When I wrote my post reflecting on this past year in reading I did so just sort of thinking of which books came to mind. Surprisingly my time reading a few of Freud’s works completely escaped my memory. Well isn’t that interesting. It is a tricky thing accepting Freud. On the one hand his interpretative edifice is so coloured by his key ideas such as our preoccupation with sex that at times it is hard not laugh. This is particularly the case in his interpretation of dreams where he can rattle off long lists of the most generic images that clearly contain a direct sexual reference. Smoking a cigar were you, um-hmm. But how can you argue with his interpretation? I mean it is happening in the unconscious after all! This is of course too simplistic but it leads to the second and, what I what I find to be, much more constructive element of accepting some of his basic premises. In psychoanalysis everything is fair game for interpretation. You actually cannot hide. There is no real push to come clean or be honest with yourself because the truth is that you are already divided. You are already actively policing the manner in which the unconscious gains access and expression in the conscious life. But in this way you are, not matter what you are doing, actually revealing the truth, because that slippage, that policing is the truth of identity.
In as much as there is still some mourning over the loss of some stable notion of the self, of our ability to know who we really are, this Freudian posture can be quite liberating. While the unconscious is often imaged as the huge mass of the iceberg that lurks beneath the surface of the water, the reality in adopting this position is to remove a fixation on that inaccessible mass and actually pay more attention to what is on the surface. For it is precisely on the surface that we are able to discern patterns and movements and make interpretations. It is here and not in some constructed subconscious that true meaning lies. This of course also means that we do not hold to literal interpretation of the surface, as though that could in any way be self-evident (after all, as interpreters we also have an active schism in our minds!).
The enduring force of Freud’s work was in fact the power of his interpretation, regardless of how it may now look dated or blatantly prejudiced. Nothing was out of bounds. Because the object of interpretation was the human mind then any human action was fair, it all had to be accounted for in some form. I am still digesting aspects of this framework and look forward to reading some of the psychoanalytic trajectories that came out of this powerful expression. But apparently my conscious thought did not want me to remember such things.