"The Feudal Unconscious:
Capitalism and the Family Romance"

October 159 (Winter 2017)
MIT Press

Now Available

Portuguese translation of THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE (Blackwell Manifestos, 2010) now available from Tinta Negra (Rio de Janeiro, 2015)


O renomado crítico cultural americano Perry Meisel detona as noções convencionais sobre a divisão entre “alta” e “baixa” cultura.

O autor transita pela provocante teoria de que a cultura pop experimentou ritmos dialéticos. A hábil análise que o livro apresenta de três tradições culturais duradouras – o romance norte-americano, Hollywood, e o rock inglês e americano – nos leva a um ciclo histórico da cultura pop que tem Dante como ponto de partida e revisita ícones como Wahrol, Melville, Hemingway, Twain, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Scorsese e Sinatra.


The Myth of Popular Culture discusses the dialectic of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in popular culture through an examination of literature, film, and popular music. With topics ranging from John Keats to John Ford, the book responds to Adorno's theory that popular culture is not dialectical by showing that it is.

Available as eBooks

COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. Trans. Wade Baskin. Co-ed. with Haun Saussy. By Ferdinand de Saussure (Columbia University Press, 2011)

THE LITERARY FREUD (Routledge, 2007)




Freud's Reflexive Realism

by Perry Meisel

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind....
And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreathed trellis of a working

-Keats, "Ode to Psyche"

The frame of a repeated effect. . .
It has a clear, a single, a solid form,
That of the son who bears upon his back
The father that he loves.

-Wallace Stevens, "Recitation After Dinner"

