Eros and Civilization
Sigmund Freud was said to have developed the idea of what it meant to have an “oceanic feeling” with respect to autonomy or the lack thereof. It has been since declared that this primitive source of cohesion with the other is an emission of limitlessness; a literal unity between an outside psychological network and the individual that seemingly depends on its existence. It is the analogous relation between the infant and its being breastfed, and thus exempt from its “I”-ness, or autonomous existence bereft of its sustenance, and the adult being integrated in such a way that they incline in repressing their sovereignty to melt with the collective or seek a cosmic unity. This deep-seated clampdown works as a nostalgic operation from a tank of psychic energy stored since birth. And while such a cognitive retrogression is keystone to understanding the advancing trend of clinging to or staving off some interior bent of mind, here, man reverts indefinitely. Here, there is reversion. Here, we find that there may be reason for our return.
Known as his most significant work, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization is an almost complete reinterpretation of Freud. As C. Fred Alford notes, there is even criticism towards the revision of such methods of psychoanalysis, though with new themes introduced by Marcuse himself. One that Alford expounds on is the relationship between Marcuse and narcissism. Marcuse argues that a Freudian notion of narcissism as merely “another stage in the development of the libido,” is actually the reflection toward another orientation in reality — an environmental effect. In the case of Marcuse, Alford writes that he is “less circumspect” in his approach from almost intangible Freudian qualities to social conditions; such force of narcissistic tendencies as being able to spark a social existential order. It is an argument against the tradition of Freudian categories of one-dimensional existence in society; a matter of being socialized not by the clash between the individual and the father, but rather the organs of the state. The result of such a broad administrative repression is that of a generational decline in “ego strength”. This line of thought, however was something that had been vital to the fragmented sentiments of The New Left — in particular the Frankfurt School — who had placed emphasis in consciousness as the bedrock for social transformation. Max Horkheimer had stated as early as the mid 1930s that the traditional bourgeois family ran the risk of becoming “as thoroughly rationalized as the factory.” But even at the measure of such mechanized assembly of a foreseeable future state, Marcuse’s message is a utopian one, one which utilizes the function of liberated imagination as a tool for a better world; that this utopia is based on the possibility of a quality of life made better from a form of fulfilment that necessarily exists. Here, we speak of the “rationality of gratification”, the ultimate cooperation of development and needs.
Barbara Celarent of the University of Atlantis writes that we must remember that a great theoretic concern in 20th century social theory was the issue of scarcity. And here she writes is the encapsulation of Eros and Civilization: it is the question of what is to be done between the relationship of man and society when the “economic problem” is solved? She refers to the economist John Maynard Keynes as relaying a similar question in the social steep of the Great Depression: “Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” At the heart of such vision, Marcuse sets out to find the groundwork from which such a solution to the problem may be solved, a premise in the theory of man as such.
Freud’s theory of man, writes Marcuse, is both the greatest indictment and defense of western civilization, as his history is that of repression. Culture is that which binds his existence as a whole, and is the very preface of his story of progress. Man’s natural inclinations per the whims of his instinct negates his preservation, and they are dangerous insofar as they take precedence where culture cannot grant immediate gratification. Civilization, then, writes Marcuse, begins when man’s needs are renounced.
The poverty of the instincts translates largely as the mental totality of civilization, and his native instincts are really his beastly dispositions made adaptable toward himself by external reality. The concepts utilized by psychoanalysis are the greatest connotations that there is movement within instinctual manifestation (sexual transmutation or sublimation as the conversion of energy into creativity as a defence mechanism). And man becomes himself as such only when there is an absolute subversion in his nature with respect to his aims, which then become values.
This is the Freudian transformation from the pleasure principle to the reality principle. This dualistic conception, as Freud had mentioned it, corresponds as the conscious and unconscious, and here Marcuse explains that there are dimensions to each. The unconscious is the scheme of thought whereby the pleasure principle takes hold — a residual development of an older mode of thinking, which conflicts with the external reality. What is then to supplant this rudimentary course of conduct is the reason principle, which does not deny, but rather amplifies the pleasurable instinct. Per this amplification, Marcuse suggests that there is perhaps even change in substance — from pleasure to absolute reason by absolving the human condition from the crushing force of gratification by pure instinct and leading an upward trajectory from instinctual substance of pleasure to sublimity of reason.
Here now with the foundation of the reason principle in place, man wroughts up himself an organization of ego tendencies, and relays unto himself a semblance of foresight, of reason generally and is a progressive subject by which he uses as an engine towards a rational proclivity. Phantasy, however, is that which is “protected from cultural alterations” and is perhaps the single extraneous feature that is not found to be subjugated by the reality principle. Man’s tendencies under this new principle of practicality has given him the ability to renovate his reality sensibly in accordance to what he would be able to gain from doing one thing over another; taking this course of action rather than that one, and in the process convey the removal of superfluous instinctual gratifications. This subversion of his reality is, however, not his own, but constructed by his society — even spins the substance to form a new archetype of reason. Here, Marcuse argues that freedom is achieved without this external repression, and so his reality — that is, civilization — is the enemy of his animal drives, “the struggle against this freedom.”
This rousing of one aim to another is a traumatic event in the history of man. It is essentially the occurring, and recurring course of historical submission, both in general and individually (phylogenetic, ontogenetic). In the general sense, there is the very manifestation of the reality principle as a wide “system of institutions” that on the ontogenetic level, obligates the individual to assume the power of the external structure, and repose such strict behavioral mechanisms to his progeny. Even with such a hold on the caprice of man, there is still, writes Marcuse, a Freudian state of nature that maintains a native residuum with respect to man as animal and his repressed, and in fact exists within civilization. Even further, it can be said that this infiltration into the unconscious, as was before superseded by the reality principle, and furthermore transubstantiated the initial force of impulse to structured thought, is now in the business of molding man’s external reality. This return of the repressed, as was described by Freud, and perhaps as a reflex to an initial reaction-formation of instinct (the shunning of desire per an egotistical mechanism against the impulse of the id — the very libidinous charged impulses as an anti-cathetic effort) can aptly be seen as a substitute-formation of repression in result. Marcuse states that this alternate form of the returned is not merely to the measure of the individual, but of history and civilization: “Freud’s individual psychology is in its very essence social psychology.”
This is not a natural subjugation, but one formed by man himself. The primal father, states Marcuse, is the founding paradigm of future “reaction of enslavement, rebellion, and reinforced domination which marks the history of civilization.” Historically, there has been a re-establishment of recursive domination and rebellion, and this outward course of suppression, states Marcuse, follows in large order from the individual network of psychic repression. Freud’s contention, then, is that the reality principle’s destruction of primal substances is held only through a struggle for existence — individually, as self-repression, but on a macro scale, it is the very repression that upholds and sustains his “masters and their institutions”… and is thus… “the unfolding of the civilizational dynamic.” This modification of means from arbitrariness to rationalization, is on a whole an economic effort. There is the idea of scarcity which goes against the freeing gratification of man’s impulses and thus economic insofar as it restructures the parcels of a larger civilization to exert their own effort in being able to sustain themselves as a whole, with these efforts geared towards an energy for work, and production, and an aversion from rushing carnalities.
According to Freud, states Marcuse, this “primordial struggle for existence” is eternal, and is a bracing feature of his theory; that these principles work together as recurrence in a fight that is inherently antagonistic. This is perhaps the greatest conception of the theory and its implications: that there is — at the level of metapsychology — a “terrible necessity” between man’s conflict of rationality and irrationality at bottom. The secret connection between “civilization and barbarism, progress and suffering, freedom and unhappiness — a connection which reveals itself ultimately between Eros and Thanatos.” The greater implications are that in exploring the depth of such a struggle, man is compromising his freedom, and whatever measure of liberty he has been afforded, it is merely a derivation of his impulsive happiness; really a sublimation of his happiness (i.e., a “repressed modification” thereof). Freud believed that man’s freedom and happiness as tabooed by the reality principle, is something which structures the conscious: that there is truth and certainty in such gratuitous thinking. There is the preservation of thought, the remembrance from historical phases where man did indeed gratify his impulses, and so the idea and hope of recreating these epochs of time where he can live and receive the impression and spirit of his integral satisfactions “on the basis of the achievements of civilization”.
Is memory a paramount concept in psychoanalysis? Is it, as Marcuse calls it, “a decisive mode of cognition?” If so, there is the comfort we derive in calling into mind the sway of our fancies from a pre-civilized past. It is more than therapy, however. If there is truth to past memories, it is precisely from the function of memory to be able to preserve the magnitude of “promises and potentialities” of our former times. This liberation, then, is seen as a transgression of rationality; “cognition as re-cognition.” And with the restoration of memory comes the baggage of cognitive phantasy. Under the techniques of psychoanalysis, there is a window in which can be seen the deemed foibles of human urgency of satisfaction, “of daydreaming and fiction” which unearths the base sentiments of man and his vision of his progressive tendencies — of himself generally.
Marcuse writes that the weight of the past does not reconcile with the future, and necessarily must “shatter the framework in which they were made and confined.” And even firing off against the restraint of the one who has seemingly made the change in substance — the true ranging transubstantiation from single faculty to collective apparatus — there is still the dynamic orientation of the present from the past. Thus is the trend in psychoanalysis; it is a developmental method by which repression as the mental apparatus proceeds twofold (Ontogenetic, Phylogenetic), with a seemingly reciprocal history in being the “vehicle of future liberation.” From the individual’s capacity to continuously loop his trauma per his development, there is this damaging process which propagates the relationship between not only man against himself, but against society, between particular and universal.