October 2009

Working on my Freud chapter right now. Today this means going over my notes and putting what I think I will need in my outline. Doing so, I’m struck once again by Freud’s argumentation. Its bad. Particularly his proofs. They don’t really cut the mustard, especially with his relentless valorization and self-aggrandizement of psychoanalysis as a science.  They’re more a sickly mayo– bombastic, fat headed and so sure of themselves.

Take his metapsychological paper, The Unconscious. Here Freud spends the first section of the paper answering his critics and justifying the concept of the unconscious. At least, that’s what Freud seems to think he has done. The problem is that the three proofs Freud argues don’t justify a concept of the unconscious.

Lets take the first proof, the gaps hypothesis. First Freud sets up the problem something is lacking if we interpret every mental act as conscious; ‘conscious acts remain disconnected and unintelligible if we insist upon claiming that every mental act occurs in us must necessarily be experienced by us through consciousness.” So his solution is that we “fall into a demonstratable connection if we interpolate between them the  unconscious acts we have inferred.” But, this all rests on assumptions not the proofs Freud also assumes; 1) just cuz something is lacking doesn’t mean there is one general concept that exists and functions in the manner Freud assumes that can explain it 2) just because we interpolate something to explain acts doesn’t mean what we have infered has been proven, it only makes it a logical possibility.

Does Freud provide substance to this logical possibility in his second proof? well he thinks he does. Hes living proof cuz Psychoanalysis works. In other words, because the psychoanalytic method is based on the theory of the unconscious, and the psychoanalytic method works, the unconscious must exist. Even if we ignore the question about whether the psychoanalytic method really does work- or at least whether it did work for doc Freud who supposedly never cured his patients- we still have the crucial point that things can be fixed without a proper theory of how they work. So, no proof there.

Freud’s third proof is trickier. He uses a rhetorical slight of hand. By insisting that any any given moment most of our memories, ideas, etc. are latent and therefore unconscious, the concept of the unconscious is justified. But what Freud calls the unconscious here is different then the psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious. The fact that im not constantly conscious of the fact I like blueberries with my museli is different then the oedipus complex.

So there you have it. Freud’s proofs of the unconscious. Not scientific, or logically convincing, but interesting. Although they would be a lot more interesting if they weren’t written by Freud.

Here’s a thesis topic for anyone who’s interested– Stiff Little Fingers and post-colonialism. Alternative Ulster is the Wretched of the Earth of punk.