The Belated Paradigm of the Wolf Man

Any schematic account of Freud's career as a writer ought properly to begin in the middle. To see Freud at his most representative, we have only to turn to the most alluring of the case histories, now a classic of modern literature as well as of psychoanalytic literature, the 1918 case of the Wolf Man ("From the History of an Infantile Neurosis").1 A text of overdetermined privilege in psychoanalysis, it formalizes the structure of Freud's thought early and late probably more efficiently than any of his writings (even the 1925 "Negation"), and does so at an unlikely but critical moment in the plain chronology of his career as a psychoanalyst. Following the 1914 essay on narcissism and just preceding the 1920 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, it occupies the near-center of Freud's official middle phase.
Like the belated emergence of the Wolf Man's importance in the history of Freud's reception, the belated emergence of its key term is itself the best example of the modality it represents. For not until Laplanche and Pontalis write in 1967 at some length about the case's premier notion (deferred action, après coup, Nachträglichkeit)2 does it become genuinely effective, especially in Anglophone usage, and our view of Freud changed by its application. Even more ironically reflexive is that the case belatedly clarifies Freud's earlier intimations of the notion in the 1895 Project; in the structure of recollection adumbrated in "Screen Memories" (1899); and in the "Fausse Reconnaissance (déjà raconté)" of 1914. Deferred action means that we know origins - "the primal scene" in the case of the Wolf Man-only later on, by the distance that estranges us from it, by virtue of what seems only to screen or obstruct our memory of it.
Freud derives what will become the ineluctable modality of all discursive production from what his patient both declares and describes, thematizes and dramatizes. The Wolf Man's dream of the frosty white wolves in the tree outside his window as a four-year-old - the childhood dream around which the analysis centers, and whose interpretation is its driving desire or primitivist/positivist grail-object- is, Freud tells us, the deferred and disguised memory of an event (the primal scene proper) that the patient experienced, or could have experienced, at the age of one and a half, that of witnessing his parents in the act of copulation. But because a child of one and a half does not yet possess the knowledge of sex required to interpret, or even to register, such a scene, it cannot properly be said to exist for him at the moment of its "real"or chronological occurrence. It is only when the dreamer gains a knowledge of sex that the memory - the primal- may come into being at all. This "sexualization after the event" (17:103n.) is to be accounted for, says Freud, as follows: "He received the
impressions when he was one and a half; his understanding of them was deferred, but became possible at the time of the dream owing to his development, his sexual excitations, and his sexual researches" (17:37-38n). They are, in short, "the products of construction" (17:51). Such a structure is a miniature of the modality of psychoanalytic knowledge/production at large, the rhetorical means by which Freud fashions the phantasms of his imaginative universe and the categories that define it. The figure "unconscious mind," of course, is Freud's enabling oxymoron, and, like Milton's "darkness visible," Conrad's "heart of darkness," or Lévi-Strauss's la pensée sauvage, it is an educative or pedagogic oxymoron, a symptomatic and parabolic error required of rhetoric when it is asked to do unusual or inventive things. A mixed metaphor whose own transgressions according to accepted Cartesian usage ("mind" equals "consciousness") are what produce the newish space of Freudian hyperinteriority, "unconscious mind" signals that Freud's project is in fact posited on the self-contradictory implications of such oxymora. In the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), for example, Freud begins with a familiar kind of psychoanalytic paradox: how can one know what happens in early childhood if one of early childhood's principal characteristics is that we regularly forget its history? Similarly, Freud assures us in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) that "nothing but a wish can set our mental apparatus at work" (5:567), even though such a statement requires us to ask in turn whether psychoanalytic thought itself is therefore no more than wish-fulfillment. The deferred action of the Wolf Man in short assumes the presence of the primal as the analeptically logical referent of what succeeds it. "Light is thrown," says Freud, "from the later stages of his history upon these earlier ones" (17:47). Like the goddess Psyche, Freud's psyche, too, is-like all Romantic idealities-produced after the fact, the seat of an ambiguous primacy, simultaneously deferred and present. Trace of a desire endemic to modernism at large (I take it as axiomatic that Freud is a modernist, and that modernism is itself a late Romantic formation), the unconscious and the primal scene are symptoms of Freud's desire to reach for the warmth and immediacy of beginnings in the face of his late position in history. This is a particularly northern European desire for parity with the southerly priority of the ancients, the Hebrews, even the Renaissance, and one presumably to be fulfilled by the search for the bedrock of drive ("instinct" in Strachey's bluntly Romantic English), a search that serves as Freud's particular version of a realm, to use Trilling's crisp definition of the will to modernity, "beyond" or "apart from culture." No wonder Huxley called Freud's discoveries his "America."
In Freud's dark and ironic modernism, however, such primacy or origins emerge only belatedly, culture or symbol situating a nature preexistent to it as Keats does in the nightingale ode, or history situating its own beginnings ("Who himself beginning knew?") as Milton does in Paradise Lost. Indeed, in a paradigm equal to Freud's own, the early Romantic Milton rejects the truth of classical mythology (the best example is the early Nativity Ode) only to resurrect it with apparent unwillingness in the later poem. For without pagan representations, "erring" as they are, no such Christian poem can speak. The price of the poem's readability: that we know origins or primal scenes only through the belated technologies that obstruct our view of them, and, in so doing, construct whatever view we have. Much as the Wolf Man's primal scene emerges as a function of his later knowledge of sex, so Milton's Christian truth can only be articulated by means of pagan error. The primary event is known not despite but because of the distortion through which it appears afterwards. There is, properly speaking, no objective or original event as such (it is the "product ... of a construction"), only its (re)construction through the rhetoric of narrative or memory.
If, moreover, the privilege of the Wolf Man case comes from its consummate representation of the structure of psychoanalytic knowledge and its objects of putative inquiry as equivalent, it is because Freud's narrational skill has reached a kind of technical perfection which silently doubles the structure of the patient's memory in its own operations as a text. Rather than simply assert what conclusions his evidence may allow and then document them in a linear argument doubtless more convincing than the sinuous one he gives us instead ("I am afraid," says Freud at one point, that "the reader's belief will abandon me," 17:36), Freud actually simulates the movement of the analysis itself as it produces explanations for fresh memories that in turn require fresh explanations, producing in turn fresh memories, and so on. Much as Freud's patient will lead him to momentary certainty only to disappoint it, so, too, will Freud lead his reader to high ground only to return him to the muddle. Freud sequentially revises his conclusions much as his patient's narrative habitually revises their evidences. Indeed, in the supplementary sections inserted between 1914 and 1918, the text even becomes a patently deferred elaboration of itself, allowing the implicit doubling to become explicitly reflexive. Freud's narration and his patient's memory may appear to be different, but their structures are surely homologous if not finally identical in their interdependent production one of the other.
As a literary triumph, such a technique is best called reflexive realism, the secret of virtually all strong artistic discourse, and one in which narration and story coincide precisely but metaphorically, analogously rather than literally - the perfect adequation of récit and histoire even as they are different. Reflexive realism narrates itself by narrating something else like it, much as Howard Hawks's films narrate the integration of a crew designed to function as a unit analogous to the filmcrew, or much as, say, John Ford's Fort Apache narrates the mythmaking machinery by means of which its own historiography is produced. In reflexive realism, rhetorical and representational planes, récit and histoire, are doubles rather than twins (hence the novel of manners, for example, may be said to narrate the forms of life as a life of forms, and so find in its subject a reflexive counterpart for its own manipulation of literary manners). If the two planes coincide literally, as in Robbe-Grillet or Blanchot, the result is instead purely reflexive art, narration narrating itself exactly by making its readability its overt problematic. Reflexive realism, by contrast, is a doubling that is also a splitting. By virtue of accenting the figurative rather than literal status of the two planes' identity (an irony to which even "pure" reflexivity is ultimately subject), such a mixed mode actually avows the linguistic or semiotic scaffolding that sustains its illusionism in the very gesture of separation that seems only to conceal it.
It is this silent but pervasive redoubling that is the hinge of Freud's triumph in the Wolf Man case. It tells us that our knowledge and the mode of its reception are the same, that there is no genuine subject/object relation between a past or histoire and a present or recit that may be said simply to transcribe or re-member it. To say all this, of course, is to bring Freud's realism under the jeopardy of its ultimate reflexivity. And, to be sure, a tilt toward pure reflexivity will in fact jeopardize the entire psychoanalytic project in Freud's middle phase. If Freud's reflexive realism is the secret of his power throughout the first two decades, most influentially in the epical Interpretation of Dreams, it is also what brings Freud to a crisis in his middle phase. Freud's career is, in short, a romance, so to chart its principal movements means to watch the reflexive realism of the dreambook deteriorate in "On Narcissism" and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and to see it renovated in the triumphant (and covertly violent) Romanticism of The Ego and the Id. Final testimony to the power of psychoanalysis, it will allow Freud to exploit as well as to exemplify deferred action in his late, magisterial phase.

