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Quotes / Sigmund Freud

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By Freud

"A man like me cannot live without a hobby-horse, a consuming passion—in Friedrich Schiller's words a tyrant. I have found my tyrant, and in his service I know no limits. My tyrant is psychology. It has always been my distant, beckoning goal and now since I have hit upon the neuroses, it has come so much the nearer."

No reader of this book will find it easy to put himself in the emotional position of an author who is ignorant of the language of holy writ, who is completely estranged from the religion of his fathers — as well as from every other religion — and who cannot take a share in nationalist ideals, but who has yet never repudiated his people, who feels that he is in his essential nature a Jew and who has no desire to alter that nature. If the question were put to him: "Since you have abandoned all these common characteristics of your countrymen, what is there left to you that is Jewish?" he would reply: "A very great deal, and probably its very essence."
— Preface to the Hebrew Edition of Totem and Taboo

I have endeavoured to guard myself against the enthusiastic prejudice which holds that our civilization is the most precious thing that we possess or could acquire and that its path will necessarily lead to heights of unimagined perfection...One thing only do I know for certain and that is that man's judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness — that , accordingly, they are an attempt to support his illusions with arguments...Thus I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I offer them no consolation: for at bottom that is what they are all demanding — the wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.
The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction...Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety.
Civilization and Its Discontents (translated by James Strachey, pp 153-155).

This brings us very close to the more general problem of conservation in the mind, which has so far hardly been discussed, but is so interesting and important that we may take the opportunity to pay it some attention, even though its relevance is not immediate. Since the time when we recognized the error of supposing that ordinary forgetting signified destruction or annihilation of the memory-trace, we have been inclined to the opposite view that nothing once formed in the mind could ever perish, that everything survives in some way or other, and is capable under certain conditions of being brought to light again, as, for instance, when regression extends back far enough. One might try to picture to oneself what this assumption signifies by a comparison taken from another field...Historians tell us that the oldest Rome of all was the Roma quadrata, a fenced settlement on the Palatine. Then followed the phase of the Septimontium, when the colonies on the different hills united together; then the town which was bounded by the Servian wall; and later still, after all the transformations in the periods of the republic and the early Caesars, the city which the Emperor Aurelian enclosed by his walls. We will not follow the changes the city went through any further, but will ask ourselves what traces of these early stages in its history a visitor to Rome may still find today, if he goes equipped with the most complete historical and topographical knowledge...There is one objection, though, to which we must pay attention. It questions our choosing in particular the past history of a city to liken to the past of the mind. Even for mental life, our assumption that everything past is preserved holds good only on condition that the organ of the mind remains intact and its structure has not been injured by traumas or inflammation. Destructive influences comparable to these morbid agencies are never lacking in the history of any town, even if it has had a less chequered past than Rome, even if like London, it has hardly ever been pillaged by an enemy. Demolitions and the erection of new buildings in the place of old occur in cities which have had the most peaceful existence; therefore a town is from the outset unsuited for the comparison I have made of it with a mental organism...The fact is that a survival of all the early stages alongside the final form is only possible in the mind, and that it is impossible for us to represent a phenomenon of this kind in visual terms.
Civilization and Its Discontents

"Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realized that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a tiny speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable...The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world...accomplished in our own time upon the instigation of Charles Darwin, Wallace, and their predecessors, and not without the most violent opposition from their contemporaries. But man's craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research which is endeavoring to prove to the ego of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind. We psycho-analysts were neither the first nor the only ones to propose to mankind that they should look inward; but it appears to be our lot to advocate it most insistently and to support it by empirical evidence which touches every man closely."

About Freud

When I came to read Freud himself, I was amazed to discover how sensible his writings are and how much milder than what passes for Freudianism among the pseudo-intelligent.
Bertrand Russell, "On Orthodoxies" (23 August 1933), in Mortals and Others: Bertrand Russell's American Essays, 1931-1935, Vol. II (1998), pp. 57-58

I had known Sigmund Freud, that great and austere spirit who, more than any other in our time, deepened and broadened our knowledge of the soul of man, when, in Vienna, he was still appraised and opposed as an obstinate and difficult intellectual hermit. A fanatic for truth while yet fully cognizant of the limits of all truths (once he said to me, "Absolute truth is as impossible as to obtain an absolute zero temperature"), he had estranged himself from the University and its academic scruples by his imperturbable venturing into heretofore unexplored and timidly avoided zones of the upper-nether realm of instincts, the very sphere on which the epoch had a solemn taboo...Long before I grasped the implications of the intellectual revolution which slowly shaped itself from Freud's first fundamental labours, I had yielded to the moral strength and steadfastness of this extraordinary man...A more intellectually intrepid person could not be imagined; Freud always dared to express what he thought even if he knew that his straight, positive declaration might disturb and distress; he never sought an easy way out by making even perfunctory concessions. I am confident that if Freud had only been willing to drape his ideas carefully, to say "eroticism" instead of "sexuality", "eros" instead of "libido," and not always rigidly to insist on his final deductions instead of just indicating them, it would have been possible for him to give unhindered utterance to four-fifths of his theories before any academic body. But when the doctrine and the truth were concerned he remained intransigent; the tougher the resistance, the tougher became his determination. When I search for a symbol of moral courage — the only earthly heroism that can be performed solo — I always see before me the handsome, masculine, candid face of Freud with his dark eyes and direct and quiet gaze.
Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday

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