Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sigmund Freud - summary of ideas and main concepts

a brief and short summary presenting the main ideas and concepts of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theory.
Controversial as he is influential, Sigmund Freud changed the way we understand and treat the human psyche.
Freud's writings span over 40 years of intense work, moving back and forth from his clinic where he treated patients to his study where he wrote. Freud was always developing and revising his ideas and his theory is not unchanging and as is best understood as a developing story of plumbing the depths of the human soul.
Following his work as a neurologist, young Freud and his colleagues proposed the idea that certain physical symptoms (such as "hysteria") can be attributed to mental conditions. After experimenting with hypnosis the discovered that people know more than they think they do, and that certain information can be retrieved from people under hypnosis that is unavailable to them while awake. Freud also discovered that sometimes illness can disappear after locating and surfacing its inducers. The main ramification of this is that we appear to be functioning on different levels of consciousness  (this means that what you experience right now is only a small part of what is actually happening inside you). Freud described these levels as the conscious (what you have on your mind, like this idea by Freud) , preconscious (what could be easily made conscious, like what you had for breakfast)  and unconscious (unavailable to the conscious, like everything that happened before your earliest memory).
After hypnosis proved limited Freud sought to find other ways to penetrate into the unconscious and dig up into conscious whatever it is that was making his patients suffer. The answer was "speech therapy", a revolutionary idea for the time that offered the notion that words can cure if we only pay real close attention to them. Nothing we say or do, says Freud, is accidental or insignificant, and that is why careful dissection of a patient's speech can aid the therapist in directing him towards new discoveries regarding himself. Freud also took a big interest in dreams that he saw as code that once deciphered can open doors to the unconscious and our deepest truths.   
When thus analyzing his patients psyche Freud soon realized that the deeper you dig the more it becomes apparent that it all leads back to one place: early childhood. Freud then devised a theory of the process we go through from birth to adulthood, arguing that the particular manner in which we pass through this process will determine to a large extent who we are. Freud knew very well that processes requires energy and he claimed that this energy is sex, or love or the power on life, call it whatever you like, Freud called it libido and claimed that it is the most essential and rudimentary source of drive and energy in us. Everything we do is in fact a channeling of the libido (channels have been determined by our particular development). Following the horrors of World War 1 Freud revised his theory and offered an additional source of drive, the death craving force of destruction.
Freud famously offered another later model of the mind constructed of: Ego, Id and Super Ego. The Id is the initial raw drive that operates by the "pleasure principle" of maximum pleasure minimum pain. But as the poet said, "you can't always get what you (deep down inside you darkest fantasies) want", and this is where the Ego comes in to manage your desires with reality (the "reality principle"). When we grow up and go through the Oedipal Complex of giving up the competition with dad over mom we start to develop another "division" in ourselves, the Super-Ego which is the internalized expectations of society from us such as morals, values, ambitions etc. The ego is constantly engaged by the Id and Super-ego while trying to mange us and reality, not easy at all.
Freud had many more ideas and he even tried to apply his psychotherapy concepts not only to individuals but also to society at large. To read more about Freud you can check out the links below to summaries on some of Freud's most famous essays. You can also consider the book links (and support us, yay!).   

Summaries of important works by Freud:

Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams
Sigmund Freud - Civilization and Its Discontents

Sigmund Freud - Totem and Taboo - brief summary by chapter

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, or Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics (we'll just make do with "Totem and Taboo" here, if you don't mind) is Sigmund Freud's first (but not last) attempt at applying psychoanalysis to culture and human history at large. Published in 1913, Totem and Taboo is now considered a classic anthropological text that even if factually dubious is still very inspiring for the manner in which it engages culture and the collective psyche.

In chapter 1 of Totem and Taboo, titled "The Horrors of Incest", Freud engages with Totemism, discussing Australian Aboriginals who practice animistic Totemism. Freud describes how clan differentiation and marriage are organized through the different totem of each clan and prohibition on marrying somebody from your own totem. The Totem, Freud deduces, prevents incest (since paternal identity is usually not particularly clear in tribal societies).

In chapter 2 ("Taboo and emotional ambivalence") Freud points to the relation between Totemism and taboo with the aid of his psychoanalytic terms of "projection" and "ambivalence". Repression of ambivalent feelings towards others results in projecting them outwards, on to the totem (which serves as a kind of "scape goat" for negative feeling towards adjacent people). Freud then compares this dynamic to the relationship of masses and their rulers.

Chapter 3 ( "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought") Freud ties the believe in magic to narcissism and the over-belief in the meaning and effect of our actions and thoughts in regards to reality. The "omnipotence of thoughts" projects inner reality onto the world, an animistic practice we can see today in art, for example.

Chapter 4 of Totem and Taboo  ("The Return of Totemism in Childhood") sets forth one of Freud's wildest cultural ideas, claiming that Totemism, and therefore taboo, originates in one single event. This is, for Freud, the first prototypical case of the Oedipal Complex in which a band of expelled brothers returned to the clan to kill their revered and feared father. The guilt that followed from this event is the basis for all religion, so holds Freud.   

