Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Superego as phenomenological fact

Here are some notes I'm compiling for a presentation I'm giving on the superego. 


Freud writes that the superego is a “structural relation and is not merely a personification of some such abstraction as that of conscience” (Freud, 1933, p. 64).


Freud explicitly writes that there are many other things that are going on with the superego:

On previous occasions we have been driven to the hypothesis that some such agency develops in our ego which may cut itself off from the rest of the ego and come into conflict with it. We have called it the ‘ego ideal’, and by way of functions we have ascribed to it self-observation, the moral conscience, the censorship of dreams, and the chief influence in repression. We have said that it is the heir to the original narcissism in which the childish ego enjoyed self-sufficiency; it gradually gathers up from the influences of the environment the demands which that environment makes upon the ego and which the ego cannot always rise to; so that a man, when he cannot be satisfied with his ego itself, may nevertheless be able to find satisfaction in the ego ideal which has been differentiated out of the ego. In delusions of observation, as we have further shown, the disintegration of this agency has become patent, and has thus revealed its origin in the influence of superior powers, and above all of parents.1 But we have not forgotten to add that the amount of distance between this ego ideal and the real ego is very variable from one individual to another, and that with many people this differentiation within the ego does not go further than with children. (1921, p. 109-10)

The complaints made by paranoiacs also show that at bottom the self-criticism of conscience coincides with the self-observation on which it is based. Thus the activity of the mind which has taken over the function of conscience has also placed itself at the service of internal research, which furnishes philosophy with the material for its intellectual operations. (1914, p. 96)

I cannot here determine whether the differentiation of the censoring agency from the rest of the ego is capable of forming the basis of the philosophic distinction between consciousness and self-consciousness (1914, p. 97).

This modification of the ego retains its special position; it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ego ideal or super-ego. (1923, p. 34)

But let us return to the super-ego. We have allotted it the functions of self-observation, of conscience and of [maintaining] the ideal (1933, p. 66)

But it is more prudent to keep the agency as something independent and to suppose that conscience is one of its functions and that self-observation, which is an essential preliminary to the judging activity of conscience, is another of them. And since when we recognize that something has a separate existence we give it a name of its own, from this time forward I will describe this agency in the ego as the ‘super-ego’. (1933, p. 60).

In this last quotation Freud emphasizes that self-observation is the key function of the superego and essential to conscience, but it also leads to the next point about inferiority. 


 Freud also mentions the superego as self-criticism and explicitly mentions it's tie to inferiority a few times.

"There is always a feeling of triumph when something in the ego coincides with the ego ideal. And the sense of guilt (as well as the sense of inferiority) can also be understood as an expression of tension between the ego and the ego ideal. "(1921, p. 131)

He [the individual] is not willing to forgo the narcissistic perfection of his childhood; and when, as he grows up, he is disturbed by the admonitions of others and by the awakening of his own critical judgement, so that he can no longer retain that perfection, he seeks to recover it in the new form of an ego ideal. What he projects before him as his ideal is the substitute for the lost narcissism of his childhood in which he was his own ideal.
It would not surprise us if we were to find a special psychical agency which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from the ego ideal is ensured and which, with this end in view, constantly watches the actual ego and measures it by that ideal. (1914, p. 95)

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... But the major part of the sense of inferiority derives from the ego's relation to its super-ego; like the sense of guilt it is an expression of the tension between them. Altogether, it is hard to separate the sense of inferiority and the sense of guilt.(1933, p. 64-6)

Let us keep to what is clear: On the basis of our analysis of the ego it cannot be doubted that in cases of mania the ego and the ego ideal have fused together, so that the person, in a mood of triumph and self-satisfaction, disturbed by no self-criticism, can enjoy the abolition of his inhibitions, his feelings of consideration for others, and his self-reproaches. (1921, p. 132)

Anyone who has worked with mania knows that it doesn't link to abstract cultural values, but is a relation to the social body. The manic person often feels like they are "on fire" and can do special things, are interesting to others, and that everything will work out for them (despite debts, lack of resources, etc.). 


