THE PERSONAL UNCONSCIOUS
In the modern West there have been two episodes of genuine, widespread introspection: Calvinism and Freudianism. In both cases the turn inward accompanied a great social revolution: the rise of capitalism in the first, and its transformation into an engine of mass consumption in the second. In both cases, too, the results were ironic. Calvinism urged people to look inside themselves to determine whether they had been saved, but it wound up contributing to a new discipline of work, savings, and family life. Freudian introspection aimed to foster the individual's capacity to live an authentically personal life, yet it wound up helping to consolidate consumer society. In both cases, finally, the turn toward self-examination generated a new language. In the case of Calvinism, the language centered on the Protestant idea of the soul, an idea that helped shape such later concepts as character, integrity, and autonomy. The new Freudian lexicon, by contrast, centered on the idea of the unconscious, the distinctive analytic contribution to twentieth-century personal life.
Of course, the idea of the unconscious was well known before Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. Medieval alchemists, German idealist philosophers, and romantic poets had all taught that the ultimate reality was unconscious. The philosopher Schopenhauer, a profound influence on Freud's teacher, Theodor Meynert, maintained that human beings were the playthings of a blind, anonymous will. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of the subconscious was especially widespread. Often termed a "secondary self," larger than the mere ego and accessible through hypnosis or meditation, the subconscious implied the ability to transcend everyday reality. Whether as cosmic force, impersonal will, or subconscious, the unconscious was understood, before Freud, to be anonymous and transpersonal. Frequently likened to the ocean, it aimed to leave the "petty" concerns of the ego behind.
Freud, too, thought of the unconscious as impersonal, anonymous, and radically other to the individual. But harbored within it, generally close to consciousness, he discerned something new: an internal, idiosyncratic source of motivations peculiar to the individual. In his conception, contingent circumstances, especially in childhood, forged links between desires and impulses, on the one hand, and experiences and memories on the other. The result was a personal unconscious, unique, idiosyncratic, and contingent. For Freud, moreover, there was no escaping into a "larger" or transpersonal reality. The goal, rather, was to understand and accept one's own idiosyncratic nature, a task that, in principle, could never be completed. While Freud went on to posit universal mental patterns, such as the supposed stages of sexual development (oral, anal, genital) and the Oedipus complex, his focus remained the concrete and particular ways that individuals lived out these patterns.
As Schorske suggested, Freud formulated the concept of the personal unconscious in response to a crisis in the nineteenth-century liberal worldview. This crisis began with industrialization. Associated with the early factory system, the first industrial revolution seemed to reduce individuals to mere cogs in a cruel and irresistible machine. The Victorians erected the famous "haven in a heartless world"-the nineteenth-century middle-class family-against what they viewed as "the petty spite and brutal tyranny" of the workplace. Heavily gendered, the Victorian worldview was in one sense proto-Freudian: it located the "true self" in a private or familial context.1 Nonetheless, it viewed that context as a counterpart to, or compensation for, the economy-not as a discrete and genuinely personal sphere. The latter understanding emerged only with the crumbling of the Victorian family ideal during the second industrial revolution, amid the beginnings of mass production and mass consumption in the 1890s.
To be sure, mass production deepened the crisis in the liberal worldview, for example, by introducing the assembly line. But it also revealed the emancipatory potential of capitalism in mass culture, leisure, and personal life. By the mid-nineteenth century, cultural modernity, foretold by Baudelaire in Paris, Whitman in Brooklyn, and Dostoyevsky in St. Petersburg, had already weakened Victorianism's separate-spheres ideology and fostered an interest in hysteria, decadence, artistic modernism, the "new woman," and the homosexual. Fin de siècle culture exacerbated the crisis. As women entered public life, there emerged polyglot urban spaces and new forms of sensationalist, mass entertainment, such as amusement parks, dance halls, and film. The result was a conflict over the heritage of the Enlightenment. Suddenly, the liberal conception of the human subject seemed problematic to many, as did its highest value: individual autonomy.
