Sigmund Freud
Born 1856

Freiberg in Mähren, Moravia, 

Austrian Empire

Relevant Work Beyond the Pleasure Principle


Biography Edit

  • Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst
  • Freud was born to Galician Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • He qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1881 at the University of Vienna
  • Upon completing his habilitation in 1885, he was appointed a docent in neuropathology and became an affiliated professor in 1902
  • Freud lived and worked in Vienna, having set up his clinical practice there in 1886
  • In 1938 Freud left Austria to escape the Nazis. He died in exile in the United Kingdom in 1939.

In creating psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. Freud's redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as wish-fulfillments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the underlying mechanisms of repression. On this basis Freud elaborated his theory of the unconscious and went on to develop a model of psychic structure comprising id, ego and super-ego. Freud postulated the existence of libido, an energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt. In his later work Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Beyond the Pleasure Principle” Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

Freud himself admits that he relies on “conjecture” and “speculation, often far-fetched speculation” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Despite the shift from clinical experience in his previous writing, Freud’s suppositions offer insight into the “new ‘structural’ theory of the mind” and is “indispensable to an understanding of fundamental shifts in psychoanalytic thinking” (594).  It’s been suggested that Freud’s inspiration for Beyond the Pleasure Principle resulted from his daughter’s death. Though much of Freud’s conjectures involve ideas of death or death wishes, Freud denies that her death was a catalyst for the writing, as he had finished the writing and shared it with friends in 1919, while his daughter “was still flourishing and enjoying perfect health,” (594).

Freud also had a profound influence on literature. “The psychoanalytic approach to literature not only rests on the theories of Freud, it may even be said to have begun with Freud, who believed that writers write to express their personal, repressed wishes and who was especially interested in writers who relied heavily on symbols.” Freud focused his criticism on the authors of literary works. Many critics imitated and modified Freud’s theories in their own applications to literature. Poetry and fiction writers also incorporated Freudian themes or terms in their own writing. In later years, the psychoanalytical criticism expanded focus to include characters of written texts as well as authors. One such example, detailed below, analyzed Shakespeare's Hamlet in connection with Freud's Oedipus complex (The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, 412-413).

Key Words and Terms Edit

Unconscious - Refers to the mental processes of which individuals make themselves unaware. Includes both the Id and Superego.

Id - The part of the unconscious that works on the "pleasure principle." Contains the mind's unconscious needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives.

Ego - The conscious mind. The Ego works on the "reality principle." The Ego acts as a mediator between the Id and the Superego. The Ego enables an individual to delay gratification and function appropriately in the real world.

Superego - The moral center of the unconscious.The Superego is formed of our social and cultural mores.

Traumatic Neurosis - mental illness brought about by a traumatic event.

Reality Principle - Demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction

Repression - The action or process of suppressing a thought or desire in oneself so that it remains unconscious.

Pleasure Principle - is the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs.

Cathexis - The concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object (especially to an unhealthy degree).

Key Quotations Edit

"We have decided to relate pleasure and unpleasure to the quantity of excitation that is present in the mind but is not in any way 'bound;' and to relate them in such a manner that upleasure corresponds to an increase in the quantity of excitation and pleasure to a diminution" (Freud, 595).

"...the mental apparatus endeavours to keep the quantity of excitation present in it as low as possible or at least to keep it constant" (Freud, 595).

"Anyone who accepts it as something self-evident that their dreams should put them back at night into the situation that caused them to fall ill has misunderstood the nature of dreams. It would be more in harmony with their nature if htey showed the patient pictures from his healthy past or of the cure for which he hopes." (Freud, 598).

"At the outset he was in a passive situation--he was overpowered by the experience; but, by repeating it, unpleasurable though it was, as a game, he took on an active part" (Freud, 600).

"In the case we have been discussing, the child may, after all, only have been able to repeat his unpleasant experience in play because the repetition carried along with it a yield of pleasure of another sort..." (Freud, 600-601).

"We are therefore left in doubt as to whether the impulse to work over in the mind some overpowering experience so as to make oneself master of it can find expressions as a primary event, and independently of the pleasure principle" (Freud 600).

