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[Other Personality System] The Economics of Libido


New member
Jun 17, 2012
I'm pleased to announce my book on psychoanalytic personality theory came out this month through Karnac books. It's called The Economics of Libido: Psychic Bisexuality, the Superego, and the Centrality of the Oedipus complex .

Amazon.com: The Economics of Libido: Psychic Bisexuality, the Superego, and the Centrality of the Oedipus Complex (9781782201779): Trevor C. Pederson: Books

In Economics I sketch vertical (superego) and horizontal (psychic bisexuality) axes of how the personality functions in psychoanalysis. I argue that contrary to the popular ego psychology position, the superego doesn’t emerge at the phallic oedipus complex and represent a new autonomy or some ‘conflict free’ zone in the individual. In the second chapter, I examine David Milrod, a contemporary ego psychologist who holds that the child who traverses the Oedipus complex gains the ability to rationally choose or create ethical values against which he measures himself (conscience) (ibid.). I show that this interpretation ignores key passages in Freud’s writings that clearly show that he conceives of the superego as something that is formed throughout psychosexual development:

nor must it be forgotten that a child has a different estimate of its parents at different periods of its life. At the time at which the Oedipus complex gives place to the super-ego they are something quite magnificent; but later they lose much of this. Identifications then come about with these later parents as well, and indeed they regularly make important contributions to the formation of character; but in that case they only affect the ego, they no longer influence the super-ego, which has been determined by the earliest parental imagos. (Freud, 1933, p. 64, emphasis mine)

Freud’s Copernican revolution is based upon making sense of the way the mind breaks or becomes rigid in pathology. When a paranoiac, for example, thinks that the end of the world is coming, that random people he meets want to kill him, that he’s being hunted by the CIA, or that people are conspiring to ruin his reputation, different estimates of power are in evidence here. Instead of saying that the mind is rational and mental illness belongs to chemical imbalance in the brain or is a problem of the passions associated with the body and clouds the rational mind, Freud takes a different approach. Like Copernicus discovering that planets go around the sun instead of the earth, Freud holds that we can understand mental illness if, instead of making the rational mind the center, we make the relation to the imago central. Thus, the different estimates of perfection or power found in these forms of paranoia can explain how a normal person’s striving for perfection is to be understood. These aren’t “adultomorphic” attributions of complex intellectual understanding to little children. Rather, Freud’s view puts desire before reason. Instead of a complex intellectual reason being needed for a person to give themselves “reasons” to do something, Freud holds that we are driven to relate to each other.

A person doesn’t rationally chose to be ambitious, but rather is driven to seek admiration and the “direction-giving” aspect of the superego, the ego ideal, will mean that the individual will feel inferiority tensions and jealousy if he doesn’t measure up to others. The superego, in the various stages of development, makes the individual measure himself against others and creates “reality systems” of inter-relations. Wanting to be admired for one’s skills or knowledge in one’s reputation in the community is the phallic form of the ego ideal’s reality system. In contemporary civilization this can include wanting to be admired for one’s computer skills, for example, but in a primitive political-economy having skills for hunting, for example, might be the input for how a person might compete with others for reputation. At the anal stage the reality system is based upon who is on top of social hierarchies and possesses superlative power. There are some individuals whose ambition and ego ideal will make them feel inferiority if they are not involved with the highest political offices, at the highest institutions of learning, or not, for example, the gold medal winner at the Olympics. Again, based upon one’s political-economy, the nature and the activities at this level of competition, will change. One might not be able to become king (because of one’s bloodline or class) but being in the royal court or an advisor may be their ambition. Lastly, ambition may deepen past this point so that existing as a name that is immortalized in history or to be “the best there ever was” may be the ego ideal. Such an individual may feel tensions of inferiority for not being an “immortal” writer like Shakespeare or Goethe, even though he has a lot of success in the public. This represents what Freud has called the narcissistic stage.

These different forms of the ego ideal are conscious, although sometimes pre-conscious, motivations that a person can avow. A patient can tell you, for example, that she’s enraged by her boyfriend watching pornography, and that she wants to be the only object of desire for him, or that she knows that she’s pretty but she feels like she should be as beautiful as models in magazines. However, for those without clinical experience, there’s usually an athlete or artist who is shameless enough to announce very boldly to the world that he is the greatest there’s ever been. An actor might quote the box office of their movies as evidence of why they should be regarded as a top actor despite their lack of an Oscar. Additionally, such ideals are sometimes expressed indirectly too by people without success, such as when someone criticizes every new book that comes out as if he had written a library full of them and had some authority to do so. In such instances of grandiosity or arrogance the psychodynamic formulation of the person having assumed the place of the parental imago or having become his ego ideal (as opposed to trying to live up to it) is an important operation .

Freud (1914b) observes that just because someone has such an ambitious ego ideal it doesn’t mean that he or she will have the power to sublimate and achieve the goal and that:

“t is precisely in neurotics that we find the highest differences of potential between the development of their ego ideal and the amount of sublimation of their primitive libidinal instincts... the formation of an ideal heightens the demands of the ego and is the most powerful factor favouring repression.“ (p.95)

Someone with an anal stage fixation, for example, might need to defend against his anal ego ideal and, in a paranoid form, he might come up with the delusion that the CIA, a powerful group at the highest levels of power in our civilization, is tracking him and wanting to kill him. Similarly, if the individual can’t sublimate to attain his narcissistic stage ego ideal, he will pull back from the reality system and return to the pleasure principle to showcase “the omnipotence of wishes” (Freud, 1909, p. 235). He may feel, in line with The Secret, or some New Age or mystical practice, that he has the power to picture things in his mind and that he makes these things occur in reality. This pathology, along with its representations of idealized images of the self, also references the archaic imagos of the parents. Based upon child rearing or inherited dispositions to experience certain impulses with the parents, fixations and adaptations can occur to influence the personality in early stages.

