Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death

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In Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death, Liran Razinsky proposes that death appears to be an aporia in the Freudian system due, in large part, to the fact that Freud could not reconcile the issue of death 's representability in the unconscious , or more precisely, the impossibility thereof.

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At the outset, Razinsky's aim appears to be to offer an intellectual biography of Freud as seen through the prism of death. Indeed, he provides a compelling and detailed evaluation of Freud's relation to his own finitude as source of conflicting affects , contrasting Freud's personal obsession with his own mortality as evidenced, for instance, in his correspondence with Fleiss and Ferenczi, with his denial of any correlative to death in the unconscious and his subordination of the fear or anxiety provoked by death to the fear of castration , loss, separation or guilt.

Drawing out this disparity, Razinsky's insinuation is that Freud, unable to reconcile his deep ambivalence to death or broach the issue directly, attempted to overcome or master this inevitable threat theoretically through diversions punctuated by outright dismissal. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here. This text is printed for personal use.

He acknowledges to Linda that people ridicule his appearance and personality.


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Perhaps this is why he has an affair. Willy would have been crushed to know that no one except his family and Charley attended his funeral, indicating that he was not in fact well-liked or memorable at all. Perhaps this is why the id is so prominent in Willy and his sons — because Willy never learns how to control his id and because his role model is his brother who also embodies the id , he is unable to show his own sons how it should be done. Biff gives in to his impulses, and no matter how immoral, he seems to get away with it.

Sometimes his father even praises him for his misdeeds. At one point he faces a short imprisonment for stealing a suit — perhaps his first legal punishment for his criminality.

Sigmund Freud - Wikipedia

Willy pays attention to and praises only him, convincing Biff that he is the greatest thing on earth. Perhaps because of this, Biff is unable to take responsibility for his actions. Even before that, Willy expects Bernard to give Biff the answers to his tests instead of holding Biff accountable and making him study. For Biff, one area where this manifests is in his impulsivity. As previously mentioned, Biff randomly steals, perhaps to distract himself from distress or anxiety. For example, he stole a football immediately before an important game, and he stole a pen from someone he knew was not going to offer him a job.

Another way in which Biff satisfies his physical desires is through his objectification of women. All the mothers are afraid of him! When he is a child, he idolizes both his father and his brother for their success, and he hopes to emulate Biff like Willy did with Ben.

Listen to Liran Razinsky, “Freud, Psychoanalysis, and Death” (Cambridge UP, 2013) now.

He learns from Biff and follows in his footsteps, eventually taking over the path intended for Biff toward a successful career as a businessman. Just as he wants to earn the respect of his big brother, Happy wants the attention of his father, who has always been focused on the success and then sudden failure of his other son. Even after Happy grows up and enters the business world, Willy is still preoccupied with Biff — this time with his failure, not his potential — and is too absorbed to recognize the successes of his other son.

In at least two parts of the play when he is talking about her to Biff, Happy seems overly enamored with his mother. Happy is also driven by the pleasure principle of the id. Although he thinks being a businessman will make him happy, he is not satisfied. He despises this part of himself, but he cannot seem to abandon it. Maybe his behavior is a combination of still trying to emulate young Biff and the realization of his own inability to be romantically involved with his mother.

Freud's Theories of Life and Death Instincts

Happy claims he wants to settle down, but he continues to sleep around, even with engaged and married women. Just as Willy lies about his own success, Happy claims to be closer to the top of the ladder than he actually is. Perhaps he hopes further success as a businessman will finally gain the attention of his father, whom Happy has always been fighting Biff to impress.

The character most representative of these traits in Death of a Salesman is Bernard, the neighbor boy. Bernard, as the superego, tries to direct Willy, Biff, and Happy in the right direction, but the id in each of them has gone unchecked for too long and is now too powerful to be controlled.

Willy believes that with how well-liked his son is that his instructors will ignore his educational shortcomings and pass him anyway. When Willy asks how Bernard succeeded and Biff did not, Bernard says it is because Biff simply gave up on learning and the path he had intended to follow. Like the conscience, he points out when someone is breaking the rules. The ego ideal sets goals and the moral and ethical values of the superego. Bernard is ashamed when he cannot help Biff buckle down, but when he continues to work hard and meets his own standards, his self-esteem increases to allow him to succeed in the world of law.

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Charley, neighbor to the Lowmans and the father of Bernard, is the character most representative of the ego. This means the ego is closely associated with the idea of reality and reason. Charley is the voice of reason for Willy and tries to convince him that he cannot continue to live the way he has been — stressed, tired, and poor.

Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory on Instincts: Motivation, Personality and Development