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On Freud's ''Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning''

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This book is a collection of papers by leading contemporary psychoanalysts who comment on the continuing important relevance of Freud's (1911) paper, Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. The contributors gathered here represent current European, Latin American, and North American perspectives that elaborate the continuing value of Two Principles for present-day psychoanalytic thinking. Each author examines Freud's paper through a personal lens that is coloured by the psychoanalytic culture from which he or she comes. In each instance, the writers' chapters demonstrate the heuristic value of Two Principles for twenty-first century psychoanalytic theory and technique. A common thread that runs through all the chapters is the view that this brief paper by Freud, which he humbly introduced by stating, "The deficiencies of this short paper, which is preparatory rather than expository ...", is a masterpiece that contains within it the seeds of much of his later writing. The distinction he draws between the pleasure principle and the reality principle are profound and raise questions that still preoccupy analysis today. A central concern of many of this book's papers has to do with those factors that account for the emergence of the reality principle in early mental life. Freud only pays lip service to the role of the infant's object relations, especially to its mother, in the evolution of the capacity to know and tolerate reality, which represents a vital adaptation yet paradoxically also exposes the individual to the painful emotional realities that are part of the human condition.

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Part I - “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (1911b)

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Sigmund Freud

 

Part II - Discussion of “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning”

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PART  II

Discussion of “Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning”

 

1 - Filling in Freud and Klein's Maps of Psychotic States of Mind: Wilfred Bion's Reading of Freud's “Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning”

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Joseph Aguayo

During the last months of 1910, Freud found himself tacking back and forth between the writing of “Formulations regarding two principles in mental functioning” (hereafter “Two principles”) and his longer paper on the Schreber case (1911c). Since both papers appeared in the same volume of the Jahrbuch für psychanalyse und pathologische Forshungen, (1911, 3(1): 1–8) it is noteworthy that these efforts on Freud's part were, among others, attempts to persuade the journal's editor, Carl Jung, of the viability of a psychoanalytic understanding of psychotic disorders. In his letters to Jung during this time, Freud repeatedly mentioned the various drafts of “Two principles”, all of which received no response from his Swiss colleague (Freud & Jung, 1974, 19 June 1910, p. 332; 10 August 1910, p. 343;18 August 1910, p. 349, n. 6; 18 December 1910, p. 379; and 22 January 1911, p. 387).

Had Jung concerned himself with reading “Two principles’, he would have read a rather compact paper that represented Freud's re-thinking of earlier hypotheses, but with a more general audience of readers in mind. Freud's argument: the neurotic's “flight into illness” forces the patient out of his real life, and alienates him from reality. Reality is experienced as unbearable, so in neurotics, it leads to repression; in the severely disturbed, the tendency towards “hallucinatory psychosis”, an extreme turning away from reality that is often tied to a particular event that occasioned the outbreak of their insanity. The neurotic affects a less exaggerated version of what psychotics do with some fragment of reality (Freud, 1911b). Contrasting these developmental derailments with the psychic processes occurring at the outset of early mental life, the primary processes are governed by the pleasure–unpleasure principle (Lust–Unlust), which Freud now called the “pleasure principle”. These processes strive towards pleasure and retreat from unpleasure. The infant's instinctual wishes appear gratified in some hallucinatory way, just as they do in the nightly dreams of adults. Yet the disappointment that ensues leads to the abandonment of this attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination. The psychical apparatus then decides on a different method when it forms a different conception of the real, external circumstances—and makes a suitable adjustment. A new principle of mental functioning emerges, one now referred to as the reality principle.

 

2 - The World as it is vs. the World as I would Like it to Be: Contemporary Reflections on Freud's “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning”

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David Bell

Introduction

Freud's writing has a curious doubling back quality as he returns repeatedly to themes that had occupied him at the beginning.1 “Formulations of the two principles of mental functioning (hereinafter referred to as FTPMF) has exactly this quality and it is perhaps this feature that lends it a somewhat puzzling nature, for it seems at one and the same time to be saying something that is both new and old.

The editors inform us that this work amounts to a kind of stock-taking, namely that Freud is bringing findings from an earlier period into line with his current thinking and also laying the basis for the major theoretical works to come. Yet in a certain sense this is too static a view, for the paper is not best thought of as one of the building blocks of Freud's developing theory, it addresses concerns that are foundational to the whole psychoanalytic project. It would be hard indeed to think of a single paper written by Freud that does not to some extent depend upon the kinds of distinctions brought in this paper, and for many it is central. “On narcissism” (Freud, 1914c) shows how we only seem to abandon the illusions that serve to maintain our infantile narcissism, while secretly maintaining them (in our attitudes to leaders, to our children, and so on), the Future of an Illusion (Freud, 1927c) provides an apt illustration of the ways in which we keep alive a satisfying falsehood to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of life. And, of course, an important dimension of psychopathology lies in our capacity to sustain illusions and self-deceptions that defend us from realities we cannot tolerate, while the psychoanalytic method affords us the opportunity to witness these illusions at the moments of their construction, as living phenomena in the consulting room. Once Freud had formulated the death drive (Freud, 1920g), the models of psychic activity that serve the pleasure principle take on a darker colour, as pleasure in destruction of the self and others becomes a focus of attention.

