Thursday, February 19, 2015

Caesar & The Ego & Me & The Id (Part 3)

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.

Susan as the super-ego.
III The Ego and the Super-Ego (Ego Ideal)
Jonathan and Caesar do not make the story. The drama can only unfold when there are outside pressures, reality, which intrude upon Jonathan and Caesar. The subject of our story is not Jonathan, but rather, Caesar. Jonathan West himself only emerges as a character from the presence of outside forces.

Freud describes how the ego emerges from the id as a result of tensions on the id from the outside world. We can see this in the newborn infant, who is little more than a bundle of biological drives with a perceptual system (the five senses). Through the intrusion of others, the infant begins to develop a sense of self; ego. The ego emerges from the id as a circumstance of the demands from the outside world. The initial point of contact is directly between the outside world, the perceptual system, and id. From this initial contact emerges ego; a sense of self.

Susan embodies the super-ego (also called the ego ideal). Shooting poison darts, she is, from the beginning, a tormentor, tyrant, and dictator to Jonathan. We find here a resentful young girl who berates and chastises Jonathan for all of his shortcomings. "Want to bet you didn't get a job?" she taunts Jonathan. Her hostility and antagonism are the hallmarks of the authoritarian demands of the self-righteous.

These are the characteristics of the super-ego, that part of our self that repeats the demands of the overbearing, controlling parent, police, political, and social system. In Freud's description it demands, "You ought to be like this (like your father). It also comprises the prohibition: 'You may not be like this (like your father)--that is, you may not do all that he does; some things are his prerogative" (Pg. 30). Freud continues,
"The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipal complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on--in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious guilt." (Pg. 30)
But Susan is more than a mere high-minded pest. Jonathan seems hardy in his ability to brush off Susan's reproaches (in one scene he actually reprimands her). But there she is something more than a vehement child, she is a window into an aspect of Jonathan's psyche. Susan is a glimpse of West's experience of his parents and the residue of his childhood. She personifies the wellspring of reproaches that Jonathan will make against himself--the source of his depression and impotence.

Freud details how the super-ego manifests from the ego and the id through the Oedipal imbroglio that is experienced in early childhood. We find a clue to Jonathan's childhood Oedipal conflict in the first conversation he has with Caesar.
Jonathan: "You just sit right here and relax and I'll fix us some dinner! A fella deserves something in his stomach at the end of a tough day, huh? Now, this ought to do it, I'll warm up some of that fine potato soup I made for you. And don't you worry, we're gonna get a bookin' any day now, you and me. We're gonna be headliners! Just like you and that other fella used to be...only I won't skip out on you like he did. No sir. The shame of it all. Abandoning you for some woman. No sir. It's gonna be you and me pal; together forever!"
West talks with his id.
What we find here is Jonathan having a conversation with himself. He is speaks to himself as a parent speaks to a child. What is important in this conversation is that Jonathan expresses a loss. At some point in his life someone (presumably a parent) betrayed him, "skipped out on him," as he puts it. This loss (experienced as a betrayal) exhibits the experience of the little child who, when coming to terms with the simultaneous need to be the absolute meaning of one parent's existence, and the fear of abandonment and punishment from the other parent; illustrates the Oedipal situation. Freud claims that the super-ego develops as a psychic internalization of a love object that is lost.

We can't conjecture who Jonathan's lost love object was, but we can suppose that Jonathan's impotence is somehow rooted in this early loss. Freud tells us, " object which was lost has been set up again inside the ego--that is, that an object-cathexis has been replaced by an identification." Freud goes on to describe how the super-ego serves as the foundation for our friendships, how we form social bonds with others based on our identification with others who share our experience of conscience (morality).

West and his landlady, Mrs. Cudahy.
"It is easy to show that the ego ideal answers to everything that is expected of the higher nature of man. As a substitute for a longing for the father, it contains the germ from which all religions have evolved. The self-judgment which declares the ego falls short of its ideal produces the religious sense of humility to which the believer appeals in his longing. As a child grows up, the role of father is carried on by teachers and others in authority; their injunctions and prohibitions remain powerful in the ego ideal and continue, in the form of conscience, to exercise the moral censorship. The tension between the demands of conscience and the actual performances of the ego is experienced as a sense of guilt. Social feeling rest on identifications with other people, on the basis of having the same ego-ideal." (Pg.33)
The closest hint of a social bond that Jonathan West experiences is with Mrs. Cudahy, whom we assume shares familial history similar to West's (her last name indicates that she is of the same Irish ancestry as West). This social bond is frustrated by West who, by all accounts, is not only friendless but asexual, an issue Freud takes up next.