Freud, Pointing to Poets

Some distinctive features of Sigmund Freud‘s writings are: a clarity of exposition–at least in works intended for more general audiences–which offset the density and novelty of the subject matter; a tendency to philosophize while simultaneously disdaining philosophical speculation; an unswerving overt commitment to science, scientific probity, virtue, and methodology; and lastly, and most entertainingly, a keen pleasure in allowing readers access to his polymathic explorations of literature, legend, poetry and art. I have noted this last feature in an earlier post on Freud where I pointed out his invocation of Goethe in discussing the nature of human happiness; all too often, for Freud, poets most succinctly illustrated the conceptual point currently at play in his writing.

These aspects of Freud’s work are on display in this deft conclusion to the always-entertaining Beyond the Pleasure Principle:  

From within, our consciousness conveys to us feelings not only of pleasure and unpleasure, but also of a particular tension which itself can be pleasurable and unpleasurable. Is it the bound and the unbound processes of energy that we should distinguish by means of these feelings? Or shall we relate the feeling of tension to the absolute quantity, or perhaps the level, of charge, while the series of feelings of pleasure and unpleasure points to a change in the quantity of the charge per unit of time? We will also notice that the life drives have so much more to do with our internal perception since they act as disturbers of the peace and continually bring along tensions whose release is felt as pleasure, while the death drives seem to do their work inconspicuously. The pleasure principle seems to serve the death drives directly. It does guard against external stimuli, considered dangers by both types of drives, but guards especially against increases in internal stimuli aiming to make the task of living more difficult. Connected with this are innumerable questions that cannot at present be answered. We must be patient and await further means and opportunities for research–and be prepared as well to leave a path we have followed for a while if it seems to lead to no good result. Only those believers who demand in science a substitute for the catechism they have renounced will take it amiss if a researcher develops or even transforms his views. Concerning the slow advances of our scientific knowledge we are also comforted by the words of a poet [the final lines of ‘Die beiden Gulden’ (‘The Two Coins’) Friedrich Rückert’s rendition of the third of the Maqamat (Assemblies), ca. 1100 by al-Hariri of Basra]:

Was man nich erfliegen kann, muss man erhinken


Die Schrift sagt, es ist keine Sünde zu hinken

[What one cannot fly to one must limp to….the Scriptures says that limping is no sin.]

Note: Excerpt from: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, edited by Todd Dufresne, translated by Gregory C. Richter, Broadview Press, 2011.  Incidentally, this is the first non-Strachey translation of Freud I have read; Richter’s preface contains an interesting discussion critique of the standard Strachey texts.

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