Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My mother is a Freudian?

I'm used to most people laughing at Freud and how ridiculous he is. But in the first half of "Civilizataion and its discontents", the following passage really jumped out at me:

Another technique for fending off suffering is the employment of the displacements of libido which our mental apparatus permits of and through which its function gains so much in flexibility. The task here is that of shifting the instinctual aims in such a way that they cannot come up against the frustration from the external world. In this, sublimation of the instincts lends its assistance. One gains the most if one can sufficiently heighten the yield of pleasure from the sources of psychical and intellectual work. When that is so, fate can do little against one. A satisfaction of this kind, such as an artist's joy in creating, in giving his phantasies body, or a scientist's in solving problems or discovering truths, has a special quality which we shall certainly one day be able to characterize in metaphsychological terms. At present we can only say figuratively that such satisfactions seem "finer and higher". But their intensity is mild as compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual impulses; it does not convulse our physical being. And the weak point of this method is that it is not applicable generally: it is accessible to only a few people. It presupposes the possession of special dispositions and gifts which are far from being common to any practical degree. And even to the few who do possess them, this method cannot give complete protection from suffering. It creates no impenetrable armor against the arrows of fortune, and it habitually fails when the source of suffering is a person's own body.
I do not think I have made a complete enumeration of the methods by which men strive to gain happiness and keep suffering away and I know, too, that the material might have been differently arranged. One procedure I have not yet mentioned - not because I have forgotten it but because it will concern us later in another connection. And how could one possibly forget, of all others, this tenchique in the art of living? It is conspicuous for a most remarkable combination of characteristic features. It, too, aims of course at making the subject independent of Fate (as it is best to call it) and to that end it locates satisfaction in internal mental processes, making use, in so doing, of the displaceability of the libido of which we have already spoken. But it does not turn away from the external world; on the contrary, it clings to the objects belonging to that world and obtains happiness from an emotional relationship to them. Nor is it content to aim at an avoidance of unpleasure - a goal, as we might call it, of weary resignation; it passes this by without heed and holds fast to the original, passionate striving for a positive fulfilment of happiness. And perhaps it does in fact come nearer to this goal than any other method. I am, of course, speaking of the way of life which makes love the centre of everything, which looks for all satisfaction in loving and being loved. A psychical attitude of this sort comes naturally enough to all of us; one of the forms in which love manifests itself - sexual love - has given us our most intense experience of an overwhelming sensation of pleasure and has thus furnished us with a pattern for our search for happines. What is more natural than that we should persist in looking for happiness along the path on which we first encountered it? The weak side of this technique of living is easy to see; otherwise no human being would have thought of abandoning this path to happiness for any other. It is that we are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love. But this does not dispose of the technique of living based on the value of love as a means to happiness.

It struck me particularly that my mother had said (basically) the same thing to me on several occasions. First, that it is an easy and obvious source of contentment and happiness to put your energy into work, class, writing, etcetera, and that those activities are a relatively surefire way to get satisfaction out of life, second that nothing is as effective at making you happy if you refuse to let it matter one way or another, and third that the most effective way to be happy is to have lots of friends and a social life (and sex too, I guess. But since she's my mom she tends to avoid that part). I guess my mom is just a Freudian at heart.

It's a fairly common occurance for me to read a text expecting to find it outdated and ridiculous and to find, instead, that I identify with it and it reminds me of my parents. Maybe my parents are just outdated and ridiculous. The same thing happened with my father and Aristotle; the entire class was talking about how ridiculous certain parts of the Nicomachean Ethics were, while I was just impressed by the similarities between (admittedly, other) parts of it and the lessons my father had tried to teach me as a child.

What it probably is, is that my parents read all of these texts when they were my age as well. They read Aristotle in their first years of college, and Freud thereafter, and Weber, and Durkheim, and Smith and Marx and all of them. They took Hum and Sosc and Western Civ, none of which have changed very much. My biology classes are probably significantly different from the biochem classes that my mother took, but a course on classical literature, sociology, or history won't have changed much since then. So the lessons that they learned in their core classes are still being taught today. Maybe every legacy kid here has the sense of deja-vu when they go through their core classes.

I wouldn't be that surprised.

But still. Freud? Everyone knows he's a perverted wanker. Everyone laughs at him. Even I laugh at many of his ideas about femininity. Why do I identify with his ideas?

1 comment:

Duff said...

By and large I agree with much of what Frued said, particularly with the fundamental nature of sensual in put in forming our psyches. The part that always tickles me pink is the psycho-analytic reconstruction of History. He believed and vehemently argued it was actual history, like WWII. But technology in civilization arising because man supressed his desire to pee on a fire, due to its phallic nature?