Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious

Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious

Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious

Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious


Freudian Repression presents an original reformulation of Freud's concept of repression, showing that in his theory of the unconscious he fails to examine how people actually repress shameful thoughts. Billig suggests that language is both expressive and repressive; he examines some of Freud's classic case histories and Freud's own life to show that even Freud himself can be seen to be repressing. Freud and Repression also offers new insights on the current debate about recovered memories and the ideological background to psychoanalysis, which will guarantee its interdisciplinary appeal.


When on the trail of the unconscious, it is easy to overlook the obvious. If one is searching for the processes of repression, then one might imagine that the clues are always to be found in the obscurest places - in dreams, in the oddities of neuroses, in startling slips of the tongue. Freud, however, argued that ordinary social life depended upon repression. That means that people are repressing as they go about their everyday business. If so, then the clues might be sought in ordinary, rather than extraordinary, activities. It would be a mistake, therefore, to isolate the depth psychology of psychoanalysis from the surface psychology of ordinary life.

One of the great strengths of Freud's metapsychological writings is that he attempts to link his psychology of unconscious thinking with a theory of consciousness. However, the strength is also a weakness. As will be shown in this chapter, his theory of consciousness is the root of many difficulties. It is directly related to the gap in his concept of repression. In order to reformulate Freudian ideas about repression, it is necessary to begin with the surface psychology, on which so much of the depth psychology depends.

Therefore this chapter will critically examine Freud's theory of consciousness. Following the arguments of the previous chapter, his theory will be taken to task for using the language of mechanistic science, positing the agencies of hidden structures such as the id and ego, rather than using the language of human action. Moreover, Freud's theory of consciousness grants language a peripheral role. This, it will be suggested, is a major mistake. Repression depends on the skills of language: we push away disturbing thoughts in much the same way as we avoid troublesome topics in conversation. To appreciate this, it is necessary to see the extent to which unrepressed thoughts are constituted in language. Hence, one requires a surface psychology which puts language at the centre of human thinking.

For this reason, the present chapter contains a lengthy detour into the psychology of ordinary thinking, together with a recommendation for . . .

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