Monday, 9 March 2015

The Unconscious is Linguistic, continued...

I was talking about the way something — perhaps just a single significant word — can be taken into the unconscious and emerge transformed. Yes I was; perhaps you weren’t paying attention.

The locus classicus is Freud’s patient who, although not at all overweight, exercised excessively, obsessively, to the point that he was damaging rather than improving his health. It turned out that ‘really’ he was anxious about his girlfriend’s interest in a visiting English cousin, whose name was Dick. ‘Dick’ is the German word for ‘Fat’. (Interestingly, Freud doesn’t mention the English slang meaning.)

Why the inverted commas round ‘really’ above? In popular speech, ‘really’ is used when telling people that they are deceiving themselves. We tell the greedy child — or dog — that he is not ‘really’ hungry, and if we ‘really’ care about child or dog we wonder if the real hunger is for love. It is when we don’t want to admit something to ourselves that the unconscious plays its games, taking the mere name of something, working its conjuring tricks, and giving it back in acceptable form: one can be hungry for love as one can be hungry for food, but it’s not done to ask for love, so one asks for food instead. Freud’s patient couldn’t admit to himself that he felt anything so ignoble as jealousy, a wish to ‘Get rid of Dick’, but healthy exercise, which can also ‘Get rid of Dick’, is OK.

More on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a picture of a Freudian Slip:

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