timeloop paradox - the analyst is drawn to notice the effect of regression. I analyse Freud on Wilhelm Jensen who is describing Norbert Hanold. But there is a recursive tendency in the opposite direction. Norbert Hanold's real analyst is Zo‘ Bertgang, who therefore is shown revealing (through Norbert Hanold) to Wilhelm Jensen his own secret - as discovered by Freud. I in turn make my discovery.

The text returns, as if repressed.59 Because of its ambiguous nature, being simultaneously (a part of a) culture and something containing assertions about culture, a text is a confusing condensation of cultural production: a sign, partitioned into signifier and signified: not/culture. While telling a story - or a nested series of stories - about analysis, it itself offers an analysis. In the series of analysands - Norbert Hanold/Wilhelm Jensen/Sigmund Freud/his reader/my reader - Norbert Hanold is at the base of a construct the superstructure of which is being reformed at this moment as you read my text: the text continues to return.

This is a nice example of the mind-culture system (or system MC) that will be discovered through Bateson's work, in Chapter 5 below - where there is actually a set of systems within systems within systems, each one forming a discrete but related part of the larger system MC which inscribes each subject in culture. So Freud gives us a textual analysis, an account of the way this textual system works. Within that there is the system of psychoanalysis with its revelatory function. Within that again is the system of archeology with its function of the recovery of lost culture. Another sub-system is that of the development of the young man in relation to courtship and choice of a partner, the Bildung (= education) referred to above. Another sub-system concerns the place of dreams and other apparatuses of communication (slips and word-play) whose function is to reveal to subjects their own 'meanings'. And all these supertextual components of system MC function basically 'in the unconscious' though each can be revealed by the appropriate mode of analysis relevant to the system.


The notion of the author is a turning-point in this Chapter, standing between, as it does, the microanalysis of levels in a text on the one hand, and discussion of species and epoch on the one hand. The category of author participates in both, being simultaneously both a product of the family and social enterprise and a carrier of the culture. An author is a recognised social individual who both receives and transmits unconscious cultural messages.

As seen by Freud, Leonardo is the very type of this ambiguity, being both an individual human being suffering a great loss for the sake of the culture (sexual for artistic expression), and also the great creative artist. In the capital 'c' sense, Leonardo is Culture, in that he sets a standard in Received Culture for perfection in the visual arts. But even more than that, he is revered for being 'Renaissance Man' - for his all-roundedness, his interest and capability in all things, that is, his perfect representativeness as a human being. He is therefore the perfect carrier for all the baggage in the cultural unconscious. Even if he is not all that he has been seen to be, he still performs this role by virtue of the kind of reverent attention that is paid to his productions.

In the case of Jensen, Freud was dealing with a living author, who, although he was apparently receptive to what Freud had to say, in the form of correspondence, did not make himself available to Freud for actual analysis, and Freud, circumspect on this occasion, did not allow himself to speculate explicitly about what drove Jensen.60 A dead author, however, could not resist or proscribe a Freudian procedure being carried out, and several were so analysed in more or less detail, including Shakespeare, Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Michelangelo, Dostoevsky, and Leonardo da Vinci. Also, after writing the Gradiva essay, and by the time that Freud had come to think about Leonardo, his focus had shifted, and with regard to creativity, from 'the laws which the activities of this unconscious must obey'61 to the sources of material with which the creative process works.

In the five years that have passed since this [Gradiva] study was completed, psycho-analytic research has summoned up the courage to approach the creations of imaginative writers with yet another purpose in view. It no longer merely seeks in them for confirmations of the findings it has made from unpoetic, neurotic human beings; it also demands to know the material of impressions and memories from which the author has built the work, and the methods and processes by which he [sic] has converted this material into a work of art.62

It was during these five years that Freud turned his attention to Leonardo. But his procedure was the same as with Jensen's text. He treated the text as if presented by a patient. 'We discover these laws [which the activities of this unconscious must obey] by analysing [an author's] writings just as we find them from cases of real illness.'63 The difference was that in Leonardo's case the texts include drawings and paintings as well as written texts.

Freud's discussion in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood sets out to demonstrate how Leonardo's unconscious is revealed in the workings of the familiar mechanisms and through the processes at work in the paintings and journals. He sees Leonardo, for example, as making a kind of parapraxis in drawing his two mothers, natural and adoptive, in the two women in one in the 'London cartoon,' and 'may have felt the need to undo' them and draw two, to split them, in the later 'Virgin with St Anne.'64 The two women in what is thought to be the earlier drawing are condensed almost into one, Freud suggests: 'One is inclined to say that they are fused with each other like badly condensed dream-figures, so that in some places it is hard to say where Anne ends and where Mary begins.'65

Like a dream, and offering itself to the same kind of analysis as Freud applied to dreams, is the memory/phantasy of the kite, which, Leonardo writes in his journal, 'opened my mouth with its tail and struck me many times with its tail [inside] my lips.'66 From the title of his essay this would seem to be the starting-point of Freud's thoughts on the subject, which he sees as revealing the phantasy link between fellatio and suckling.67 This will lead to Freud's controversial hypothesis of the ¾tiology of Leonardo's homosexuality.

