Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Ego & The Id & Caesar & Me (Part 2)

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. 

Fig. 1, The only figure to appear in The Ego and the Id.
Absent is the depiction of the super-ego.
II The Ego and the Id
In chapter two of The Ego and the Id, Freud describes the nature and dynamics of the ego and the id. In the opening sentence Freud announces a shift in his theoretical focus from repression to the ego. The question we are confronted with is: How is it possible to know the unconscious--how do we become conscious of the unconscious?

Freud makes a point to reiterate that ego is both conscious and unconscious, a quality that, in today's classroom, is often only ascribed to the super-ego. The ego is said to be the first system that is reached by the outside world. The conscious ego receives all sensations from the external world (Freud calls these sense-perceptions) and from the internal sensations and feelings. But there is one other aspect of the internal world that we must consider; namely thoughts. Freud asks, "How does a thing become preconscious? ...Through becoming connected with the presentations corresponding to it."

Thoughts are language, and Freud describes language as that which makes a thought conscious. Thoughts that do not have a word-presentation remain unconscious (Ucs.), whereas thoughts, "through becoming connected with the word-presentation corresponding to it" becomes preconscious. The preconscious (Pcs.) that Freud describes here is much like what cognitive psychologist today call the short-term-memory.

Freud describes that "only something that has once been a Cs. perception can become conscious, and that anything arising from within the psyche (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external means of memory-traces." What Freud is describing here is how a thought or memory that we do not have a word to describe is projected onto the outside world (cathexis) without our conscious awareness of it. He makes a clear distinction here that a memory is something we are consciously aware is not a perception, whereas a hallucination is a perceptual cathexis of the unconscious that we experience as something in the outside world, but is actually from our unconscious.

In Caesar and Me we find this interplay between conscious, preconscious, and unconscious as illustrated by the id (Caesar), the ego (West), and the super-ego (Susan) passing in and out of West's room. The door that separates the boarding house lobby from West's room is a boundary between the conscious and the unconscious -a psychic muscle that is controlled by the ego (West holds the key). We find that most of the dialogue that takes place between West, Caesar, and Susan is in West's room--it is taking place unconsciously. In fact, we will notice that West only hears Caesar while in this room, or from within Caesar's trunk.

Freud emphasizes the distinction between linguistic and iconic thinking. "Thinking in pictures," he writes, "is...only a very incomplete form of becoming conscious. In some way, too, it stands nearer to unconscious processes than does thinking in words, and it is unquestionably older than the latter both ontogenetically and phylogenetically." What Freud is telling us here is that visual thinking is more primal, both to personal history and to the history of our species.

These early, visual, memories are largely unconscious and find conscious expression through cathexis, that is, by fusing with some word-image of the conscious. In other words, what is unconscious within us finds conscious expression in our perception of reality.

James Strachey points out in a footnote (Pg. 17) that Friedrich Nietzsche used the term id (das Es) to signify "whatever in our nature is impersonal and, so to speak, subject to natural law." Freud credits his discussion of the id to George Groddeck. The remainder of chapter two describes the characteristics and dynamics of this system.

Just as we only hear Caesar speak from within West's room, the id functions unconsciously. The id speaks through cathexis, that is, though fusing thought with some external perception -usually through dreams, hallucinations, or symptoms. When West is alone in his room, he and Caesar speak within the unconscious. The fact that West and Caesar only speak in the unconscious makes it apparent that the ego also functions somewhat unconsciously. We will see that it is only when reality intrudes into the unconscious, in the final scene of the drama, that Caesar no longer speaks to West. The unconscious has been made conscious.

There is an important distinction to be made between Jonathan West speaking for Caesar, and Caesar speaking for Jonathan West. When in conscious reality, that is, outside of the room, Caesar only speaks as an agent of Jonathan West. It is not until West and Caesar (the ego and the id) are in West's room (the unconscious) that Caesar is heard speaking for himself.

In figure 1, the only figure we find in The Ego and the Id, Freud illustrates the following:
"We might add, perhaps, that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs.; in a sense it is an extension of the surface-differentiation. Moreover, the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavors to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions." (Pg. 18)
The characteristics of the ego and the id which Freud describe here are evident in both West and Caesar. West, in a continual state of negotiation with the demanding and desiring Caesar exemplifies the dynamic that Freud describes between the ego and the id. Freud adds:
"The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches of motility devolves upon it. Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go, so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id's will into action as if it were its own." (Pg. 19)