"'Fear' requires a definate objet of what to be afraid. 'Fright', however, is the name we give to the state a person gets into when he has run into danger without being prepated for it; it emphasizes the facter of surprise. I do not believe anxiety can produce a-traumatic neurosis. There is something about anxiety that protects its subject against fright and so against fright-neuroses" (598)

Discussion Edit

The Text as a Model for Pleasure and Unpleasure Edit

In a strange way, an understanding of Beyond the Pleasure Principle at the initial reading, can be an example of Freud’s point overall. That with reservation caused by preconceived ideology, a person can find conflict with the new idea and their old idea causing them to experience unpleasure due to not having a deeper understanding of Freud’s viewpoint. In order to have a pleasurable experience, they end up rejecting the new concept based on leaving unpleasure to regain pleasure. Freud would say, “If a person can go beyond that conflict; open mindedly, receptively, and attentively seeking to learn, a real truth may be in a new perspective and the viewing of it, but only if he/she could be free of the 'Tension,'” that limits the acceptance of a new perspective. For example, if knowledge is based on what someone has learned from the information available to them, their unconscious perceptions govern pleasure/unpleasure internally and their pleasure/unpleasure level will cause acceptance or rejection of external influences. Approaching this reading with a preconceived idea of Freud himself, his theories, or a felt challenge may cause instant rejection of Beyond Pleasure Principle--even before reading the first sentence. Discussion, full reading of the text, rereading the text, and keeping an open mind a real point of understanding if we learn to push beyond pleasure/unpleasure tension.

Id, ego, and super-ego Edit

Freud proposed that the human psyche could be divided into three parts: Id, ego and super-ego. Freud discussed this model in the 1920 essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and fully elaborated upon it in The Ego and the Id (1923), in which he developed it as an alternative to his previous topographic schema (i.e., conscious, unconscious and preconscious). The id is the completely unconscious, impulsive, childlike portion of the psyche that operates on the "pleasure principle" and is the source of basic impulses and drives; it seeks immediate pleasure and gratification.

Freud acknowledged that his use of the term Id (das Es, "the It") derives from the writings of Georg Groddeck. The super-ego is the moral component of the psyche, which takes into account no special circumstances in which the morally right thing may not be right for a given situation. The rational ego attempts to exact a balance between the impractical hedonism of the id and the equally impractical moralism of the super-ego; it is the part of the psyche that is usually reflected most directly in a person's actions. When overburdened or threatened by its tasks, it may employ defense mechanisms including denial, repression, undoing, rationalization, and displacement. This concept is usually represented by the "Iceberg Model". This model represents the roles the Id, Ego, and Super Ego play in relation to conscious and unconscious thought.

Freud compared the relationship between the ego and the id to that between a charioteer and his horses: the horses provide the energy and drive, while the charioteer provides direction.

The Greatest Pleasure Edit

The pleasure principle believes people have the tendency to free themselves from excitation, keep excitation constant, or keep the amount of excitation as low as possible (625). The ultimate pleasure is to be completely free of excitation—or unpleasure. To this end, Freud believes “it is clear that the function thus described would be concerned with the most universal endeavour of all living substance—namely to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world” (625). The “quiescence of the inorganic world” refers to death, which Freud acknowledges as being a complete and permanent release of excitation (making it the most pleasurable event). However, Freud also offers a happy alternative to this when saying in the following sentence “the greatest pleasure attainable by us, that of the sexual act, is associated with a momentary extinction of a highly intensified excitation” (625). This point argues that sex can give people a similar pleasure to death because of its tendency to release “highly intensified excitation,” though it flounders in that the release is only momentary while death is permanent. 

Analytical Summary Edit

Sigmund Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle seeks to explain the existence of both pleasure and unpleasure in the mental apparatus and explores ways in which behavior and experience impact the pleasure response.  Section I describes the tendency to act in ways that would “coincide with a lowering of that tension” (Freud 595) which would move a person away from unpleasure and toward pleasure.  Freud uses the phrase “increase of excitation,” which coincides with an increase of unpleasure, while the diminution of excitation refers to the increase in pleasure.  Thus, the greater the excitation the greater the unpleasure “in a given period of time” (Freud 595).  Freud argues that the mental apparatus seeks to keep excitation at the lowest possible level or at least attempts to keep it stable.  A conflict to the Pleasure Principle arises when “certain forces or circumstances” (596) manifest themselves and the mental apparatus must choose a condition outside of the impact of pleasure in which the person may seek to postpone pleasure for some other desire.  This is often attributed to a long-term goal or situation in which the mental apparatus is willing to delay present pleasure or even undergo current unpleasure for a specific end.

Freud highlights two circumstances in which the Pleasure Principle is unable to take effect.  First, in the case of self-preservation the organism will seek unpleasure if that is the only course of action that will preserve their life. This introduces the idea of the “reality principle,” (596) a condition in which the mental apparatus willingly forgoes pleasure for a condition often referred to as delayed gratification.  Second, the mental apparatus will often suspend the tendency toward pleasure during a period when “conflicts and dissensions ...take place in the mental apparatus while the ego is passing through its development,” (596) which means that there are particular developmental periods conditional to growth when an organism will not naturally gravitate toward pleasure and away from unpleasure, though this is usually temporary.  Freud suggests that an instinctual power and strong magnetic presence draw toward lessening excitation and increasing pleasure, which he calls “innate instinctual impulses” (596). But he also discusses the “process of repression” (597) where the organism has instincts that are incompatible with other needs and impulses.  In this case, the drive for pleasure must be repressed.  

