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Mills, J. (2002). Deciphering The “Genesis Problem”: On the Dialectical Origins of Psychic Reality. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(6):763-809.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(6):763-809

Deciphering The “Genesis Problem”: On the Dialectical Origins of Psychic Reality

Jon Mills, PSYD, Ph.D.

Freud never actually used the words ego and id in his German texts; these are English translations into Latin taken from one of his most famous works, Das Ich und das Es.1 When Freud spoke of the Ich, he was referring to the personal pronoun “I”—as in “I myself”—a construct that underwent many significant theoretical transformations throughout his lifetime. By the time Freud advanced his mature model of the psyche, concluding that even a portion of the I was also unconscious, he needed to delimit a region of the mind that remained purely concealed from consciousness. This he designated by the impersonal pronoun es, which he used as a noun—the It, a term originally appropriated from Nietzsche. The translation ego displaces the deep emotional significance tied to personal identity that Freud deliberately tried to convey, while the term id lacks the customary sense of unfamiliarity associated with otherness, thus rendering these concepts antiseptic, clinical, and devoid of all personal associations. The I and the It express more precisely the type of antithesis Freud wanted to emphasize between the familiar and the strange, hence the dialectic of the life within.

When we refer to ourselves as “I,” we convey a meaning that is deeply personal, subjective, and known, while references to an “It” convey distance, separateness, objectification, and abstraction. The I is familiar while the It is foreign and unknown, hence an alien presence. Because Freud wanted to preserve the individual intimacy associated with a personal sense of self, the I was to stand in firm opposition to the It, which was purely estranged from conscious awareness.

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