Three Mechanisms in The Interpretation of Dreams

An early example of the reflexive realism that reaches its acme of execution in 1918, The Interpretation of Dreams features (at least) three devices (even more elementary than the Wolf Man's) for the production of psychoanalytic truth. Freud's representation of the dreamwork is, of course, the representation of a representation that bears an uncanny resemblance to the narration that appears only to report it. The dreambook shows us Freud, after all, reading the readings the dreamwork performs on its raw but absent materials; or, to put it another way, Freud's writing redoubles the writing of the dreamwork insofar as the dreamwork is a gloss or commentary upon a latent content deduced - like the purported objects of Freud's text - from the vestiges of the repression that defines it. In addition, these three devices correspond, as one might expect, to three of the four chief devices of the dreamwork itself as Freud will describe them in Chapter Six: (1) The manner of structuring the history of the literature on dreams in Chapter One. This results in a canny introduction that bears a far closer resemblance to the dreamwork than to the review of the scientific literature with which such studies in Freud's time are required by convention to begin. Freud employs a device similar to the psychic mechanism of condensation in order to clear a historical space for the newness of his invention. (2) The almost boistrous propensity throughout the book for confessing and, even more interesting, for not fully confessing. Freud often withholds not only his own dreams (as we know, of course, many of the dreams ascribed to others in the book are in fact Freud's own), but also the additional chains of association and passionate or intemperate implications they inspire in him, but which he is unwilling to follow out for reasons we can all too easily reconstruct. The psychic function that corresponds to this device is that of displacement. (3) A device laid out as the telos of Chapter Six, the strangely ignored sequence on the dreamwork proper, and a device that may be said to subsume all the others. It is in fact the central logical contention that Freud holds throughout his text - that the presence of dreams is known by the tokens of their absence. Here the corresponding psychic function is precisely that of Freud's own last element of the dreamwork (the fourth, though one that also includes the plainly reflexive third, the consideration of representability, that of secondary revision, the inevitable first interpretation which comes simply as the result of reporting a dream. Secondary revision is, in fact, an almost privileged model for the very existence of dreams and, by extension, the unconscious. For, like God, dreams and the unconscious that produces them are known only by the tokens of their disguise or departure.
(1) Freud's initial problem in his founding masterpiece is the problem of clearing one's path, of swerving from the locus of a writer's anxiety, the reality of precedent and therefore of historical and epistemological belatedness. It is here that the crucial role of Chapter One is to be seen, even though (like Chapter Six, but with far greater apparent reason) it is a portion of the dreambook rarely discussed. Unlike either the traditional poet or scientist, Freud, in his role as dream-interpreter, finds little in the way of an orthodox tradition to sustain him; but rather than lament this lack, he sees the ironic advantages it bestows upon him instead. Compared to the history with which Freud's real precursors - the poets, acknowledged and unacknowledged, as well as nineteenth-century German philosophers - had to contend, the history of dream literature is, of course, altogether more pliable. Strong enough to sustain him but also weak enough to do his taxonomic bidding, Freud will secure his release from this apparent tradition even as he inscribes his work within it.
What is that bidding? The reader's silent preparation for what is to come only later in the book. There is probably no clearer way to see Freud's rather high-handed methods - and even more high-handed, if largely unconscious, motives this early in his career - than to note that the history of dreams presented in Chapter One is not only not the history it purports to be, but also that the admittedly synchronic structure Freud supposedly "finds" in his tradition turns out to be no less than the structure of the unconscious itself as it will emerge in Chapters Six and Seven (that Chapter One was composed after the rest of the manuscript had been completed simply aids our argument).
Though there are of course innumerable ways of anatomizing the literature on dreams from antiquity down to the nineteenth century, the special way in which Freud arranges his evidence is symptomatic in the extreme. Freud begins with chronos - with a historical and, as a nineteenth-century reader might be led to assume, a developmental perspective on past theories of dreaming. But Freud soon abandons chronos in favor of topos, in favor of an attention to the recurrent sites -"the two opposing currents" of opinion "at every period" since "before . . . Aristotle" (4:3) - to which this history that is no history at all habitually returns. Reducing his tradition by freeing it from the constraints of narrative form itself, Freud puts in its place a nonhistory of conflicting opinion or enduring "contradiction" (4:9) which is nearly the same from antiquity to the nineteenth century. Freud, in short, removes all that is historical from his history, change and contingency alike, in keeping with a strategic intent, condensing temporality itself into a virtually synchronic state of duality or difference - to a state of simultaneous and necessarily interdependent tensions (dreaming as prophecy or remembrance, as daemonic inspiration or self-engendered illusion), much, in fact, as dreams themselves admit of no contingency, no past, no present, only a miraculous synchronicity in which everything and anything is possible at once.
(2) Freud uses a more familiar technique for vouchsafing the existence of the unconscious, though its very familiarity is what tends to obscure its function as a rhetorical device. Consider, for example, the following apologia in Chapter Six for Freud's reticence in reporting fully to the reader the associations to one of his own dreams:

I am forbidden to do so for reasons connected with the nature of the psychical material involved- reasons which are of many kinds and which will be accepted as valid by any reasonable person. (4:310)

Freud's famous reserve about disclosing the full implications or associations to which certain dream thoughts lead him has been taken not so much as hypocritical repression or even as stinging self-irony, though even these charges are not unreasonable. Instead, such hesitation is traditionally read as further testimony to Freud's Romantic heroism in revealing to us as much of himself as he has-we can only presume in such moments that even darker thoughts must lie still deeper. What we construe as the pressure of such repression causing Freud to halt, often a little too ostentatiously, is evidence not so much of Freud's hypocrisy as of a calculated rhetorical feint. For the effect of what seems to be a denial or copping out on the game - the emergence of repression in the midst of an argument intended to undo its thrall - in fact pushes the game even further along, giving it an inner tension or difference from itself constitutive of narrative desire in the usual ways, and redoubled in the text's explicit project of desiring the satiety of an explanation on the level of psychoanalysis itself. The result: the constitution of the unconscious negatively, its necessary emergence as something unconscious against or upon which Freud's hesitation must be propped.
Such metonymic deduction, by which Freud's reader produces the unconscious as a category necessary for the text to cohere whenever Freud the dreamer blanches with shame, is required of us as a necessary and unconscious practice of psychoanalytic belief. Perhaps the very nucleus of Freud's inventive referentiality lies in this metonymic or, more exactly, synecdochic operation, a device common in Freud at large (Philip Rieff noted it in 1959), an operation that requires the reader of the dreambook, for example, to reason via displacement in order to produce the category of the dream proper from the narrative of dream thoughts, and (as the part-whole logic proceeds) the category in turn of the unconscious. A dream as such is always nothing more than approximate, a wishful wholeness imparted to the discontinuous report of fragments and montages in a reconstruction of something that never was but always shall be at the belated level of analysis.
(3) Such metonymic displacement brings us naturally to the last of Freud's master tropes in the dreamwork, secondary revision. If the dream's difference from itself is what defines it as such - if its parts require a whole so as to be "parts" "of" it - then the report of the dream is all-important, indeed decisive, in its (re)constitution as a referent. Secondary revision is, after all, no less than the first step in the dream's interpretation, its interpretation and its report already the same thing. In Freud's words in Chapter Six, secondary revision "subjects" the dream-the implications of the pun are also provocative -"to a first interpretation" and a consequent "misunderstanding" (5:500). Both interpretation and/or misunderstanding, of course, require there to be or to have been something present which has already been inadvertently or silently interpreted, and which has properties discernible enough by the reversal required by logic to be understood - to be produced - with varying degrees of analytic sufficiency. Indeed, such a structure is little different from that of Lacan's injunction to return to Freud, as though Freud's text were already there, in some original state, like its imputed unconscious; as though there were, for example, no influence of American ego psychology against which to react as an enabling polemic. Even to call secondary revision "secondary" is also already to presume a primary revision beforehand despite Freud's assurance that secondary revision is the dreamwork's very first operation.
So it is from the récit of the dream's narration, belated by definition in relation to itself, that its histoire - its preexistence, its quiddity-can alone be constructed. Never discovered, since to call the report a distortion is already to require something more primary to have been there first. Distortion and repression are the very evidences of the dreamwork they are assigned to hide or dissimulate.
Like that earlier interdependent emergence of folly and reason noted by Foucault, Freud's interpretative and phenomenal categories (an untenable and typically late Romantic distinction between the supposed and mere instrumentality of a text and the reality of what it describes) both emerge in a single gesture. The rhetoric of classical realism in The Interpretation of Dreams, only implicitly reflexive, cloaks its ultimate auto-referentiality by constituting its world and itself as dependent on one another, the joke being that it is the world that is propped upon the fiction rather than the fiction that is propped on the world. If secondary revision is Freud's definitive trope, it is, like the notion of mimetic representation itself, a repetition that only presumes what it repeats.
Freud's unconscious and the psychic structures it produces, then, are the precise reverse of what they pretend to be. They are in fact exactly what they are: psychic structures as such, readerly ones requiring us to enact their truth simply by internalizing--by a simple act of reading-the operations by which Freud's text produces them. No discovery of a preexistent and genuinely "primal" state, psychoanalysis is hardly an original communion with nature. Freud's unconscious is, like the high Romantic subjectivity that enables it historically, poetically produced. Like Milton's "unpremeditated song" (even though, like Freud, the ironic Milton is "long choosing" and beginning "late"), like Wordsworth's "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," like Keats's "full-throated ease," Freud's "primary" is the function of a rhetorical strategy designed to simulate what it cannot possess. Freud's is a literary language that produces the unconscious as an effect, as an analeptically constituted presence derived, as Nietzsche describes such a structure, by mistaking consequence for cause.

The Crisis of Narcissism

If secondary revision is the decisive trope of the dreambook, then revision as such, as Harold Bloom has noted, tends to become the master activity of Freud's enterprise in the years following 1910. With "On Narcissism," Freud has in fact grown so confident that he takes as his overt subject the very constitution of subjectivity, and so the very constitution of the ground or purported object of his own discourse. The result is a dangerous tendency toward the overt narration of psychoanalytic narration itself. Freud's realism - his ability to maintain the referentiality of his terms even though they are really no more than descriptions of the operations his reader must perform - has come round to meet its innate reflexivity a little too exactly. "Narcissism" leads Freud to describe not only the originary production of the subject, but also to scrutinize the terms by which psychoanalysis accounts for it. Too frank an inquiry follows, since it forces Freud to realize that the logic of narcissism fails to square with that of his earlier oppositions. In fact, the crisis of the essay lies in the confusion it bodes for Freud's hitherto organizing oppositions at virtually every level of his thought. For once it becomes clear to Freud that the ego is itself sexually cathected, that narcissism is our first mode of object-love (hence Lacan's mirror stage), the founding oppositions of psychoanalysis - chief among them the clash between Eros and civilization - collapse to the ground. With such a collapse, Freud has reached the horizon or limit of closure of the mode of knowledge he both invents and thereby fulfills or explodes.
Hence the third and self-revisionary phase beginning with Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920 may be seen as a solution, at the level of metacommentary and rhetoric rather than of empiricist science, of the loss engendered by the discovery of narcissism six years before, the loss of nothing less than the organizing categories of psychoanalytic inquiry itself. Indeed, the enigma of Beyond the Pleasure Principle becomes easier to solve when considered from the point of view of rhetorical rather than logical necessity. It is probably even fair to say that it was, ironically, Freud's humanism - his refusal to give up the term life as necessary to any opposition he could think or imagine - that produced the most controversial and figurative of all his tropes, the figure of the death instinct. The death instinct is therefore finally an expression of rhetorical necessity as such (this, in addition to its reenactment of modernist desire in its wish to return to an "earlier state of things" [18:37]), the requirement of an opposing term to sustain thought or desire itself when the tension of difference threatens to vanish. So to balance the ravaged term life, no longer bound to Eros with the destruction in 1914 of the once-organizing difference between libido and ego, Freud must produce the only opposition left, the term of death.
But if Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a solution, it also exacerbates the problem it means to solve. Even more than "Narcissism," Beyond the Pleasure Principle narrates psychoanalytic narration directly; it is arguably the most fully reflexive of all Freud's works not only in its admission that it is forever locked in figure (18:60), but also in the problem it poses to the security of Freud's illusionism when it strays into exposing its mechanisms far too openly to maintain the mimetic belief so successfully produced by the only covertly reflexive dream-book or the Wolf Man case.
"Narcissism" and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, then, are really a kind of overt reflexivity. But while language referring only to itself may be the project of Robbe-Grillet, for example, it is the very reverse of what Freud needs to maintain his own project. The job of psychoanalysis, after all, is to produce and empower, not (as we think) to unravel and disassemble power. The very work of psychoanalysis is the maintenance of tension, the very category that produces a need for it, that allows it to document itself, that sells it. Freud must somehow readjust things after Beyond the Pleasure Principle so as to fortify a discourse that is becoming far too candid about its own limitations.