However, this ego drive, to be admired for one’s skill or knowledge, isn’t the only form of ego drive. This is only one path to happiness and gaining self-esteem (narcissistic libido) and many others exist in the common language motivations that we ascribe to others. Psychic bisexuality references the poles of active egoism and passive altruism that see individuals driven to help or assist others, to be admired for their beauty or taste, to be interesting and cause delight in others, (etc.). In Economics I argue for 4 basic libidinal positions along the two poles. Along the egoistic pole, I point out that someone can be narcissistic or possess an attitude of superiority (arrogance, vanity) about their physical or intellectual potency (subject egoism) as well as about their beauty, aesthetic refinements, or judgement of the lack of virtues in others (object egoism). Additionally, I point out that someone can masochistically put the desires of others before her own (subject altruism) or masochistically desire the approval of others or have the need to be liked or be seen as interesting by others (object altruism). The former is tied to “people-pleasing”, being “self-effacing” etc. and the latter is tied to being a “people person”, endearing, and wanting to be the centre of attention but not for admiration of one’s skills or potency but to share enthusiasm, or to be interesting.

Ultimately, these two axes represent Freud’s Copernican revolution in psychology which sees an individual’s personality or “psychical constitution’ formed by time the oedipus complex is undergone to determine how a person strives for happiness (Freud 1930, pp. 83–84). An individual’s economy of libido establishes his or her characteristic way of striving for different forms of happiness, success, love, beauty, and ‘the good’ in life.

I've included the general description and some of the endorsements I received below. I do my best to give clinical and cultural examples to explain all the technical language involved.

Trevor Pederson

This book is an attempt to get beyond pluralism by embedding psychoanalysis in philosophy and returning to Freud qua psychologist to link the depths of the mind to its surface. Beginning with the proposition that egoism and altruism are a more accurate representation of the binary of activity and passivity, Economics revisits Freud’s work to contextualize his central concepts and expand upon them. Egoism and altruism are further divided into masculine and feminine drives which can exist in either sex due to psychic bisexuality. Pederson’s Freud places the Oedipus complex as the height of personal happiness in striving for passionate love or success while maturing through a series of educators and mentors. The subsequent father complex is snatched from obscurity as the recreation of the parental incest taboo amongst siblings. The ideal of commitment in relationships, fairness in one’s dealings with peers, and Freud’s emphasis on the non-universality of guilt are given their proper weight in his model. However, this reading of Freud’s work also demonstrates that earlier forms of the superego exist and are depersonalized to create different ontologies, or levels of Being. In the tradition of Kant, what seem like relations too complex for a child to understand, the author contends, are references to the necessary subjective senses of Space, Time, the Superlative, and Prestige. Lastly, Pederson offers an explication of Wittgenstein’s private language argument to justify this return to drive theory and to appreciate Freud’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ of the mind.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘The superego has diminished in importance in psychoanalysis in recent years, and so it is a delight to encounter Trevor Pederson's close reading of Freud’s understanding of the concept, especially because he also grapples with its contemporary relevance. Pederson revisits a number of other related ideas, too, such as social ontology. Philosophically inclined psychoanalysts from all orientations will find much to enjoy in this new book.’
—Elliot Jurist, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, The City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; editor ofPsychoanalytic Psychology

'A dense, insightful exploration of the human condition filled with ideas that stimulate further thought. A surprising turn to Freud’s work on psychosexuality and what Pederson does with it! Rich arrays of philosophical, cultural, and psychoanalytic figures populate this work, each used as a lens on psychosocial realities. Pederson links conscience with post-oedipal development and develops a kind of dialectics between social ontology and psychic bisexuality. An uncommon perspective today that richly adds to the current pool.’
— Michael Eigen, PhD, author of Contact With the Depths and Faith

‘Contexualising Freud’s formulations of the Oedipus complex and psychic bisexuality within a set of references ranging from Kant and Wittgenstein to Star Wars and The Matrix, Trevor Pederson contests contemporary trends in psychoanalytic theory in this ambitious and provocative synthesis of ego psychology, philosophy, and psychoanalytic criticism.’
— Adele Tutter, Faculty at Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research

‘A clinician should know how his particular orientation relates to the larger human condition. As an 87-year-old psychiatrist, I thought I pretty well understood the relationship of my thinking with other thinking. Trevor Pederson’s scholarly book reveals far more extensive connections than I had previously known. He brilliantly connects Freudian-based theory with that of other schools – and with sociology and philosophy. I recommend this book to therapists who enjoy comparing and contrasting different perspectives.’
— Joel Markowitz, MD

‘In this compelling work, Trevor Pederson returns us to a proper appreciation of the basal insights of classical psychoanalysis that emphasise the primacy of the drives and their social constitution. Through deft philosophical analysis of character types and unconscious motivations that transpire within our equiprimordial relatedness to others, Pederson revitalises the rich complexity of Freudian theory in showing that the mind is inherently dialectical. In an age when drive theory is a drowning man, here we are reminded of the indispensable organic and social foundations that govern psychic reality.’
— Jon Mills, PsyD, PhD, ABPP, philosopher, psychoanalyst, and psychologist; author of Underworlds: Philosophies of the Unconscious from Psychoanalysis to Metaphysics