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A Dark Trace

A Dark Trace: Sigmund Freud on the Sence of Guilt

Herman Westerink
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Dark Trace
    Book Description:

    Sigmund Freud, in his search for the origins of the sense of guilt in individual life and culture, regularly speaks of “reading a dark trace”, thus referring to the Oedipus myth as a myth on the problem of human guilt. The sense of guilt is indeed a trace that leads deep into the individual’s mental life, into his childhood life, and into the prehistory of culture and religion. In this book this trace is followed and thus Freud’s thought on the sense of guilt as a central issue in his work is analyzed, from the earliest studies on the moral and “guilty” characters of the hysterics, via the later complex differentiations in the concept of the sense of guilt, unto the analyses of civilization’s discontents and Jewish sense of guilt. The sense of guilt is a key issue in Freudian psychoanalysis, not only in relation to other key concepts in psychoanalytic theory, but also in relation to debates with others, such as Carl Gustav Jung or Melanie Klein, Freud was engaged in.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-036-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XII)

    “Psychoanalysis has never claimed to provide a complete theory of human mentality in general.”¹ Freud wrote these words in 1914, shortly after his break with Jung. It is indeed true that he never concerned himself with developing an all-embracing system, but rather moved from the analysis of patients to areas of special attention: repression, dreams, the unconscious, sexuality and resistance. Sense of guilt also constituted an area of interest in his work. In his search for an explanation for and the origins of sense of guilt it appears that he did not attempt to construct a definitive theory here either....

  2. Chapter 1 Carmen and other representations
    (pp. 1-36)

    The first time sense of guilt is explicitly mentioned in Freud’s work is during a short discussion of a case inThe Neuro-Psychoses of Defence.¹ He discusses the case of a girl who suffered from obsessional self-reproaches. Whenever she read in the newspapers about forgery she thought she had made the counterfeit money; if she heard about a murder somewhere, she thought she had committed it. She was aware of the absurdity of these kinds of thoughts, but “this sense of guilt gained such an ascendancy over her that her powers of criticism were stifled”.² The girl was completely confused...

  3. Chapter 2 Dark traces
    (pp. 37-56)

    In November 1896 Freud’s father had died. It affected him deeply, and he wrote to Fliess of an uprooted feeling.¹ The death of his father led to a certain degree of selfanalysis. Only a few weeks after abandoning his belief in neurotics in September 1897, he announced that he had begun a self-analysis.² This was to be the method by which he sought to clarify his intellectual thoughts. Later, Freud wrote in the foreword to the second edition ofThe Interpretation of Dreams(1908) that he had only recently realized that the book was at least partly the product of...

  4. Chapter 3 Repressed desires
    (pp. 57-86)

    In this chapter we return to Viennese bourgeois society and our analysis of neuroses, specifically obsessional neuroses. This chapter covers roughly the first decade of the twentieth century, a period during which attention shifted from hysteria to obsessional neuroses as it is in these neuroses that sense of guilt and oppressive morality are prominently found. They thus appeared to be the perfect place for Freud to look for the origins of morality and guilt. However, analysing obsessional neuroses is not the only way to approach the problem of guilt and morality. Freud’s analysis of cultural morality stemmed from his analogy...

  5. Chapter 4 Applied psychoanalysis
    (pp. 87-138)

    “A knowledge of infantile sexual theories in the shapes they assume in the thoughts of children can be of interest in various ways – even, surprisingly enough, for the elucidation of myths and fairy tales”.¹ This knowledge is indispensable for understanding neuroses. As we saw in the previous chapter, neuroses are indeed rooted in infantile sexuality. This is certainly also true of obsessional neuroses, which became increasingly central to Freud’s work afterThe Interpretation of Dreamsand are of primary interest to us because the theme of guilt is linked primarily to these neuroses. yet there are other directions that can...

  6. Chapter 5 In the depths
    (pp. 139-174)

    The break between Freud and Jung was definitive. It was not the first rift with a follower – Freud had broken earlier with Alfred Adler – and it would not be the last. Freud’s description of the origins of international psychoanalysis, published inOn the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement(1914), included a look back at these two schisms. He first summarized the central principles the study of the neuroses had produced to date again: resistance, transference and the theoretical construct built around repression, the drive theory and the unconscious. It was never his intention to develop a complete theory of the...

  7. Chapter 6 Analyses of the ego
    (pp. 175-206)

    In the previous chapter we saw how Freud attempted to grasp the concept of the ego and the forces which affect and form it. That effort resulted in studies which he called “analysis of the ego”.¹ These sought to chart narcissism, the conscience, the drives, love and hate, sadism and masochism, Eros and Thanatos. The ego is a construct in which narcissism is fundamental, but within which destructive forces are also active from the start. Via the analysis of the sense of guilt in “A Child is Being Beaten” and in the Wolf Man case he was able to clinically...

  8. Chapter 7 Anxiety and helplessness
    (pp. 207-228)

    In 1923 Freud made the sense of guilt central inThe Ego and the Id. We have seen how for him the sense of guilt was closely related to the outcome of an individually determined Oedipus complex and the formation of a superego via identification with one or both parents. Analyses of various pathological types (melancholia, masochism, obsessive neurosis, hysteria ) show that a specific type-dependent sense of guilt is carried over in the Oedipus complex and is largely responsible for colouring and giving form to the pathologies. Whereas a sense of guilt arises when the conscience blames the ego,...

  9. Chapter 8 Synthesis and a new debate
    (pp. 229-274)

    Identification with one’s parents, the first object choices, the Oedipus complex and the sense of guilt in all its variants were central to Freud’s theories on individual development inThe Ego and the Id. Before that, inTotem and Taboo, he had already described the sense of guilt as the core experience in culture. In his debate with rank he had sought a position which did justice to the problem of those pre oedipal motivations which had such a strong influence on identity formation. His answer to rank’s birth trauma and castration anxiety is the theory of helplessness as a...

  10. Chapter 9 Great men
    (pp. 275-296)

    When Freud wroteCivilization and Its Discontentshe was already well past seventy. The last major debate (with Klein,inter alia) resulted in fact in a repetition of standpoints he had taken earlier. The interest in pre-Oedipal developments (in girls) did not result in new clinical research. We could almost say the opposite – he began to concentrate on “great men”, religious leaders in whom he had long been interested. The time for debate was over. The old psychologists with whom he had debated in his earliest work, people like Krafft-Ebing and Ellis, were long dead. Even most of his earliest...

  11. Concluding considerations
    (pp. 297-302)

    The sense of guilt in Freud’s oeuvre is a concept that describes the tension between bodily instinctual drives and morality. The existence of this tension is his oldest psychoanalytical observation. The analyses of this tension became his life’s work.

    We tookCarmenas the starting point for his initial opposition of morality and passion, although then still linked to a belief in a refined, bourgeois morality. However after his first clinical experiences, it swiftly turned out that that refinement had its own problems. The symptom par excellence of this was the sense of guilt. What followed were the first analyses...