Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Ego Ideal: forms of perfection

In my work on the superego I’ve come to appreciate that Freud holds that it is a structural relation in development through multiple stages:

Nor must it be forgotten that a child has a different estimate of its parents at different periods of its life. At the time at which the Oedipus complex gives place to the super-ego they are something quite magnificent; but later they lose much of this. Identifications then come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego, which has been determined by the earliest parental imagos. (NIL, p. 64, emphasis mine).

The relevant form of the superego for this post is the ego ideal. On one hand it represents measuring oneself in relation to ‘father-substitutes’ or ‘leaders’ and interferes with the transference to them in pathology (i.e. the castration complex/masculine protest). On the other hand, it represents striving for perfection in relation to ego drives:

One more important function remains to be mentioned which we attribute to this super-ego. It is also the vehicle of the ego ideal by which the ego measures itself, which it emulates, and whose demand for ever greater perfection it strives to fulfil. There is no doubt that this ego ideal is the precipitate of the old picture of the parents, the expression of admiration for the perfection which the child then attributed to them (NIL, p. 64-5).

Perfection is a very abstract term and I believe Freud both chose it because it is abstract and would allow future analysts to provide specific forms of perfection, and because it represents a negative quality. By negative quality I mean that perfection cannot be grasped by the finite mind and that the objects (people) or things (possessions) that are deemed to be perfect are different for different individuals and change over an individual’s own lifetime.

In regards to (subject) egoistic development I’ve mentioned different types of perfection.

In the father complex/boy’s negative Oedipus complex/trito-phallic stage perfection is determined by the “injunctions and prohibitions” of father-substitutes. One wants to be ‘grown up’, gain recognition from others as an adult, and this involves three different forms for Freud: compulsive labour, marriage, and social feeling. The latter has been best elaborated by queer theorists as the ‘homo-social’ and the tendency of males to enter into groups and fraternities around different types of labour and sports. An adult goes to work even though he doesn’t like it, he takes care of his wife and kids even though he may not feel any love for them (i.e. its his duty), and he gets involved with community groups or sits on boards or councils to maintain integrity in a field, talk shop, ‘pay his respects’, and derive some self-esteem from the status of the groups.

The understanding of this drive come from individuals who have suppressed their altruistic side and are a variety of the obsessive-compulsive character. In other individuals this drive works in confluence with altruistic drives and belonging to groups is over-determined.

The earlier forms of perfection are individualistic.

At the phallic deutero/phallic-narcissistic stage perfection takes the form of the phallic image of the (phallic) mother.  The mother’s father, her brother, an old lover, etc. or their occupations, interests, etc. are the form which perfection takes.

At the proto-phallic/poly-phallic stage perfection takes the form of competing with others to belong to the ‘good class’ in understanding or skill. One wants recognition for what one can do and reputation and public opinion provide the grade for whether one is deemed as talented or intelligent.

At the trito-anal/urethral stage perfection takes the form of doing tasks perfectly. At the proto-phallic/poly-phallic stage there are many different phalli or skills or fields that one can strive for. In the anal stages competition revolves around a single phallus everyone competes for. Specifically at the trito-phallic/urethral stage cognition has advanced to the point of simple teleology. This is shown in another variety of obsessive-compulsive character sometimes called just compulsive character or urethral character. These individuals do everything the ‘right way’ and are prone to ‘micro-manage’ others. Whether it’s putting dishes in the dishwasher the right way, being compulsive about being on time and taking the quickest route, or making sure every action is part of ‘multi-tasking’ these individuals are generally concerned with efficiency. However, the focus is on ‘tasks’ and not the outcome in regards to one’s phallic skill or field of knowledge. In schizoid intellectuals in which the mind is more important than the body, efficiency is stressed in ‘stream-lining’ ideas and developing better techniques

At the anal-deutero/anal-narcissistic stage perfection takes the form of systematizing in general. Deduction as a process of putting things in binaries and having symmetry is the intellectual/schizoid form. The non-intellectual form is best understood in relation to the control of crowds and groups. The social ontology in the anal stages is pre-signifier (i.e. it arises at the proto-phallic stage) and the relation to others is mediated by picture-thinking. Picture-thinking can already break things into parts (i.e. see the body as arms, legs, torso, head) and in ‘imagination’ these parts can construct imaginary creatures like unicorns or centaurs. As mentioned in an earlier post, Freud believed that the examination of wolf packs and other higher mammals would show the importance of the leader but the deutero/narcissistic stages require parental seduction or parental rejection and thus we can’t examine what such ‘adapatations’ would look like among animals. Instead we must again look at pathological cases. In an earlier post I’ve shown a form of the compulsive character sometimes called the autistic character that shows the intellectual form at this level, and for the non-schizoid form Fenichel directs our attention to Mussolini and other military men as well as performers who want to control crowds. The (subject) egoist drive to conquer or dominate is what we are discussing and I think that a magician, for example, who wants to awe and delight the crowd would better be understood as an object altruist, but again, over-determination is the norm and I’ve been looking at varieties of compulsives who have suppressed their altruistic side.

At the proto-anal stage perfection would take the form of the picture thought on its own without the greater systematizing impulse to bring many things together. I can't give a definite statement here until I  investigate more developmental empirical psychology and animal psychology to differentiate the proto from the deutero stage. However, as opposed to the control of groups or crowds the proto-anal stage would represent the simpler impulse of rivalry to rise to the top of the group. At the anal Oedipus complex a place for this leader becomes established in transference to a father substitute, just as the rivalry for being first in one's field becomes a place for a father substitute who is more skilled or knowledgeable at the phallic Oedipus complex. 

Lastly, the trito stages represent the development of the dominant ego function of the following stage. At the trito anal or urethral stage teleology and will or self-control appear and in the phallic stage these are elaborated beyond compulsive efficiency and performance of tasks. The trito-phallic stage with its relation to the family/marriage as an impulse to join in fraternities is elaborated in the latency stage as the social ideals of race, nation, class, etc. that are more abstract and require further development of cognition. And, to be clear, cognition develops through instinctual renunciation and identification just as the ego ideal does. Both are based upon inner objects.

This bring me to the trito oral stage. At this stage the picture-thought would appear in its simplest form, however, it is still enough that it could leave an imprint on character so that the obsessive-compulsive character is more interested in noting the things in a room than the people in it. Additionally, it seems like this is the place for Hegel's simple master/slave conflict of one self-consciousness viewing another self-consciousness and needing to dominate it. In other posts I've shared that the oral stage is connected to primary narcissism for Freud, which means that one can satisfy one's desire to conquer or dominate in fantasy. The ego ideal that demands that one lives up to perfection as measured by the recognition that one receives from others- mediated through words and reputation, mediated through the body and gestures of deference, etc.- must follow this unhindered fantasy. 

I'm unsatisfied with simply noting Hegel's master and slave. I also think that the oral Oedipus complex must take into account the encounter with otherness. Along with the structural relation the other trito stages to the following stages there is also the different fantasies of being swallowed and being eaten as well as being oppressed by the presence of things (possessions) that provide place markers for these stages. I've mention in a previous post that Winnicott's transitional object as a thing and not an object would be this elaboration of the father at this stage. As Freud says, this pre-history in the individual is hard to navigate and I will have to wait for more definitive statements on the trito oral.     

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