Sunday, February 22, 2015

Me & Caesar & The Id & The Ego (Part 5)

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.

V The Dependent Relationships of the Ego
Whereas much of the first four chapters of The Ego and the Id describe the origins, development, and nature of the systems of the psyche, this final chapter deals with the dynamics of those systems; how they act and interact.

Freud begins the final chapter by summarizing what has been explored in the previous four chapters, namely how the ego and super-ego emerge from the id as identifications with lost love objects (abandoned cathexes). Freud tells us that the development of these three systems of the psyche not only mirror the child's development through puberty and adulthood, but also preserve the conflicts (complexes) that a child experiences during those years. "As the child was once under a compulsion to obey its parents, so the ego submits to the categorical imperative of its super-ego."(Pg. 49). Freud goes on to remind us that,
"...the super-ego is always close to the id and can act as its representative vis-√†-vis the ego. It reaches deep down into the and for that reason is farther from consciousness than the ego is." (Pg. 49)
The above passages illustrate for us the dynamic nature of the psyche, namely that there are aspects of the super-ego and the id that are unknown to the ego; private conversations that take place behind the back of the ego. It is important to recall that Freud described that the ego itself is partially unconscious and unknown to itself.

In Caesar and Me we find conversations between Jonathan West and Caesar only taking place in
Jonathan's room. The room is private and closed off from reality--a place where conversations take place between West, Caesar, and Susan. Whereas West's conversations outside of the room are placating, superficial, and hurried, his conversations inside his room are deliberate, penetrating, and searching. West's internal dialogue, the unconscious thoughts that express the demands of the id and super-ego, is authentic, whereas the conversations he has outside of the room (conscious conversations) are calculated performances, ego defenses against the demands of reality. We also note that Susan and Caesar have conversations unknown to Jonathan, illustrating the unconscious dynamics that Freud describes, between the super-ego and the id.

Jonathan has just settled his debt with his landlady using money that he swiped from the neighborhood delicatessen. Jonathan, Mrs. Cudahy, and Susan interact in the lobby of the boardinghouse. Mrs. Cudahy is supportive and encouraging to West while Susan berates him, "Will wonders never cease... Better count it again, Auntie, see if they're real." We find here the dynamic interaction of the ego, super-ego, and reality taking place in consciousness. The id is silent, only speaking unconsciously. It is not until we enter West's room (the unconscious) that we find Caesar admonishing Jonathan:
West: A common thief. What a way to make a living.
Caesar: You couldn't make it any other way.
West: What's happened to me? A no-talent ventriloquist. Worse, a second-rate thief.
Caesar: Third-rate.
West: Starving to death. In the profession I know, paying the bills by robbing the neighborhood delicatessen.
Caesar: Well, that's show biz.
West: I guess I wasn't too bad considering it was my opening performance.
Caesar: Let me straighten you out before you start taking too many bows.
West: Oh Caesar, just let me alone, please.
Let's first consider the dynamics of the conscious interaction between West and Mrs. Cudahy. West is always placating, polite, and superficial with Mrs. Cudahy. It is as if he is acting as one acts when one is in public. West is performing, meeting the demands of reality by obsequiously capitulating to the social commandments of civilized society. His interaction with reality is consistently submissive and appeasing, as if to say, "pardon me for my impotence". West is almost deaf to Mrs. Cudahy's praise. Freud tells us,
"There are certain people who behave in a quite peculiar fashion during the work of analysis. When one speaks hopefully to them or expresses satisfaction with the progress of the treatment, they show signs of discontent and their condition invariably becomes worse... One becomes convinced, not only that such people cannot endure any praise or appreciation, but that they react inversely to the progress of the treatment... They exhibit what is known as a 'negative therapeutic reaction'... We are accustomed to say that the need for illness has got the upper hand in them over the desire for recovery... In the end we come to see that we are dealing with what may be called a 'moral' factor, a sense of guilt, which is finding satisfaction in the illness and refuses to give up the punishment of suffering." (Pg. 49) 
Despite the fact that West is satisfying his debt, he is unable to accept praise from Mrs. Cudahy. Meanwhile, Susan is whipping him with for his sin, partly in consciousness and unconscious, she knows the true origin of West's payment, and she won't allow him to forget it. Susan is West's conscience seeping through into consciousness. It is clear that West is suffering from guilt. Freud tells us how this unconscious guilt functions:
"An interpretation of the normal, conscious sense of guilt (conscience) presents no difficulties; it is based on the tension between the ego and the ego ideal and is the expression of a condemnation of the ego by its critical agency. The feelings of inferiority so well known in neurotics are presumably not far removed from it... In melancholia the impression is that the super-ego has obtained a hold upon consciousness is even stronger. But here the ego ventures no objection; it admits its guilt and submits to the punishment... in melancholia the object to which the super-ego's wrath applies had been taken into the ego through identification." (Pg. 52)
We find here why West must not take compliments from Mrs. Cudahy, for he feels he deserves punishment for his guilt. This underlying guilt is latent and pervades West's entire character. The guilt is not merely over the petty crime of robbery; it is a much deeper guilt that, in fact, the guilt drives West to commit crimes. Freud tells us,
"It was a surprise to find that an increase in this Ucs. sense of guilt can turn people into criminals. But it is undoubtedly the fact. In many criminals, especially youthful ones, it is possible to detect a very powerful sense of guilt which existed before the crime, and is therefore not its result but its motive. It is as if it was a relief to be able to fasten unconscious sense of guilt on to something real and immediate." (Pg. 53)
What Freud proposes is that underlying both depression (melancholia) and neurotic obsessions (Obsessive-Compulsions) is unconscious guilt. The former resulting symptom is self-reproachment, while the latter is pleading and forestalling. Each, Freud surmises, is incited by an unconscious intrusion of the death-drive. In other words, depression and obsession are both unique expressions of the ego's defense against the unconscious desire to return to the inorganic--to die. Freud warns, "The more a man controls his aggressiveness, the more intense becomes the ego ideal's inclination to aggressiveness against his ego." In other words, repressed aggression results in self-admonishment, illustrated clearly in the relationship between Susan and West.

What is it that Jonathan fears? Freud tells us, "The superior being, which turned into the ego ideal, once threatened castration and this dread of castration is probably the nucleus round which the subsequent fear of conscience has gathered; it is this dread that persists as the fear of conscience." (Pg. 60) What we find here is that we are driven not by guilt or conscience, but rather, to the unconscious fear of what conscience threatens to do to us. At a primal level it is castration, the symbolic annihilation of the self.

In the final scene of Caesar and Me we find the collapse of the dynamic structure of the self. The boundary between conscious and unconscious is breached as the unconscious is penetrated by the external world (reality). Two police officers enter the room and witness the breakdown of Jonathan West. An anonymous phone call has lead the police to Jonathan as a suspect in a crime. Of course this anonymous call was from Susan, illustrating how the super-ego betrays the ego as symptoms, which, although anonymous by nature, can be seen by others. In response to Jonathan's monologue of confession, begging, and acceptance, Caesar is silent. The intrusion of reality marks the collapse of the ego defenses and the dynamic self. What remains is an unconscious which is vacant of the ego; a Jonathan West his has been reduced to id and super-ego, without conscious expression.