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Van Teslaar, J.S. (1915). Imago: Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften. Psychoanal. Rev., 2(2):219-224.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Imago: Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften

(1915). Psychoanalytic Review, 2(2):219-224


Imago: Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften

J. S. Van TeslaarAuthor Information

(Vol. I, No. 4)

1.   Some Similarities in the Mental Life of Primitive and Neurotic People. II. The Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotional Excitations. Prof. Sigm. Freud.

2.   Amenhotep IV (Echnaton). Notes on the Psychonalytic Interpretation of his Personality and on the Monotheistic Cult of Aton. Dr. Karl Abraham.

3.   The Meaning of Salt in Folklore. E. Jones.

4.   J.P. Jakobsen's “Niels Lyhne” and the Problem of Bisexuality. Hans Blueher.

1.   Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotional Excitations.—In this contribution Freud attempts to justify further the parallel he has drawn between taboo manifestations and the various symptoms of neurosis by a careful analysis of some of the specific beliefs and practices recorded in the authoritative descriptions of taboo.

In the previous contributions Freud had opportunity to draw certain inferences concerning the origins and meaning of taboos through a comparison with the compulsion neuroses which they resemble very closely. Of course a more satisfactory proof of their essential identity would be obtained if it were possible to draw these inferences directly from what we know about the taboos themselves. This is not possible on every point. For instance, the inference that taboo has its origins in a very early authoritative restriction from without is beyond direct proof. Unable to ascertain this important point directly we must turn to a minute analysis of the psychic situation out of which the phenomenon under investigation must have arisen, exactly as we do in the case of neuroses and their manifestations. In the case of the latter we proceed to subject to a painstaking critical analysis the presenting symptoms, that is, the compulsory acts and thoughts, all the

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defensive reactions of the subject. The study of all these, in the case of neuroses, led to the discovery of ambivalent excitations or tendencies as their psychic source. That is, it was found that the various neurotic manifestations correspond to certain wishes and counter-wishes: certain wishes and their opposites are represented at the same time through the symptoms of neurosis. Accordingly, Freud proceeds to analyze the various manifestations of taboo in the endeavor to discover, specifically, whether they, too, contain direct and unmistakable marks of subserving, as do the neurotic manifestations, certain tendencies or wishes, and at the same time, the opposite of those very tendencies or desires. If the various outcroppings or manifestations of taboo are found to represent ambivalent tendencies then the analogy between them and neurotic symptoms is complete and their genetic unity must be accepted as proven.

For purposes of detailed analysis Freud selects the taboos concerning (a) enemies, (b) chieftains, (c) the dead, as described in Frazer's “Golden Bough.” The analysis proper scintillates with observations which are too numerous and detailed to be abstracted. Following point by point the drift of the various manifestations of these different taboos Freud finds that they lead invariably to an ambivalent background. Taboos, like the neuroses, have their origin in and represent the end-result of contrary emotional excitations. The data analyzed, prove, in fact, that primitive minds present a greater degree of ambivalence than the modern, more sophisticated mind. “With the decrease in this ambivalence the belief in taboo,—a compromise symptom of the ambivalence conflict,—also disappeared slowly.”

2.   Amenhotep IV (Echnaton).—The subject of this psychoanalytic sketch lived during the fourteenth century before Christ,—nearly thirty-three centuries ago. He was the last Egyptian ruler of his dynasty—the eighteenth. At ten years of age he reached the throne and eighteen years later he died. During that relatively brief interval he brought about a phenomenal revolution in all the affairs of the country over which he ruled and left an indelible change in the spirit of his times. Above all, the contrast between his rulership and that of his predecessors is so extreme that strong influences must have been at work to effect such a departure from royal traditions. Fortunately documents discovered during the last century (tablets at Tell-el-Amarna Egypt, in 1880, etc.) give detailed information about the influences which must have shaped the character of this remarkable personality. The facts thus brought to light reveal that Amenhotep IV labored under unconscious psychic conflicts similar to those revealed by psychoanalysis among the moderns.

