Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Sophocles' Oedipus was just one of the many references he made to literature and the arts. He began his career in the 1880s as a medical doctor specializing in neurology. Before settling into life and marriage (to Martha Bernays), he spent a year, 1885-1886, in Paris. There, through the influence of Jean-Martin Charcot's clinical work on hypnosis, Freud began to think independently on the effects of unconscious life. Once his study of dreams established the general principles of psychoanalysis, Freud was irreversibly involved as the leader of the psychoanalytic movement. The path was not easy. He quarreled with members of the school (notably the Swiss analyst Carl Jung). He was not able to stop smoking, which aggravated the pain caused by his palate cancer. It seems, also, that he had his own trouble separating from his mother. Just the same, it was the humanity of the man, as well as his prodigious learning and creativity, that gave rise to psychoanalysis. Today, psychoanalytic thought serves equally the clinical practice of psychotherapy and social theorists who recognize the power of unconscious desire in shaping personal, cultural, and political life.

The first selections, "The Psychical Apparatus and the Theory of Instincts" and "Dream-Work and Interpretation", outline Freud's famous three-part division of the psyche, his mature theory of the instincts, and his view of dreams. Though his thinking changed over the years, these selections (from one of Freud's last works, left incomplete at his death) summarize the essentials of the theories. "Oedipus, the Child" is a text from his earliest work on dreams. It represents one of his many references to versions of Sophocles' Oedipus, the King. Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through is one of Freud's numerous clinical writings, intended to instruct analysts in his therapeutic technique. "The Return of the Repressed in Social Life" (from Moses and Monotheism) and "Civilization and the Individual" (from Civilization and Its Discontents) are also late works, written during the period when he was most concerned to use his theory to reflect on Western civilization. Both show his attempt to link psychological theory to social life. The latter clearly indicates his reservations toward the alleged superiority of Western civilization. Indeed, the last sentence, added with Hitler in mind, reveals his concerns for the very future of that civilization.


The Psychical Apparatus and the Theory of Instincts

Sigmund Freud ( 1900-1939)

Psycho-analysis makes a basic assumption, the discussion of which is reserved to philosophical thought but the justification for which lies in its results. We know two kinds of things about what we call our psyche (or mental life): firstly, its bodily organ and scene of action, the brain (or nervous system) and, on the other hand, our acts of consciousness, which are immediate data and cannot be further explained by any sort of description. Everything that lies between is unknown to us, and the data do not include any direct relation between these two terminal points of our knowledge. If it existed, it would at the most afford an exact localization of the processes of consciousness and would give us no help towards understanding them.

Our two hypotheses start out from these ends or beginnings of our knowledge. The first is concerned with localization. We assume that mental life is the function of

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Excerpt from James Stachey, ed. and trans., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, standard ed., Vol. 23 ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1949), pp. 13-21. Published posthumously, this selection is from one of Freud's last statements of psychoanalytic theory, developed throughout his career.

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