DOES THE UNCONSCIOUS SPEAK?
According to the Psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud ( 1856-1939) and his former colleague Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the answer to that question would be yes!
However, the nature of the Unconscious Mind (Jung often called it the subconscious, but this is not a technical thesis) was different for each one.
Jung saw it more like this
ALADDIN CALLS UP THE GENIE WHO GRANTS HIS EVERY WISH
This is from a Tale of the Arabian Nights. It is one of many versions. So, to Jung the Unconscious could be quite a benevolent source of inspiration as we shall see.
Freud’s view of the Unconscious mind was much darker. He saw it like this.
PANDORA OPENS THE BOX AND RELEASES EVIL INTO THE WORLD
This tale of Pandora and the Box is derived from Classical Greece. Once the forbidden box was opened the evils of the world were released. Prior to that, the human state was imagined to be paradisical.
To Freud, then the Unconscious Mind was a repository of base instincts and drives as we shall discuss.
Both Freud and Jung realised that to draw out the Unconscious Mind, to understand what it was releasing, what it was trying to say, certain techniques were necessary. These are represented by this picture.
THE SORCERER USES A WAND AND A CIRCLE OF FIRE TO INVOKE THE
We shall see the techniques which the two analysts used to call up and understand the Unconscious Mind.
Now let us get to grips with the idea and see how it relates to the Victorian Consciousness. At the same time we need to see what seems to constitute the ‘Unconscious’, how does it speak, and what techniques were devised by Freud and Jung to understand, and draw out its utterances.
First off, what has this to do with the Victorian Consciousness?
The Victorian era is generally reckoned to span the years of Victoria’s reign from the years 1837-1901. Clearly the life and work of Freud and Jung begins WITHIN the period but carries on AFTER the Victorian era. As a result what I wish to say is that the FORMATIVE INFLUENCES of the Victoria period crept into their work and LINGERED long after the Victorian era was over. In fact as we shall see Jung, at least, perpetuated the Victorian influences derived from Spiritualism.
Leaving Freud and Jung aside for a moment, it seems to me that the Victorian Consciousness was trying to get to grips with several notions concerning the Human Mind and somehow those who tried to fathom it seemed in a quandary. For example: was MESMERISM a force that existed all around us and that somehow we could draw upon it; what about TABLE TURNING, AND SPIRITUALISM were these phenomena coming from OUTSIDE or where they being produced by some aspect of THE HUMAN MIND?
I would suggest that Freud and LATER Jung attempted to turn INWARDS and explore the capacity of the Human Mind. It would seem, as we shall see, that Freud’s contention was that one area of the Human Mind resembled a vast reservoir, which, he termed the UNCONSCIOUS. The Human Mind, and what it PROJECTED was all that mattered. At least, that was what Freud wished to think. The evidence is, as we shall note, that he was much more ambivalent towards, so called ‘occult phenomena.’ On the other hand Jung was convinced that there was something in the phenomena, that perhaps the projections of the Human Mind were not the complete answer.
But this is anticipating the discussion. I shall broaden this out as we go along. I repeat, the FORMATIVE INFLUENCES of the Victoria period crept into the work of Freud and Jung and LINGERED long after the Victorian era was over.
Let us have some background on Freud to begin with. Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic)
When he was 4, the family moved to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In its day, Vienna was one of the foremost cultural, scientific, and medical centers of Europe.
Freud was an exceptionally bright boy and he attended the humanistic high school (or gymnasium) from 1866 to 1873. Whilst at the gymnasium he studied Greek and Latin, mathematics, history, and the natural sciences. Freud eventually qualified to enter the University of Vienna at the age of 17.
Freud, having always been interested in research, was thus attracted to the laboratory and anatomical studies. He was fortunate that Vienna had become the world capital of medicine. So, in 1880 Freud received his Medical Doctorate.
FREUD IN 1905 A SUCCESSFUL MAN
So, what? What has this to do with Freud’s researches into the Human mind?
We need to appreciate that PSYCHIATRY in the days when Freud was training was not so much concerned with the Mind. It was rather a study of the BEHAVIOUR AND MANNERISMS of the patient in order to reveal a possible PHYSIOLOGICAL disorder of the brain. No suggestion at all of anything deeper than that.
However, in 1885 Freud received a grant to pursue his neurological (relating to the nervous system) studies abroad. So, in that year he spent four months at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris. Here he came under the influence of Jean Martin Charcot. At that time Charcot used Hypnosis as a means of uncovering what he believed to be MENTAL rather than Physical causes of disease. He introduced the notion that behaviour such as Back Arching, paralysis of Muscles and constant facial Ticks were symptoms of what he called HYSTERIA. In some cases, it was true, certain physical symptoms were evidence of psychological trauma. Certainly, in the case of ‘Back Arching’, Charcot made a grave error. It is a symptom of Diabetes. However, Freud was mightily impressed with Charcot’s work and his ideas.
It is a short step from this to formulating a theory of The Mind. This was Freud’s ultimate step.
I am going to suggest, however, that he was influenced more by the Victorian COMPONENTS of Consciousness, (which I have discussed at length in other posts), than he realized, or at least admitted.
So, what does Freud do next?
