A psychoanalytic mind: Sigmund Freud
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1024px-sigmund_freud_1926-editedSigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founding father of psychoanalysis.

Freud saw a distinction between the consious and unconscious mind, and believed that psychoanalysts could access the unconscious through displacement, ie dreams, slips of the tongue  (Freudian slip) and the written word, including literature.

In fact, Freud theorised that all creative work springs from neurosis. Freudian critics who examine literature believe that latent content in writing points to secret desires and key events in the author’s life (psychobiography), while others believe the work itself to possess its own unconscious. See Understanding Psychoanalysis in Literature.

“Where id was, there shall ego be.”

While we are all born with an id, (our base desires) the ego is a product of cultural repression and behavioural norms. The super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role, working to suppress the urges of the id and trying to make the ego behave morally, rather than realistically.

Freud believed human civilisation to be dependent on its ability to control impulses, particularly sexual, and that this repression could lead to psychological pathology. He also believed that the human sexual impulse was so powerful it threatened to return and disrupt conscious functioning – known as the return of the repressed.

Popular essays of Freud’s include:

  • The Interpretation of Dreams
  • On Narcissism
  • The Uncanny
  • Beyond the Pleasure Principle
  • Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego
  • Civilisation and its Discontents

Cultural criticism of Freud:

  1. Freud’s story of sexual development has a gender bias towards masculinity. Freud said in his later work, “Psychology, too, is unable to solve the riddle of femininity.”
  2. Freudian theory is too reductive and dogmatic – Historian Paul Robinson argues that Freudian critics have at most delayed the inevitable process by which he will settle in to his rightful place in intellectual history.