A peculiar urgency characterized the writing of Freud's 1915-1917 metapsychological papers. Not least among his several motives was his belief in the need for a synthesis of his work, since he feared that the end of his life was near. Böhme
- 397 -
discusses philosophical and methodological aspects of Freud's all-important paper on the unconscious, a paper in which Freud essentially expounds his first theory of the psyche, also called the first topographical theory to distinguish it from the structural theory introduced in 1923 in The Ego and the Id.
Freud's paper began with epistemological and scientific justifications for introducing the concept of the unconscious, stressing that it is a psychicunconscious. On the one hand, all neurophysiological and somatic speculations were held in abeyance, which permitted Freud to develop his metapsychology in its topical, dynamic, and structural aspects within a purely psychological field. On the other hand, Freud was concerned to defend his concept of the unconscious against philosophical objections which would equate "conscious" with "mental." Freud justified the introduction of the notion of the unconscious as a necessary hypothesis to explain the continuity of mental life.
Böhme considers Freud's references to Kant's unknowable thing-in-itself in attempting to make his concept plausible and acceptable. This appeal to Kant has been criticized both for trivializing Kant's thought, and for endangering psychoanalytic theory by rendering the unconscious essentially unknowable. However, the author feels that the Kantian notion can help clarify Freud's concept of the unconscious. The main criticism is that the thing-in-itself cannot be an appearance and cannot participate in a causal series, while Freud had explicitly introduced the unconscious to do precisely that. This objection is correct insofar as it goes, but Kant made it clear that we can only think of the thing-in-itself but cannot know it because it is not a given. Böhme feels this is consistent with Freud's claim that the unconscious is a metapsychological hypothesis, but is unknown to us as unconscious. He comments that this epistemological situation is, incidentally, precisely why Freud introduced the term "metapsychology," which signifies not a theoretical psychology but what is "beyond" or "after" psychology.
It is, however, clear that Freud's view of the unconscious as the complement to conscious psychic life, providing continuity and coherence, does lead to problems about its knowability. His insistence on the psychic aspects of the unconscious, his denial that it is the somatic, and his insistence on our knowing the unconscious only through the mediation of consciousness led Freud to the basic concept that the psychic processes are unconscious, while consciousness is the perception of these unconsciousprocesses, a position which he never fully abandoned even after realizing its insufficiency. Freud used the notion of perception to introduce the concept of the preconscious, but for the understanding of conscious and unconscious it was a catastrophic move, for it shifted the important differences characterizing mental life to the difference between the unconscious and the preconscious.
This differentiation between conscious and unconscious remained a problem for Freud, even though he tried to dismiss it by sweeping it aside in his first topography of the mind. One aspect of the problem was the vexed question of dual registration, that is, whether a representation can occur separately in two places, at both unconscious and preconscious levels in the mind. The question still remained unanswered: in what does becoming conscious consist? Freud ultimately returned to his view of consciousness as perception, introducing the notion of hypercathexis, that is, an appended, additional quota of energy. Thus Freud arrived at a simple theory of attention.
- 398 -
In the final paragraphs of his paper Freud proposed a solution: the link between thing- and word-presentations. But this did little to help the rehabilitation of consciousness, for Freud continued: "As we can see, being linked with word-presentations is not yet the same thing as becoming conscious, but only makes it possible to become so; it is therefore characteristic of the system Pcs. and of that system alone." The outcome of Freud's paper is that recognition of the unconscious contributes to the disruption of the self-certainty of consciousness.
We do not have to be satisfied with this answer. In the paper Freud gave several indications of another solution: the multiple unconsciousnesses created through repression. And the answer to the question of what differentiates conscious from unconscious seems to be in the establishment of the censoring agency, which not only separates, but produces the difference, allowing through only moral, logical, reality- and social-oriented impulses. This process becomes automatic in the course of development into adulthood, leading to the growth of a realm of the preconscious, consisting of those elements of psychic life that are in principle conscious.
Böhme acknowledges that this still leaves the question of the knowledge of the unconscious. This is a paradox, in that knowledge of the unconscious has as its data only conscious representations. In attempting to characterize specific knowledge of the unconscious, Böhme criticizes any attempt to equate "latent dream thoughts," for example, with unconscious thoughts, for the latent dream thoughts are from the preconscious. He utilizes an analogy from linguistics, found in Benjamin Whorf's attempts to convey how the Nootka Indian language works. Whorf constructed sentences in English according to the rules of the Indian language. Böhme believes that the analogy with the preconscious latent dream thoughts lies in the following: what we have from the unconscious (the manifest dream) is similar in construction to Whorf's tortured English-words-in-Nootka-syntax sentences. We can formulate what is in the unconscious in our language and to our awareness only in a similarly bizarre fashion. Thus the manifest dream does not provide direct knowledge of the unconscious, but can help us construct its grammar. Rather than identifying the self in a mirror, or through a transmutation, Freud's mode of knowing the unconscious provided us with a new kind of oblique self-knowledge, in which claims of autonomy for the rational ego are shown to be delusional and illusory. Freud's discovery was not the unconscious, which was known in Herbart, Schelling, E. von Hartmann, and Nietzsche. What Freud discovered was the dynamicunconscious with its own grammar and rules.
- 399 -
Wilson, E., Jr. (1994). Psyche. Zeitschrift Für Psychoanalyse Und Ihre Anwendungen. XL, 1986. Psychoanal. Q., 63:397-399