In the discussion of Leonardo's character, an example of what I have called an alternate narrative ('parallel narrative' would be better), a meta-dialogue, is very strikingly present. These are some of the lines Freud provides for him to speak, as it were (as if Leonardo were a character in a play by Freud).

We can now provide the following translation of the emphasis given to the vulture's tail in Leonardo's phantasy: 'That was a time when my fond curiosity was directed to my mother, and when I still believed she had a genital organ like my own.'68;

... his phantasy of the vulture would become intelligible to us: for its meaning was exactly what we have already asserted of that type. We should have to translate it thus: 'It was through this erotic relation with my mother that I became a homosexual.'69;

From this linking of his mother's (the vulture's) activity with the prominence of the mouth zone it is not difficult to guess that a second memory is contained in the phantasy. This may be translated: 'My mother pressed innumerable passionate kisses on my mouth.' The phantasy is compounded from the memory of being suckled and being kissed by his mother.70

Freud was aware that what he was asserting about his subject would have been so improbable and extraordinary to his readers that he had to use an extraordinary way of presenting his conclusions. By putting the words directly into the mouth (as it were) of Leonardo he appears to give them an authority which they might otherwise not have had.

The main point of the Leonardo essay, however, is its treatment of sublimation. Having taken it upon himself to explain the origins both of sexuality and of civilization, Freud came to see that he could explain the one in terms of the other. Culture is just libidinal energy transformed and elevated, and the (hetero)sexually inactive Leonardo is the type for Freud of the culture hero who gives up sex, as it were, for art.

There are two great conflicts in Leonardo's life: the one between his sexual drive (cathected to the figure of his mother) and his sublimation of that drive into his creative pursuits; and the other, a subset of the latter, between artistic and scientific invention. We can see here, in fact, a chiasmus: firstly, the artistic activity is in the service of an attempt to deal with the diversion of the sexual energy. (Freud writes: 'In the exercising of an art it [psychoanalysis] sees once again an activity intended to allay ungratified wishes - in the first place in the creative artist himself and subsequently in his audience or spectators.'71 Secondly, the scientific output may be seen as the precise figure of sublimation into the demands of culture. (Freud was later to conclude: 'Sublimation of instinct [Trieb] is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life.'72

In the production of himself as an author-function, Leonardo is Janus-like in the calmness of his double gaze. One regard is directed back to the influences that formed the creative artist, one forward to the act of creation itself. In a similar duality, in terms of the reception of this Renaissance Man, he stands for that creative play which, reaching back to its infant origins, will always be a major source of creativity of all kinds; but he stands also for the result of such creativity - not only a product of the culture that made him, he is also Culture; not only the artist, he is also Art itself.

In the discussion of parapraxes we have seen how 'faulty functions' betray the existence of unconscious libidinal energy. Dream texts show how this libidinal energy is represented and how it directs the ego to the aims of the id. The theory of sublimation shows how this energy is directed to the goals of the superego (leading to culture). We shall now look at these connexions on the larger scale of an epoch: of civilization - and its discontents.

Epoch and species

The super-ego of an epoch of civilization has an origin similar to that of an individual.73
I shall deal with the notion of 'culture' in this Chapter under two rubrics - representing two large divisions in Freud's interest in the matter: firstly in terms of an epoch in cultural development, and secondly in terms of the nature of humanity. For didactic purposes, the first can be seen as stressing the syntagmatic aspects of culture, while the second tends more towards paradigmatic analysis.

The epoch in question is that of our present civilization; the period that of its evolution from its beginnings to the present (that is: 1930). One of the central concerns will be development, and Freud needs to argue from ontogeny (since that is what he knows about in great detail, that is his specialism) to phylogeny (the specialism of the sociologist or the anthropologist), from the individual to culture. To do this he will submit both simultaneously/analogically to analysis.74 He was later (1935a) to sum up what he thought he had discovered in Civilization and its Discontents (1930a) in these terms.

I perceived ever more clearly that the events of human history, the interactions between human nature, cultural development and the precipitates of prim¾val experience (the most prominent of which is religion) are no more than a reflection of the dynamic conflicts between the ego, the id and the super-ego, which psycho-analysis studies in the individual - are the very same processes repeated upon a wider stage.75

Perhaps these are among the questions (central questions for this whole project) to ask of this text, 'culture'. If one is to (psycho)analyse such a text: how does it present itself for analysis, what it is that is to be analysed? And how: in terms of its unconscious primary processes, its dreams, slips, jokes, the way it free associates, how it responds to suggestion? And of Freud's text Civilization and its Discontents specifically, we may wish to ask: is it a key text for this purpose? Is it significant that it is Freud's last great work, written when he was seventy-four years of age (and in constant pain)? How does the rhetoric work? Are the analogies functional? Do the mechanisms of 'system Ucs' appear in Freud's text itself?

One might begin with the title. Why did Freud change the word in the title from 'UnglÜck' to 'Unbehagen', from 'misfortune' or 'unhappiness' to 'malaise', 'uncomfortableness', 'uneasiness', 'discontent', as James Strachey tells us he did?76 The later term seems to be bound up with the idea of guilt, used as it is in this passage, where the translator prefers to use the French word, and draws attention to it.

