Beyond the Pleasure Principle

Life, from Freud’s perspective, frequently circles from romance to disillusionment, then does so again and again. We seek perfect love, perfect truth, perfect protection. We believe that we once had those things (though we never did) and we continually sight them, glowing, on the far side of a noisy room or dispensing truth from a banner-draped stage, Klieg- or torch-lights flaring.

We are drawn into the golden circle, abase ourselves, submit, and for a while enjoy an extraordinary sense of well-being. It is as though we have attained a long-sought completion. We never feel so strongly as then, in the midst of love, that we live in the present. (Though the truth is that in love, more than at any other time, we are dwelling in the past.) But soon our idealizations dissolve, the honey-glow disappears, and we’re tolled back, as Keats has it, to our sole selves.

We find ourselves then disillusioned, void of life (illusion, whatever its pitfalls, is to Freud the great energizer), and waiting for the next irresistible falsehood, the next narcissistic ploy, to come along. For once the period of disillusion – or mourning – is over, Freud says in a memorable phrase, we pursue the next ‘object’ the way a starving man pursues bread.

Mark Edmundson

Sigmund Freud, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’.

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