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Life Against Death

The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History

Norman O. Brown

Publication Year: 2012

A shocking and extreme interpretation of the father of psychoanalysis.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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Introduction to the Second Edition

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pp. vii-xiv

If you want to read Norman O. Brown at his best, read his chapter on Swift, "The Excremental Vision." Forget what you know or have heard about Brown the prophet; here is Brown the scholar and critic: tough, learned, witty, and inventive. Note his contempt for the academic Bowdlerism that wants to bury Swift's scatological works and to "housebreak this tiger...

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pp. xv-xvi

The author acknowledges with gratitude the help he has had from many quarters in the completion of this volume. First of all are numerous friends, colleagues and students alike, who have assisted through discussion, argument, and sometimes challenge; to most of these I have proffered my personal thanks. The Fund for the Advancement of Education...

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pp. xvii-xx

In 1953 I turned to a deep study of Freud, feeling the need to reappraise the nature and destiny of man. Inheriting from the Protestant tradition a conscience which insisted that intellectual work should be directed toward the relief of man's estate, I, like so many of my generation, lived through the superannuation of the political categories which informed...

Part One: The Problem

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I. The Disease Called Man

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pp. 3-10

There is one word which, if we only understand it, is the key to Freud's thought. That word is "repression." The whole edifice of psychoanalysis, Freud said, is based upon the theory of repression.1 Freud's entire life was devoted to the study of the phenomenon he called repression. The Freudian revolution is that radical revision of traditional...

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II. Neurosis and History

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pp. 11-20

The doctrine that all men are mad appears to conflict with a historical perspective on the nature and destiny of man: it appears to swallow all cultural variety, all historical change, into a darkness in which all cats are gray. But this objection neglects the richness and complexity of the Freudian theory of neurosis...

Part Two: Eros

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III. Sexuality and Childhood

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pp. 23-39

As we saw in the first chapter, it is in our unconscious repressed desires that we shall find the essence of our being, the clue to our neurosis (as long as reality is repressive), and the clue to what we might become if reality ceased to repress. The results of Freud's exploration of the unconscious can be summarized in two formulae: Our repressed...

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IV. The Self and the Other: Narcissus

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pp. 40-54

The human family is distinguished from the animal family by a prolongation of the period in which the infant is protected from the harsh realities of life by parental care. In this sheltered situation, the erotic potentialities of human nature blossom, but blossom in an unearthly atmosphere divorced from the realities of human life. Hence this early blossoming of the erotic life must succumb to repression....

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V. Art and Eros

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pp. 55-67

Psychoanalysis has not developed an adequate theory of art. That psychoanalysis has made fundamental contributions to the study of art is a proposition denied only by the willfully ignorant. Psychoanalysis has introduced revolutionary new ideas as to the nature of the thematic content of art. The thematic content of art is always in some sense man; the psychoanalytical...

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VI. Language and Eros

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pp. 68-74

If psychoanalysis represents any advance in the general theory of human nature, it must be able to advance the theory of language; and conversely, symptoms are so close to symbols that psychoanalysis cannot state its theory of neurosis without having a general theory of what Cassirer called the animal symbolicum. Language, like art, is one of those problems...

Part Three: Death

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VII. Instinctual Dualism and Instinctual Dialectics

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pp. 77-86

The theory of the instincts is psychoanalysis in its most opaque and most unsympathetic form. We are suspicious of the very word "instinct": it suggests an unalterable biological datum, and therefore seems to deny man the power to alter himself, and simultaneously to deny the environment the power to alter him, leaving him with a fixed nature...

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VIII. Death, Time, and Eternity

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pp. 87-109

The psychoanalytical theory of neurosis requires us to postulate a real instinctual ambivalence in man. The possibility of therapy depends on recognizing that instinctual ambivalence is a human prerogative, absent at the animal level and correlative with repression at the human level, and therefore in principle surpassable, if repression can be surpassed...

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IX. Death and Childhood

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pp. 110-134

According to psychoanalytical theory, childhood bequeaths to mankind not only the project of transcending the human neurosis, but also the neurosis itself; not only the erotic possibilities of human nature, but also the self-defeating mechanisms which keep those erotic possibilities unfulfilled. Wisdom directs us to childhood-not only to the immortal wishes of childhood for the substance of things hoped for, but...

Part Four: Sublimation

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X. The Ambiguities of Sublimation

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pp. 137-144

If psychoanalysis is right, we must radically change our attitude toward human culture. The concept of sublimation includes the most outrageous paradoxes, all of them asserting a connection between higher cultural activities and lower bodily regions, between adult "rational" procedures and infantile irrational prototypes, between "pure" mental constructs...

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XI. Couch and Culture

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pp. 145-156

The psychoanalytical theory of therapy has to be a theory of culture, not only because it has to find outlets in culture for the libido, but also because the becoming conscious of the unconscious, in which therapy consists, is itself a libidinal phenomenon, and therefore also a cultural phenomenon. As long as psychoanalysis retains the traditional...

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XII. Apollo and Dionysus

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pp. 157-176

A sound instinct made Freud keep the term "sublimation," with its age-old religious and poetical connotations. Sublimation is the use made of bodily energy by a soul which sets itself apart from the body; it is a "lifting up of the soul or its Faculties above Matter" (Swift's definition of religious enthusiasm).l "Writing poetry," says Spender, "is...

Part Five: Studies in Anality

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XIII. The Excremental Vision

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pp. 179-201

Any reader of Jonathan Swift knows that in his analysis of human nature there is an emphasis on, and attitude toward, the anal function that is unique in Western literature. In mere quantity of scatological imagery he may be equaled by Rabelais and Aristophanes; but whereas for Rabelais and Aristophanes the anal function is a part of the total human...

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XIV. The Protestant Era

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pp. 202-233

Luther describes the circumstances under which he received the illumination which became the fundamental axiom of the Protestant Reformation-the doctrine of justification by faith-in the following words: 1
These words "just" and "justice of God" were a thunderbolt in my conscience. They soon struck terror in me who heard...

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XV. Filthy Lucre

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pp. 234-304

One of the great stumbling blocks in the way of a psychoanalytical approach to money is the close connection between money and rationality. We may concede to psychoanalysis legitimate concern with the irrational; but what is more rational than Homo economicus? Of course we know that man is never Homo economicus, and therefore we...

Part Six: The Way Out

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XVI. The Resurrection of the Body

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pp. 307-322

The path of sublimation, which mankind has religiously followed at least since the foundation of the first cities, is no way out of the human neurosis, but, on the contrary, leads to its aggravation. Psychoanalytical theory and the bitter facts of contemporary history suggest that mankind is...

Reference Notes

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pp. 323-350


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pp. 351-360


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pp. 361-366

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780819570536
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819551481

Page Count: 387
Publication Year: 2012