Requiem for the Ego: Freud and the Origins of Postmodernism

Requiem for the Ego: Freud and the Origins of Postmodernism

Requiem for the Ego: Freud and the Origins of Postmodernism

Requiem for the Ego: Freud and the Origins of Postmodernism

Synopsis

Requiem for the Ego recounts Freud's last great attempt to 'save' the autonomy of the ego, which drew philosophical criticism from the most prominent philosophers of the period-Adorno, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. Despite their divergent orientations, each contested the ego's capacity to represent mental states through word and symbol to an agent surveying its own cognizance. By discarding the subject-object divide as a model of the mind, they dethroned Freud's depiction of the ego as a conceit of a misleading self-consciousness and a faulty metaphysics. Freud's inquisitors, while employing divergent arguments, found unacknowledged consensus in identifying the core philosophical challenges of defining agency and describing subjectivity. In Requiem, Tauber uniquely synthesizes these philosophical attacks against psychoanalysis and, more generally, provides a kaleidoscopic portrait of the major developments in mid-20th century philosophy that prepared the conceptual grounding for postmodernism.

Excerpt

There is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to
support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself
that is the easiest for a person to know.

—HARRY FRANKFURT, On Bullshit

Requiem for the Ego is a curious book, a mystery story yet to find its conclusion. The ego’s demise has been reported, and despite bountiful evidence, the case cannot be closed. The fact of an attempted “egocide” (Rogozinski 2010, p. 5) seems clear enough. The actors of this drama are well known, and their declared motives and philosophical positions have been diligently rehearsed. Thus, the question is not who or why but rather what has been achieved and what lost?

The story begins with Descartes, whose cogito resides at the foundation of modernism. This Cartesian ego perceives and represents to itself the world and inner mental states from its own singular perspective. Freud adopted this subject-object divide in developing his own theory of the mind, and with that move, he joined the quandary of the ego functioning as both a subject and as an object of itself. The analytic endeavor endows the analysand with the capacity to reflect, interpret, and thereby ultimately achieve some . . .

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