Books to check out:

More articles and summaries of Freud:

Sigmund Freud - summary of ideas and main concepts

Sigmund Freud – "The Uncanny"

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Michel Foucault – Of Other Spaces (Heterotopia) – summary and review

"Of Other Spaces" (Des espaces autres), also commonly known as "Heterotopia", was initially a lecture carried by Michel Foucault to a group of architects in 1967.

In "Of Other Places" Foucault starts by looking at the historical development of western space perception, starting from what he terms "espace de localization" in the middle ages, through the "etendue" (extending) form the time of Galileo to the modern "emplacement". Emplacement means, according to Foucault, that relations between locations in space are the constitutive principle of space perception.

Space, unlike time, Foucault argues, has yet to complete its process of secularization, and sanctity still plays an important part in the way we divide space. We still divide to inner form the outer, the internal from the external and assign different meanings to different types of spaces depending on their mutual relations.
In "On Other Places" Foucault, as suggested by the title of his article, focuses on those places which bear a "strange" relation to other places by suspending, neutralizing or reversing  the relationships through which we can point at them, reflect or conceive them. These "other places" are according to Foucault wither utopia, places that don't really exist, or heterotopias.

A heterotopia is a real place which stands outside of known space. A zoo is an example of a heterotopias because it brings together into a single space things that are not usually together. A mirror, Foucault says, is at the same time a utopia and heterotopias. On the one hand a mirror is a place without place, and on the other it is a real place. And as Foucault says, it the mirror we find ourselves missing in the place that we are.

Foucault argues that heterotopias are a part of every culture, though they are manifested differently in different places and times. A heterotopia can also function differently and in different situations, for example the cemetery which was once in the center of town but is now removed from it. A third characteristic of heterotopias that Foucault mentions is that heterotopias are able to oppose, in the same place, different places (like the zoo or a botanical garden). A fourth principle of heterotopias is the link between a heterotopia and time. A heterotopia separates us from our usual time (Foucault calls this "heterochronic") like libraries which are accumulated time or festivals which are transient. A fifth trait of heterotopias is that they always maintain a system of opening and closing which isolates and connects them from and to their surroundings. The final aspect of heterotopias that Foucault  mentions is their role is relation to other places. A heterotopia creates an imaginary order and reason which serve to stress their inexistence elsewhere.

Of Other Places by Michel Foucault - full text

These will make you smarter, Guaranteed:

Sigmund Freud - Psychopathology of Everyday Life - Summary and Review

Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) is perhaps Sigmund Freud's most notable early work in psychoanalysis, and together with The Interpretation of Dreams it forms the basis for his entire work . Early Freud was preoccupied with abnormal psychology and the attempt to explain various psychopathological  (beginning with neurological) problems, an attempt which led to groundbreaking understanding in regard to normal mental functioning. This, in part, is what makes Psychopathology of Everyday Life such an important part of the Freudian bibliography.
Psychopathology of Everyday Life is full of stories and anecdotes (including about Freud himself) regarding "mishaps", gaps in memory and verbal errors. For Freud, everything happens for a reason (he can certainly be classified as a determinist). What appears to be coincidental or unexplained might in fact be a clue to some deep hidden and tucked away truth (think of the resemblance between Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes in this regard).
Can't remember where you put your keys? maybe something in you does not want to go where it is that you're headed. Accidently called your boss "mom"? maybe it has to do with what you feel towards your boss, or more importantly, towards your mom. All these seemingly unexplainable incidents might clue us in on hidden explanations that are hidden for a reason and can only be manifested through these "errors".   
It is important to note that what Freud is implying is that we are all in a sense a bit neurotic, since we all posses deep inner conflicts that sometimes have a hard time reaching resolve and might persist in causing mental discomfort. This is what makes Psychopathology of Everyday Life so important to Freud's theory, since it is the basis for the development of the concept of unconscious, the idea that deep down we are a lot more than we think we are on the surface. 

Other articles and summaries about Freud:

Books of interest:


Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams - Summary and Review

The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) is one of Sigmund Freud's most notable works. Some of Freud's most important ideas such as the unconscious and the Oedipal complex are manifested in the book which makes it pivotal in any understanding of Sigmund Freud's theory or psychoanalysis in general.
As suggested by its title, The Interpretation of Dreams is primarily devoted to the study of dreams and their role in mental life and therapy. Freud argues that all dreams are subjected to the need for "wish fulfillment" (wunscherfüllung), a notion he will later renounce (see Beyond the Pleasure Principle) but at the time was fundamental to his theory. Dreams, Freud held, are an instrument to maintain sleep and in order to do so must cater for different needs arising in the body and psyche during sleep. In order to prevent these needs from waking us up the mind sets up imagined experiences that offer relief and satisfaction for these urges. Dreams can, for example, hold off the need for peeing by giving you a dream in which you are relived. In a more complex example the dream offers some resolve to a haunting inner conflict by enacting its desired outcomes.
The thing about wish fulfillment is that we don't always want to know what our true wishes are (especially if you take the Freudian view on humans and their objects of desire). This is where the "censor" comes in, blurring the content of the dream and rendering it incomprehensible so that we are not exposed to anything we don't want to acknowledge. In order for information to slip through the censor lines it must be coded. This means that dreams, much like in the biblical or mystic notion of them, have deep symbolic meaning to them.
In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud termed the concept of Dreamwork in order to refer to the mechanisms that take part in the symbolic formation of the dream. Dreamwork includes, as a start, symbolism and the fact the different psychic entities in our soul receive visual representation in the dream. Freud also notes two types of such symbolic mechanism such as displacement which combines two meanings into one object or displacement which moves feeling directed at one object to another. In the end comes what Freud calls secondary revision, the "editing" of the dream by the dreamer in order to apply logic and coherence to it.
In psychoanalysis the dream serves, according to Freud, as "the royal road to the unconscious". The dream provides the therapist with data which is usually not obtainable by the conscious awake self, and by deconstructing its coded meanings one can get a peak at what's happening deep down under.
Although Freud later retracted many of the ideas that appear in The Interpretation of Dreams, the book remains highly influential till this days, maybe because it contains some spectacular demonstrations of dream analysis conducted by Freud that are sure to leave you waiting for next morning.  

