- The Fractured Self in Freud and German Philosophy by Matthew C. Altman and Cynthia D. Coe
The unifying rationale of this book is difficult to discern. Different objectives are stated in different places. The two “overarching goals” stated in the introduction are to establish Freud as a culminating figure in nineteenth-century German philosophy, and to propose a theory of subjectivity that works out the implications of the idea of the fractured self for freedom, personal identity, and knowledge. At the end of chapter 1, the authors say that the central concern of the book is to trace the transformations of Kant’s insights into the centrality of interpretation and the opacity of human motivation in nineteenth-century German philosophy, and to show how Freud’s conception of the subject reflects this philosophical legacy. And at the beginning of chapter 9, they report that they have, in the course of the book, been developing an account of qualified freedom.
Each of chapters 1–8 offers points of comparison between the account of subjectivity of a prominent nineteenth-century German philosopher and that of Freud, supplemented, in a number of places, by psychoanalytic diagnosis of the philosopher concerned. Chapter 1, which is supposed to set the scene, argues that Kant’s distinction between phenomena and things in themselves, in challenging the self-transparency of consciousness, opened the way for characteristically modern views of the self as actively, though surreptitiously, making experience possible, and called for attempts to overcome Kant’s dualisms, as reflected in the tenets of Freud’s psychology. With respect to Fichte (chapter 2), Freud is taken to demonstrate that motivated interpretation and causal mechanism mutually affect one another, taking us beyond the fragmentation to which Fichte believed Kant’s dualisms condemn us. With respect to Schelling (chapter 3), Freud is taken to demonstrate that although we cannot fully comprehend what underlies consciousness, psychoanalytic modes of interpretation render it intelligible.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism (chapter 4)—centered on limitations on rational self-determination and the ensuing endless but futile striving of the will to take control—is countered by Freud’s demonstration, in his account of the ego’s emergence from the id, that drives are susceptible to intellectual influence, and that a “situated freedom” is thus possible. Freud’s transference—read in the light of Schleiermacher’s translation-based hermeneutics (chapter 5) as “failed translation,” the result of the unconscious attempt to project an unchanging set of meanings on the world—is effectively counteracted by psychoanalytic technique, restoring the possibility of self-transformation.
Marx and Freud are aligned in providing complementary views of subjectivity (chapter 6). While challenging traditional notions of the sovereign subject and rational self-determination (focusing on different sources of determination), they both allow for qualified freedom. In diametric opposition to Hegel’s rationalist demand that the irrational [End Page 342] be extruded from our historical narrative (chapter 7), Freud insists that repressed pieces of the past will inevitably return in distorted form as symptoms (as exemplified in Hegel’s own ambivalence about slavery). By contrast, Nietzsche’s model of the influence of history on subjectivity (chapter 8) displays striking affinities to Freud’s. In fact, his clinical account of repetition and working through illuminates the potential of genealogy as a therapeutic method closely paralleling Freud’s own. Both consequently allow for a mechanism of self-constitution, the ego’s emerging from the id, which overcomes the dualism between determination and freedom.
Chapter 9 is presented as addressing the nineteenth-century predicament following Kant’s declaration of the epistemic inaccessibility, but practical necessity, of God. This new theme, identified by simply applying psychoanalytic concepts, mourning and melancholia in particular, maps a different trajectory from Kant to the present: from transcendental idealism’s melancholic denial of the loss of God as guarantor of a rational order (incorporating into the self a lost external object), to Nietzsche’s recuperative mourning without any ultimate redemption.
Since the strategy of the book relies so heavily on establishing telling convergences between...