Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brief summary of Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle

I didn’t write last night as I was feeling a bit tired, but will hopefully make it up, perhaps two entries tonight instead of one.
I’ll discuss what I read today: I just finished reading Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle(1920) published right after the First World War, so Freud is preoccupied with trauma. Having already made the discovery of the pleasure principle, he is puzzled why trauma victims seem to compulsively return to the traumatic event instead of the pleasure principle? His text is based around the aforementioned inquiry. While he doesn’t deny the pleasure principle, he argues that there is an instinct for self-preservations that delays pleasure. To examine his question he turns to an example of his young grandson, Hans, who would repeatedly throw his toy away and yell fort (gone) and then retrieves the toy exclaiming da (here). This game, for Freud, functions as a child expressing the absence of his mother and his attempt to return to the situation as to regain control. Freud’s discussion of reliving or repeating unpleasant events for the sake of mastery culminates in his analysis of compulsive repetition, which works in contradistinction to the pleasure principle. He ends his discussion by turning to biology speculating over the tendency of organism to return to its earliest state, which is that of being inanimate. He calls this the death instinct and argues that this concept is opposed to the life instinct which he refers to as Eros. The death drive obscures the life instinct, which Freud saw as the purpose of civilization.
Essentially, Freud calls the pleasure principle into question by introducing the death drive particularly by showing how the psyche compulsively repeats traumatic events. This is not to claim that Freud is postulating that we strive for death, rather than pleasure, but of an ongoing tension between the two instincts.

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