Johnny's Reviews > Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings

Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings by Sigmund Freud
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's review
Aug 25, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: psychology
Read in August, 2009

When you've read so much of an author, you sometimes experience a weird auto-hypnosis that makes you believe you've read the bulk of the author's corpus. So it is with yours truly and Sigmund Freud. Some years back, I hacked through his papers on hysteria and Interpretation of Dreams, thinking that I had mastered the "essential Freud." I was (and am) more taken with Jung, but one must occasionally return to the font.

Much of the Freud I had read previously seemed to confirm the opinion of those who believe him to have been sexually obsessed to the point of becoming myopic, redundant, and irrelevant. Until I read Beyond the Pleasure Principle, I was prone to think so. In this book, however, I found a jewel of wisdom that shall forever transform my view of Freud. He may have been sexually obsessed and he may even have, erroneously in my opinion, taken a different tack than William James on a similar issue, but this particular principle I am going to recount seems to me both valid and important.

Freud perceived that, given any organic process, the initiation of action is the result of unsettled tension. He posited that the organism would strive, one way or another, to resolve that tension according to two complementary ideals: avoidance of pain and production of pleasure. That position has come to be known as the Pleasure Principle.

The important concept in the present work under description (though I confess that I read this in my Great Books volume of Freud rather than one of the separate editions available elsewhere) is that observation that what may be pain for one system may be pleasure for another. So, how does one reconcile the so-called Pleasure Principle to that fact?

Freud draws from the research of J. Breuer and observes that, even on the embryonic level, there is a tension between the protective systems that preserve the integrity of the organism from excessive external stimuli which would change and destroy it and the receptive system that accepts a certain portion of this external stimuli and is excited positively by it (p. 647 in my volume). In the human thought process, the former protects the consciousness from overload and provides assurance of continuing "personality." The latter provides pleasure and pain.

Thereby, Freud is able to define instinct in the following way: "According to this, an instinct would be a tendency innate in living organic matter, impelling it towards the reinstatement of an earlier condition, ..." (p. 651). One's instinct, then, would be to resist change and to conserve existence. Ironically, Freud goes on to suggest that this very urge of preservation becomes a "death instinct" and that the only counter, open to the stimulation that causes further development, is the "sex instinct."

While I was amused at this oversimplification, I was also struck at the wisdom which showed both our basic organisms and our thought process itself in constant tension between conservation and development. If over-stimulation is a threat, so is under-stimulation. To me, this explained that great publishing philosophy espoused by my old mentor, Jonathan Lane (great Ziff-Davis publisher). Lane said that "Magazines must be a mixture of comfort and surprise." Now, I realize that all of life needs to follow this delicate recipe, and I have at least one pyschological concept with which to demonstrate that recipe.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Can't wait to see your take on "Future of an Illusion"

- Andrew

Johnny Andrew wrote: "Can't wait to see your take on "Future of an Illusion"

- Andrew"

That would be a re-read, but I just might do that. But you didn't offer any reaction to my take on this one. Think I'm off-base?

message 3: by Andrew (new)

Andrew I've only read excerpts from Pleasure Principle. I enjoy Freud for numerous reasons - he always makes you think, he brought light to an entire line of reasoning that people had not had much public discussion before, and much of his theory is very applicable to this very day. Still, like you I also find Jung more applicable to my life.

As for your review, there is much with which to agree. I think Reich builds substantially on this in his writing, where he talks about the self-protective armor that people and societies wear. When we try to make significant changes that threaten the armor, it lashes back, whether those changes are for the organisms better or not. Trouble is, Reich does not necessarily believe there is a counter, be it the sex instinct or not.

And does Lane know he is being quoted in a review about Freud?

Johnny Andrew wrote: "I've only read excerpts from Pleasure Principle. I enjoy Freud for numerous reasons - he always makes you think, he brought light to an entire line of reasoning that people had not had much public ..."

Yep, that's why I read Freud. It ties me to some fundamentals of the human psyche in a less mystical way than my resonating with Jung and challenges some of my more mystical assumptions.

I don't think Lane knows that I quote him at least once per quarter in every class, as well. He would probably think it pretentious to be quoted in a review of Freud, but he occasionally suggested I was being pretentious, anyway. (smile)

message 5: by September (new)

September Abraxas Freud's friends and followers discarded the concept of the "Death Drive" (not instinct),

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