THE PRIMITIVE DIMENSION
IN SIGMUND FREUD'S
TOTEM AND TABOO
In 1912 Sigmund Freud published “Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics,” which was collected with three later articles a year later under the title Totem and Taboo.1 Freud's text appeared in the same period, immediately before World War I, in which primitivism was being developed by the cubists in France and the expressionists in Germany and marks a turning point in the scientific analysis of “primitive” culture. Though it still retains much of the evolutionary framework of the anthropologists active at the time, Totem and Taboo develops the categories needed to reject this framework and radically alter the European perspective on both primitive culture and modern science.
In discussing this text in the context of primitivism, however, subsequent commentators have often equated Freud's views with those of anthropologists whom he cites, assuming that his primitivism simply reproduces their association of tribal cultures with instinctual behavior and an early stage in human development. Hal Foster writes, for instance:
By primitivism I mean initially an association of racial others
with instinctual impulses (the Rousseauist legacy in Freud)
and/or with symptomatic conflicts (as in the subtitle of Totem
and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of
Savages and Neurotics ). But in a way that is both less ob-
vious and more problematic I also mean an association of
tribal peoples with pregenital orders of the drives, especially
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Publication information: Book title: Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism. Contributors: David Pan - Author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication year: 2001. Page number: 83.
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