Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dostoevsky and Freud

While reading Freud's "The Anatomy of the Mental Personality," I recollected the Underground Man's views of pain and pleasure. On page 556 of the Norton Anthology, the Underground man declares, “Don't you see: reason is a fine thing, gentlemen, there's no doubt about it, but it’s only reason, and it satisfies only man’s rational faculty, whereas desire is a manifestation of all life, that is, of all human life, which includes both reason, as well as all of life’s itches and scratches.” Freud discusses how "id" or "untamed passions" can take over the ego (reason). He constructs a metaphor comparing the battle for control between id and ego with the power struggle between a horse and its rider. Like Dostoevsky's Underground Man, Freud recognizes the power of passion and its constant struggle with logic. However, Freud seems to think the ego can be strengthened through psychoanalysis to overpower the id, unlike Dostoevsky's Underground Man who questions what our "best interest" even means. What do you all think?


Samantha said...

Julia, that is a great point, and I completely agree that Freud's philosophy of "id" and "ego" is quite similar to Dostoevsky's viewpoint on desire and reason. In addition, I noticed another similarity between the two philosophers. Despite their cynicism, both men find some semblance of importance in life. In “The Anatomy of the Mental Personality,” Freud declares, "It is the same with life: It is not worth much, but it is all we have." In “Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky makes a similar assertion about life through the Underground Man. When speaking to Liza, the Underground Man says, “Even in sorrow life can be good; it’s good to be alive, no matter how you live.” Although this statement happens to be slightly more optimistic, it is still reminiscent of Freud’s assertion.

Julia said...

I also just remembered another Freud reference in Notes from Underground. On page 582, the Underground man tells Liza, "A father always loves his daughters more than their mother does. Some girls have a very nice time living at home. I think that I wouldn't even have let my daughter get married." When Liza asks why he wouldn't let his daughter get married, the Underground man responds, "I'd be jealous, so help me God." I believe this passage exemplifies Freud's Electra Complex. The counterpart to the Oedipus Complex, the Electra Complex is Freud's belief that daughters naturally fall in love with their fathers.

C-Sted said...

The Underground Man's obsessive self-consideration strikes me as being a rudimentary form of psychoanalysis. Freud thought that every action of our mind, including those that we do not consider to be in our control (like forgetting or dreaming) actually have larger symbolic meaning. In the same way, the Underground Man ascribes meaning to the hurting of his liver, or the expressions on the faces of his classmates, or being pushed aside by an officer in a fight. He attempts to explain his mind and the minds of others (though these explanations do not necessarily require logic). We say that the Underground Man is over-thinking the significance of these occurrences... However, I suspect Freud would look at our struggling anti-hero very differently.