The Ego and the Id: Resolution and Independence

"Dualistic" by temperament (18:53), Freud must look for fresh tension rather than resolution of the problems that both contaminate and expose his logic.3 Psychoanalytic knowledge, after Beyond the Pleasure Principle at least, seems at best capable of knowing only itself. Once the reflexivity of its purported realism threatens to become but one more modernist mise-en-abîme, Freud needs to right the balance again, to introduce a securer mode of psychoanalytic knowledge that can pretend (for there is no more to do) to know something new all over again.
This is the secret burden of The Ego and the Id (1923) as it formalizes Freud's third and last phase, producing an agency of sufficient power to prevent analysis from lapsing into pure reflexivity of the kind Freud himself will in fact adumbrate in the late "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937). It is no wonder, then, that it is the precariousness of the ego that is one of Freud's principal themes in a text whose task it is to reinvent the foundations of psychoanalytic - that is to say, Freudian- authority. Hence the attempt to write a genealogy of the ego even despite (or because of? as a function of?) the now-massive contingencies that sap its originality. Hence, too, Freud's allegory again redoubles his narrative desire, making even this defense of his realism apparently reflexive as well, though in a suppressed key and with different aims.
It is the introduction of the term superego into the vocabulary of psychoanalysis in The Ego and the Id that promises more difficulty for the ego than does the perennially ambiguous id, the term (das Es) borrowed from Groddeck and perhaps best glossed as a combination of Lacanian "need" and the "it" of Pater's formulation, "it rusts iron and ripens corn." In fact, the two terms absent from the book's title - superego and Oedipus - are its most prominent players. If the ego is now driven into determinations more absolute than before, it is not just because much of it becomes unconscious in The Ego and the Id, but also because the very notion of superego (a social category, "the ideologies of the superego" as Freud calls its components in The New Introductory Lectures [1933; 22:67]) directly implicates the world of social law into a psychoanalysis that finally overrides Freud's often undue biologism (Althusser's Lacan is its richest reading).
Chapter Three formally introduces the notion of superego, a notion whose emergence in Freud's work lies in its earlier adumbration as the "ego ideal" (19:28), one of Freud's early terms for the status of the father-imago in particular. Reminding us that the biologistic connotations of the id need not interfere with the coterminously social (and equally unconscious) determinations of "ego ideal" or "superego" (Freud in short simply brackets the id), it is largely the history of the birth of the ego out of its agon with superego that becomes the book's central allegory.
"The character of the ego," says Freud, "is a precipitate of abandoned object-cathexes," and "contains the history of those object-choices" (19:29). Thus we have--or so it seems- an ego composed of the history of its (ego-)ideals, one of which, and only one of which, is the ego-ideal of the father. There is, of course, now narcissism, that first moment of identification that must, by definition, precede identification with the father. And yet Freud will insist that "the origin of the ego ideal" (19:31) is not narcissism at all, but remains identification with the paternal imago: "an individual's first and most important identification with the father in his own personal prehistory" (19:31; see 19:31, n.1 for Freud's deflection of any possible sexism in the remark). Freud even feels the need to reiterate his assertion in a redundancy that intimates over-protestation, especially the emphasis on the surety of immediacy: "it is a direct and immediate identification and takes place earlier than any object-cathexis" (19:31).
Earlier even than narcissism? The implications will not hold up the assertion: (1) If the ego is but a history of its ego-ideal "precipitates," and so adumbrates the structure of general social law to be called superego, why should one ego-ideal among many-the father's-be so privileged? (2) If the ego is, as "Narcissism" says (and as Freud's Lacanian intonations even here tend to reconfirm), premised on an initial identification with its own image, how can it be said to take the father's image as its earliest? For to do so means that one already has to have had a self-identification in place for such a paternal identification to occur in its theater. (3) To put it another way, the priority of the father depends on the prior priority of a successful narcissism; the subject must already be inscribed within the general laws of vision in order to be in position for what can only be a later introjection of a father imago- the father could not be recognized as such were not earlier determinations, such as those of shared, citizenly vision (e.g., the notion "father") in place beforehand.
In the course of such discussion, however, emerges Freud's almost back-handed assumption of the enduring hegemony of the Oedipus complex (19:31), although the temporal questions raised by the superego are somehow out of time with it. Even despite the plain temporal priority of the mother (19:31) in the merest description of anaclisis (or propping-the production of drives and the embryonic ego derived from the career of weaning), Freud nonetheless insists that, for the child, "two relationships" (19:31) - one to the mother's breast, the other with the father - "proceed side by side" (19:31-32). (Hence, too, another example of the analytic advantage to be gained from positing primary processes as timeless, allowing Freud to repress the temporality of his child-development schema by conflating two stages temporally separate by his own testimony.) Indeed, when Freud tells us how the Oedipus complex arises, his rhetoric forces him to admit that, even within the manifest terms of his own argument, it is itself a belated event, already preceded by an implicit inscription of the child into the laws of the polis-the laws that are now called superego. Though manifestly a formalization of Freud's third and last model of mind, The Ego and the Id is actually a silent maintenance of the Oedipus complex under the weight of a prophetic logic (Klein, Winnicott, Lacan) that makes this cornerstone of psychoanalysis almost insupportable (that Klein, Winnicott, and Lacan all nonetheless maintain Oedipus, too, is best read as a sign of orthodoxy).4 Freud has, in short, jeopardized his Oedipus complex in an attempt to straighten out his theory.
Thus in Chapter Five, the expected problems in chronology rise to the surface as soon as Freud begins to summarize his new theory. The ego is "formed," says Freud, "out of identifications which take the place of abandoned cathexes by the id" (another mooting of the quantity/quality problem as old as the Project); and "the first of these identifications always behave as a special agency in the ego and stand apart from the ego in the form of a super-ego" (19:48). Clearly, then, the superego is the bed of social laws upon which the ego must rest-all this, it should be stressed, before the onset of the Oedipus complex proper.
Incrementally, however, Freud will bring us to an absolutely scandalous conclusion despite the logic of his empirical scheme. The superego "owes its special position in the ego, or in relation to the ego," not to that series of "identifications" noted above; but, rather, to what Freud now, and rather suddenly, calls, despite the indefinite article, "a factor" (19:48) of special privilege. The superego is dependent not on all the "identifications," but on "one" alone, "the first identification" (19:48). And that "first identification" is not narcissism, the mirror stage, or even the mother, but Oedipus.
But how do we know it is the "first"?How Freud can so surely sort out a"first" identification is, short of privileging, say, the weaning process, hard to see. It is especially hard to see when a term long absent from the argument is suddenly asked to play a decisive role in it, reemerging as Oedipus does in a fashion that will send all of Freud's developmental chronology into chaos. For the superego, we are now told, is in fact "the heir to the Oedipus complex" (19:48). This can be true, of course, only if the Oedipal ego-ideal- the paternal imago-really is that "first" identification, a priority Freud's own description of the infant's already prior emergence into superego forbids (here analysis's later notion of the phallic mother is best read as a defense of Oedipus in the face of rival anteriorities).
Thus when Freud tries to unfold his narrative fiction of the individual's development at the close of his discussion-of the relations between superego and Oedipus-the chronology of his schema begs for reversal:
The broad general outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore, be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications [with the mother and the father] in some way united with each other. This modification of the ego retains its special position; it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ego ideal or super-ego. (19:34)
It is at this point that the sheer duplicity of Freud's empirical or surface logic becomes too ludicrous to carry much further. The only way we can get the contradictions and reversalsto make sense is to read them as they seem to wish to be read anyway - backwards. Narratologically rather than empirically. Analytically- negatively-rather than positively. When we read, then, that "the ego ideal had the task of repressing the Oedipus complex" (19:34), we can only read the formulation backwards for it to make sense empirically: the Oedipus complex in fact has the task of repressing the priority of the ego-ideal. Because once it is said-as Freud so easily admits-that the father-image is both one in a series of such ideals and a late(r) one at that, it becomes clear that the Oedipus complex is itself belated in relation to the superego despite Freud's protestations to the contrary.
The image of the "protista" with which Freud figures the ego in the book's concluding pages also figures the text before us rather exactly: "The ego," like the text, "is meeting with a fate like that of the protista which are destroyed by the products of decomposition that they themselves have created" (19:56-57). Like the protista, The Ego and the Id can be looked at as itself "destroyed" by the materials it has created. That is to say, the very terms of the book put in question its own major, if secret, objects of defense.