Consequently it is very conceivable that the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and remains to a large extent unconscious, or appears as a sort of malaise,77 a dissatisfaction, for which people seek other motivations.78

'Misfortune' probably seemed to Freud to make the distinction clearer than it actually is, the perception, that is, of the gap between what is desired and what can be had, between Trieb and Kultur. A misfortune befalls one suddenly and usually without the implication that one has been engaged in a process of choice, or that there is any ¾tiology of the event. Das Unbehagen, malaise, discomfort, discontent, uneasiness, on the other hand, suggest a history that, if it does not actually inculpate the subject, at least involves him or her in its passage. Patients always have histories: it is the first thing that the analyst must obtain. ('I begin the treatment, indeed,' writes Freud, 'by asking the patient to give me the whole story of his life and illness, but even so the information I receive is never enough to let me see my way about the case.'79)

The patient in Civilization (and its Discontents) might perhaps be summed up as a man [sic] of average sensibility.80 He is caught between the demands of the pleasure principle and the reality principle, and he may seek to avoid suffering in a number of ways: by intoxication, by control of his drives (as by yogic practices), by sublimation of drives into psychical and intellectual work (especially in the arts and sciences), by the use in imagination (in the appreciation of artworks), by renunciation of reality (especially in psychotic withdrawal), and in being in love.81 He has had to come to terms with the loss of the immediate satisfaction of his desires, with the transformation of certain instincts into valued character traits, with the sublimation of those drives which would have given immediate satisfaction into activities of 'higher' value, and even with the renunciation of some drives altogether.82

Freud uses the central trope of analogy twice at important points in his argument. Firstly, there is the comparison between sedimented memory in the human mind and the sedimentation of civilization in the form of the layers of development of Rome, the 'Eternal City'.83 The importance of this analogy for Freud's argument is that it proposes the possibility that what he calls a 'primary ego-feeling' is able to continue to exist 'side by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego-feeling of maturity.'84 This original ego is that one that includes everything, both self and outside reality, before the time when this reality is differentiated and separated off. Freud also attempts and fails to find another analogy in the development of the individual physiology, but the failure is significant. He suggests that

only in the mind is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible, and that we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms.85

The second important analogy is that between the development of the individual human psyche and that of civilization as a whole, a comparison which Freud sees as very persuasive - and which is vital to the present book.

When ... we look at the relation between the process of human civilization and the developmental or educative process of individual human beings, we shall conclude without much hesitation that the two are very similar in nature, if not the very same process applied to different kinds of object.86

There are three factors playing a part in both developments: character-formation, sublimation, and the renunciation of instinct.87 The analogy breaks down in part, however, in respect of the discovery that it becomes clear that the individual is actually in conflict with civilization, when Freud shows that 'two processes of individual and of cultural development must stand in hostile opposition to each other and mutually dispute the ground.'88 It should also be said that not everyone is still able to perceive the simple analogy that Freud argues. As Elizabeth Young-Bruehl writes: 'His idea that the story of civilization can be read off in the miniature of an individual psyche has disappeared under a good volley of questions: Which civilization is Civilization? By what standards of progress, evolution? At what cost of ignored diversity?'89 It is nevertheless this idea which I want to bring back into view in the hope of throwing some new light on it.

With regard to his rhetoric, Freud uses again the technique of suspense - the structure of the detective story: suggesting what he has not yet told, and the lacun¾ that he has yet to fill in. (For example: 'But we are unable to understand what the necessity is which forces civilization along this path and which causes its antagonism to sexuality. There must be some disturbing factor which we have not yet discovered.'90) But as well as this appeal to the future, through this trope, there is also an appeal to the past, to a Freudian past, which creates a third (unstated) element in the analogy of development. It is a continuing reference (in this late work) to the development of Freud's own thought. It is very striking that the last thing that he wrote was another Outline of Psychoanalysis91 - as if he had not already written the Introductory Lectures and their sequel, as well as all the other lectures, summaries and introductions. The point is that Freud's thought was continually developing, changing, being tested and modified. And as different concepts tended to play a greater part in family affairs, as it were, took centre stage, this tended to leave less room for the other members of the conceptual family, who were pushed to the back or the side. So it is that Eros, for example, particularly in the present work, requires a modification to the older idea of libido; more especially as it has to accommodate the new (since Beyond the Pleasure Principle92) concept of the death instinct, Thanatos.93 Freud has to grapple with these competing conceptual claims as he tries to argue for a place for the concept of aggressiveness in his theory of drives.94

I turn now to the second of the two great divisions of cultural analysis as conducted under the ¾gis of psychoanalysis: species. The species in question is our own: the human. Before dealing with the complicated nature of modern human culture, Freud had already dealt with the simpler question of the origin of the race, not in the biological sense of course, but in the sense of the origin of its mind, its modes of thought. And these are specifically caught up with 'the development of the oldest human unwritten code of laws:' taboo.95

In Totem and Taboo, Freud was again dependent on analogies at crucial points in the argument. The original title already indicates this characteristic: Über einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker ('Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics' - the German text even brings alliteration to bear on the agreements, the first three syllables being repeated in a sort of internal rhyme in the next word).96 The 'savages' in the case are our own prehistoric selves, represented for the occasion by the most 'primitive' peoples Freud could find in the literature (for which he greatly depended on Frazer): and principally 'these poor naked cannibals,' the much-put-upon Australian Aboriginal people.97