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This precocious youth, king, idealist, dreamer, is reported to have experienced hallucination “spells.” Nevertheless, in the light of his life history and his unexampled record of steadily increasing mental vigor the supposition that he was an epileptic seems untenable. Much more important and to the point are the facts concerning Echnaton's relations to his parents. These are sufficiently clear to render the attempted psychoanalytic interpretation possible. The king's attitude towards his parents reveals a remarkable analogy with the situation that psychoanalysis has termed the œdipus complex,—repressed hatred of the father and unconscious attachment to the mother. His overemphasis of monogamy, whereas his predecessors almost uniformly maintained a large harem, his loyalty to the girl that had been chosen for him while he was still a child (thus absolving him from the necessity of a “personal” choice which in his case would have been difficult if not impossible) are some of the consequences of his subconscious conflicts.

From the moment of his ascension to the throne, the youthful king threw himself with herculean energy into the task of changing the religious and ethical customs of his day. The prevailing customs had been fostered by his predecessors, including, of course, his father. It cannot be considered accidental that the customs and ideals which he fostered in their stead were strongly associated with his mother and strongly representative of her nature. The enthusiastic young king went so far as to break completely with his father's god, Amon, enthroning in his stead, Aton, the divinity of his mother's people. Through this daring step he incurred the bitter enmity of the priesthood of Amon. Moreover, to his mother's divinity, Aton, he gave a splendor and authority unequaled in Egyptian history. Aton was not to be a god among gods, but the only true god, the only god.

At the same time the king gave a new impetus to all plastic arts making them subversive to the newer ideals in religion. The style of art that sprung up under the inspiration of this versatile king has baffled egyptologists and students of art history alike. The plastic arts of his day represent a curious reversion to archaic types; the style is characteristic of the plastic representations dating back to the earliest era in Egyptian history and has little in common with the style that prevailed during his father's reign. The plastic figures of that early age represent royal personages who, according to Egyptian tradition, trace their descent directly from Rǎ, the divinity representing the sun. On the other hand the cult of Aton represents the same sun worship, under an asiatic form (the king's mother was an asiatic princess). Thus in religion and art alike, Amenhotep IV

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short-circuited his father out of his life. He called himself the “favored one of Aton,” —Echnaton.

A great revolution in religion, art, philosophy and ethics with unlooked-for consequences for the future of Egypt resulted from the working out of the king's subconscious conflicts. For one thing, it gave rise to a new civilization, as splendid as it was brief.

The cultural associations of Thebes, the capital, with Amon, his father's divinity, were very intimate. The new king removed to a new place, near the delta of the Nile—the oldest part of Egypt, which he called Akhet-Aton (Aton's Horizon), and soon thereafter made that his capital. He fought the Amon priesthood and instructed that the name of this divinity as well as his father's should be removed from all inscriptions throughout the land.

Thus, instead of military pomp and show, or glory upon the field of battle, the government of the new king inaugurated an era of spiritual expansion and ethical growth, of philosophical and artistic renaissance.

The government of Echnaton is unique in the world's history. He was a forerunner of monotheism, as pointed out by Flinders Petrie, as well as of many other ethical principles considered essentially modern,—“an isolated prototype of Christian faith,” according to Weigall.

The revolutionary innovations he introduced upon all cultural fields are too numerous to be recorded here; they have their roots, alike, in his unconscious mental struggles.

The rapid spiritual growth had for its counterpart an equally rapid physical deterioration of the ruler's dominion, which in the end engulfed the civilization he had created. Throughout the troublous days during the latter part of his reign Echnaton remained absorbed in his spiritual task, unmindful of the gathering clouds. His death hastened the bursting of his empire and was the signal for the rebellious preachers of Amon on reassert themselves. Thereupon the religio-ethical system that Echnaton had built up vanished as quickly as it had risen.