The Figure of the Father

Why does Freud repress this duplicity? Why does he not- as he does in the dreambook and the Wolf Man case-adequate récit and histoire? Rather than allow the modality of his narration to continue to double the purported story it tells, either covertly or overtly, The Ego and the Id appears to sever an otherwise habitual rapprochement by repressing its narrative mechanisms under a thematic token that the argument that secures it in fact disarms. After all, superego is, by Freud's own testimony, son to the Oedipus complex, and enacts its truth by slaying it. But we must remember that Freud has seen the dangers of a frank adequation of narration and story in the crisis of "Narcissism" and the desperation of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Now, as he enters his late phase, he will instead maintain a strict tension or difference between them so as to maintain his own slippery authority, recontaining the argument of his narration with a thematic that it subverts (Oedipus in The Ego and the Id, the reliance on the already cancelled conflict between Eros and civilization in the 1930 Civilization and Its Discontents). The late Freud, it seems, becomes a strong allegorist in response to the disasters of pure reflexivity (although, to be sure, the late Freud also returns to direct reflexivity in the self-interrogative "Negation," or the 1926 Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety).
What in particular, however, does Freud gain in the repressive maneuvers of The Ego and the Id? Why does he wish to defend the priority of Oedipus despite its apparent demotion in the itinerary of individual development? Is there in fact still an adequation of récit and histoire underway that escapes us under the appearance of (repressive) allegory? Is Freud, in short, still a reflexive realist? The evidence suggests that he is after all. For much as dreams precede their distortion at the level of histoire because they succeed it at the level of récit, or much as the primal scene precedes its remembrance because it follows it, so the Oedipus complex precedes superego at the level of histoire because it too succeeds it at the level of récit. The very emergence of the Oedipus complex is, in other words, also a retroactive production, another example of secondary revision or deferred action. In fact, the Oedipus complex-supposedly our greatest single danger to defend against-is in fact probably the greatest of Freud's own defense mechanisms.
Defense is, in psychoanalysis, also an opportunity, and in The Ego and the Id's companion essay, the 1924 "Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex," we may find a clue as to how Oedipus works as a defense for Freud himself. In his remarks there on castration, Freud implicitly recalls the Wolf Man case by telling us that the reality of castration-anxiety occurs for boys only after they see the vaginas of little girls: "It is not until" such "a fresh experience comes his way," says Freud, "that the child begins to reckon with the possibility of being castrated" (19:175). It is, in other words, only through what happens later that we come to know, not just castration-anxiety, but, as our reading of The Ego and the Id should suggest, even Oedipus. And it is this belated authority that is, as it turns out, precisely where the strength of the ego comes from in an allegory that is actually as resolutely reflexive as that of the earlier Wolf Man. The retroactive production of the Oedipus complex-repressed by Freud so that he can exploit it - means that the father becomes a function of the son, that the past is the property of the future. To unwrite Wordsworth, the son is now father to the father. The ineluctability of secondary revision in the (re)construction of paternity makes paternity, to use Joyce's reverberant phrase, a legal fiction rather than a natural fact.
It is a costly loss in the power of the category of the father, although it is only such loss - in Freud's late Romantic logic - that can provide him, the son, the latecomer, with any power at all. As T. S. Eliot puts it in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919), "the form of . . . literature will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities." Freud's Oedipal heir is the belated reader-the latecomer who has only a single power, the power to write (that is to say, to misread) the past. Though this is probably the only real claim to authority that psychoanalysis may be said to have, Freud himself must, of course, nonetheless dissemble it, since it is the very means of production of his own power as a writer, inserting himself so strategically among the scientists, poets, and philosophers that credible historians can only speak of parallels with psychoanalysis rather than genuine precursors of it (the first chapter of the dreambook is only a rehearsal for Freud's ultimate rewriting of history in Moses and Monotheism (1939), displacing the priority of Moses's status as a lawgiver and, by implication, taking it over himself). Although the Oedipus complex is a paradigm of nonoriginality as a notion (its very name is the graphic trace of influence), it is Freud who invents it, and who thereby becomes the father of the figure of the father.
To be the father of the figure of the father carries with it, moreover, a simulated solution to the problem of psychoanalytic knowledge that Freud's earlier crisis has also required. Its mode cannot be subjective, of course, since to know as a subject is to be part of the capture psychoanalytic knowledge means to unravel. What (rather than who), then, is the agency that knows - or is supposed to know- in a discourse often precariously close to self-consumption? The structure of such a supposition is precisely that of Oedipus in its new articulation in The Ego and the Id - the latecomer with the perpetual advantage of rewriting the past rather than losing or suffering by it. It also provides Freud with the production of an agency that may not be construed as an ego in the first place, a transpersonal as well as transdiscursive agency because it carries all of history on its back, and so cannot be assessed as a single subject. Hence it removes Freud from any complicity in the game of subjectivity he is trying to describe even despite the enduring homology/identity of the structure of psychoanalytic narration and the structure of subjectivity itself in Freud's reflexive realism.
One escapes determination by being overdetermined at the moment of one's enablement, a condition psychoanalysis fulfills at any one of its originary stations. Like that of Darwin and Marx, Freud's curricular transdiscursivity was the very condition that allowed his inventiveness to take place. It was just at this moment, around 1900, that the disciplines as we know them were being distinguished, coterminously, as it turns out, with the transgressive dialogism of evolution, Marxism, anthropology, and psychoanalysis-the breaking of rules aiding, then, in their very fashioning. Psychoanalysis managed to inscribe itself from the start in a myriad of systems, including that of literature. It is this multiple inscription which allows our notions of a literary Freud-among others. The expectation by which we tend to assess any discursive product as the univocal function of the determinations of a single tradition such as poetry or science proper is an expectation that Freud exploits even as he violates.
Silently using the priority over time granted him by secondary revision, Freud, in the name of Oedipus, alone fulfills the twin and impossible wish of modernism at large - to be simultaneously new and old, unique and recognizable, original and traditional. Situated as it is within the seam of a rhetoric that accounts for itself and its inventions in the same gesture, Freud's text produces its objects in a mode of reception that has insured their functional if not phenomenal reality. To make it new at so late a moment in history is doubly deceptive and so doubly impressive, since Freud must swerve from his object so as to fashion it, and from his tradition so as to escape it. Freud's reflexive realism is not only a representative modern structure, but very likely its single wholly successful one.

