Mind and Culture

Freud and Slovakia

How to Cite

Gillard, G. (2000). Mind and Culture: Freud and Slovakia. M/C Journal, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1835
Vol. 3 No. 2 (2000): Culture
Published 2000-05-01

'Let me give you an analogy; analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.' -- Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures 72 (1933)

This paper emerged from a larger study of Freud's view of culture, which used elements of Freud's own way of proceeding to mount a critique of the elaboration of that view. It is proposed here that the use of analogy is foundational to Freud's procedure in building his model of the mind, rather than just a temporary means to an end, and, crucially, that Freud is himself unaware of both the necessity of the analogical move and also of his desire for it. The creation of the concept of the Freudian psyche is a rhetorical tour de force, a structure made of figures of speech, the chief among which is the analogy. Freud constructs an analogy between culture and mind: what is left of his theory of both if this rhetorical connexion is removed?

In the opening pages of one of his last works Freud considers the problem of the interpretation of culture, and he concludes that there too it is a question of getting the patient on the couch: '... one is justified [he writes] in attempting to discover a psychoanalytic -- that is, a genetic explanation ...' -- in that psychoanalysis is a method of explaining the origins of present condition of such things as states of mind, to which culture more generally is analogous (Civilization 65). Understanding may be an end in itself, but there may be a more practical purpose in bringing psychoanalysis to bear: a culture may become sick, neurotic, and psychoanalysis may be able to play a part in understanding the nature of the problem, if not also in treating it. Civilization and Its Discontents concludes with the idea that 'we may expect that one day someone will venture to embark upon a pathology of cultural communities' (144).

What Freud has to say about culture can be read, I propose, on a number of levels. The smallest elements which begin to reveal meaning -- which are capable of being differentiated in a meaningful way, and therefore analysed as texts -- are parapraxes and the minute revelations of the psychoanalytic techniques of free association and dream analysis. A second level of text is that produced by a unitary, identified 'author', such as Wilhelm Jensen's Gradiva, or Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin with St Anne. An epoch, such as Freud's Civilization (and its Discontents), and then his view of a species (as in Totem and Taboo), each with its own teleology, form texts of a higher order.

My engagement with Freud here is with his method of argument by analogy. On some occasions he makes explicit the extent to which he is dependent on (flexible!) analogies of the description of his method -- as when he writes this in The Question of Lay Analysis:

'In psychology we can only describe things by the help of analogies. There is nothing peculiar in this, it is the case elsewhere as well. But we have constantly to keep changing these analogies, for none of them lasts us long enough. (195)

In a key moment in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, he again explicitly uses analogy instead of argument, writing: 'Instead of a discussion, however, I shall bring forward an analogy to deal with the objection' (21). This is a point at which he is dealing with the reason for the forgetting of names, and although he is not yet prepared to indicate what is in his view the precise reason for this (namely: repression), he wishes to persuade his reader to stay with him; and so he inserts a narrative about what we would now call a mugging, an event with just the right combination of violence and yet familiarity to allow readers to accept that such things happen but that the agents are usually unknown. That he is confident of the efficacy of this procedure is indicated by that fact that he uses the same analogy again in the Lecture 3 of the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (40-59).

Although Freud uses analogy -- as a comparison between two separate and distinct and different things -- what he is most interested in is primary process. This is a mode of thinking which may be capable of an awareness of the differences between things, but is more interested in their confluences (overdetermination and condensation), and their similarities and ability to replace each other (displacement). I suggest that analogy is actually primary process subjected to 'secondary revision', and that Freud is himself unaware of the source of his recurrent need to use analogy.

Consider also the 'Slovakia' example in Lecture 23 of the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in which Freud is extrapolating his division of the mind into the three parts: super-ego, ego and id, the 'three realms, regions, provinces, into which we divide an individual's mental apparatus...' He introduces this in a characteristically persuasive way: 'Let me give you an analogy; analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home' (New Introductory Lectures 72). He then proceeds to a brief description of some of the characteristics of (what is now) Slovakia, in which German, Magyars and Slovaks live, in which there are three kinds of topography and also three groups of industry. He constructs the image partly to demonstrate the complexity of the interrelationships of the parts of the mental apparatus (and partly to have a shot at the powers that at Versailles divided up parts of Europe), and to show that the assignment of distinct names to them tends to obscure the way in which they in fact overlap and interact. However, what the analogy powerfully imports is the 'naturalness', indeed the inevitability, of the division into three. Despite the argument actually being that this division is in fact not clear-cut, it nevertheless implies the necessity of the division. So that his audience is all the more ready the accept the tripartite model of the mind.

We could analyse this analogy between the two 'geographies' somewhat in the way that Freud would examine the account of a dream. Firstly, there are the day's residues: in this case his experiences in growing up in this part of Europe together with his reflections on the politics of defining a nation. Then we see the conflation of the two different realms of human experience, political geography and metapsychology; and the displacement of the one set of structures for the other. There is also the overdetermination of the tripartite structures: German, Magyars, Slovaks; hills, plains, lakes; cattle, cereals, fish; superego, ego, id. Finally an instance of secondary revision can be clearly seen in the conclusion of Freud's demonstration.

If the partitioning could be neat and clear-cut like this, a Woodrow Wilson would be delighted by it; it would also be convenient for a lecture in a geography lesson. The probability is, however, that you will find less orderliness and more missing, if you travel through the region. ... A few things are naturally as you expected, for fish cannot be caught in the mountains and wine does not grow in the water. Indeed, the picture of the region that you brought with you may on the whole fit the facts; but you will have to put up with deviations in the details. (New Introductory Lectures 73)

The implication for my analogy (with dream-analysis) is clearly that there will be a slippage between the different meanings of the images as the process of overdetermination tries to get each to do different work at the same time, and certain elements will have to be refined or retuned, whether in the service of more or less precise relation.

A final point might be made, while still on the topic of Slovakia. Freud is, as we have seen, critical to some extent of the political-geographical situation that he receives and describes in his image. The reference to the American president suggests that there might have been a better way to carry out the partition, and certainly events in the region in our own very recent past suggest that this is so. Freud, however, is ultimately accepting of many of the aspects of the picture. He takes the different kinds of primary industry as givens: agriculture, viticulture, and the human culture implied in the national names. The fact that an outsider like Wilson might get it wrong only makes clearer the implication that received political geography is meaningful and in some senses right. This is an example of a cultural unconscious about which Freud does not speak because he cannot. It is not that his assumption about this matter, that which is taken-for-granted, is unthinkable: it is unsayable, something which is outside consciousness because it is so taken-for-granted. This kind of unconscious, which I am calling a kind of cultural unconscious for want of a better term -- and perhaps a notion of the 'non-conscious' might be more accurate -- simply cannot be accommodated by consciousness.

Here Freud was appealing to geography to make his point. He far more often appeals to the authority of literature. To give a crude example, it is well known that it was the essay on nature -- thought at one time to be by Goethe -- which is supposed to have been the spur that pricked the side of Freud's intent and actually drove him into what was to become psychoanalysis. So literature not only has an inspirational effect for him, but is also evidence of the interpenetration of Freud's mind -- his way of thinking by analogy and citation -- and the culture of which he is the recipient, and in which he is caught up.

If analogy is essential to Freud's theory, rather than just part of its explication (and space has permitted mention of only a few instances) -- if analogy functions as the clasps that hold together the new clothes of the Emperor of Psychoanalysis - what happens when the clasps are removed?

Author Biography

Garry Gillard