The first section ('The horror of incest') gives a most interesting example of primary process (though Freud does not explicitly discuss it in those terms) in the example of the overdetermined mother-in-law. Freud finds that she stands, because of her close association with both, for the mother that one leaves behind and also for the daughter that one is marrying. She is both a condensation of the other two figures, and a displacement of each. What is condensed in her are the originary ego, transformed through narcissism into a love-object; together with that first part of the external world (our mothers) of which we become aware as we tear ourselves away into separate identity. The mother-in-law potentially and confusingly bears the charge of affect for both. It is for this reason, Freud suggests, that mothers-in-law are so loathed and feared, and why incest with them (for a man) is the most horrible to contemplate: because it is so primally desired. It is therefore proscribed with the greatest emphasis. Also, having explained jokes in general, Freud now also finds himself in a position to explain mother-in-law jokes in particular. In a fascinating modern (sociological) insertion into his anthropological discussion, he suggests that they are functional because 'the emotional relation involved includes sharply contrasted components,'98 in the terms discussed immediately above.

This apparently superficial example of a Freudian explanation is quite telling. Reading the order of events around the other way: Freud experiences a need to explain the attitude towards mothers-in-law (on the part of men) in his society. To do so, he not only creates an explanatory model in terms of individual experience in modern culture, but finds a way to extend this back into a model of human prehistory. Each of the models informs the other; and taken together they justify the fear and loathing that men like Freud feel for the mothers of their wives. This is another example of a supertextual injunction - about mothers-in-law - having explicit repercussions in the development of Freud's theory, as he brings it into line with his own culture. Freud's theory is to some extent an effect of the cultural system into which he is interpellated, at least a much as an explanation of the causes of that system. The cause-effect relationship can be reversed, producing a different kind of explanation from Freud's - not disposing of his, but in this recursive process adding another level of aetiology.

Ambivalence (for which read also condensation/displacement) continues to be central to Freud's discussion as he opens up the topic of the taboo, pointing out its ambiguous, bilateral nature, indicating, as it does, both the sacred and the dangerous, corresponding to the two forms of primal fear: veneration and horror.99 Freud's binarism - what Ernest Jones reports as being called his 'obstinate dualism'100 - at this point anticipates that of Lévi-Strauss, a connexion which will be taken up in a later chapter. With the introduction of the notion of the 'taboo' the translation of the original German reveals one kind of support for this obstinacy by referring to a basic ambiguity at the level of the word: 'The taboo-observances were the first "right" or "law".'101 The translators, Riviere/Strachey, find themselves obliged to point out that the German 'Recht' conveys both meanings.102

When Freud moves on to situate these ambivalences in his model of the mind, he discloses a reason why it can tolerate such irrational ambiguities: each of the two impulses may be in a different 'part' or function of the mind - the conscious and the unconscious. In discussing 'touching phobia,' which he sees as related to taboos against touching (in the 'primitive' context), Freud suggests that the ambivalence (both desiring and prohibiting touching - specifically of the genitals) springs from the fact that the 'two currents ... are localized in the subjects' mind in such a manner that they cannot come up against each other. The prohibition is noisily conscious, while the persistent desire to touch is unconscious ...'103

But I should come to the contentious issue at the centre of the book. 'One day', writes Freud, 'the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde.'104 This 'one day' is something of a scandal. That Freud is aware of this is indicated by an extraordinary footnote, specifically to this particular phrase, in which he refers forward - 'to avoid possible misunderstanding' - to the following footnote 'as a corrective to this description.'105 This may well be the only place in the corpus where Freud refers forward in this way: it is certainly unusual, to say the least. And when readers arrive at the anticipated note they find another even more extraordinary: 'The lack of precision in what I have written in the text above, its abbreviation of the time factor and its compression of the whole subject-matter, may be attributed to the reserve necessitated by the nature of the topic. It would be as foolish to aim at exactitude in such questions as it would be unfair to insist upon certainty.'106 What does 'reserve' mean here, if not 'repression'? Does not compression of the whole subject-matter' also suggest 'repression of the subject-matter'? What is 'the nature of the topic' that can tolerate such amazing imprecision? What time is referred to (historical, psychical, mythological ...) that is disguised as a 'factor'? This is, after all, the Freud who insists on countless occasions on his status as a scientist. Why is he so clearly equivocating here? The balanced last sentence ('It would be as foolish to aim at exactitude in such questions as it would be unfair to insist upon certainty') tries to achieve by ¾sthetics what is does not display in meaningfulness. It appears to be a beautiful tautology.

This is no mere quibble. This huge, propitiatory footnote appears at the precise moment where Freud sums up the point of the whole argument, over which he has laboured for 142 pages. It is a huge claim that he is making, and a huge leap that he has just made in the argument, and his equivocating betrays his lack of confidence in what he has just asserted.

