This is a very obscure reference, but there’s an episode of Red Dwarf (a BBC sci-fi comedy from the early 90s) where they all get trapped in a physical representation of one of the character’s psyche – kind of like a way darker version of Inside-Out. It’s an interesting concept, and it makes me wonder what my own brain-world would look like as an actual place, and just how strange/fucked my Id, Ego and Super -Ego would be as tiny little people with their own personalities. Also I wonder whether they get into adorable, tiny little fist fights while I’m in the middle of making a decision sometimes (like if I’m about to send a risky text, is my Super-Ego screaming ‘think of your dignity!!!’ while trying to overpower my Id who’s throwing chairs?)
So let’s utilise Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis to draw a very simplified map of our psyches. According to Freud our psyche consists of three parts:
- The Id (or unconscious) is concerned with desire
- The Ego is about negotiation with the real world and is driven with instinct to protect itself
- The Super-Ego is the self-critical component of the Ego.
Our unconscious mind is sculpted by past experiences and repressed impulses; it is highly influential on our behaviour, beliefs, feelings and such, yet it is inaccessible to the conscious mind. However, unconscious thought can be revealed through methods such as interpreting dreams, or ‘parapraxis’ (aka Freudian slips). Interpretation of dreams is significant in psychoanalysis because when we are sleeping our conscious resistance is down (fuck knows what that dream I had the other night where my friend was dating a talking beach-ball with no face means). Specifically, in relation to reading, Freud believed that books and paper were female symbols, and that reading had the ‘unconscious significance of taking knowledge from the mother’s body’.
Our neuroses are the product of unconscious and conscious dishonesty, and additionally there’s the Oedipus complex side of psychoanalysis, which theorises that as children we go through developmental stages which include fancying the parent of the opposite sex (I love the idea of Freud pitching this theory and being like ‘we’ve all been there right guys? It’s not just me?’). So in summary according to Freud what our brain-world would look like a deep, possibly terrifying jungle with talking trees hurling your mamma jokes constantly (*side note: I do believe that Freud’s your mamma comebacks would have been second to none). But if you do want to have a good stare into the unconscious (or as I’ve dubbed mine the ‘heart of darkness’), maybe don’t discuss your deepest fears and feelings with Freud himself. His theory of transference suggested that strong feeling, particularly sexual ones, which were focused towards others, frequently become redirected towards the doctor during the process of analysis (oh Freud, you gorgeous thing, thinking you’re so darn irresistible).
On a serious note though: one particularly fascinating thing about Freud, from a literature perspective is when references to literature were utilised to support theories. For instance, the story of Tancred and Clorinda (from an epic poem); Tancred accidentally stabs Clorinda and does not hear her voice until the second wounding. This is used to describe ‘traumatic neurosis’, and suggests that what haunts a survivor when they replay traumatic experiences is what was unknowable to them during the incident. Psychoanalysis was also used by Marie Bonaparte (a friend of Freud’s) to analyse Edgar Allan Poe’s psyche through his stories (apparently if you marry your cousin, you get a rep as being a bit weird).
Thurschwell, P. (2000) Sigmund Freud, Routledge Critical Thinkers, London
Leys, R. (2000) Trauma: A Genealogy, University of Chicago Press
Lyons, M. (2011) Books a Living History, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles