Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sigmund Freud - Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality - Summary

Sigmund Freud is famous and infamous for introducing a sexuality based drive theory and model of the psyche. His 1905 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality is one of first works introduced by Freud regarding this important aspect of his theory.

The first essay on the theory of sexuality regards sexual perversions and aberrations. Here Freud distinguishes sexual aim- a desire - and sexual object- with which one wishes to fulfill that desire. Sexual aberrations are cases in which sexual aim is directed at a certain unaccepted (now) sexual object such as children or animals. Freud thought that we all might have the potential for such dispositions but that a proper course of sexual development would lead our aims away from these abnormal objects and in the direction of acceptable ones. If not, well...

The second essay on the theory of sexuality deals with childhood sexuality and here Freud lays out is famous theory of the psychosexual development track. From the moment we are born we have sexual energy, libido, which is transformed in our early years which shapes its aims and objects. Freud sketches this phases that have physical centers, starting from the oral stage, through the anal stage, on to the phallic stage, the latency stage and finally to genital stage (see other summaries here for elaboration on Freud's psychosexual development theory).

The third and last essay on the theory of sexuality, "The Transformations of Puberty", ties the sexual development of the adolescent with the events of his early childhood which produce his adult sexuality.       

Sigmund Freud - Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious - Summary

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) is considered to be one of Sigmund Freud's most notable early works. Together with The Interpretation of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, this books forms the basis for the psychoanalytic thought as presented and later developed by Freud.

After discovering that hidden mechanisms operate under the surface of our consciousness Freud was looking for a way to go around or penetrate the walls blocking important information and mental content of patients. Two of his solutions were dreams (suggested in  The Interpretation of Dreams) and everyday mistakes and slips of the tongue (suggested in Psychopathology of Everyday Life). In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious Freud holds that what produces laughter and makes jokes enjoyable to us is the fact that they serve to disguise and cover up more serious matters. Saying it in a joke allows us to utter things that would otherwise be stuck and repressed.

You know how they say that every joke has a kernel of truth? well, Freud thinks that if we listen hard enough to the joke, and not just laugh from it, we might discover something important of what's going on inside the joker. Freud holds that we must learn the techniques which produce jokes in order to understand and trace their hidden origins.

Freud later developed his thoughts in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious with the introduction of his structural theory (see The Id, Ego and Superego). Freud argued that the superego usually does not inhibit jokes in the same manner that it does regular speech, granting much more freedom for the subconscious to express itself. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Short Summary: Bodies that Matter / Judith Butler

In "Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "sex""(1993) notable feminist thinker Judith Butler picks up on her famous book "Gender Trouble" and her famous concept of perfomartivity. The notion that gender is a type of performance, something that some does rather than is, leads Butler to argue in "bodies that Matter" that bodies and gender are two separate thing. Divorcing discourse and social norms from biology, Butler deconstructs the thought that gender is something one is born with rather than acquired (like Simon De Beauvoir's "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" in The Second Sex, 1949).

Gender perfomativity, for Butler, is nonetheless not something any one particular person acts out but rather a ritualized socially constructed norm that one follows. In being a man you actually act out the socially sanctioned form a masculinity, the performance is ever replayed.  Alas, there isn't one singular "act" of masculinity that one can perform in order to be the ultimate male. Gender is a form of discourse is something fluid and ever breaking down and reestablished , gender is not only done but is also constantly remade. Though constantly negotiated gender for Butler pretends to be "natural" and linking it to biology aids the gender discourse in doing so. Opposing and deconstructing gender rules and engaging is a subversive tactic aimed at exposing gender's artificiality and undermine its claims to being "natural" (like the example of drag queens discussed in "Gender Trouble".  Gender, to conclude "Bodies that Matter", is just a norm and opposing is it serves to expose it as it really is, breaking it down and making it incoherent thus freeing the body from the constraints of discourse.    

Some more classic Judith Butler and Feminist thought summaries:
Judith Butler / Performative Acts and Gender Constitution
Judith Butler / Critically Queer 

Additional books by Butler to check out:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sigmund Freud - summary of ideas and main concepts

a brief and short summary presenting the main ideas and concepts of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical theory.
Controversial as he is influential, Sigmund Freud changed the way we understand and treat the human psyche.

Freud's writings span over 40 years of intense work, moving back and forth from his clinic where he treated patients to his study where he wrote. Freud was always developing and revising his ideas and his theory is not unchanging and as is best understood as a developing story of plumbing the depths of the human soul.

Following his work as a neurologist, young Freud and his colleagues proposed the idea that certain physical symptoms (such as "hysteria") can be attributed to mental conditions. After experimenting with hypnosis the discovered that people know more than they think they do, and that certain information can be retrieved from people under hypnosis that is unavailable to them while awake. Freud also discovered that sometimes illness can disappear after locating and surfacing its inducers. The main ramification of this is that we appear to be functioning on different levels of consciousness  (this means that what you experience right now is only a small part of what is actually happening inside you). Freud described these levels as the conscious (what you have on your mind, like this idea by Freud) , preconscious (what could be easily made conscious, like what you had for breakfast)  and unconscious (unavailable to the conscious, like everything that happened before your earliest memory).

After hypnosis proved limited Freud sought to find other ways to penetrate into the unconscious and dig up into conscious whatever it is that was making his patients suffer. The answer was "speech therapy", a revolutionary idea for the time that offered the notion that words can cure if we only pay real close attention to them. Nothing we say or do, says Freud, is accidental or insignificant, and that is why careful dissection of a patient's speech can aid the therapist in directing him towards new discoveries regarding himself. Freud also took a big interest in dreams that he saw as code that once deciphered can open doors to the unconscious and our deepest truths.   
When thus analyzing his patients psyche Freud soon realized that the deeper you dig the more it becomes apparent that it all leads back to one place: early childhood. Freud then devised a theory of the process we go through from birth to adulthood, arguing that the particular manner in which we pass through this process will determine to a large extent who we are. Freud knew very well that processes requires energy and he claimed that this energy is sex, or love or the power on life, call it whatever you like, Freud called it libido and claimed that it is the most essential and rudimentary source of drive and energy in us. Everything we do is in fact a channeling of the libido (channels have been determined by our particular development). Following the horrors of World War 1 Freud revised his theory and offered an additional source of drive, the death craving force of destruction.

Freud famously offered another later model of the mind constructed of: Ego, Id and Super Ego. The Id is the initial raw drive that operates by the "pleasure principle" of maximum pleasure minimum pain. But as the poet said, "you can't always get what you (deep down inside you darkest fantasies) want", and this is where the Ego comes in to manage your desires with reality (the "reality principle"). When we grow up and go through the Oedipal Complex of giving up the competition with dad over mom we start to develop another "division" in ourselves, the Super-Ego which is the internalized expectations of society from us such as morals, values, ambitions etc. The ego is constantly engaged by the Id and Super-ego while trying to mange us and reality, not easy at all.

Freud had many more ideas and he even tried to apply his psychotherapy concepts not only to individuals but also to society at large. To read more about Freud you can check out the links below to summaries on some of Freud's most famous essays. You can also consider the book links (and support us, yay!).   

Summaries of important works by Freud:

Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams
Sigmund Freud - Civilization and Its Discontents

Sigmund Freud - Totem and Taboo - brief summary by chapter

Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, or Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics (we'll just make do with "Totem and Taboo" here, if you don't mind) is Sigmund Freud's first (but not last) attempt at applying psychoanalysis to culture and human history at large. Published in 1913, Totem and Taboo is now considered a classic anthropological text that even if factually dubious is still very inspiring for the manner in which it engages culture and the collective psyche.

In chapter 1 of Totem and Taboo, titled "The Horrors of Incest", Freud engages with Totemism, discussing Australian Aboriginals who practice animistic Totemism. Freud describes how clan differentiation and marriage are organized through the different totem of each clan and prohibition on marrying somebody from your own totem. The Totem, Freud deduces, prevents incest (since paternal identity is usually not particularly clear in tribal societies).

In chapter 2 ("Taboo and emotional ambivalence") Freud points to the relation between Totemism and taboo with the aid of his psychoanalytic terms of "projection" and "ambivalence". Repression of ambivalent feelings towards others results in projecting them outwards, on to the totem (which serves as a kind of "scape goat" for negative feeling towards adjacent people). Freud then compares this dynamic to the relationship of masses and their rulers.

Chapter 3 ( "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought") Freud ties the believe in magic to narcissism and the over-belief in the meaning and effect of our actions and thoughts in regards to reality. The "omnipotence of thoughts" projects inner reality onto the world, an animistic practice we can see today in art, for example.

Chapter 4 of Totem and Taboo  ("The Return of Totemism in Childhood") sets forth one of Freud's wildest cultural ideas, claiming that Totemism, and therefore taboo, originates in one single event. This is, for Freud, the first prototypical case of the Oedipal Complex in which a band of expelled brothers returned to the clan to kill their revered and feared father. The guilt that followed from this event is the basis for all religion, so holds Freud.   

Books to check out:

More articles and summaries of Freud:

Sigmund Freud - summary of ideas and main concepts

Sigmund Freud – "The Uncanny"

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Michel Foucault – Of Other Spaces (Heterotopia) – summary and review

"Of Other Spaces" (Des espaces autres), also commonly known as "Heterotopia", was initially a lecture carried by Michel Foucault to a group of architects in 1967.

In "Of Other Places" Foucault starts by looking at the historical development of western space perception, starting from what he terms "espace de localization" in the middle ages, through the "etendue" (extending) form the time of Galileo to the modern "emplacement". Emplacement means, according to Foucault, that relations between locations in space are the constitutive principle of space perception.

Space, unlike time, Foucault argues, has yet to complete its process of secularization, and sanctity still plays an important part in the way we divide space. We still divide to inner form the outer, the internal from the external and assign different meanings to different types of spaces depending on their mutual relations.
In "On Other Places" Foucault, as suggested by the title of his article, focuses on those places which bear a "strange" relation to other places by suspending, neutralizing or reversing  the relationships through which we can point at them, reflect or conceive them. These "other places" are according to Foucault wither utopia, places that don't really exist, or heterotopias.

A heterotopia is a real place which stands outside of known space. A zoo is an example of a heterotopias because it brings together into a single space things that are not usually together. A mirror, Foucault says, is at the same time a utopia and heterotopias. On the one hand a mirror is a place without place, and on the other it is a real place. And as Foucault says, it the mirror we find ourselves missing in the place that we are.

Foucault argues that heterotopias are a part of every culture, though they are manifested differently in different places and times. A heterotopia can also function differently and in different situations, for example the cemetery which was once in the center of town but is now removed from it. A third characteristic of heterotopias that Foucault mentions is that heterotopias are able to oppose, in the same place, different places (like the zoo or a botanical garden). A fourth principle of heterotopias is the link between a heterotopia and time. A heterotopia separates us from our usual time (Foucault calls this "heterochronic") like libraries which are accumulated time or festivals which are transient. A fifth trait of heterotopias is that they always maintain a system of opening and closing which isolates and connects them from and to their surroundings. The final aspect of heterotopias that Foucault  mentions is their role is relation to other places. A heterotopia creates an imaginary order and reason which serve to stress their inexistence elsewhere.

See also:

These will make you smarter, Guaranteed:

Sigmund Freud - Psychopathology of Everyday Life - Summary and Review

Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) is perhaps Sigmund Freud's most notable early work in psychoanalysis, and together with The Interpretation of Dreams it forms the basis for his entire work . Early Freud was preoccupied with abnormal psychology and the attempt to explain various psychopathological  (beginning with neurological) problems, an attempt which led to groundbreaking understanding in regard to normal mental functioning. This, in part, is what makes Psychopathology of Everyday Life such an important part of the Freudian bibliography.
Psychopathology of Everyday Life is full of stories and anecdotes (including about Freud himself) regarding "mishaps", gaps in memory and verbal errors. For Freud, everything happens for a reason (he can certainly be classified as a determinist). What appears to be coincidental or unexplained might in fact be a clue to some deep hidden and tucked away truth (think of the resemblance between Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes in this regard).
Can't remember where you put your keys? maybe something in you does not want to go where it is that you're headed. Accidently called your boss "mom"? maybe it has to do with what you feel towards your boss, or more importantly, towards your mom. All these seemingly unexplainable incidents might clue us in on hidden explanations that are hidden for a reason and can only be manifested through these "errors".   
It is important to note that what Freud is implying is that we are all in a sense a bit neurotic, since we all posses deep inner conflicts that sometimes have a hard time reaching resolve and might persist in causing mental discomfort. This is what makes Psychopathology of Everyday Life so important to Freud's theory, since it is the basis for the development of the concept of unconscious, the idea that deep down we are a lot more than we think we are on the surface. 

Other articles and summaries about Freud:

Books of interest:


Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams - Summary and Review

The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) is one of Sigmund Freud's most notable works. Some of Freud's most important ideas such as the unconscious and the Oedipal complex are manifested in the book which makes it pivotal in any understanding of Sigmund Freud's theory or psychoanalysis in general.
As suggested by its title, The Interpretation of Dreams is primarily devoted to the study of dreams and their role in mental life and therapy. Freud argues that all dreams are subjected to the need for "wish fulfillment" (wunscherfüllung), a notion he will later renounce (see Beyond the Pleasure Principle) but at the time was fundamental to his theory. Dreams, Freud held, are an instrument to maintain sleep and in order to do so must cater for different needs arising in the body and psyche during sleep. In order to prevent these needs from waking us up the mind sets up imagined experiences that offer relief and satisfaction for these urges. Dreams can, for example, hold off the need for peeing by giving you a dream in which you are relived. In a more complex example the dream offers some resolve to a haunting inner conflict by enacting its desired outcomes.
The thing about wish fulfillment is that we don't always want to know what our true wishes are (especially if you take the Freudian view on humans and their objects of desire). This is where the "censor" comes in, blurring the content of the dream and rendering it incomprehensible so that we are not exposed to anything we don't want to acknowledge. In order for information to slip through the censor lines it must be coded. This means that dreams, much like in the biblical or mystic notion of them, have deep symbolic meaning to them.
In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud termed the concept of Dreamwork in order to refer to the mechanisms that take part in the symbolic formation of the dream. Dreamwork includes, as a start, symbolism and the fact the different psychic entities in our soul receive visual representation in the dream. Freud also notes two types of such symbolic mechanism such as displacement which combines two meanings into one object or displacement which moves feeling directed at one object to another. In the end comes what Freud calls secondary revision, the "editing" of the dream by the dreamer in order to apply logic and coherence to it.
In psychoanalysis the dream serves, according to Freud, as "the royal road to the unconscious". The dream provides the therapist with data which is usually not obtainable by the conscious awake self, and by deconstructing its coded meanings one can get a peak at what's happening deep down under.
Although Freud later retracted many of the ideas that appear in The Interpretation of Dreams, the book remains highly influential till this days, maybe because it contains some spectacular demonstrations of dream analysis conducted by Freud that are sure to leave you waiting for next morning.  

Books of interest:

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