Recherches en Psychanalyse
Research in Psychoanalysis
Journal of Psychoanalytic Studies.
Hosted by the Department of Psychoanalytic Studies, Paris Diderot at Sorbonne Paris Cité University.
The force of Freud’s 1929 idea of “discontent incivilization”
is surely due to its combination of straightforward assertions and complexhypotheses. The affect of
is anythingbut simple: it is an anxiety generated by aninsufficient satisfaction of the drive, mixed withguilt pertaining to an aggressiveness that is notexperienced as such, further combined with anextreme ambivalence that is frozen betwixt twoequal yet opposing forces, all of which is bound upwith an attempt to give in to desubjectivation andeffectively eject the subject.Here in this article we shall follow the 1929 textin its ascent towards increasingly paradoxicalaporias with a view to posing the followingquestion: Is the present-day (2011) discontentthe extension (albeit somewhat transformed) of the one Freud described eighty-two years ago,or does it constitute something utterly new anddifferent? In the present-day forms of discontent in civilization, a tyrannical Ideal egois tending to replace the structuring superegoand excitation is struggling to be organized intodrive due to the lack of any structuring of thesubject through by prohibitions and limits, andthe lack of a reliable and ascertainable object.In their clinical practice, psychoanalystsencounter various difficulties of Being and painsof existence from which their patients suffer asa result of failings in mutual recognition withtheir first interlocutors, i.e. failings in the veryinfrastructure of the social bond: It is notsurprising therefore that in setting down to thetask of theoretical and technical re-hauling thatis required by their clinic, psychoanalysts arefind themselves contending with the complex of discontent in culture.
In the individual’s mental life someoneelse is invariably involved, as a model, as anobject, as a helper, as an opponent; and sofrom the very first, individual psychology, inthis extended but entirely justifiable senseof the words, is at the same time socialpsychology as well.
This sentence presupposes a metapsychology of identification, of anaclisis, and of inter-psychicalconflict. Above all else it introduces the nowclassic motivations behind the individual’sregression into the group, the
whichdenotes a crowd but also a singular psychicalstate, one that is contradictory, of a strongidentification with an inductive form that leadsto an undoing of the previous identifications.This topography should not mask over theprevalence of economy (an economy of bothaffects and drives), which stands at the heart of discontent, in the radical form of “the ubiquityof non-erotic aggressivity and destructiveness”and “the disturbance of communal life by thehuman drive of aggression and self-destruction.”
How is one to free oneself from the oscillationbetween, on the one hand, the outwarddeflection of the death drive that brings thesocial link to the brink of barbarism, and, on theother, the censorship of this aggressivenesswhich generates neurosis and eventually leadsto destructiveness as well? The altogetherstraightforward idea of a repression of instinctual needs that leads the masses toloathe the demands of culture opens out into afar more complicated perspective: if we wish topreserve civilization, this censorship cannot beentirely lifted. It is the result of an impossibleequilibrium:
barbarism constantly infiltratescivilization from within,
social morality windingup by living in cynical cohabitation with adestructiveness that no longer even tries toconceal itself (see the striking present-daymixture of a preoccupation with respect for theother and the rise in violence in human andsocial relations). The
discontent incivilization brings the coexisting oppositesdiscovered by Freud to boiling point, to theextent that everyone is feeling the urgent needto rethink a viable ethics. Indeed, Freud’s“paradoxical thesis” that “moral conscience isthe consequence of instinctual renouncement,”finds its grounding in the theory of mimeticviolence: “the original severity of the superegodoes not – or does not so much – represent theseverity which one has experienced from it [theobject], or which one attributes to it, it
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