Books of interest:


Fredric Jameson / Postmodernism: high culture and popular culture – the case of Bonaventure hotel

Fredric Jameson - Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism - summary part
 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Depthlessness, pastiche, the fragmentation of the subject and other characteristics of postmodern culture introduced by Fredric Jameson (see previous parts of the summary) strongly question the notion of "high culture" as opposed to popular culture. Jameson notes how boundaries between high and low culture have been transgressed in postmodern times with kitsch and popular culture integrating with forms of high culture to produce one big varied consumer culture.

Jameson argues that not only is postmodernism a cultural dominant (i.e. the dominant form of cultural production) but that it has turned into a prime consumer product, with the aesthetic production being integrated into the general production of consumer goods. The growing need to produce ever newer products now allocates an essential structural position to aesthetic novelty.

Jameson notes to the aesthetic field which has the strongest ties with the economical system is that of architecture which has strong ties with real-estate and development which give rise to a tide of postmodern architecture, epitomized in the grandeur of shopping malls.   

Jameson famously analyzes the postmodern features of the L.A. Westin Bonaventure hotel. His main argument concerning the Bonaventure hotel is that this building, as other postmodern architecture, does not attempt to blend into its surroundings but to replace them. The Bonaventure hotel attempts to be a total space, a whole world which introduces a new form of collective behavior. Jameson sees the total space of the Bonaventure hotel as an allegory of the new hyper-space of global market which is dominated by the corporations of late capitalism.
It seems that in Postmodernism Jameson often laments the shortcomings of postmodern culture, though there is also a sense of inevitability in his writing. Postmodernism according to Jameson is an historical situation, and therefore it will be wrong to assess it in terms of moral judgments. Jameson proposes to treat postmodernism in line with Marx's thought which asks us to "do the impossible" of seeing something as negative and positive at the same time, accepting something without surrendering judgment and allowing ourselves to grasp this new historical form. 

Fredric Jameson - Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism - summary part
 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

additional resources:

Two first chapters from the book

about Jameson at Wikipedia

short introduction to the text

More by Fred:


Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents - short summary and review

Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) is one of Sigmund Freud's most notable and influential books. The book discusses the fundamental tension between the individual and civilization. The basic split between civilization and the individual results from the individual desire for freedom and satisfaction of instinctual needs which collides with society's need for conformity and obedience, manifested in repression. The tragic paradox of humanity, Freud holds, lies in the fact that many of our most basic needs and wants are harmful to our existence as a group if manifested completely. Man has a need to fulfill his sexual or violent drives (see "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" ) that must be contained of society is to function (we can't have people running around f**king and beating the crap out of everyone they want). That's why every civilization creates laws and regulations preventing murder and rape accompanied by severe punishments in order to deter offenders. That's all fine and nice but it also means that we are always left discontent, unsatisfied and repressed. Feeling frustrated isn't an anomaly, it's human nature in civilization.

Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents picks up from where his The Future of an Illusion  (1927) leaves off in exploring the nature of human religion. Chapter one of the book is devoted to what Freud calls the "Oceanic Feeling" of being boundless, an early pre-self sentiment associated with Religion. Chapter two of Civilization and Its Discontents expands on the religious theme and suggests that the ego is formed as a need to distance one from external reality, making the pleasure principle work in manners more complex. Chapter three discusses the paradox by which civilization which is designed to protect man from unhappiness is the predominant cause of this unhappiness. This tension if for Freud the cause of many neuroses. In chapter 4 Freud ties in his theory from Totem and Taboo which holds that the development of civilization is connected with a collective Oedipal complex resulting from brothers conspiring to kill their father. In chapters 5 and 6 Freud brings in the death drive as something that unlike the Eros or libido which tie people together is something that drives society apart and therefore needs to be repressed. In the seventh chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents Freud discusses the neurosis associated with the clash between death desires and civilization's repression. The internalized social moral demand in the super-ego which subordinates the ego into fending off its id by means of guilt. In other words, guilt in the prerequisite sentiment for belonging to society. 

Other articles and summaries about Freud:

Books of interest: