What
It
Was

Matter
Quantity
Conservation
Cause &
Reason

From the first, Freud hoped to place his psychology on a firm scientific footing. If we were not like a water-works, perhaps we were complex electrical systems or places for the barter and exchange of heat; but he was not really aware of how little or how much the science of his day was truly empirical or to what degree the commitments of Herbart and Helmholtz to materialism were acts of faith, how far the principles of motion or the laws of thermodynamics exceeded the evidence.

It was distinctly in a cautious speculative spirit that in the fall of 1895 Freud began the “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” because in the area of neurophysiology, at least, he knew very well how little was known; nevertheless, with extraordinary daring and considerable elegance, since caution excludes neither, and with his almost genetic gift for guessing right, he set out to provide us with a purely physical account of the operations of the mind. Except perhaps for Ivan Sechenov’s beautiful little essay Reflexes of the Brain,1 which was written in 1863 and falls short of Freud in numerous ways, there is nothing like it in the entire history of philosophy.

Although Freud’s own clinical practice defined his problem, it was left to physics to suggest those first fine few general principles (laws of heat and motion) from which a solution might be drawn, and to neurology to provide the pieces (neurones) which would play the game. Freud’s own basic assumptions (that reality is entirely material; that matter is best described in quantitative terms; that it is governed by the principles of conservation; that it operates through cause and can only be understood through reason) are hardly empirical generalizations. Once securely afloat, however, and the consequences of his “laws” derived, Freud descends on the facts from above the way the fisherman descends on his fish, and of course there is always the danger that the theory will seine too efficiently and only capture the kinds it wants. It is at this point that one must ask whether the explanation is satisfactory: whether all the data has been economically, even elegantly, interrelated; whether new material can be correctly anticipated; and whether surprises can be ungrudgingly welcomed and made to feel at home.

So let us imagine for a moment the simplest organism in the animosities of its environment and ask ourselves about the value of its sensitivity. Wouldn’t every cell be better off as sand, and isn’t any animal easier in the management of itself than a man? Then why accept messages? Let the dah-dits drone into wirelessed space, send the bellboy away when he knocks, ignore both the frothy tumult of events and the dull settle of sofas on their springs, put out all eyes in order to endure, hold tight—that’s it—hang on, sink out of sight in blank and silent depths—the oyster has the secret—stay, remain, survive…though staying, as Rilke wrote, is nowhere; still, staying is all we want. It is that equilibrium or balance which Spinoza once proposed to us as the innermost law of our nature, even as Leonardo earlier observed, “every body has a weight in the direction of its movement,” and Galileo, too, unsweetened Platonist, by measuring mass with inertia, revoked the ancient privileges of heaven and made the moon a stone; for which no thanks were given to him, or Hobbes, or finally Freud, who worked against the most presidential of our mental friends: Received Opinion.

The old stories tell us how Matter struggled, pointlessly or not, to become Mind. They weave a wondrous tale, rather reminiscent of the rabbit who tried to tie down the sun with string. Furthermore, these same myths relate how man escaped from his cave to club his skinless way to culture—most moving, most brave; still others describe his history and his fate, a pageant only Providence has so far found the funds for or had the fortitude to watch, while in addition Bergson’s given all of us a Rotarian’s upward fizz. What more could we possibly want?

In the face of such persistent flattery it is natural for us to think of evolution as a kind of growth, and growth as a kind of groping for sun and air in one direction, food and water in another, an open and honest reaching out, healthy and English as mountain climbing, full of fresh air and German joy, the happy rush of life into every nook and cranny like the scatter of roaches from a sudden light. But suppose that another rule prevails, the one that in logic is called Identity, in physics, Inertia, and among living beings, Self-Preservation; suppose that the instincts invariably seek to reinstate a previous condition, that the essence of things lies in the profoundest reluctance, in Widerstand, resistance; and suppose that in the same way that we go paradoxically to war to preserve the peace, we send out emissaries and take in guests—in order, ultimately, only to be alone. What of the inner impulse, then? the upward strive? the Life Force and the biological hurrah?2

