Civilization and its Discontents, published in 1930, follows a preceding paper entitled The Future of an Illusion that was itself written and published a few years earlier. Although I will offer here comments on the former only – Civilization and its Discontents – I nonetheless of course strongly invite people not to pass The Future of an Illusion, if only for the sheer power of argumentation in it with regard to religion.
The book was originally titled ‘Unhappiness and Civilization’ after Freud himself suggested to his translator the title ‘Man’s Discomfort in Civilization. This work is a clear reference to his earlier writings in which he exposes the irremediable antagonisms between the demands of the drives (and not instincts) and the restrictions brought to bear by civilization. Incest is de facto antisocial and civilization is nothing if it doesn’t consist of a progressive renunciation of it, as Freud argues in 1897. For him, it is civilization, and more precisely education, that is the main culprit for the spread of neurosis. It is easy to think after reading the book that the solution to neurosis is to let our instincts ‘go free’, as portrayed somewhere in the film A Dangerous Method. With Lacan, we will understand that what is important in tackling neurosis is of course not to go ‘wild’ but to principally use language as a means to symbolize the drive.
It is in this essay that Freud further explores his ideas on the nature of the sense of guilt. On p. 134 he declares his ‘intention to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization’. In turn, this paper will become the basis on which to build his reflections on the destructive instinct (Cf. my The Big Other, the Symbolic and Death). With Lacan again we will later see that, if indeed the origin of guilt in the restrictions imposed by civilization encapsulated in the Oedipus complex cannot be disputed, guilt is also seen as an injunction from the super-ego which commands the ego ‘to enjoy!’
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