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Within the Freudian Unconscious: A Divinity That Shapes Our Ends

Posted May 19th, 2011 at 06:08 PM by Gile na Gile
Updated March 31st, 2015 at 04:40 AM by Gile na Gile

"The more a man can forget, the greater the number of metamorphoses which his life can undergo; the more he can remember, the more divine his life becomes."

- Soren Kierkegaard


It is interesting to note how Freud responds in the "Psychopathology of Everyday Life" to Rudolf Schneider's second conclusion regarding the alleged determinism of randomly selected words or numbers. Schneider objects that;

"the emergence of determining associations to numbers that occur to the mind spontaneously does not in any way prove that these numbers originated from the thoughts discovered in the analysis of them".

Technically speaking Schneider cannot be faulted in raising this objection since to demonstrate that the associations uncovered in analysis are identical to the latent thoughts that preceded the random selection would entail the recovery of a thought thinking of itself thinking a thought. This is a patent absurdity since the unconscious is above all an entity that precedes, indeed determines, conscious thought. In responding to Schneider Freud drops the pretence made necessary by the populist nature of his work;

"A critical examination of the problem and with it a justification of the psychoanalytic technique of free association lie outside the scope of this book".

Strictly speaking, for classical determinism to be established in psychical life one must be able to trace the lines of cause and effect from the point of origin to its eventual expression in conscious speech. Freud goes on to say that psychoanalysis proceeds on the presupposition that the origin of the parapraxis coincides with the facts [of free association] and that in the majority of cases use can be made of it. In other words, though it is impossible to establish with absolute certainty the particular nodal point from which the parapraxis has emerged the act of unravelling its rich associations retains for Freud an indispensable therapeutic merit.

Ultimately, and commendably, it seems that for Freud the grand philosophical question of free will vs. psychic determinism is only secondary to the matter of therapeutic efficacy. What Freud is actually presenting then as being beyond dispute, though not as appealing in publishing terms, is a secondary determinism that proceeds from the phenomenon presented in the gap or fissure of discourse to its presumed locus of origin.

Freud's work in general demonstrates without any doubt the existence of areas of overdetermination, regions of 'supervalent' trains of thought, of nodal or quilting points in the unconscious that are continually shedding composite elements. These whole or disembodied signifiers (semantemes, morphemes, etc) may be spliced, cut, disconnected or reconnected through continual displacements and condensations. The resultant material though grossly distorted will often enough retain the unmistakeable stamp of its origins.

A good example is given by Freud in his article "On Fetishism" (1927), where the expression of the patient's fetish in German, the 'Glanz auf der Nase' is first puzzlingly inferred to be a 'shine on the nose' until Freud realises that the German 'Glanz' is homonymically related to the English 'glance' the subject's first language, since forgotten. This is germane precisely because it both illustrates the determining power of a metaphoric replacement while locating the time of the distortion to the period of signifying inscription.

One need only look at the clinical structures to realise that it is through repetition that the role of chance in psychical life is diminished. There is a specific orientation around a central signifier, designated most commonly as the phallus, that is particular to the neuroses, the psychoses and the perversions. Though their symptoms and characteristics may overlap and interchange their elements ultimately derive their structure from a particular mode of early identification or inscription that has the quality of ossifying the individual's relations in the symbolic domain.

So the fissured message seems to be (tangentially and without further need of corroboration given certain other extraneous facts) - that of an inlayered encoding - and so to paraphrase our beglamoured Bard; 'rough hew them how we will' there is still, it appears, despite Freud's wilful occlusion of further scrutiny; a divinity (of some sort), that shapes our ends.
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