3.   The Meaning of Salt in Folklore.—In his “Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” Freud states that conscious ignorance and subconscious appreciation of the psychic motivation of chance occurrences may be found at the basis of superstitious beliefs. In the present study Jones attempts to prove the truth of this hypothesis in connection with one of the most widespread and best known superstitions,—namely the belief that the spilling of salt on table brings ill luck.

What must have occasioned such a rich folkloristic growth around

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salt? Undoubtedly its peculiar properties: its endurance and freedom from decay recall durability in general, hence eternity, immortality; hence, also, its strong associationistic relations to friendship and love for which these qualities were desired. Because of its extensive use in food and its property of preserving other substances from decay salt became the symbol for the quintessence of things in general and of life in particular. This made it the equivalent of money, of riches, of other precious possessions; also the magic protective against the powers making for decomposition, decay and death. Salt came into use as a means to bring on pregnancy, as a fructifier generally, as a curative and protective agent in a medicinal as well as magic sense. The use of salt to flavor other materials and to add the proper zest to food gave it the connotation of “essence,” such as in the expression “the salt of the earth.” Its ability to combine mechanically with other substances, such as bread, and of lending the latter its peculiar qualities has also given rise to a number of interesting symbolizations.

The importance that is ascribed to salt in popular customs and beliefs may be explained as due, possibly, to the significance that the uses of salt may have had in some remote period of the history of the human race. While admitting some measure of plausibility to this view, Jones holds that it is far from sufficient to explain the whole mass of superstitions that has developed around salt. He suggests that the various fanciful notions about salt and its uses or properties must have their roots in subconscious motivations. An unconscious bridging must have occurred in the popular mind between salt and some other substance on the basis of qualities or properties the two were supposed to share. Such a substance would be, most appropriately, the semen, especially as symbolizing wisdom and eternity. The other physical symbol of sex is snake, the connotations of which are similar.

“The inference that salt owes much of its meaning to its association, unconsciously, with semen,” states Jones, “at least satisfies a postulate of all symbolic thought that the idea whence the overemphasized meaning flows is more important than the idea unto which it is transferred; the irradiation of affectivity proceeding, like the flow of electricity, from the greater charge to the lesser”

Having thus made his argument in favor of the view that in many of its folkloristic symbolizations salt is a surrogate for semen Jones proceeds to demonstrate how closely this working hypothesis is capable of explaining the fanciful meanings and uses attributed to salt.

Jones finds that many of the beliefs, customs and practices associate

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salt directly with sexual acts, particularly with potency and fruitfulness; also that salt and water represent more or less phantastically the combination of semen and urine. Even the designation of salt containers, in various languages, is not without sexual connotation, as in the english salt-cellar.

4.   Jakobsen's “Niels Lyhne” and the Problem of Bisexuality.—The recognition that man's nature is essentially bisexual constitutes one of the greatest merits of psychoanalysis. Of course this conception requires that we understand the term sexual in a wider sense than heretofore. The conception of sexual as merely coextensive with physical ecstacy is unwarranted On the contrary, every emotional relationship of man partakes in some measure of the erotic,—is tinged, as it were, with the sexual.

Hans Blueher insists that inversion, so-called, is not necessarily a morbid tendency, as has been recognized by the Greeks long ago. False standards in civilization have turned this tendency into a shame and have led to its repression and consequent organization in the unconscious. Jens Peter Jakobsen's story describes the struggles of a man unconsciously bound down by his homosexual tendencies. The details of the story are exactly like those one would expect to find in the life history of an actual subject similarly burdened. The inversion of the hero becomes fixed at a very early period and is strengthened by various interesting episodes during childhood. He passes through adolescence and early manhood vacillating between homosexual and heterosexual love, unable to make a final decision. Under the burden of his struggles he undergoes considerable suffering exactly like the neurotic subject.

Incidentally Blueher points out that the ordinary so-called literary criticism seems superficial whereas psychoanalysis enables us to get at the psychic nucleus of such dramatic constructions.

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Article Citation

Van Teslaar, J.S. (1915). Imago: Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften. Psychoanal. Rev., 2(2):219-224

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