1. Begun in late 1913 and finished in 1914, Freud waited four years to publish it, ac-
cumulating arguments in his revisions to refute Jung's biologizing notion of inherited tendencies to account for infantile sexuality. All citations and references from Freud are from The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey, London, The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1953-74.

2. See Jean Laplanche and J. B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Donald
Nicholson-Smith, New York, Norton, 1973, pp. 111-114; Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse, Paris,
Presses Universitaires de France, 1967, pp. 33-36.

3. If symptom-formation is dialectical in structure, then psychoanalysis must, by contrast, be
deconstructive. Symptoms are compromises between two opposing elements each dependent on the other for its respective meaning, while each element is at the same time apparently exclusive of the other. Neurosis is differance when it is required to compromise, to try to resolve itself in an Aufhebung, a transcendent third term, as though a full and closed interpretation or cure were ever really possible. This is the mad dream of neurosis, which the late Freud comes to identify with civilization itself, perhaps because civilization has always been identical, at least since Plato, with the logocentric enclosure. Therapy - a term Freud himself never uses - seeks to resolve conflict (hence it is itself a symptom-formation reconstituted at a higher level, in this case that of ideology). Analysis, on the other hand, is diacritical, the purveyor of tension, difference, anxiety. Analysis implicitly considers dialectics and therapy alike to be the very structure of neurosis, and its teleology the peculiar advantage to be had from being ill.

4. To be sure, however, the maintenance of orthodoxy is not, for Freud himself, straight-
forward anyway; it is strategic, since Freud wished heresy. As the history of psychoanalysis attests, no single reading of Freud has ever- can ever- succeed in maintaining itself as wholly just or authoritative. Freud's own determination during his lifetime to preserve a theoretical orthodoxy, no matter what the personal cost nor the apparent expense in the repression of influences both local and European, disguises his arguably real wish to produce rival discipleships, a far more cunning means of securing immortality than mere assent, since it allowed for, indeed required, the expression of schisms inherent in the Founder himself, and, in the process, disseminated his teachings at increasingly diffuse levels of debate.

Originally published in October 28, Spring, 1984.