Freud's (de)Construction of the Conflictual Mind

Thesis Eleven 71 (1):24-39 (2002)
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Abstract
Freud uses paradoxical and conflictual rhetoric to create an unstable and conflictual picture of the mind. Thus he diverges from both dominant traditions of thought in the West: the Judeo-Christian way of filling all gaps in meaning by putting a single omnipotent divinity in charge of them, and the Enlightenment quest for a final, causal language to describe reality. By both suggesting and displacing a plurality of perspectives on the unconscious, Freud’s text mirrors what it claims happens in our minds, in which unconscious impulses undermine the pretense of total rational self-control. Though Freud suggests that a mechanistic description of the mind may bring us nearer to the reality of the unconscious, he also explains that this reality will remain dark. He not only develops an ostensibly mechanistic vocabulary for unconscious mental processes, but also clarifies that his terminology is most fictional precisely when it seems most scientific. Hence, Freud’s science of the unconscious cannot be assimilated to an empiricist position; its philosophical underpinnings are both Kantian and Nietzschean, with metaphors and analogies playing a crucial role. Two dramatic images, in which the mind appears as a domain of warring gods and a realm of political conflict, demonstrate that Freud did not regard the unconscious as some kind of true inner self. He depicts the mind in general and the unconscious in particular as a pagan, conflictual universe over which no god or goddess can gain exclusive control and where no rigid dictatorship is possible.
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