In Section II, Freud turns the discussion toward “traumatic neurosis’,” (597) and the distinctive behaviors that often accompany severe trauma.  He explains the difference between Anxiety, Fear, and Fright and gives examples of how the different expressions each refer to a varying response.  The study of dreams becomes a key element of Freud’s theory, as does children’s play.  In dreams, which Freud considers “the most trustworthy method of investigating deep mental processes,” (598) he relates the tendency of those suffering with “hysteria” to experience reminiscences of past trauma.  When relating his findings in regards to children’s play, Freud shares his experience observing a one-and-a-half-year-old little boy and analyzes how the Pleasure Principle is revealed through his actions.  Freud argues that the little boy’s "Fort-Da" game models a form of hide and seek with his toys actually replaying the departure and return of his mother.  Freud discovers a pattern where the boy experiences the unpleasure of purposely hiding or losing a toy and then the pleasure of having it reappear, just as his mother returns after being away.  In his section, Freud alludes to another theory, the Oedipus Complex, which is manifest when the little boy happily sends his toys to “the front,” while his father is away at war, so that he can have “sole possession of his mother” (600).  

Further, Freud discusses the ability that both children and adults have of turning unpleasure to pleasure through art and how a person’s most dire experiences can be turned to pleasure through artistic expression (601).

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

"Orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis was challenged in the 1920s by Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich; later, in the 1930s, by Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan. These critics of Freud stressed the interpersonal aspect of the analyst-patient relationship (transference), and placed more emphasis on the processes of the ego. Despite a number of detractors and a lack of controlled research, Freudian psychoanalysis remained the most widely used method of psychotherapy until at least the 1950s.

Today, Freud's method is only one among many types of psychotherapy used inpsychiatry. Many objections have been leveled against traditional psychoanalysis, both for its methodological rigidity and for its lack of theoretical rigor. A number of modern psychologists have pointed out that traditional psychoanalysis relies too much on ambiguities for its data, such as dreams and free associations. Without empirical evidence, Freudian theories often seem weak, and ultimately fail to initiate standards for treatment.

Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theoretical models arise from a homogeneous sample group—almost exclusively upper-class Austrian women living in the sexually repressed society of the late 19th cent. Such a sample, many psychologists contend, made Freud's focus on sex as a determinant of personality too emphatic. Other problems with traditional psychoanalysis are related to Freud's method of analysis. For Freudian analysis to reach its intended conclusions, the psychoanalyst required frequent sessions with a client over a period of years: today, the prohibitive costs of such methods compels most to seek other forms of psychiatric care.

Traditional psychoanalysis involved a distancing between therapist and client—the two did not even face each other during the sessions. In recent years, many clients have preferred a more interactive experience with the therapist. The subject matter of Freudian analysis has also fallen into disuse, even among those who still practice psychoanalysis: early childhood receives much less emphasis, and there is generally more focus on problems the client is currently experiencing. By the early 21st century, various kinds of psychoanalysis continued to be practiced, but the theory and practice of psychoanalysis was increasingly overshadowed by cognitive psychology and discoveries in neurobiology" (InfoPlease).

Psychoanalysis remains influential within psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and across the humanities. As such, it continues to generate extensive and highly contested debate with regard to its therapeutic efficacy, its scientific status, and whether it advances or is detrimental to the feminist cause. Nonetheless, Freud's work has suffused contemporary Western thought and popular culture. In the words of W. H. Auden's 1940 poetic tribute, by the time of Freud's death, he had become "a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives."

Related Works Edit

  • Louis Althusser (NATC) pg 1332
  • Harold Bloom (NATC) pg 1648
  • Judith Butler (NATC) pg 2536
  • Michael Foucault (NATC) pg 1502
  • Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (NATC) pg 1446
  • Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (NATC) pg 1923
  • Judith Halberstam (NATC) pg 2635
  • Donna Haraway (NATC) pg 2180
  • Julia Kristeva (NATC) pg 2067
  • Jacques Lacan (NATC) pg 1159
  • Franco Moretti (NATC) pg 2441
  • Laura Mulvey (NATC) pg 2081
  • Slavoj Zizek (NATC) pg 2402

References Edit

  • The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010 (pages 807-45).