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“I do not believe in the existence of such an inner impulse,” Freud said, “and I see no way of preserving this pleasing illusion.” If Galileo required that the heavens turn on the same cogs as the earth, and Darwin found one law alike for every species, Freud would make a similar demand concerning the mind and consciousness of man. If it is to sustain itself as a discipline, psychology must manage to be but physics and physiology respelled. Freud’s earliest commitment was to a regulative rule for reason which commanded him to seek a uniform order of explanation and a unity in science. It was a faith as Viennese as sacher torte and strong coffee, and it implied that the concepts of every special area of investigation were logically coherent; that there was, thus, one language for science as well as one set of laws. Psychic processes had to be regarded as quantitatively determined states of specifiable material particles.3

As his work went on Freud found it increasingly difficult to retain his quantitative materialism in undiluted form, but I should like to suggest that, although he weaseled and he waffled, although dualisms bent him and mentalisms encouraged another language, at least every other heartbeat was for the work he set aside and never published, the “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” and that his later romance with destruction and death is a disguised return to the old and drier flame. In his resourceful and devious way, Freud was as constant and resistant to change as his central principle.

The importance of “Project” is now generally recognized and appropriately stressed.4 One of the best essays in Richard Wollheim’s anthology, Robert Solomon’s “Freud’s Neurological Theory of Mind,” is devoted to it. Solomon quotes Karl Pribram, one of the world’s leading neuropsychologists, to the effect that “the Project contains a detailed neurological model which is, by today’s standards, sophisticated…. The Project is very much alive and not just of historical importance.” Solomon also notes that Thomas Kuhn calls the “Project” a paradigm of psychoanalytic theory; reminds us that the editors of the Standard Edition describe it as a ghost which “haunts the whole series of Freud’s theoretical writings to the very end”; and himself concludes that “as in so many other instances, a work of this outstanding genius of our century has been abused for ‘naïveté’ only because it was too radical to be appreciated in its own time.”

If the first, second, and final act of every constituted system is to maintain itself, as Freud’s project assumed, then it will only be for the sake of such commonplace salvation that some systems will find a use for the sensitivity which genetic chance and circumstance have conferred upon them. Still, every system will seek to limit this sensitivity as far as possible, responding simply to what seems necessary to sustain it in any situation at the lowest possible level of stimulation. The boundary of a body will be built up principally as a barrier, so we shall soon have a hide to hide in, legs to flee, eyes with which we can preserve our blindness. Energies which penetrate the organism must be passed through as harmlessly as possible, conducted like lightning to the ground. “This process of discharge,” Freud wrote, “is the primary function of neuronic systems.” What we cannot shit out in a clear stream, what we cannot harden ourselves to, what we cannot flee from, is our own continuous demand for energy, since all our acts require supplies we must appropriate from somewhere.

The “Project” treats us as rather callous Cartesians, satisfied we understand things only when we can actually imagine how they might be fabricated, and since we make things of discrete and harmonious units, according to clear directions and specifiable rules, in successive steps through definable stages, the “Project” assumes that we shall feel we understand the human mind when we finally figure out how to manufacture one.

Freud naturally supposed that the nervous system was composed of a network of neurons through which electrochemical energies rushed at roughly ninety feet per second, although that was only the speed of life through a frog’s leg, as Helmholtz had measured it. The neuron had only recently been established as the basic unit of neurological activity. Freud asks us to imagine them as containers that discharge their contents the very instant they are filled, in an elegant and economical response which uses the occupying energy, just as judo does, to trigger its own release. Nothing leaks or spills, but suddenly the restraining walls unglue. Whereupon, neuronasm over, the cell returns, intact and unaffected, to its normal flaccid state.

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There are occasions when remaining limp requires both will and effort. Out of what is the neuron itself composed? what prevents it from melting like a custard? and isn’t it true that even dissolution takes time and is a bloody nuisance? The system must be able to store up stimulation as well as simply discharge it. Nor is every source of stimulation of the same kind. We can permit a hot plate to fall from our threatened fingers, but hunger can be only momentarily stilled. It persists and recurs and pursues us however we turn, the way Oedipus was pursued by his fate. With the greatest reluctance we are driven to recognize and act upon the world in order to serve the Minotaur within. In fact, our basic sense of out and in, even that of self and other, emerges from these hard conditions.

We can accumulate energy and prevent embarrassing prematurity (the frog’s reflexive kick, for instance, or our own knee’s jerk) by sharing the incoming flow among a number of neurons so that the initial cell doesn’t immediately flood and spend. In this way the barriers between neurons are gently reduced because excited cells direct the flow of energy toward themselves and the paths between cells are facilitated through use.

Freud suggests that there are contact barriers between neurons (a conjecture later found to be correct), and these prevent energy from flowing along without resistance; consequently, the entire neuron fills, then fires, a neighboring neuron fills, then fires, and then another, like Chinese crackers on a string. In time, however, the contact barriers between neurons become, either through sudden trauma or repeated trudge, more permeable and less resistant. The sensory system, with one end lying in the outer layer of the skin and in the skull holes and attentive hair, though the neurons are not numerous there, meets regularly with the greatest stimulation which it fans through deeper layers and into many other cells.

The stimuli which enter the nervous system from within are far less strong, though more persistent, and these also penetrate continuously into the cortical layers. The three “nervous systems” Freud eventually distinguishes (the physical sensory-motor system, associated with the spinal cord, the memory system, associated with the brain, and the perceptual system which brings these events into consciousness) differ principally in their distance in, though in is clearly a neurological image of direction, just as depth will be a psychological one.

Readers of the “Project” can now begin to see how trains of thought and habits of association are established in the nerves. A cell which retains some of the initial excitement of its stimulus remembers; cells through which energy from some source is regularly distributed are associated and light up together; paths down which energy eventually travels without resistance are forgotten for good, as we cannot now recall how we learned to see, and few of us still have any memory of the anger and elation of our earliest toddles. It was Schopenhauer who claimed that to perceive was to experience an effect in the place of its cause, so from these cortical events we distantly infer and sense the nature of their origin in the same way that the feelings in a blind man’s palm are lent to what’s tapped by his cane.

Energies which are successfully diverted through the system, or converted into action and thus lost, or thinned and unnoticeably spread out the way a large sum is concealed in many banks: such energies are said to be mastered, the system’s constancy is thus maintained, and the happy result is felt as pleasure. When the store of stimulation mounts, it is sensed in a particular locale as pain, and in the general tension of the system as unease or anxiety. It is not difficult to see why genital orgasm is such a dramatic and convenient image of the process in question, or why many might hope to reduce their anxieties by compulsive bow and arrow practice as habitual masturbators endeavor to; vainly, of course, since it is principally a magical act and thus as futile in direct effect as spilling out buckets of household water in order to lower the level in the reservoir and save the dam.

But in a universe of quantity, why should quality appear? It does not wait on mankind like a maiden eager for her knight or shopper sullen for the bus. In a fundamental way we are one with our awareness, and a certain kind of consciousness, not featherless bipedity or cleverly opposed thumbs, is the most obvious mark of man.

…whereas science has set itself the task of tracing back all the qualities of our sensations to external quantity, it is to be suspected from the structure of the neuronic system that that system consists in contrivances for changing external quantity into quality.5

Plato imagined that the creator composed the material world as a qualitative expression of quantitative law, but brilliant as this suggestion proved to be, Plato granted sounds, scents, and colors, all the smooths and sours, an eternal home in an otherwise featureless space—out there—where the Demiurge, like a croupier at a crooked table, made Change from the relations these qualities entered and left. Instead we might follow Hobbes, who always took the square way round things, and regard consciousness as a kind of discharge of energy out of the system, a gratefully endured entropic loss, but Freud rejects such a solution, even though it has the nice result of making consciousness itself a pleasure.

Since only a part of what happens in the nervous system is ever carried into consciousness (we do not feel our seeing, and recollection is “speaking generally, devoid of quality”), Freud must assume a third set of neurones whose business it is to convert not quantity itself but the quantity of quantity, its frequency or period, into sense.

According to modern mechanistic theory, consciousness is no more than an appendage added to physiologico-psychical processes, an appendage whose absence would make no difference to the course of psychical events. According to another theory consciousness is the subjective side of all psychical events and is thus inseparable from physiologico-mental processes. The theory which I have here propounded lies between these two. According to it consciousness is the subjective side of a part of the physical processes in the neuronic system—namely, of the perceptual processes…and its absence would not leave psychical events unchanged….6

Energy approaching us has two characteristics, then: period and amount. We reject some possible stimuli altogether; we refuse the frequencies of others, and reduce the amount of energy of any we accept. A series of screens and filters protects us from being overwhelmed, and especially keeps our awareness clear for the performance of its basic function: the searching out of objects which will help us master our persistent internal drives. Our primary neurological aim is expressed in the reflex: by an action we remain the same. Our secondary neurological aim is the retention, spread, and maintenance of a minimal energy level throughout the system. The rejection, discharge, and storage of quantity does not imply a contradiction since all these activities serve the same end—constancy—as does the appearance of consciousness itself.

Of course in infancy consciousness is able to accomplish very little. Kicking and screaming are more successful than any sort of thoughtful perception. The fetus is automatically cared for by the body of its mother, and the newborn’s mewling helplessness speaks for an equally efficient food tube, tub, and swaddle. Cries are its eyes now, yet the baby’s awkward motor movements manipulate the world as well as a mechanic, balancing it better than a walker on a wire. They succeed, however, because they are addressed to another consciousness, a bonded and dutiful awareness. It is little wonder our tantrums try to return the immediate environment to this early state of blessed obedience, or that lambastabombulation is the deepest root and secret lure of leadership.

Few infants are born in a wilderness to be suckled by wolves. Far from being locked between the jaws of gentle nature, neither entrusted to the sea nor given up to a hillside, they find themselves in worser sort inside a family, and whether attention, love, or resentment are most called forth by howl-power, the responses which the baby’s behavior generally receives ensure that from its first squalling, purple moment forward most of the connections between the child’s neurons will be social, and that social structures will sink into the psyche like stripped autos into river-silt.

So if hunger provokes wailing and wailing brings the breast; if the breast permits sucking and milk suggests its swallow; if swallowing issues in sleep and stomachy comfort, then need, ache, message, object, act, and satisfaction are soon associated like charms on a chain; shortly our wants begin to envision the things which will reduce them, and the organism is finally said to wish.

In a sense, like a dad his doll and daughter, no neuron knows where its energy has been. If the sight of the breast elicits sucking, so may hunger’s memory of it, but which is sweet wish and which the sweeter flesh? Up to this point Freud has been able to distinguish instinct from object only in terms of the devices used to discharge their demands (with instinct, as already mentioned, flight fails), and because perceptual stimuli possess a periodicity which some neurons translate into quality, whereas wishes (the mix of memory and desire) do not.

There is in addition an ego, however, which is simply a mechanism for spreading neural excitement evenly throughout the system in order to inhibit neuronasms and retain energy for adaptive use. Actually, it is not so much a mechanism as a habit subject to modification whenever the cells which retain energy alter their relationships and number, just as on a beach the damp sand is rhythmically rewet or dries. Early experience determines how strong an ego is likely to be. Weak egos cannot postpone satisfaction. They suffer an enervating prematurity, while strong egos admit energy from more sources and by cunning dispersion retain greater quantities for later use in satisfying instinct. Therefore an ego can elevate its owner above insect or animal, since instinct ordinarily is unwilling to wait and meets each stimulus with that same pattern of automatic discharge we see in the spider who patiently repairs his torn web through the indifferent bell-ringing wind which rent it and will rend it again.