For the Enlightenment, autonomy meant the ability to rise above the "merely" private, sensory, and passive or receptive propensities of the mind in order to reach universally valid rational conclusions. Convinced that fin de siècle culture undermined this ability, many observers lamented the new forces of "degeneration," "narcissism," and "decadence." Freud's fellow Viennese Otto Weininger, for example, warned of the threat to autonomy from what he called the "W" factor-passivity or dependency-which tended to be concentrated in women, homosexuals, and Jews. Thus, he joined an extensive chorus calling for a return to self-control, linked to hard work, abstinence, and savings. At the same time, the beginnings of mass consumption also gave rise to a party of "release." Especially among the middle classes, many people found that the conscious effort they had devoted to working hard and saving only made them (in William James's words) "twofold more the children of hell." Contending that modernity required "an anti-moralistic method," James and others commended "mind cure" and hypnosis as methods that allowed individuals to relax their efforts at self-control.2
It was in the context of this division that Freud developed his idea of the personal unconscious. In particular, he was responding to the alternation between "control" and "release" that characterized late-nineteenth-century psychiatry. On one side, the tradition of psychiatry that descended from the Enlightenment sought to restore control by strengthening the will and ordering the reasoning processes of "disordered" individuals. On the other side, a later generation of "dynamic" psychiatrists and neurologists sought to facilitate "release" through hypnotism and meditation. Freud's idea of the personal unconscious represented an alternative to both positions. Treating neither self-control nor release per se as a primary value, it encouraged a new, nonjudgmental or "analytic" attitude toward the self. The result was a major modification of the Enlightenment idea of the human subject. No longer the locus of universal reason and morality, the modern individual would henceforth be a contingent, idiosyncratic, and unique person, one whose highly charged and dynamic interiority would be the object of psychoanalytic thought and practice.
To appreciate Freud's innovation, we need to look briefly at the psychologies that preceded it. From the start, bourgeois society had generated a fresh emphasis on individual psychology. Earlier societies were premised on the model of a great chain of being: the important question was the individual's place in an objective hierarchy. With the rise of capitalism, however, lineage systems receded and ascribed identities ebbed. Increasingly, the important question became not where one stood but who one was. With the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions that accompanied it, the conception of the human subject moved to the center of every pursuit, including government, education, and social reform.
Nevertheless, the Enlightenment idea of the subject had little to do with individuality in the twentieth-century sense of that word. Rather, it was linked to the Enlightenment project of a planned, orderly world, a world made up of rational individuals. The key discovery of the Enlightenment was that the manacles that enslaved humanity were, as William Blake wrote, "mind-forged." Progress was not simply a matter of facing up to external obstacles such as despots, priests, and outmoded institutions; it required overcoming internal obstacles as well. If a rational world was to be achieved, the ordering of the individual's internal or mental world would be necessary.
The Enlightenment psychology that described how rational order could prevail was associationism. Derived from John Locke's thought, and closely connected to the seventeenth-century revolution in physics, associationism assumed that the mind was composed of sensations or representations arising in the external environment and "associated" according to whether they were similar to one another, or whether they had entered the mind at the same time. In Britain, France, and the United States, associationism animated the entire Enlightenment project. For one thing, it explained the importance of infancy: in the early years the brain was soft, "almost liquid," so that tracks set down could last a lifetime.3 Associationism also inspired the building of schools, prisons, and asylums. Modeled on the "well-run family," these new institutions manipulated architecture, schedules, and work regimes to reorder the mental associations of the students, criminals, and lunatics housed within them. Even professions that were aimed at everyday life, such as city building and public health, were based on associationist principles. So pervasive was its influence that one philosophe called associationism "the center whence the thinker goes outward to the circumference of human knowledge."4
Modern psychiatry, of which psychoanalysis was once a part, was born out of Enlightenment associationism. Initially termed "moral" or psychological treatment, it was premised on the idea that reason was universal and therefore only a part of the mad person's mind was inaccessible. Accordingly, the advocates of moral treatment sought to reach the accessible part. Rejecting the isolation of the insane and the use of coercive techniques such as swaddling and chains, they championed psychological or "moral" methods, aimed at restoring the individual to his reason. Not surprisingly, the founders of modern psychiatry were all participants in the democratic revolutions. Thus, Philippe Pinel, the founder of French psychiatry, helped strike the chains off the mentally ill during the French Revolution, and Benjamin Rush, the founder of American psychiatry, signed the Declaration of Independence.5
The psychiatrists of the Enlightenment aimed to cure "folly" or madness, by which they meant a disruption in the reasoning process. Accordingly, they described the goal of psychiatry as the reordering of associations. At first they experimented with external regimes or asylums in the hope that an inner order would come to mimic an external one. Soon, however, they began to realize that there was more to the dynamics of control than could be accounted for by treating control as a function of an ordering environment. The great discovery made by nineteenth-century psychiatrists, one that began to undermine moral treatment, was that authority was personal-the primary instrument available to induce order in the disturbed individual's mind was the doctor's own person.6 Thus, Benjamin Rush gave a series of rules to the physician entering the chamber of the "deranged": "catch his EYE, and look him out of countenance . . . there are keys in the eye . . . A second means of securing . . . obedience . . . should be by his VOICE [Next,] the COUNTENANCE . . . should be accommodated to the state of the patient's mind and conduct."7
In spite of their discovery of the psychological character of authority, Enlightenment psychiatrists had no concept of the unconscious as a sphere of idiosyncratic individuality. Their single goal was to restore the individual to the "normal" reasoning processes common to all members of the human community. In the first half of the nineteenth century, however, two new developments began to transform Enlightenment associationism: romanticism and the "somatic model," or the emphasis on heredity. Both stressed the idea, lacking in associationism, that the mind itself was a shaping force and not merely a record of environmental influences.