The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things - of social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion.107

This is one of the most far-reaching claims that Freud will make about the nature of human culture: that more or less all its important features (what, if anything, do 'social organization, moral restrictions and religion' leave out?) are based on this 'one day' when the sons of the primal horde ate the father. (Though it may be worth noting on this point that Ernest Jones in his summary in the Life does supply a periodic repetition for the one absolute event in the original: 'Freud's special contribution at this point was to assume that periodically the growing sons banded together, slew, and devoured the father.'108) So: 'Freud now advances deeper into the mythological.'109

Freud is not playing with some of the conventions of murder mysteries here: he is dealing with an (alleged) actual murder. But it is still as if there is an element of play in the remainder of the argument - or perhaps it is mere indecision. As in a good suspense thriller, the author plays with alternative scenarios. A few pages after his description of the 'monstrous' scene, Freud tells us that he was just kidding: it didn't really happen at all: 'Accordingly the mere hostile impulse against the father, the mere existence of a wishful phantasy of killing and devouring him, would have been enough to produce the moral reaction that created totemism and taboo.'110 This sentence is continued by a long, soothing paragraph which allays our horror at the prospect we have been confronting for the preceding twenty pages. But alas, the uncompromising writer will not let us off the hook: and after all, it is a murder mystery that we are expecting. So it is that at the very last moment, in the concluding two paragraphs we are told 'that primitive men actually did what all the evidence shows that they intended to do.'111

Freud's 'evidence', though, is of a very strange kind, and definitely what in the criminal courts would be called circumstantial. There is no dead body - only an imagined112 one - as the motive and the weapon are also imagined ('Some cultural advance, perhaps, command over some new weapon ...'113). The 'evidence' is, rather, rhetorical, tropic, analogical. This will be seen if I quote the whole sentence from which I have just reproduced the ending: 'The analogy between primitive men and neurotics will therefore be far more fully established if we suppose that in the former instance, too, psychical reality - as to the form taken by which we are in no doubt - coincided at the beginning with factual reality: that primitive men actually did what all the evidence shows that they intended to do.'114 Freud needs his analogy: it is the only basis on which he can claim expertise in the current sociological/anthropological enterprise. He cannot make assertions about culture (except generally as an 'educated man') except on the basis of his clinical practice, from his knowledge of 'neurotics' (and of one in particular: the Rat Man - on he analysis of whom he relies to perhaps too great a degree). But rather than use the analogy to prove the point, he takes the conclusion of the argument to prove the analogy: it 'will therefore be far more fully established if we suppose ...' So in order to close the demonstration Freud must have actual 'evil acts' performed by his primitives as well as by his 'neurotics'.

This whole equivocation (did they or didn't they?) recalls another, more famous scandal, another 'assault on truth:' the question of the 'seduction theory.'115 This is another moment in the Œuvre when a major structural element of the Freudian edifice seems to depend on whether or not something occurred and when, and whether or not it matters whether or not it occurred: in the one case, the discovery of infantile sexuality, in the other the origin of culture as revealed by psychoanalysis. Freud is of course aware of the importance of this moment. He inserts another amazing footnote which it will be salutary to reproduce in full, as it reveals some of the characteristic Freudian procedures.

Since I am used to being misunderstood, I think it worth while to insist explicitly that the derivations which I have proposed in these pages do not in the least overlook the complexity of the phenomena under review. All that they claim is to have added a new factor to the sources, known or still unknown, of religion, morality and society - a factor based on a consideration of the implications of psycho-analysis. I must leave to others the task of synthesizing the explanation into a unity. It does, however, follow from the nature of the new contribution that it could not play any other than a central part in such a synthesis, even though powerful emotional resistances might have to be overcome before its great importance was recognized.116

'Since I am used to being misunderstood' is at least partly an appeal for sympathy, special pleading. Freud then 'insists explicitly' on something of great 'complexity', about which presumably it will be difficult to be explicit. Then 'all that they claim' suggests that this is a modest contribution: there is only the addition of 'a new factor,' which has not yet even been 'synthesized into a unity.' (It will be much more convincing when it has been.) And 'others' will have to help ('will you, Dear Reader, help?') But then the new factor 'could not play any other than a central part' - a characteristic double negative, strengthening the force of the assertion ('I wouldn't say this if I didn't really have to; I'm trying not to say it - see the negatives! - but the truth forces its way in past my intention.') Finally, Freud says, as it were: 'If you can't accept my argument that's your problem: it's you who is putting up the resistances; and as a psychoanalyst I know that is what you are doing.'