 

3 - Second Thoughts on Freud's “Two Principles”

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Fred Busch

In this bold, audacious article, Freud, in a very few pages, presents his first attempt at a purely psychoanalytic understanding of how humans come to face reality and the development of two types of thinking.1 As noted by Strachey (1958), the main theme is the “distinction between the regulating principles (the pleasure principle and the reality principle) which respectively dominate the primary and secondary mental processes” (p. 216). In this chapter I will focus on the distinction between primary and secondary process thinking and the view, still held by many, that unconscious thinking is equated with primary process thinking and that conscious thinking is the same as secondary process thinking. I will elaborate on Jones’ (1957) summation of Freud's thinking at the time, and what happened after.

When Freud wrote his important metapsychological essays in the spring of 1915 he felt he had completed his life work, and that any further contributions he might make would be of a subordinate and merely complementary order. His followers would doubtless have taken a similar view at that time. Had his work come to an end then we should have possessed a well-rounded account of psychoanalysis in what might be called its classical form, and it would not have been easy to predict its future development at the hands of his successors. There was not the slightest reason to expect that in another few years Freud would have produced some revolutionary conceptions, which necessarily had the effect of extensively remodelling both the theory and the practice of psycho-analysis. (1957, p. 256)

 

4 - Dreaming the Analytical Session: Between Pleasure Principle and Reality Principle

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Roosevelt M. S. Cassorla

The analyst can feel lost and helpless when working with patients whose symbolisation capacity is deficient. The difficulty can be increased if the patient discharges raw elements into the analyst, attacking his capacity for dreaming and thinking. The analyst might be aware of what is happening but often his perception is numb. In these situations non-thought elements are not contained by the analyst who also discharges them. Occasionally he can give them back to the patient in raw state. Some impasse or interruption of the analysis might happen, sometimes traumatically. If the analyst recovers his mental functions he might later become aware of what happened.

In this chapter, based initially on Freud (1911b), I discuss post-Kleinian and Bionian developments regarding some technical aspects that allow us to deal with patients who have deficiency in their thinking capacity.

The development of the dreaming and thinking capacity

Freud (1911b) in “Two principles” states that “Neurotics turn away from reality because they find it unbearable—either the whole or parts of it” (p. 218).

 

5 - Where does the Reality Principle Begin? The Work of Margins in Freud's “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning”

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Giuseppe Civitarese

The paratext

The text of “Formulations” (hereinafter known as FTPMF) has a circular structure. At the end of the brief essay—in the very last line—requesting a good-natured disposition and an affectionate sympathy in the reader, Freud suggests that he or she pay attention to the performative aspect of the text, the plane in which enunciation and action coincide:

The deficiencies of this short paper, which is preparatory rather than expository, will perhaps be excused only in small part if I plead that they are unavoidable. In these few remarks on the psychical consequences of adaptation to the reality principle I have been obliged to adumbrate views which I should have preferred for the present to withhold and whose justification will certainly require no small effort. But I hope it will not escape the notice of the benevolent reader how [wo, i.e., “where”] in these pages too the dominance of the reality principle is beginning. (1911b, p. 226, my italics)

 

6 - Freud's “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning”: Its Roots and Development

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Antonino Ferro*

There are different ways in which to approach models of the mind—one that I would define as favouring continuities and the other, favouring discontinuities. The first tries to catch hold of their roots, the analogies among concepts developed during various periods of time; the second recognises some models that introduce new, unanticipated perspectives on a particular idea that could not have been predicted.

What is the relationship between the ego and the alpha function? This could be an interesting question for some, and for others a non-essential one.

In tackling this essay of Freud's, “Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning” (1911b), one cannot help but admire and be impressed by his genius in constructing such a clear and functional model of the mind. The route that leads from the pleasure principle to the reality principle is extraordinary and, for those who inhabit a Freudian model, an unavoidable one. I will now summarise briefly what I consider the main points of Freud's “Two principles” paper.

