CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS
TOTEM AND TABOO
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is remembered as The Father of Psychoanalysis. Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), is one of his key works, written three decades after his seminal book – The Interpretation of Dreams. In it he considers the conflict between the needs of the individual acting both egotistically and altruistically in the pursuit of happiness contrasted with the myriad demands of civilized society and the ensuing tensions this clash of needs and demands generates. Consequently it remains a key text for anyone wishing to understand the breadth and depth of Freud’s thinking on the human condition. His analysis of the modern human being’s situation, forced to repress and sublimate innate, natural, sexual drives in order to satisfy society’s seemingly endless requirements, and the conflicts and consequences for mental health inherent in this, make it as relevant today as when it was written. In Totem and Taboo (1913) Freud made what he called a first attempt at explaining problems of racial psychology and addressing neurotic symptoms as mental and emotional maladjustments to experience and environment. He hoped thereby to deepen the understanding of the mind by investigating its manifestations in primitive, non-civilized humans as documented by a range of writers and investigators in the scientific disciplines of sociology, anthropology and psychology. The work consists of four essays: The Savage’s Dread of Incest; Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions; Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought; and lastly, Infantile Recurrences of Totemism. This essential text is an ambitious undertaking because in it Freud seeks to unravel the mysteries of myth and religion by investigating the nature and qualities of sacrifice and the sacred, the primal myth and the parts these play in the generation of prohibitions, transgressions, guilt experience and expiation, as states and processes. Freud delves into the work of the great minds of his day, engaging with J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough and Totemism and Exogamy, Reinach’s Code du Totemisme, W.Wundt’s Elements of the Psychology of Race; Durkheim, Lang and a host of others He considers the nominalistic, sociological and psychological theories they postulated. This was the investigation that led him to conclude that, ‘The beginnings of religion, ethics, society and art meet in the Oedipus complex.’ This work would accelerate the split with his long time colleague C.J. Jung, partly as result of the states and processes he identifies in primitive religions, belief systems and thought processes which he traces from the earliest times through Greek tragedy and medieval Passion plays up to the twentieth century. This led him to articulate the importance of the interplay of the individual psyche with the psyche of the mass, as well as to develop the notion of intergenerational psychic continuity and the linked processes of thinking, doing and inhibition. This would later be refined in Civilization and Its Discontents. Civilization and Its Discontents is translated by Joan Riviere. Totem and Taboo is translated by A. A. Brill.
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