This is not just a clever use of rhetoric: it is also a fissured text, through the cracks of which Freud's self-doubt leaks out,117 mainly through a self-contradiction which pretends to be false modesty: 'I have made a small/large contribution.' It could be suggested that the real doubt is the fundamental one about psychoanalysis itself. Having 'discovered' psychoanalysis in dreams, parapraxes and jokes, Freud 'applies' it to art, literature, culture. But is there any real difference between the procedure followed in 1900-1905 to that of 1912-1930? Is it not perhaps still a question of 'discovering' psychoanalysis? Or perhaps rather still a question of convincing oneself, of persuading others, of pleading for the acceptance of the possibility of psychoanalysis? Perhaps we have here the real reason why there are so many explications of psychoanalysis: it was not because it was difficult to understand, but because it was impossible to accept, that Freud had to repeat, to reiterate, so many times (as though the repressed doubt continued to return), what psychoanalysis was - in a long list of writings.118

Freud's characteristic appeal to the authority of literature is particularly noticeable at these crucial moments of Totem and Taboo, and, as is so often the case, the key authorities are Goethe and Shakespeare. In one example, Freud writes:

An event such as the elimination of the primal father by the company of his sons must inevitably have left ineradicable traces in the history of humanity; and the less it itself was recollected, the more numerous must have been the substitutes to which it gave rise.119

Following which, one might be entitled to expect some examples of such traces, as an important and sensible support for the claim being made here. Freud gives only one, however, and it is significant that it is not from 'history', but from art. His footnote at this point quotes Shakespeare: Ariel in The Tempest, singing of the 'sea-change' that has happened to Ferdinand's father: 'into something rich and strange.' The main text then continues: 'I shall resist the temptation of pointing out these traces in mythology, where they are not hard to find, ...120 Why does Freud 'resist the temptation?' Is he not rather perhaps capitulating to repression, either unconsciously in that he is not convinced by his own suggestion, or consciously, in that he does not want to appeal to mythology, which he sees as the province of 'prophets' like Jung, but prefers instead to turn to literature, which is sanctioned by convention, and anyway does not seem to claim to be an appeal to authority, but merely an elegant variation, an ¾sthetic elaboration.

Other examples, however, show how important this resource is to Freud's argument. His discussion of the presumed existence of a collective mind is an important example.121 He himself draws attention to the 'grave difficulties' in supposing 'that the sense of guilt for an action has persisted for many thousands of years and has remained operative in generations which can have had no knowledge of that action.'122 He makes pleas of three different kind: firstly, he is 'not alone in the responsibility for this bold procedure;' secondly, if his assumptions did not hold water, 'social psychology in general cannot exist'123 - and it presumably does; and thirdly, he quotes Goethe, significantly from Faust, on the subject of inheritance from one's father ('What you have inherited from your fathers, acquire it in order to possess it.'124), an exhortation in which the insistent repetition (inherit/acquire/possess) displays remarkable redundancy.125

Freud inherited a specific legacy from his spiritual father Goethe: the notion of sublimation, according to Bruno Bettelheim, who writes that it was he 'who introduced the term "sublimate" - sublimieren - into the German language in reference to human feelings that must be worked at, improved, and elevated.'126 And Freud brings to the ending of the book the authority of Goethe. In concluding that primitive men did in fact do the deed of patricide (because they were/are 'uninhibited: thought passes directly into action'), Freud substitutes for the Gospel of Saint John ('In the beginning was the Word ...') the Gospel according to Sankt Johann: 'In the beginning was the Deed.'127

The use of these rhetorical devices in an attempt to persuade sceptical readers perhaps reveal the doubt that Freud felt about the argument in this book, a suggestion that is lent some support by his awareness at the time of writing of the negative reaction that it was likely to receive on its publication. Jones writes that: 'He told Abraham that the essay would appear before the (Munich) Congress and "would serve to make a sharp division between us and all Aryan religiosity. For that will be result of it."' On the same day, 13 May 1913, after the book was finished, he wrote also to Ferenczi.

Since The Interpretation of Dreams I have not worked at anything with such certainty and elation. The reception will be the same: a storm of indignation except among those near to me. In the dispute with Zurich it comes at the right time to divide us as an acid does a salt.128

Even more revelatory than these (correct) predictions, I suggest, is the metaphor he used, presumably in a circular letter to the 'Committee'. In attempting to convey the difficulties involved in working on a book in an unfamiliar disciplinary area he wrote: 'With all that I feel as if I had intended only to start a little liaison and then discovered that at my time of life I have to marry a new wife.'129 The use of a sexual image is very striking in the writing of the promulgator of the discovery of infantile sexuality, and especially also coming from one whom his biographer described as 'quite peculiarly monogamous.'130 While retaining an awareness of the self-conscious humour of this private joke, it is still interesting to reflect for a moment on the meaning of the remark when applied to the argument of the book as opposed to the burden of the research involved in its construction: which a slightly more latent meaning. Such reflection suggests that he meant only to engage in a relatively trivial and superficial relationship with these speculations about the relationship between some anthropological concerns and psychoanalysis, but that he had found them so pregnant with meaning that he was going to have to live with the conclusions that he was obliged to draw.

Whether such a flippant aside can bear this interpretation or not does not alter the fact that Freud found himself obliged to make an honest woman of the important thesis that there was an important homology between 'primitive men and neurotics' which served as an example both of the practical application of psychoanalysis to a different field of inquiry and also, more specifically, of the alleged universality of the Œdipus complex, in time as well as in space. There can be no doubt that the notions of the authoritarian patriarch, the primal horde, the original murder and the totemic meal have passed into the general language resource of the human sciences. The presumption of the universality of malicious fantasies has also gained wide acceptance, without necessarily being accompanied by a similar acceptance of the idea of an particular act of patricide as the origin of a specific practice. The final idea in the book, that a wish is a kind of act, is a powerful one, both in its usefulness for a better understanding of certain notions of the theory of ideology, such as that of interpellation,131 but also for the potentially dangerous negative implication that acts are sometimes presumed not to have occurred, given that the wish (or fantasy) is the more significant. It is often important in a legal context, in cases of infanticide or incest, for example, to be able to distinguish clearly between actual occurrences and fantasies or induced memories. The argument of Totem and Taboo may have the effect of obscuring such distinctions.

