Eros and Civilization: Philosophical Inquiry into Freud Paperback – 1 Dec 1992
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
A philosophical critique of psychoanalysis that takes psychoanalysis seriously but not as unchallengeable dogma. . . . The most significant general treatment of psychoanalytic theory since Freud himself ceased publication. --Clyde Kluckhohn, The New York Times
Contends that Freud's theory of civilization is substantially sociological, and examines the philosophical and sociological implications of key Freudian concepts, applying them in an interpretation of fundamental aspects and processes of civilization. Bibliogs.See all Product description
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
But why must the drives be subjugated if society is to exist? The answer is given in Freud's postulation of two primary drives which are said to govern the lives of all living organisms, us included. The first of these is named Eros, whose function is to bring together living matter into ever larger unities; the second is called the death drive, whose function is to bring organic matter back to an inorganic state. The problem as Freud sees it is that the death drive consists of primary (and so natural) aggression directed towards the outside world and the organism itself. This primary aggression would make societal living impossible and it must therefore be placated: step in Eros. Eros binds together would-be antagonists by using libidinal energy to create affectionate ties, and in so doing it takes the sharp edge off aggression but at the price of diluting its own resources. In modern culture, which has reached an unprecedented size, Eros has its work cut out; it is in danger of exhausting itself entirely in the myriad relationships it sponsors against aggression, with libidinal energy being sucked away from primary libidinal aims to a potentially catastrophic degree. The danger is that the energy of Eros may become so widespread in meagre dosages that it ultimately becomes ineffectual in binding aggression.
In Eros & Civilization Marcuse sets himself the task of resolving this problem. Unlike Freud, he does not believe that there need exist a permanent contradiction between primary instinctual satisfaction (the pleasure principle) and repressed secondary satisfactions (the reality principle). According to Marcuse, Freud failed to see the historical nature of the drives, that their intent is subject to the changing societal frameworks instantiated in the historical series. It just so happens that the reality principle on which all societies yet witnessed in history have been constructed has been one of domination. This has led to the subjugation of primary instinctual aims in the interest of sustaining domination. If we do away with domination, we do away with the necessity of instinctual repression. It is because human societies have always been built upon a repressive reality principle that it is all too easy to assume that such a state of affairs is natural, that a reconciliation between pleasure and reality principle is practically impossible. Marcuse contests this claim. Not only is such a state of affairs realisable, it is also desirable and our only hope of living in a world of free, fulfilled individuals.
But what about Freud's postulation of primary aggressiveness, which after all was the main reason he saw in there being a permanent contradiction between instinctual fulfilment and cultural development? Using Freud as his guide, Marcuse argues that the death drive seeks freedom from want, and that this desire is capable of various forms of expression. In a society built upon renouncing basic desires, want is rife; but there is no need for renunciation of basic drives unless our aim is to sustain domination. If society were built upon gratifying our basic drives, Eros would be strengthened to an as yet unprecedented degree and would be able to absorb the otherwise socially explosive energy emanating from the death drive. Marcuse does not believe in any necessity to primary aggression: he sees it as a reaction to unnecessarily frustrated desires, as a direct consequence of a historical reality principle (the performance principle) injurious to human needs.
The book is a fascinating read, but certainly difficult and dense in places. I think there are some inherent problems in Marcuse's analysis. First of all, just what length of time the so-called performance principle is supposed to span is highly ambiguous: sometimes it appears that he wants to say that the performance principle is characteristic of modern capitalism; yet it also seems to describe any reality principle which involves suppression of instinctual needs for the sake of continued domination, i.e. all of them. So his critique is not necessarily as damaging towards modern capitalist society in particular as he may have intended. Nor does Marcuse decide if domination is a result of Ananke or if domination is separate from Ananke: when he describes the primitive tribes of prehistory, he conjectures that there was a twofold cause of the guilt succeeding the rebellion: on the one hand, it is caused by their killing the lifeblood of the tribe and so endangering their further existence; but it is also caused by the brothers' own betrayal of their quest for liberation from domination, and freedom. So Marcuse is suggesting that liberation was already possible at the beginning of culture, even though Ananke would certainly have still been a real issue. In other words, Ananke does not seem to be a sufficient cause either for the existence of domination or its continuation. So why does it continue? Freud's postulation of primary aggressiveness does provide a sufficient cause for explaining the existence and continuance of domination. I am not sure that Marcuse does.
His interpretation of some elements of Freud's theory is selective, at times a veritable pick n' mix of aspects which suit his ends but do not allow of the painless integration he wants to give them. For instance, Marcuse accepts the idea that global cultural events taking place at a particular point in history become integrated in the human psyche to the extent that they are relived in the life history of all future generations who themselves do not directly experience them. For instance, the Oedipal drama, which was originally a life-and-death struggle among adult males for possession of the female members of the tribe, is re-experienced in miniature by all little boys and girls living today. The Oedipus complex is not seen as a problem for Marcuse's society: satisfaction of primary instinctual drives will not lead to a regressive clinging on to mother or father because the Oedipus complex has become a natural event which is overcome biologically. And yet the Oedipus complex belongs to an historical event period just as the drives' composition does, according to Marcuse. Why is it that the Oedipus complex is a natural event and as such unproblematic whereas the composition of the drives as all cultures have experienced them is not? It seems arbitrary to me to say that the Oedipus complex is a natural event but the composition of the drives not so. Marcuse's theory needs the drives to be pliable, needs them to be capable of a kind of malleability which has never before been their privilege. If we accept Freud's idea that momentous historical events can become permanent and so unchangeable features of our makeup, the drives may resist any attempt to re-mould them.
All of this aside, this book is a stunning work and still goes some way in convincing me of its plausibility.