According to Freud: What is psychoanalysis about, if not sex and animal instincts?
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On May 6, Sigmund Freud would have turned 165 years old. It won’t be mistake to say that he became one of the most famous, iconic figures of the twentieth century. But more than that, Freud was the most misunderstood (or falsely understood) thinker of the past century. Moreover, it remains so up to these days.
There’s an extremly accurate, almost prophetic phrase, that Freud spoke when on a ship sailing to the United States. He sad: «They do not yet know that we are bringing them the plague». Psychoanalysis has indeed «infected» humanity. It is difficult to find a sphere of human culture that has not experienced its influence.
Psychoanalysis has split humanity into its supporters and equally ardent opponents. It has been declared sometimes the savior of humanity, sometimes as a very dangerous myth. And very rarely in assessments of psychoanalysis was traced the main thing – understanding.
It’s worth asking what psychoanalysis is and the average layman and venerable academic – I bet that in a hundred cases out of a hundred we get the answer: it’s the doctrine of the unconscious, which is the focus of animal instincts that must be curbed (roughly speaking, psychoanalysis – about sex and animal cruelty). But – there is nothing more distant from psychoanalysis than similar assessment of it.
This is partly Freud’s own fault, though: First, his first works were sustained in precisely this kind of biologizing key (however, this is not easy either; often Freud specifically coded his works to be understood only by those capable of psychoanalysis; just think of the story about Otto Rank, Secondly, Freud made a tremendous evolution in psychoanalysis, and the late Freud is radically different from the early Freud.
While the early Freud is as well known as possible, the late Freud is known by few (and many in the psychoanalytic establishment refuse to know at all, for it would destroy their established views).
So what is psychoanalysis about if not sex and animal instincts? I would like to quote a cryptic phrase Freud wrote in his diary the day before he died. In its original form it reads: «Mystik die dunkle Seibstwahrnehmung des Reiches ausserhalb des Ichs, des Es».
There is not a hint of biologization here. What mystical realm was Freud writing about? About a year before his death, in a letter to Romain Rolland, Freud mentioned his interest in the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which speaks of absolute reality beyond the division into subject and object. And in a letter to Zweig, Freud argued that psychic and physical reality are two sides of the same whole.
It is this indivisible reality, manifesting itself from both the physical and the psychic, that Freud called the mystical realm. And, in so doing, he radically broke with the Cartesian dualism of the physical and the mental, which had become the absolute foundation of both European science and European culture as a whole.
Freud’s main discoveries of the latter period were the «innervation key» and «organ fantasies». If – and this is not easy – to briefly describe these discoveries, the innervation key is the correspondence between the psychic and bodily states, which recodes unconscious processes into somatic ones; the «organ fantasies» are the result of the «innervation key», the phenomenon of unbearable for the individual, unconscious processes running through the cells, tissues and organs of the body.
Freud’s discoveries have the potential of a Copernican revolution in all of medicine – but, alas, only a few have developed Freud’s legacy in this direction (I would point first of all to the Argentine psychoanalyst Luis Chiozza).
But Freud’s psychoanalysis is not only important for medicine. No less it is important in a field of applied psychoanalysis, i.e. the transfer of practice and psychoanalytic thinking into different spheres of culture – from art to politics.
Practices to restore psychosomatic unity would avoid those Cartesian dualism-based collective phantasms in which the mind isolated from the body generates «monsters», pathological ideologies of totalitarianism and posthumanism that ignore and suppress the body, manifested in repressive practices and rampant technologization that destroys the natural environment.
Freud wrote that «the voice of the intellect is silent», but in these times of turbulent chaos, listening to the silent voice of wisdom is the only effective strategy.