 

7 - Two Principles and the Possibility of Emotional Growth

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Howard B. Levine

“The man who is mentally healthy is able to gain strength and consolation and the material through which he can achieve mental development through his contact with reality, no matter whether that reality is painful or not.”

(Bion, 1992, p. 192)

In his introduction to Freud's “Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning”, Strachey remarks that,

The work gives the impression…of a stock-taking…as though Freud were bringing up for his own inspection, as it were, the fundamental hypotheses of an earlier period, and preparing them to serve as a basis for the major theoretical discussions which lay ahead in the immediate future—the paper on narcissism…and the great series of metapsychological papers. (Freud, 1911b, p. 216)

The central concern of “Two principles” is a summary and review of the distinction and relationship between what Freud then saw as the two great regulating principles of the mind, the pleasure principle (sometimes called by Freud the pleasure–unpleasure principle) and the reality principle.1 Having relied a great deal on the former in describing the formation and meaning of dreams and neurotic symptoms, Freud will increasingly turn his attention to implications of the latter in the continuing evolution of his theories.

 

8 - Time is Short

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Jacques Mauger

At the beginning of the twentieth century in Paris, the composer Maurice Ravel, in homage to Johann Strauss II, came up with the idea of writing a symphonic poem for a ballet, a sort of commemorative celebration of the Viennese waltz as practised in the nineteenth century. From its popular origins, the waltz had grown up in opposition not least to the court dances, which were very formal and danced in a line, such as the minuet at the time of Versailles. The waltz, on the other hand, would intertwine couples face to face—no trifling difference. At the end of the eighteenth century, the French Revolution had encouraged this practice, which had become widespread in the West. In Austria, the whirling form of the waltz paralleled socio-political gyrations from left to right: the decline of an aristocratic empire, the fleeting hopes of liberalism, and the rise of mass political parties. Popular music and classical music by turns took their part in this dance that sought to maintain the illusion of harmony in the tempo of the waltz. Johann Strauss junior was known as the “King of the Waltz” and Ravel wished, as early as 1906, to exalt him. Under the circumstances, the ambiguity of such an endeavour must have been one of the reasons why the project struggled to materialise.

 

9 - The Quest for the Real

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Juan Tubert-Oklander

Two principles of minding1

In his seminal paper called “Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning”, Freud (1911b) gave shape to some of the basic concepts of his theory of mind, which he had been ruminating on ever since his unpublished Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950a [1895]). Ernest Jones (1953, p. 349) tells us that when, on October 26, 1910, he gave a preliminary presentation of the theme before the Vienna Society, the audience found it too difficult to understand and was so unresponsive that even he felt displeased with the ideas he had presented. We can now see that the problem was that they were too abstract and condensed, so that they became practically unintelligible for a group of disciples who knew nothing about their early development in the Project, and could not yet grasp their relation with the equally abstract concepts he had put forward in Chapter Seven of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a).

 

10 - Mental Functioning and Free Thinking

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Susann Heenen-Wolff

People consult an analyst because they want to free themselves from their symptoms, from inhibitions, from particular representations and conceptions, from compulsions. They do not usually formulate their concerns in so many words. Initially, they are mostly unaware that their quest for “healing” can be thought of as a search for greater freedom, particularly in regards to the more or less obvious repetition compulsion.

As psychoanalysts, how can we think about the individual's freedom that would transcend the mere freedom from symptoms? With Freud, we know only too well the over-determination1 of unconscious and conscious human thought, of behaviour and of mental functioning altogether.

It strikes me as interesting to reflect on Freud's paper on “Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning” by asking how we can conceive freedom of man beyond—relative—relief from symptoms or new or rediscovered creativity.2 Does the psychoanalytical experience help us to acquire new spaces of freedom? If so, psychoanalysis would have an emancipatory impact that enables the subject to tolerate increased unpleasure that allows him to acknowledge reality, to be able to think more rationally, and to attain more reason.

 

11 - Concluding Thoughts

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Lawrence J. Brown and Gabriela Legorreta

In the concluding paragraph of “Two principles”, Freud (2011b) states

The deficiencies of this short paper, which is preparatory rather than expository, will perhaps be excused only in small part if I plead that they are unavoidable. (p. 226)

His humility seems unwarranted when we considered the richness of psychoanalytic ideas that owe their lineage, in part, to this brief “preparatory” paper. David Bell (Chapter Two, this volume) commented that the ideas developed in “Two principles” are present in most of Freud's other writings and we have seen the immense heuristic value of these concepts in the rich assortment of papers gathered together in this volume. The richness of the contributions in this volume is a testimony to the paramount importance of Freud's paper in the development of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Indeed, Civitarese maintains that Freud understood the importance of this brief article when he stated:

 

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