A Freudian Quotation About the Unconscious

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“A part of the ego, too, – and Heaven knows how important a part – may be Ucs., undoubtedly is Ucs. And this Ucs. belonging to the ego is not latent like the Pcs […].”[1] 

Freud wrote The Ego and the Id to produce a reordering of his doctrine after the publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The first chapter is essential to understand this Freudian turning point. It is the moment where Freud destabilises his notion of the unconscious: “the characteristic of being unconscious begins to lose significance for us”.[2]

Up until then there were two modes of the unconscious. Firstly the unconscious taken in its descriptive character: that which is not present in the conscious. This is also the case with all that is “latent […] capable of becoming conscious at any time”[3] that thus constitutes the preconscious. But the concept of the unconscious as such implies that it also has a dynamic mode, that is to say a force that opposes representational material (signifers) becoming conscious: it is repression.

But, as Freud says, these distinctions appear insufficient “for practical purposes”[4]. Consequently the innovation of this text is the introduction of a third type of unconscious, which is no longer descriptive or dynamic but structural. At the same time, the ego is attached to the conscious, orders motility and exercises control. The ego is thus responsible for the censorship of dreams and therefore repression, and is also that which resists the lifting of repression. But the driving forces of this censorship and resistance are inevitably unconscious since the subject is unaware of having proceded in such a way. We are thus confronted with a paradox: the ego attached to the conscious also has an unconscious part.

Freud is extremely logical in his reasoning. The ego is censorship and is therefore partly unconscious. The difference with the repressed-unconscious is that repression is coded and can thus be decoded, and that it produces truth effects when it is lifted; it is the principle of the formations of the unconscious. By contrast, the unconscious ego is the authority which codes and which is thus itself non-decodable. During his DEA[5] seminar, Jacques-Alain Miller evoked the link between this ego and the Lacanian barred subject which is itself an unconscious authority, which is not as such decodable but deduced from meaning effects.

Alexandre Stevens

Translated by Joanne Conway

[1] Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id in J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XIX, Hogarth Press, London, p.17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 13.

[4] Ibid., p. 16.

[5] [DEA = Diplôme d’études approfondies, or Master of Advanced Studies.]