The ego, in saying “yes” to the id, as Freud eventually thought it did, is not altogether a friend, for its formation is socially inspired, and the so-called reality it recognizes is nothing less than the enduring cultural complex which shaped it in the first place.7 Relying on the ego to mediate between pleasure and reality is a lot like arbitrating a dispute between factory workers and their firm by calling in to settle the issue a still fat-cheeked former head of the company.

The “Project” was as full of conjectural leaps as a pond of frogs. Patient by patient, Freud’s own clinical and couch work was drawing him further from neurophysiology. The language of psychology was richer, looser, more supple and suggestive for him. Increasingly what he found he had to do was “read down” from consciousness rather than try to “read up” from the nerve ends and the brain. This method, moreover, did not seem to push him so persistently toward that pictureless chasm between current and color, impact and scream (so easy to cross and impossible to span) which he was expected to leap.

Therefore it was in every way necessary for Freud to translate neural discharges and energy paths into sensation, thought, and feeling, even if he were forced, as he immediately was, to construct a theory out of neologisms and catachresis, to speak of suppressed wishes and unfelt feeling, of ideas which had never clearly lit so much as a minute’s inch of the mind, of psychic conflicts which symptomatically expressed themselves in a war of muscle lengths and inner organs (bowel pitted against belly, blood rising like steam through the skin, the eye an ally of the thigh, the vagina an unviolated victim of the thumb). The appearance of new terminologies and structures, altered models and recharged metaphors, however, did not demand a wholly new design, or mean that Freud had abandoned his neural economics.

The “Project” was repressed only to turn each of Freud’s speculative dreams into a jackbox from which the hidden theory then popped with a not too startling wheeze. It haunts every line of his metapsychology; in the last chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams we hear its heavy tread, throughout Beyond the Pleasure Principle its clanking chains, again in the ultimate Outline of Psychoanalysis the whistle of its indestructible spirit. The fact is that through the whole of Freud’s work the same few ideas are in evasive flight like hares through their images, for beneath differences of poetry (whether of constancy, homeostasis, equilibrium, entropy, inertia…whether in the meters of hydraulics, geography, thermodynamics, chemistry, or electricity…in those verses which describe the body as an engine or a clutch of wires, or those in which the mind is a camera, a stacked set of cities like Troy, or a grayly waxen magical slate), the same sense lies as quiet as a crocodile with shuttered eyes, the doctrine itself a “system of layers of signs (Zeichen)—waiting to be trans-lated (Umsetzung: transformed, restructured, communicated at another level of communication) or simply read….”8

Psychology replaced physiology as early as The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), but it was a psychology of signs and ciphers, codes and other kinds of communication, like the raps of a distant prisoner on the pipes of his plumbing. Even if neurons were made up, you could in principle see them; even if their paths were imaginary and their intercourse a fiction, what the “Project” had invented was perceivable. The new area of investigation, consciousness itself (that consequence of neuronic light), was private, and more out of reach than if it were covered by layers of bone. Except for his own dreams, his own follies and phobias, Freud could only analyze descriptions: the patient’s life in the patient’s language.

A difficult and possibly sad situation. Is it not scientifically sounder to deal in visible fictions than invisible facts? The construct, in any case, can always be called to account. Still, the more narrowly the patient’s life could be equated with language, the more closely the analyst could come to having a hold on it. He could listen and read. He could construe. Something inside us is saying something—but what? why? to whom? how? and with what slippery, thick, or forked, or double, tangled tongue?

It is customary, now, for philosophers to distinguish between sentences and propositions by pointing out that the same propositions can be contained in many sentences, just as the fact that cows give milk can be expressed in various ways. Not only can these propositions be symbolized so that their structure is exposed, but operations of a richly regulative sort can be performed upon them, altering the relationships of terms, making the positives negative, substituting one value for another, switching voices, replacing variables with constants, transforming affirmations into queries, and so on.

