Freud’s Impact on Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Giorgio de Chirico’s The Vexations of the Thinker

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Freud’s Impact on Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Giorgio de Chirico’s The Vexations of the Thinker

The 1920 publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle formalized a meaningful shift in Sigmund Freud's theory of sexual drive: his original hypothesis distinguished the ego instincts from the sexual instincts. Subsequent psychoanalytic researches force him to refine this configuration:

. . . psycho-analysis observed the regularity with which libido is withdrawn from the object and directed on the ego (the process of introversion); and, by studying the libidinal development of children in its earliest phases, came to the conclusion that the ego is the true and original reservoir of libido, and that it is only from that reservoir that libido is extended on to objects. [1]

Freud recognizes the narcissistic nature of sexual instinct yet clings to a dual (read: non-Jungian) model for instinctual drive. He ". . . describe[s] the opposition as being, not between ego-instincts and sexual instincts but between life instincts and death instincts" (Freud 64). Freud sees the natural goal of the sexual drive as reproduction - life - and the natural goal of the ego as death. This newest polarity leads to Freud's exploration of the so-called "perversions", sadism and masochism, as they characterize the death instinct.

It may seem odd to equate sadism with narcissism considering that a sadist receives pleasure only from another's pain. "[But] is it not plausible," Freud asks, "to suppose that this sadism is in fact a death instinct which, under the influence of the narcissistic ego, has been forced away from the ego and consequently only emerged in relation to the object?" He goes on to explain tha...

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...irico builds a wall of narcissism to entrap his solitary figure. This fact leads me to draw a parallel between the figure in de Chirico's painting and Charlotte Brontë's Heathcliff. Both suffer unnecessarily. Arguably, both would be better off dead. But their pain keeps them going even as it slowly kills them. Life serves death serves . . . life. Yes, we are slowly moving toward death, but each step is a lively one.

Works Cited

[1] Sigmund Freud. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961 (62). Hereafter cited parenthetically.

[2] During the oral stage of organization of the libido, the act of obtaining erotic mastery over an object coincides with that object's destruction (Freud 65).

[3] Charlotte Brontë. Wuthering Heights. New York: TOR Books, 1989 (177). Hereafter cited parenthetically.

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