However that may be, the real point of the existence of Totem and Taboo for the present argument is that is was the beginning of the psychoanalytical investigation of the origins of religion, morality and culture in the individual mind that runs on through the later greater works. As Freud sums up himself, in a late (1935a) Postscript to his Autobiographical Study: 'At the very climax of my psycho-analytic work, in 1912, I had already attempted in Totem and Taboo to make use of the newly discovered findings of analysis in order to investigate the origins of religion and morality. I now carried this work a stage further in two later essays, The Future of an Illusion (1927c) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930a).'132 The earliest of the three constructs the Œdipal loom on which the cloth of the later texts will be woven.


referring to the Bibliography

1 1930a, SE 21: 65 [italics added].
2 1930a, SE 21: 144.
3 1926e, SE 20: 195.
4 1901b, SE 6: 21.
5 1916-17, SE 15-16: 40-59.
6 Bettelheim 1985 [1983]: 37-8.
7 1933a, SE 22: 72.
8 1933a, SE 22: 73.
9 LŽvi-Strauss 1978a [1958]: 170.
10 1901b, SE 6: 272-3.
11 Freud 1950a [1895], SE 1: 175.
12 1901b, SE 6: 205.
13 Bateson 1987 [1971]: xxiii.
14 Bateson 1987 [1970]: 458-9.
15 Bateson 1980 [1979]: 64.
16 1907a, SE 9: 43-4.
17 1901b, SE 6: 278.
18 1901b, SE 6: 273.
19 1901b, SE 6: 278.
20 Brown 1959: 6.
21 1901b, SE 6: 277.
22 '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 to 1901b, SE 6: 3, n.
23 Kaufmann 1980c, vol. 3: 7.
24 Bettelheim 1985 [1983]: 87.
25 1930a, SE 21: 69-72.
26 Andreas-SalomŽ 1991 [1951]: 95.
27 Freud 1950a [1895], SE 1: 175 (Ubw in the original German).
28 1915e, SE 14: 187.
29 Neu 1991: 5.
30 Neu 1991: 5 (continuing the previous quotation).
31 1901b, SE 6.
32 Wright 1984: 1.
33 Lacan 1977 [1966]: 148.
34 1901b, SE 6: 5.
35 1920g and 1930a, respectively.
36 1901b, SE 6: 14.
37 1905c, SE 8: 33.
38 Bettelheim 1985 [1983]: 39.
39 1905c, SE 8: 49.
40 1905c, SE 8: 49.
41 1905c, SE 8: 55-6, and four other such jokes on 112-3.
42 1905c, SE 8: 51.
43 1905c, SE 8: 51.
44 1905c, SE 8: 52.
45 1905c, SE 8: 55, and six later such jokes, distributed.
46 Kristeva 1982 [1980]: 4.
47 1907a, SE 9: 54.
48 1907a, SE 9: 51.
49 1907a, SE 9: 12.
50 1907a, SE 9: 40.
51 1907a, SE 9: 25, 73.
52 1907a, SE 9: 77.
53 1907a, SE 9: 55.
54 1907a, SE 9: 76.
55 1907a, SE 9: 77.
56 1907a, SE 9: 83-4.
57 1907a, SE 9: 56.
58 1907a, SE 9: 59.
59 Cf. Felman 1977.
60 1907a, SE 9: 4 (editor's note), 91, 94.
61 1907a, SE 9: 92.
62 1907a [1912], SE 9: 94 (Postscript to the Second Edition).
63 1907a, SE 9: 92.
64 1910c, SE 11: 114n.
65 1910c, SE 11: 114n.
66 1910c, SE 11: 82 - correcting the standard translation to add the meaning of the original Italian 'dentro', 'inside', rather than 'against'.
67 1910c, SE 11: 86.
68 1910c, SE 11: 98.
69 1910c, SE 11: 106.
70 1910c, SE 11: 107.
71 1913j, SE 13: 187.
72 1930a, SE 21: 97.
73 1930a, SE 21: 141.
74 In 1930a, SE 21.
75 1935a, SE 20: 72.
76 Editor's Introduction to 1930a, SE 21: 59-60.
77 [{Editor's footnote:} 'Unbehagen': the word which appears in the title of this work.]
78 1930a, SE 21: 135-6.
79 1905e [1901], SE 7: 45.
80 I follow Freud in writing of a male subject, and using the masculine pronouns, as it seems clear that he is writing, as is often the case, only about the development of a male person (despite the fact that many of his clients were women). Cf. where he differentiates the situation of women under culture: 'The work of civilization has become increasingly the business of men, it confronts them with ever more difficult tasks and compels them to carry out instinctual sublimations of which women are little capable.' (1930a, SE 21: 103.)
81 1930a, SE 21: 78-85.
82 1930a, SE 21: 96-7.
83 1930a, SE 21: 69-72.
84 1930a, SE 21: 68.
85 1930a, SE 21: 71 [italics added].
86 1930a, SE 21: 139-40.
87 1930a, SE 21: 96-7.
88 1930a, SE 21: 141.
89 Young-Bruehl 1990: 46-7.
90 1930a, SE 21: 109.
91 1940a [1938], SE 23: 139-208.
92 1920g, SE 18: 7-64.
93 Freud did not use the term in his writing, but did in conversation, according to Jones 1957, vol. 3: 295.
94 1930a, SE 21: 111 ff.
95 1912-13, SE 13: 18.
96 1912-13, Totem and Taboo, SE 13: 1-161, trs. from Totem und Tabu, GW 9. The original title, when published in four parts in Imago, 1912-13, was: Some points of agreement between the mental lives of savages and neurotics; †ber einige †bereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker.
97 1912-13, SE 13: 2.
