Becoming Freud by Adam Phillips (2014)
But the real scandal of Freud’s work at this time… was his discovery of just how ingenious and disturbing modern people had become as the unconscious artists of their own lives. It was their capacities for representation – for finding ways and means for making their desire known in however disguised or self-defeating forms; as dreams, or slips, or perverse and neurotic symptoms – that had impressed Freud…. His patients were working on and at their psychic survival, but like artists not like scientists; and their material was their personal history encoded in their sexuality. They were not empiricists, or only fleetingly; they were fantasists. Their adaptations were ingeniously imaginative, however painful; but they were stuck. Their symptoms were the equivalent of writer’s block, or rather, speaker’s block. Freud was becoming their new kind of good listener, and their champion; someone who could get, who could make something of, their strange ways of speaking. Someone who, like a good parent, or a good art critic, could appreciate what they were up to, what they could make, and make a case for it.
The idea of heroism was an attempted self-cure for our flagrant vulnerability.
Knowledge can be a refuge from experience.
What we are suffering from are all the ways we have of avoiding our suffering.
Knowing ourselves – or the ways in which we have been taught to know ourselves, not least through the conventions of biography and autobiography – has become the problem not the solution.
Pleasure is the suffering we are least able to bear.
We make histories so as not to perish of the truth.
Pleasure was not addictive, anestheticizing it was.
Our histories are coded stories about what we wanted and what was missing in the past, and what we wanted and feared about the future.
It is the inability to rewrite the past that the individual suffers from… A biography, like a symptom, fixes a person in a story about themselves.
Biography is what we suffer from… we need to cure ourselves of the wish for biography and our need for it.
People grow into their past, more than they grow out of it.
Character would become the self-cure for the trauma of growing up.
Freud wanted to believe that what you have lost can be recouped as knowledge.
No one needs the law more than an outlaw.
The unconscious, Freud discovered, was the past of ourselves that sabotaged our theories about ourselves, that made all our hypotheses and convictions and priorities provisional.
Cocteau: originality is trying to be like everyone else and failing.
Dream-work: the way we compose what we take from the surrounding world inspite of ourselves, unconsciously, to shape our desires.
What Freud learned from Charcot was that sexuality was the thing and that the method of informed, repeated observation was to let things speak, and to avoid speaking on their behalf.
If you put wishing at the heart of human development… you make extravagant ambition your theme.
Freud’s psychoanalysis would be a collaborative treatment about the failures of collaboration in a person’s life.
Acceptable forms of exchange (food, words, sex, money). Unacceptable exchange are called symptoms.
Whatever allows us to forget ourselves is akin to a sexual act.
He could only know himself through the knowing of others, self-knowledge was collaborative and provisional.
Preferring the interesting thing to the (supposedly) real thing.
In Interpreting Dreams Freud will describe the dreamer… as an artist using the history of his own past desiring to secure future satisfactions.
How does the individual survive his appetite?
The child’s ambition for survival is a quest for pleasure.
Pleasure involved the regulation of feelings that always threatened to overwhelm.
The patient’s symptoms are his sexual life.
The obstacles to treatment were the means of treatment (transference).
What was at stake in psychoanalysis was whether the patient could recover the pleasures of childhood that would make his life seem worth living.
Masochism was our best trick for survival, a way of making our inordinate suffering our greatest pleasure.
The dream, like the joke, reveals people to be in hiding, consciously hiding from disapproving others, but unconsciously hiding from themselves. Or rather, in hiding from the parts of themselves that has wanted to fully identify with the hostile, oppressing voices in our culture. (Cultures live inside us more than we live inside our cultures.)
Modern people endanger themselves by the way they protect themselves.
Each of the so-called mechanisms of defense was a form of self-blinding.
Ambivalence was Freud’s self-cure for fanaticism.
Sexuality: perverse, insatiable, excessive, endangering, essentially sado-masochistic, inventive in its pleasure seeking, unnameable.
We make our unacceptable desires known in dreams, jokes, slips, neurotic symptoms – each of them uses the mechanism of the dream-work to transform unconscious desire into acceptable forms of knowledge and action.
In our dreams, Freud proposed, we are the historians – if not the archivists-of our own desire, making something to look forward to, something to want, out of the desires of the past. Reminding ourselves of what we might want from what we once wanted.
Culture is the translation of the desire a person can’t afford to acknowledge.