Category Archives: Psychoanalysis

Onanism

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913

In considering the question of abstinence, far too little distinction is made between two forms of it, namely, abstention from any kind of sexual activity at all, and abstention from heterosexual intercourse. Many who are proud of maintaining abstinence successfully have only been able to achieve it with the help of masturbation and other similar means of satisfaction, which are connected with the auto-erotic sexual activities of early childhood. But this very connection makes these substitutive measures of sexual satisfaction by no means harmless; they predispose to the numerous forms of neurosis and psychosis, which are conditional on a regression of the sexual life to its infantile form. Nor does masturbation at all correspond to the ideal demands of civilized sexual morality, and it therefore drives young people into the same conflicts with the ideals of education which they design to escape by abstinence. Further, the character is undermined in more ways than one by this indulgence; first, because it shows the way to attain important aims in an otiose manner, instead of by energetic effort, in line with the view that the attitude to sex is the prototype of the attitude to life; and secondly, because in the phantasies accompanying this gratification the sexual object is exalted to a degree which is seldom to be reproduced in reality. A witty writer, K. Kraus in the Vienna Fackel, has, as it were, expressed this truth paradoxically in the cynical saying: “Coitus is merely an unsatisfactory substitute for onanism!”

Freud, Sigmund. “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness” (1908)

Scientific Fiction

I happened to come across a short article by Henri Poincaré regarding the evolution of laws. You surely haven’t read it as it is out of print, something only bibliophiles can find. Émile Boutroux, who was a philosopher, raised the question whether it was unthinkable that laws themselves evolve. Poincaré, who was a mathematician, got all up in arms at the idea of such evolution, since what a scientist is seeking is precisely a law insofar as it does not evolve. It is exceedingly rare for a philosopher to be more intelligent than a mathematician, but here a philosopher just so happened to raise an important question. Why, in fact, wouldn’t laws evolve when we conceive of the world as having evolved? Poincaré inflexibly maintains that the defining characteristic of a law is that, when it is Sunday, we can know not only what will happen on Monday and Tuesday, but in addition what happened on Saturday and Friday. But it is not at all clear to me why the real would not allow for a law that changes.

Lacan, Jacques, and Bruce Fink. The Triumph of Religion: Preceded by Discourse to Catholics. English edition. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity, 2013, 81

Paranoia

The projection outwards of internal perceptions is a primitive mechanism, to which, for instance, our sense perceptions are subject, and which therefore normally plays a very large part in determining the form taken by our external world. Under conditions whose nature has not yet been sufficiently established, internal perceptions of emotional and intellective processes can be projected outwards in the same way as sense perceptions; they are thus employed for building up the external world, though they should by rights remain part of the internal world. This may have some genetic connection with the fact that the function of attention was originally directed not towards the internal world but towards the stimuli that stream in from the external world, and that that function’s only information upon endo-psychic processes was received from feelings of pleasure and unpleasure. It was not until a language of abstract thought had been developed, that is to say, not until the sensory residues of verbal representation had been linked to the internal processes, that the latter themselves gradually became capable of being perceived.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989, 81