The remarkable language model into which, by stages, Freud translated his neurophysiological one imagines that states of consciousness, physical symptoms, and patterns of behavior are sentences; that these sentences contain propositions of a limited and uniform sort, and that, symbolized, they can be expressed in terms of a function (some need like hunger) containing four places: (1) the ego, or owner of the wish, (2) an object (like an item of food) which is expected to satisfy it, (3) an organ or organ path (mouth to stomach in this case), and (4) the resulting disappearance of pain in the reduction of the drive, a reduction which is always a constant (pleasure).

Every complete proposition of the psyche is therefore of the following form: IT (the subject term of the function, and for every want accepted by the unconscious ego, “It” is replaced by “I”) WANTS (the function, which varies in strength, a characteristic we indicate by increasing or decreasing the occurrence of its symbol, W, and which is either actively engaged in taking (→) or passively occupied by wishing and waiting for (←) PLEASURE (the positive constant, +P, which can of course be some degree of pain, -P, as well) from an OBJECT in the world (Ob), by means of an ORGAN of the body (or erogenous zone, Or), thus:

WWW(I-+P→Ob,Or),

an expression which can be read as: I badly want to take pleasure from the world through my body. The same proposition in the passive voice looks like this:

WWW(I←+P-Ob,Or),

and is read: I badly want to receive pleasure from the world through my body.9

The resulting department or bureaucratic scheme takes this form:

Chart

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p class=”initial”>The unconscious ego revises any proposition offered it until an acceptable version can be found. The ego may alter itself by absorbing pleasure- giving things and persons (introjection) or by projecting upon the world its own pain. It may replace one term with another in the same formula so that “all cows give milk” becomes “all chessmen make threats.” Finally, it may employ any one or more of four psychological operations which rephrase meanings at the same time that they disguise desire.10

(1)Reflexivity changes the voice of the proposition so that if the instinct has been active, it is turned back against the self and the murderer becomes suicidal:

(Ref)WWW(I-+P→Ob,Or) ≡ WWW(I←+P-Ob,Or).

The reflex of “I badly want to take pleasure from the world through my body” is equivalent to “I badly want to receive pleasure from the world through my body.”

(2)Reversal not only forces a flip flop in the voice, it puts pain in the place of pleasure and pleasure in the place of pain. Active love turns into the wish to be disliked:

(Rev)WWWWW(I-+P→Ob,Or) ≡ WWWWW(I←-P-Ob,Or).

The reverse of “I very badly want to take pleasure from the world through my body” is equivalent to “I very badly want to receive pain from the world through my body.’

(3)Sublimation is a substitute formation in which a neutral object appears instead of a sexualized one. This often requires a shift in erogenous zone as well. The desire to obtain sexual pleasure from one’s mother is disguised as an intellectual interest in nature:

(sub)WW(I-+P→Mo,Or) ≡ WW(I-+P→N,Mi).

The sublimate of “I want to take pleasure from mother through my body” is equivalent to “I want to take pleasure from nature through my mind.”

(4)Repression rejects as ill-formed all sentences which try to express the rejected proposition, leaving the speaker with the urge to speak but not the symbolic means. This urgency may later appear as generalized anxiety, and we can conveniently think of the sigh, moan, and thrash of those gagged and bound by bandits, scruples, or guerrillas. If, however, there are many ways to express the objectionable idea, then the most devious, euphemistic, and remote may reach consciousness. I can’t say that I want my father’s penis, and I can’t say that I want what father has. I can’t say that I want to take my father’s place, and I can’t say that I wish my father would go away, but I can say (and, indeed, don’t I say?) that I want to be big and strong like my father when I grow up

If I cannot say that I wish to be refused, I can try refusing you, but if I dare not refuse you, I can eventually settle on giving you an inappropriate gift. Sometimes a series of acts is so inept and foolish that we can infer the inward opposite of their publicly painted purpose (Nixon’s bumbling cover- up, for instance). What we need to know, of course, is how to translate this behavior into its appropriate assertion, and, in addition, what operators ought to be applied to it, and in what order. Generally, only an analysis of the “speaker” will disclose the habitual psychological operators employed, as well as the reasons why these specific ones are chosen rather than some others.

