Beyond the Pleasure Principle, by Sigmund Freud

ashsara's review against another edition

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informative slow-paced


littlereadtomate's review against another edition

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challenging informative inspiring reflective medium-paced


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*Major plot spoilers in the summary below*

The death instinct (in short, the will to die in one's own way) is introduced in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).

Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) follows Instincts and Their Vicissitudes (1915) but precedes the Ego and the Id (1923).

Part I
The Pleasure Principle
•We strive for pleasure by keeping the quantity of unbound mental excitation as low or constant as possible.

•Unbound excitation is the imminent cumulative effect of all given stimuli at a given moment, internally or externally generated.

•Unpleasure corresponds to an increase in the quantity of unbound excitation whereas pleasure corresponds to a decrease in the quantity of unbound excitation, with respect to time.

Beyond this?
•If we operated only on the pleasure principle, the majority of mental experiences would be pleasurable. Freud's experience "completely contradicts" this. [Contestable]

•The Reality Principle: we gamble. Or in full, we sometimes refuse instant pleasure for sometimes prolonged unpleasure if we believe that it eventually will yield proportionally greater or longer lasting pleasure.

Part II
•On traumatic neurosis, first, they arise from surprise or fright, and second, are lessened by an accompanying physical injury. [In this way, physical injury might root some unbound psychic energy which would otherwise lead to increased unpleasure, which might reveal a Freudian explanation for self-harm]

•Sometimes toddlers in unpleasurable passive situations (such as having a mother that leaves) play games of a repeated unpleasurable-then-pleasurable situation to take on an active part on their feelings. [Games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek may be lessons in object permanence that extend to one's later capacity to taking an active role in grief. In this sense, masochism may preserve one's future sense of agency during unpleasure, at the expense of one's current sense of unpleasure, and therefore may seem impelling to individuals who believe they are in temporary but inexorably passive situations].

Part III
• The conscious part of the ego represses the unconscious.

•That people can experience the perpetual recurrence of an unpleasurable situation (such as being abused in multiple relationships) suggests the compulsion to repeat can override the pleasure principle; that this situation can be one where the individual is passive suggests this overriding can be subconscious.

Part IV
•Present and past are duality: 'Consciousness arises instead of a memory trace'.

•Dreams of trauma are not the wish fulfillment of the pleasure principle, but instead are establishing something "before the dominance of the pleasure principle can even begin". Traumatic dreams repeat the stimulus "to develop the anxiety whose omission was the cause of the neurosis". [The pleasure principle cannot operate in an incoherently passive situation].

•As in part II but integrated with libido theory, physical injury can reduce the chance of a neurosis developing by liberating some sexual excitation [the adrenaline due to the physical attack helps with the psychical attack], and by calling for narcissistic cathexis of the injury [focuses attention toward the body and away from the mind].

Part V
•Only children experience identical pleasurable situations (reread the story exactly the same), novelty is required eventually.

• An instinct is an urge to restore life to an earlier state of things. A drive must be for something previously experienced.

• The first instinct evolved in animate life was to return to the inanimate state—the aim of all life is death—the death instinct.

• There are two kinds of instinct: the death instincts lead the living to a suitable death, the life insincts lead the living to the renewal of life.

Part VI
•Weismann's theory on cell biology may support a biological basis for the death instinct.

•Germ cells are oriented towards organism reproduction, soma cells are oriented to organism survival. If a germ cell acheieves its potential it leads to immortality (through successive reproduction), if a soma cell achieves its potential it leads to programmed mortality (through natural cellular senescence).

•[Immortal unicellular organisms can die if not given continuous food or new media, due to excess metabolic byproducts of its own (metabolic byproducts of other species do not lead to death). The unconscious may continuously predict the time of death by measuring the rate of metabolic byproduct buildup over life...this might be a biological substrate of the death instinct.]

•Hence, the libido operates life instincts through germ cells whereas the conscious ego operates death instincts through soma cells.

•'Life for internal reasons leads an individual to abolish chemical tensions, as in towards death, whereas union with the substance of another individual increases those tensions, introducing fresh 'vital diferences' which must then be lived off.'

Part VII
• Unbound/secondary/unconscious feelings are more intense than bound/primary/conscious feelings. Before consciousness arrives in childhood, the struggle for pleasure was more intense but more hindered by being in passive situation.

Thoughts on psychiatry:
This was written in an era of free speculation, and is perhaps the most abstract and bold of those speculations. I'm starting to believe that the popular yet unsubstantiated vilification of Freud may relate to the clear decrease in, and apathy toward, original ideas or thinkers in the 21st century.

laurenmcdon's review against another edition

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While I found this reading very engaging and intriguing it is also very obviously outdated and it was for a class, therefore I don't want Goodreads recommending me similar books hehe

cfdenton's review against another edition

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This is a wild one

gocciadibuio's review against another edition

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Altro libro letto per l'università.

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miguel's review against another edition

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"We must be patient and await fresh methods and occasions of research. We must be ready, too, to abandon a path that we have followed for a time, if it seems to be leading to no good end."

In Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he advances a comprehensive argument in favor of the notion of a death instinct or death drive that works independently of the pleasure principle as a function of the human mind. Freud brings to bear his formidable reasoning skills and elastic prose in evidencing this view. The contours of Freud's argument cite children's play habits, sadism as a displaced death instinct, and the "compulsion to repeat" as examples of the death instinct which operates both in opposition to and in tandem with self-preservation born of sexual instinct or ego-instinct.

Freud's argument here is self-awarely speculative and hedges its bets quite carefully. Reading Beyond the Pleasure Principle from the tradition of critical theory or philosophy presents unique challenges as a result of the number of psychoanalytic jargon terms that feature into his text. Additionally, Freud is notoriously loose with using various terms interchangeably. To further complicate this, the "Standard" translation authorized by Freud leaves a little to be desired in terms of rendering the nuance of some of Freud's neologism. Still, Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a foundational text, a well-written argument, and an entertaining read.