The romantic idea of the imagination was the precursor to the late-nineteenth-century idea of the subconscious. It entered psychology as a kind of reproach or supplement to associationism, as the romantics despised Locke's "passive" conception of the mind. Drawing on the German tradition of Naturphilosophie, according to which the entire universe was a unitary, living organism, and on German idealism generally, romantics defined the imagination as an internal storehouse of images and creative drives. The artist, they insisted, was a "lamp" rather than a "mirror," an original source of values rather than a mere recorder of events.8 With the romantic critique of associationism, Enlightenment psychology deepened. Still, the romantics viewed the imagination as transcendental and impersonal; likening it to the ocean or the sky, they considered it to be all that was not-self.
The romantic influence entered psychiatry especially through the discovery of "magnetism" (hypnotism) in 1775 and the rapid development of a popular tradition of magnetic healers. By appealing to what became known as the subconscious, these healers broke with associationism. Whereas associationism had been oriented toward the manipulation of ideas, magnetism was transmitted through feeling. Puysegur, an early systematizer of magnetic theory, advised that when the patient awakened from a trance, "one's first question must be: How do you feel? Then: Do you feel that I am doing you good?" In addition, the magnetists stressed the importance of the "rapport" between the specific magnetist and his patient.9 Finally, magnetism made explicit the gendered overtones of self-control. During somnambulism, wrote E. T. A. Hoffman, the German romantic novelist, "the magnetized (the passive feminine part) is in sympathy with the magnetizer (the active masculine part)."10
The second development that transformed moral treatment was a new "somatic" model of the impact of heredity on the mind. Even before the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, most psychiatrists had concluded that heredity shaped the brain, which in turn shaped the mind. Just as magnetism was the point of entry for romantic ideas, so Franz-Joseph Gall's phrenology, influential from the 1820s through the 1850s, was the point of entry for biology. Maintaining that the brain was divided into regions, each of which corresponded to a particular mental faculty such as intelligence or "amativity," phrenologists initiated the attempt to ground psychology in a theory of the biological organism. Soon attention turned to the dissection of the brain and the nervous system. By Freud's time the somatic model, in which lesions in the nervous system explained hysteria and other "neuroses," was the dominant theory among psychiatrists.
For all the impact of romanticism and phrenology, midcentury psychiatry retained the original Enlightenment goal of moral treatment: to adapt the individual to the universal laws governing the association of ideas. The particular qualities of an individual psyche were of little interest to psychiatrists, who followed Enlightenment precedent in valuing the universal over the particular, the rational over the emotional, the communal over the private, and the permanent over the transient. The momentary, transient, and fugitive experiences that Baudelaire defined in 1859 as being central to modernity had little or no place in the psychologies that developed in the wake of the Enlightenment. Even magnetism did not challenge this orientation. On the contrary, by reducing individuals to objects in order to make them subjects, it retained Enlightenment psychology's ideal of order, even as it revealed the tensions within it.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Secrets of the Soul by Eli Zaretsky. Copyright © 2004 by Eli Zaretsky. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.