Assuming that we know these things, Freud’s scheme allows us to proceed through a series of propositional trans- formations from an early assertion of infantile desire, for example, to a later, more general, belief about the self, somewhat in the following fashion:

Chart

If this last statement expresses an extended belief about the self, and therefore represents a set of sentences rather than simply a specific wish of the id, then we can profitably apply K.M. Colby’s programming suggestions to it, transforming at once the whole belief-group in any one (or more) of the following ways11

Chart

By mid-career Freud was suggesting that there were two instincts, one concerned with the preservation of the person, the other with sexuality. These two instincts were soon so intertwined that they found themselves speaking the same sentences. If I want pleasure from your body, I shall need some power over it, and it is possible that soon my sexual pleasure will stem from the power itself.

Chart

Sexualized power is the root of sadism and pain has very little to do with its subtler manifestations. More- over, the sadist is so concerned to be secure he has no time for the blessings of peace, and instead seeks repeated proofs of his safety in the whip.

The economic of sexual pleasure can be worked out on this “marital” square of opposition:

Chart

Within the total pleasure of any bonded pair (two people who are serving as introjected objects for each other, food sources, so to speak, as near as each belly, or the ever-present breast, the tender fondle, the happy tweak), the income and outgo for each should be roughly equal over time, otherwise the economy of the country will surely falter, one ego will find itself in debt to the id of another. In such circumstances only power can prevent payment, and soon still another little repressive society will have been added to the world.

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p class=”initial”>Freud’s first book was about speech problems (On Aphasia, 1891), and it might be argued that his work remained running in that starting place. Even in the silence of the id, there is the beginning of differentiation, of centering, of speech; for the unconscious cannot come forth by day any differently from the way it does by night. There must be fragments of language it can fasten to, images it can distort, concepts to hide under as though they were sheep whose woolly backs would soothe the suspicious hands of the Cyclops—come forth! come forth!—and with such sly chicanery, such a clever sleight to the pokered eye of the Cyclops, emerge from the cave as a symbol…clean as a contest queen from a suburban housewife’s womb.

Does the id speak the truth? It always speaks the truth, because the id is a miraculous conjecture. There are no obstacles to myths. The Freud of the “Project” worried about the confirmation of the magnified eye and the knife, as do many of the philosophers in Wollheim’s volume, nor did he ever abandon the belief that one day a slide would show the eye a reason; but the Freud who told us the meaning of our slips, jokes, and dreams was a reader and interpreter of texts. How do we know, then, when a code’s been cracked?…when we are right?…when do we know if we have even received a message? Why, naturally, when, upon one set of substitutions, sense emerges like the outline under a rubbing; when a single tentative construal leads to several; when all the sullen letters of the code cry TEAM! after YEA! has been, by several hands, uncovered.

And if the Japanese don’t sail their ships where we have said their messages have sent them?…then the Japanese have simply not sent their ships where they said they would. Warriors, poets, persons change their minds; but codes are frozen in their formulas of dissimulation like those toothy tigers were in Russian ice.

And so the secret source of the self speaks. What else is soul but a listener? Yet, as Burton has, again perfectly, put it:

The Tower of Babel never yielded such confusion of tongues, as this Chaos of Melancholy doth variety of symptoms. There is in all melancholy, like men’s faces, a disagreeing likeness still; and as, in a river, we swim in the same place, though not in the same numerical water; as the same instrument affords several lessons, so the same disease yields diversity of symptoms; which howsoever they be diverse, intricate, and hard to be confined, I will adventure yet, in such a vast confusion and generality, to bring them into some order….

(This is the second part of a three-part article.)

This Issue

May 1, 1975