Saturday, February 21, 2015

Caesar & The Id & The Ego & Me (Part 4)

In 1923 Sigmund Freud formalized his theory of the dynamics of the self. Forty-one years later we find much of the book illustrated in a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone.

IV The Two Classes of Instincts

Freud tells us that two impulses are predisposed at birth: a drive towards life and an drive towards death. The event of birth is something endured, not something invited. Freud claims that humans  yearn to "re-establish a state of things that was disturbed by the emergence of life." Here we find Freud describing the idea of the death-drive, the opposition of Eros, the life-drive.* Eros had been the lone drive in Freud's theory, a bifurcation of the desire for sexual objects and the desire for self-preservation.

We find that the life-drive and the death-drive are not merely in opposition, but are also fused and complimentary. Freud tells us that "...a special physiological process (of anabolism or catabolism) would be associated with each of the two classes of instincts; both kinds of instinct would be active in every particle of living substance..." Freud describes the death-drive as a necessary part of the organism protecting itself "against the external world," in other words it is "alloyed with" the life-drive.

An instance of this fusing can be found in the "sadistic component of the sexual instinct... and the sadism which has made itself independent as a perversion [that] would be typical of a defusion..." This fusion and defusion between the life and death instincts, Freud surmises, is not only the core of sexual sadism, but also the impulse for the "fundamental phenomenon" of ambivalence -our simultaneous feelings of desire and disgust, often experienced as the simultaneous desire to be both protected and independent -"the polarity of love and hate". Freud characterizes this:
"There is no difficulty in finding a representative of Eros; but we must be grateful that we can find a representative of the elusive death instinct in the instinct of destruction, to which hate points the way. Now, clinical observation shows not only that love is with unexpected regularity accompanied by hate (ambivalence), and not only that in human relationships hate is frequently a forerunner of love, but also that in a number of circumstances hate changes into love and love into hate." (Pg.41)
In Jonathan West we find curiously little evidence of either a life-drive or a death-drive. His words and actions with others are empty placeholders, temporary acts that fend-off and forestall the intrusion of reality. This is most obvious when we see West auditioning for a ventriloquist job. His act is unconvincing, dispirited, and impotent. The same is true with his interactions with other objects of reality, including Mrs. Cudahy; West is repeatedly inert to his landlady's overtures of nurturing and love. We get the feeling that West is somehow unable to respond to her willingness for affection. The only emotional investment we find in West is within himself.

Freud describes how the erotic libido (the sex drive) can be transformed into ego-libido (self-preservation drive), which serves to de-sexualize the libidinal energy. Freud describes this de-sexualization of the libido as a way of dealing with the loss of a love object, particularly a forbidden love object, such as the cultural restricions of a homosexual love object-cathexis. Freud tells us,
"By thus getting hold of the libido from the object-cathexis, setting itself up as sole love-object, and desexualizing or sublimating the libido of the id, the ego is working in opposition to the purposes of Eros and placing itself at the service of the opposing instinctual impulses." (Pg. 45)
This, of course, is illustrated by Jonathan West's narcissism. His only investment of libidinal energy is with himself, that is, with Caesar and Susan. In an attempt to deal with some object-loss in reality, West has redirected his erotic libido onto himself, which leaves nothing for the external world. Freud tells is, "The narcissism of the ego is thus a secondary one, which has been withdrawn from objects."

It is important to note that Freud does not point to homosexual object desire as the cause of this neurotic way of dealing with the world. This illustration clearly shows that it is the forbidden status of that homoerotic desire that the ego reacts to. In other words, it is the social imposition against the desire, rather than the desire itself, that results in the shift from love of the object to disgust. Freud illustrates this economic redirection of the drives with a joke. "Such behavior on the part of the unconscious reminds one of the comic story of the three village tailors, one of whom had to be hanged because the only village blacksmith had committed a capital offence."

We find Caesar, in playing the role of id, driven by the pleasure principle. His demands are life-preserving, an attempt to counterbalance the narcissistic deflation of the ego. We see that without Caesar's prodding, West would be little more than a living corpse. Freud tells us that this relationship is "illustrated in Fechner's principle of constancy... [it] governs life, which thus consists of a continuous descent towards death, it is the claims of Eros, of the sexual instincts, which in the form of instinctual needs, hold up the falling level and introduce fresh tensions." Here we can see that far from being merely destructive, Caesar is the one force that is keeping Jonathan from death.

Freud concludes the penultimate chapter of the book with a description of how the ego and id corroborate in a maintaining the life-drive. Through this description of the id's drive towards pleasure, we can understand how Caesar, far from being a mere destructive force in West, is also a life-sustaining function that keeps West alive.

"This accounts for the likeness of the condition that follows complete sexual satisfaction to dying, and for the fact that death coincides with the act of copulation in some of the loser animals. These creature die in the act of reproduction because, after Eros had been eliminated through the process of satisfaction, the death instinct has a free hand for accomplishing its purpose. Finally, as we have seen, the ego, by sublimating some of the libido for itself and its purposes, assists the id in its work of mastering the tensions." (Pg. 47)

*Freud uses the German Triebarten where James Strachey chose Instincts. Triebarten is similar to the English word modes, and refers to what we today call drives.