During its long history, psychoanalytical theory has developed a criticism dealing with almost the entire domain of human culture and civilization. That theory lays bare the unconscious motives and structures which, on the conscious level, can have all kinds of pernicious effects. The weak point of that criticism, however, consists in its awareness that the unconscious motives and structures it brings to consciousness, after its critical analysis, will remain unconscious and repressed. In that sense, psychoanalytical theory performs a critique of criticism as such. Unmasking falsity and lies does not necessarily result in establishing truth.
This essay outlines the contours of such a psychoanalytical ‘critique of criticism as such’, as well as its implications for contemporary critical thought in general. The essay more precisely focuses on the right-wing cultural criticism, which makes use of criticism’s newly discovered ‘tragic condition’ in order to support a conservative ethical, cultural and political programme. This essay proposes a few points of reference replying to these tendencies in contemporary critical thought.
The recent publication of Freud’s correspondence to his school friend, Edward Silberstein, has provided new impetus for research into Freud’s relationship with the philosopher Franz Brentano. In this paper I will address one possible objection to any claim that the philosopher could have influenced Freud on a theoretical level. It may be argued that there could be no significant theoretical influence because the psychoanalyst constructed a model of mental functioning which presupposes an unconscious, while Brentano was a philosopher of consciousness, who denied the very existence of unconscious ideas. I will demonstrate that, despite his rejection of unconscious mental functioning, Brentano presents a systematic investigation into what he perceives to be the strongest arguments in favour of the existence of unconscious ideas. Although he finds each account to be flawed, Brentano frequently offers a possible corrective, suggesting certain conditions as principles which must be observed by anyone hoping to formulate a reasonable thesis to support the existence of unconscious ideas. I argue that it is this analysis which helped Freud to formulate a coherent account of the unconscious which does not fall prey to the objections Brentano levelled against preceding conceptions of unconscious mental processes.
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Modern psychology is based on a conception of the human psyche as a faculty in its own right. Among its qualities is the psyche’s natural propensity to operate semi-autonomously, acting according to rules of its own. Such a view of the human psyche as an active mechanism, however, did not exist for the greater part of the Greco-Roman world. The psyche (not to be identified with the soul) was perceived as a passive, receptive element, either materialistic (part of the body) or as an emptiness within the body to be filled by elements from outside. Given the radically distinct idea of the psyche in antiquity, one should ask whether, and if so how, the conceptual apparatus of modern psychology might be used fruitfully when dealing with ancient mental phenomena. And conversely, one may ask where the qualities and capacities, which modern psychology ascribes to the psyche, were located according to ancient views, and how they were supposed to operate. What was the ancient equivalent of psychology? For the majority of ancient Greeks and Romans, divine intervention was assumed to be responsible for what are now called psychological phenomena. In this context, the divine was not always considered sublime: the designs of the gods on man’s interior were often troublesome – even fatal.
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