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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Literary Theory: Psychoanalytic Approach

Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious is one of his greatest contributions to psychology. As a doctor, Freud was interested in studying how the human mind affects the body through illnesses such as hysteria and neurosis; and in devising a treatment method. As a philosopher, he was interested in finding how the mind interacts with structures of civilization such as taboos and religious beliefs.

In his work 'Civilizations and Discontents', he argues that there are two principles, namely 'pleasure principle' and 'reality principal' that are at work. The pleasure principle focuses in immediate gratification of needs, irrespective of social norms or any other regulations. The reality principle is the one that controls the pleasure by adhering to the societal rules. This process of subordination of pleasure, and channelling that energy into something more productive is known as sublimation. As we know, for Freud, all pleasure is of sexual nature. So, he argues that when we sublimate our sexual desires and channel that energy into a productive activity, civilization is born.

Now, the repressed pleasure does not just disappear into oblivion. It occupies a place in the mind and these repressed thoughts form the unconscious. Children up to the age of 2 or 3 years do not have an unconscious because they have no reality principle that can sublimate the pleasure principle. Young children are believed to focus only on immediate gratification. It is only as we grow up learning about the rules and norms that reality principle develops.

The conscious mind does not have direct access to the unconscious. However, there are three indirect ways through which we can access the content of the unconscious, namely, (1) dreams, (2) parapaxes and (3) jokes.

Dreams are a path to the unconscious. They mask the unconscious desires in two ways. First is through condensation, where a metaphor or single image is used to represent some unconscious wish. Second process is that of displacement, where one idea is replaced by something associated with it. In language, it related to metonymy, such as when 'fine hand' refers to good handwriting. Parapaxes, better known as slips of tongue are another way that the unconscious tries to assert itself. They reveal the repressed wishes in the unconscious. The third path to unconscious is through jokes, be they of any kind, because we derive pleasure out from it.

Pleasure seeking behaviour is thought to be innate in human beings. It begins since a child is born. He says that the child is polymorphously perverse, i.e. the child's libidinal drives are directed towards any object that might provide pleasure. The child experiences pleasure when any of the erotogenic zones are stimulated. (The first pleasure of the child is of an incestuous nature since it is derived from contact with the mother's body.) It is only when the child enters the latency period that these polymorphously perverse drives are put on hold. At the onset of puberty, these desires acquire a new aim, which is directed to an object outside. Psychoanalysis explains how a child moves from polymorphous perversity to forming a gendered and sexual self. A very important of this process is the resolution of the Oedipus complex. This process turns us away from incestuous sexual desire to exogamous sexual desire.


Anil Pinto said...

Good job, Marisha.

arshi said...

thanks marisha.. :)