Freud returned to Vienna, established himself in the private practice and began devoting his efforts to the treatment of hysterical patients. To aid his uncovering the root of ‘hysteria’ he utilized, Charcot’s hypnotic technique. At this time enter, Freud’s old colleague and mentor, Joseph Breuer. This meeting was highly significant for Bauer described in detail a woman whom he had treated for ‘hysteria’ and successfully cured her. He did so by tracing her symptoms back to certain emotionally distressing experiences at her father’s deathbed. Freud built on these notions and developed the idea that strong emotional, traumatic, experiences can be REPRESSED, that is THE MIND will act to exclude these experiences from conscious memory
FREUD’S SOFA ON WHICH HIS PATIENTS WOULD REVEAL ALL
However, THE UNCONSCIOUS WOULD SPEAK. It would speak in many ways as we shall see. In the instance under review it spoke in terms of physical symptoms.
From his association with Breuer, the pair went on to publish Studies in Hysteria (1895) At this time Freud coined the word, ‘Psychoanalysis’ to describe his work.
It was now apparent that Freud believed that the ‘Unconscious’ could speak. But wait, let us see how Freud came to construct the Human Mind.
Slowly, Freud groped towards an understanding of the mind. But one thing he was certain of was THAT THE UNCONSCIOUS, the deeper levels of the mind SPEAK. But how? Freud surmised that this might be through dreams (shades of Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy here). But the problem with dreams, was how does one understand the language? Nevertheless Freud embarked upon a detailed study of his own dreams.
THE KNIGHTS DREAM. HOW WOULD ONE INTERPRET THESE SYMBOLS?
As a result in 1901 he published a major scientific book. It was entitled , ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. He concluded that each person’s dreams serve as a tool to understand the UNCONSCIOUS mental processes that determine the behaviour of the individual.
Eventually, Freud discontinued the use of Hypnosis and developed the technique of FREE ASSOCIATION. He believed that if he could sufficiently relax his patient and then let them talk at length on ANYTHING that passed through the mind the UNCONSCIOUS WOULD SPEAK. The thoughts that the person uttered need not be connected in any way. In fact the less inhibited, the more likely would be the channel from the Unconscious.
Just briefly then, before we look at Freud and the Victorian occult, this is how he eventually saw the construction of the Mind. It was divided into two main parts: the Conscious Mind and the Unconscious Mind.
The CONSCIOUS MIND contains everything of which we are aware. It includes things which we can talk about rationally or memories which we can recall with ease. On the other hand, The UNCONSCIOUS MIND is quite different. Here in this vast reservoir lurk feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories. These are out of reach of our conscious awareness. Here lie all the primitive instincts and anxieties. Here lie memories of traumatic events that are concealed from the Conscious Mind. But Freud posited two things: THE UNCONSCIOUS FORCES THESE COMPONENTS into Consciousness one way or another, by for example, Dreams or Illness, or Neurotic Behaviour. Secondly, the Unconscious continues to influence everything we DO and everything we ARE even though we are unaware of it.
I earlier referred to Freud and Jung as TRANSITIONAL Victorians for a definite reason. They had a foot in both camps. On the one hand,as we shall now see, Freud was saturated in Victorian assumptions regarding the Occult, and on the other hand, he was attempting to discard such and step into what he saw as a more Modern World.
Ernest Jones, a disciple of Freud and who was later to write a biography of his Master, argued that Freud was a man in conflict. He had a deep desire to believe in Occult Phenomena. But this desire was at war bias towards disbelief.
There is no doubt about it Freud was deeply influenced by the Victorian assumptions, which I have discussed at length in earlier Postings. So much so that he he became involved in the paranormal in 1905, joined the Society for Psychical Research, and published a paper on it in 1932. Don’t forget, what his views were is not my main focus. The focus is that the VICTORIAN PARANORMAL ASSUMPTIONS entered his psyche and played a significant part in his life. Furthermore, with his daughter Anna and Ferenczi, he engaged in Telepathic or Thought Transmission experiments. But that is not all. Guess what, THEY ALSO ENGAGED IN TABLE TURNING investigations. If such was of no concern, if it had not percolated Freud’s Mind, surely he would never have devoted so much time to it.
FREUD AND HIS DAUGHTER ANNA
Nor was Freud free of Superstition and its Supernatural links, no matter how much he might rail against the occult and in later years give it a naturalistic explanation with reference to THE UNCONSCIOUS MIND. One such instance of his superstitious nature relates to the date of his death. Freud calculated from his telephone number that it was signifying the date at which he would die. In fact he went through endless calculations to arrive at the date, as if it was somehow preternaturally determined.
Again and again, Freud could not leave the Victorian preoccupations alone. He became almost obsessed with investigating Fortune tellers and specifically those whose prophecies had failed. Any reader who is familiar with Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre will see the presence of superstition in ‘The Red Room’ incident and the Fortune Telling escapade in Mr Rochester’s house.
I think enough has been said on Freud and in his case the ATTEMPT TO GET THE UNCONSCIOUS TO SPEAK. Also I think we can be fairly clear that Freud was influenced by the Victorian assumptions whether he struggled against them or not.
I shall pick up this theme in the next posting when I look at Jung.
I hope you have enjoyed the blog.
Picture Sources Wikimedia Commons