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A Dark Trace

Sigmund Freud on the Sence of Guilt

Herman Westerink

Publication Year: 2009

Sigmund Freud, in his search for the origins of the sense of guilt in individual life and culture, regularly speaks of “reading a dark trace”, thus referring to the Oedipus myth as a myth on the problem of human guilt. The sense of guilt is indeed a trace that leads deep into the individual’s mental life, into his childhood life, and into the prehistory of culture and religion. In this book this trace is followed and thus Freud’s thought on the sense of guilt as a central issue in his work is analyzed, from the earliest studies on the moral and “guilty” characters of the hysterics, via the later complex differentiations in the concept of the sense of guilt, unto the analyses of civilization’s discontents and Jewish sense of guilt. The sense of guilt is a key issue in Freudian psychoanalysis, not only in relation to other key concepts in psychoanalytic theory, but also in relation to debates with others, such as Carl Gustav Jung or Melanie Klein, Freud was engaged in.

Published by: Leuven University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

“Psychoanalysis has never claimed to provide a complete theory of human mentality in general.”1 Freud wrote these words in 1914, shortly after his break with Jung. It is indeed true that he never concerned himself with developing an all-embracing system, but rather moved from the analysis of patients to areas of special attention: ...

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Chapter 1. Carmen and Other Representations

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pp. 1-36

The first time sense of guilt is explicitly mentioned in Freud’s work is during a short discussion of a case in The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence.1 He discusses the case of a girl who suffered from obsessional self-reproaches. Whenever she read in the newspapers about forgery she thought she had made the counterfeit money; ...

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Chapter 2. Dark Traces

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pp. 37-56

In November 1896 Freud’s father had died. It affected him deeply, and he wrote to Fliess of an uprooted feeling.1 The death of his father led to a certain degree of self-analysis. Only a few weeks after abandoning his belief in neurotics in September 1897, he announced that he had begun a self-analysis.2 ...

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Chapter 3. Repressed Desires

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pp. 57-86

In this chapter we return to Viennese bourgeois society and our analysis of neuroses, specifically obsessional neuroses. This chapter covers roughly the first decade of the twentieth century, a period during which attention shifted from hysteria to obsessional neuroses as it is in these neuroses that sense of guilt and oppressive morality are prominently found. ...

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Chapter 4. Applied Psychoanalysis

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pp. 87-138

“A knowledge of infantile sexual theories in the shapes they assume in the thoughts of children can be of interest in various ways – even, surprisingly enough, for the elucidation of myths and fairy tales”.1 This knowledge is indispensable for understanding neuroses. ...

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Chapter 5. In the Depths

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pp. 139-174

The break between Freud and Jung was definitive. It was not the first rift with a follower – Freud had broken earlier with Alfred Adler – and it would not be the last. Freud’s description of the origins of international psychoanalysis, published in On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914), ...

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Chapter 6. Analyses of the Ego

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pp. 175-206

In the previous chapter we saw how Freud attempted to grasp the concept of the ego and the forces which affect and form it. That effort resulted in studies which he called “analysis of the ego”.1 These sought to chart narcissism, the conscience, the drives, love and hate, sadism and masochism, Eros and Thanatos. ...

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Chapter 7. Anxiety and Helplessness

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pp. 207-228

In 1923 Freud made the sense of guilt central in The Ego and the Id. We have seen how for him the sense of guilt was closely related to the outcome of an individually determined Oedipus complex and the formation of a superego via identification with one or both parents. ...

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Chapter 8. Synthesis and a New Debate

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pp. 229-274

Identification with one’s parents, the first object choices, the Oedipus complex and the sense of guilt in all its variants were central to Freud’s theories on individual development in The Ego and the Id. Before that, in Totem and Taboo, he had already described the sense of guilt as the core experience in culture. ...

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Chapter 9. Great Men

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pp. 275-296

When Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents he was already well past seventy. The last major debate (with Klein, inter alia) resulted in fact in a repetition of standpoints he had taken earlier. The interest in pre-Oedipal developments (in girls) did not result in new clinical research. ...

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Concluding Considerations

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pp. 297-302

The sense of guilt in Freud’s oeuvre is a concept that describes the tension between bodily instinctual drives and morality. The existence of this tension is his oldest psychoanalytical observation. The analyses of this tension became his life’s work. ...


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pp. 303-314


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pp. 315-320

E-ISBN-13: 9789461660367
Print-ISBN-13: 9789058677549

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2009