GU4200: Freud | M. Coelen

Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
Undergraduate and Graduate Seminar
Th 4:10-6:40PM

Clinic, Culture, Cruelty: With these three terms one could indicate both the wide range of Freud’s work and the specific force it kept addressing without shying away from the theoretical and practical consequences that came with it.

In Civilization and its Discontent Freud develops—in part openly, in part secretly—a peculiar, paradoxical and abyssal logic in order to formalize how culture (or civilization) is in a mortal battle with itself. Even more so, culture is this battle; and civilization is the result of a violence the sole aim and source of which is the destruction of civilization. The determining factors of this logic form the proper object of psychoanalysis which had developed out of clinical concerns; and what occurs here as “violence,” or “destruction,” as it does in several texts whose themes are cultural, historical, or sociological, is given multiple other names in all of Freud’s work or is linked to such names: the unconscious, the drive, libido, Eros, Thanatos, sexuality, narcissism, masochism, even hysteria, obsession and psychosis. All these terms mark instances of the same logic in which what we call the “sexual” and “language” are entangled with a “cruelty” that is neither the opposite of pleasure nor can be derived from any supposedly natural ground.

In this seminar, we will trace this logic as well as its material in its reiterations, displacements, and reinventions from Freud’s clinical writings, through his constructions and theories of the “psyche,” to his analyses and speculations in civilization and history. Freud’s text will be read closely, with the attention to details that he himself performed as a virtue and a method. No previous acquaintance with Freud or psychoanalysis is required—only a mind as open as possible to the surprises over what they have to offer today.

Link to Vergil
Note: only courses offered during the two previous semesters have active Vergil links.