The superego relates to different forms of authority in the social body 

For example, in the “Economic problem of masochism” Freud writes that “the Oedipus complex… [the parent’s] personal significance for the superego recedes into the background” and “the imagos they leave behind… link [to] the influences of teachers and authorities…” (Freud, 1924b, pp. 167–168). 

There is not just one transference to teachers and authorities but a whole "human environment"

[i]t must not be supposed, however, that transference is created by analysis and does not occur apart from it. Transference is merely uncovered and isolated by analysis. It is a universal phenomenon of the human mind, it decides the success of all medical influence, and in fact dominates the whole of each person’s relations to his human environment. (Freud, 1925, p. 42)

We don't react to a teacher we meet in our school the way we would act to a professor from an Ivy League university. People can go hysterical and feint from getting too close to the celebrities that they idealize but they won't have that kind of transference for just a regular crush at school.

In group psychology Freud shows several different levels of authority (unformalized of course) in regards to a hypnotist, the compulsion with the primal father transference, 

The uncanny and coercive characteristics of group formations, which are shown in the phenomena of suggestion that accompany them, may therefore with justice be traced back to the fact of their origin from the primal horde. The leader of the group is still the dreaded primal father; the group still wishes to be governed by unrestricted force; it has an extreme passion for authority; in Le Bon's phrase, it has a thirst for obedience. The primal father is the group ideal, which governs the ego in the place of the ego ideal. Hypnosis has a good claim to being described as a group of two. There remains as a definition for suggestion: a conviction which is not based upon perception and reasoning but upon an erotic tie. (1921, p. 127-8)

Two people coming together for the purpose of sexual satisfaction, in so far as they seek for solitude, are making a demonstration against the herd instinct, the group feeling. The more they are in love, the more completely they suffice for each other. Their rejection of the group's influence is expressed in the shape of a sense of shame. Feelings of jealousy of the most extreme violence are summoned up in order to protect the choice of a sexual object from being encroached upon by a group tie. It is only when the affectionate, that is, personal, factor of a love relation gives place entirely to the sensual one, that it is possible for two people to have sexual intercourse in the presence of others or for there to be simultaneous sexual acts in a group, as occurs at an orgy. But at that point a regression has taken place to an early stage in sexual relations, at which being in love as yet played no part, and all sexual objects were judged to be of equal value, somewhat in the sense of Bernard Shaw's malicious aphorism to the effect that being in love means greatly exaggerating the difference between one woman and another. (1921, p.140).

In the great artificial groups, the Church and the army, there is no room for woman as a sexual object. The love relation between men and women remains outside these organizations. Even where groups are formed which are composed of both men and women the distinction between the sexes plays no part. There is scarcely any sense in asking whether the libido which keeps groups together is of a homosexual or of a hetero-sexual nature, for it is not differentiated according to the sexes, and particularly shows a complete disregard for the aims of the genital organization of the libido.(1921, p. 141)

Freud attributes this same process to animals and sees “organic repression” leading to identification and a superego in animals as well (Freud, 1930, p. 103, 105). Freud explicitly states that higher animals possess a superego and uses the wolf pack with its alpha as an example of group psychology (Paskauskas, 1993, p. 461). “A superego” he writes, “must be presumed to be present wherever, as is the case with man, there is a long period of dependence in childhood” (Freud, 1938, p. 147). 

The social nature that we share with these animals gives us a sense for the ego ideal's self-observation in relation to where one fits within the group or pack. This provides measurements for one's ego ideal and how one can feel a sense of inferiority.  

5. Combining the different levels of authority with the different forms of the superego's ego ideal creates many possible self-observations. There are moral ones that attach to guilt, remorse, or moral shame are one thing, but shame can also exist in relation to inferiority in which one is bad in the sense of impotent, weak, inferior, dirty, boring, unlikeable, etc. 

Thus, whenever one views oneself in any way, has any self-observation, it involves the superego.

- the superego should be be validated as a simple phenomenological fact that we can see ourselves morally and non-morally as objects.

- ego psychologists who used self and object representations obscured these operations of the superego for their own agenda 

- it's a contradiction to self there is ego self-observation because any view of the ego/self requires self-observation from another point, the superego

- the self designation is really the ego from the point of view of the superego which is different from the ego as the perceptual-consciousness system and the preconscious 

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