98 1912-13, SE 13: 14. Cf. 1905c, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, SE 8.
99 1912-13, SE 13: 25. Cf. Mary Douglas, 1978 [1966]. Cf. also the concept of the abject in Kristeva 1982 [1980].
100 Jones 1964: 475.
101 1930a, SE 21: 101.
102 Translator's footnote, 1930a, SE 21: 101 n.
103 1912-13, SE 13: 29-30.
104 1912-13, SE 13: 141.
105 1912-13, SE 13: 141n.
106 1912-13, SE 13: 142n.
107 1912-13, SE 13: 142
108 Jones 1964: 373 [italics added].
109 Steiner 1974: 20.
110 1912-13, SE 13: 159-60.
111 1912-13, SE 13: 161.
112 Cf.: 'The last group of instances exemplify what Frazer distinguishes from "imitative" magic under the name of "contagious" magic. What is believed to be their effective principle is no longer similarity but spacial connection, contiguity, or at least imagined contiguity - the recollection of it. 1912-13, SE 13: 82-3.
113 1912-13, SE 13: 141.
114 1912-13, SE 13: 161.
115 On seduction theory, see especially: Masson 1984, where he argues that the seductions actually took place, and that Freud suppressed this in favour of a phantasy theory because of professional pressure from colleagues. He takes the topics up again in Masson 1992 [1990]. Cf. Thornton 1984, who sees the 'seductions' as Freud's own fantasies. But see also Izenberg 1991 for whom Freud did not abandon 'the idea that sexual abuse could play a causal role in the etiology of neurosis,' it was merely that it could not be incorporated into his theory of infantile sexuality. Cf. also Young-Bruehl 1990: 8-9: 'He slowly and with much vacillation abandoned it [the "seduction hypothesis"]. He did not, of course, claim that seductions do not take place or that they are rare, as some recent commentators have tried to argue.' Gay 1988, in his major biography, agrees. Rand & Torok 1993 argue that Freud was never able finally to make between the choice between reality and fantasy with regard to this question. The present case seems to me to another example to which this conclusion applies.
116 1912-13, SE 13: 157 n.
117 Cf. the fissuring that Rand & Torok perceive in relation to both the 'seduction hypothesis' and the interpretation of dreams (as to whether it is a question of individual interpretation or conventional symbolisation): 'And the gravest of all flaws in this domain remains undoubtedly the difficulty of reflecting on the fact that Freudian psychoanalysis is self-contradictory to the point of having fissures running through its very core.' Rand & Torok 1993: 594.
118 Preliminary Communication 1893(a)
Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950a [1895])
The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy (1910d)
Recommendations to Physicians Practising Psycho-Analysis (1912e)
On Beginning the Treatment (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis, I) (1913c)
Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis, II) (1914g)
Observations on Transference-Love (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis III) (1915a [1914])
On Psycho-Analysis (1913m [1911])
A Note on the Unconscious in Psycho-Analysis (1912g)
The Claims of Psycho-Analysis to Scientific Interest (1913j)
Observations and Examples from Analytic Practice (1913h)
On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement (1914d)
the Papers on Metapsychology [1915]
the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916-17)
A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis (1917a)
Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy (1919a [1918])
On the Teaching of Psycho-Analysis in Universities (1919j [1918])
Two Encyclopaedia Articles (1923a [1922])
A Note on the Prehistory of the Technique of Analysis (1920b)
A Short Account of Psycho-Analysis (1924f [1923])
The Resistances to Psycho-Analysis (1925e [1924])
Preface to Raymond de Saussure's The Psycho-Analytic Method (1922e)
Psycho-Analysis (1926f [1925])
Introduction to Edoardo Weiss's Elements of Psycho-Analysis (1931c)
the New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933a [1932])
Preface to Richard Sterba's Dictionary of Psycho-Analysis (1936b [1932])
his last work, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (1940a [1938])
Some Elementary Lessons in Psycho-Analysis (1940b [1938])
119 1912-13, SE 13: 155.
120 1912-13, SE 13: 155.
121 1912-13, SE 13: 157-8.
122 1912-13, SE 13: 158.
123 1912-13, SE 13: 158.
124 'Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen.' Faust, Part I.
125 1912-13, SE 13: 158.
126 Bettelheim 1985 [1983]: 9.


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