CriticaLink | Freud: On Narcissism | Reading Guide for I: 73-76

It would not surprise us if we were to find a special psychical agency…

The following speculations on the psychical entity that regulates the degree to which the ego is "living up to" the standards of the ideal ego constitute Freud's preliminary thoughts on what will later be called the "superego." Here, Freud equates this entity with "conscience" and sees it as a primary factor in those forms of paranoia in which patients believe they are being monitored at all times. In a gesture that should now be familiar, Freud states that this intrapsychic surveillance which makes itself known in mental illness is a feature of the normal life of the mind.

In discussing the exaggerated function of the power of this internal judge in the experience of people suffering from paranoia, Freud opens the discussion to the social realm. The paranoiac's "monitor" is formed through the early treatment and expectations of his or her parents, to which are added the many people and institutions (schools, for example, and churches, formal and informal social organizations, and entire communities) who have an influence on the person's sense of values and understanding of acceptable behavior.

Although Freud does not spell them out clearly, he seems to have two reasons for claiming that a significant amount of the libido that goes into creating the ideal ego is "homosexual" in nature: 1) loving oneself is, technically, a homosexual kind of love; and 2) more important, since the formation of the idea ego is spurred in part by prohibitions, the expression of desire for members of the same sex gets channeled into the ideal ego, where it can be "safely" satisfied.

Freud suggests that paranoia is a rebellion against external prohibitions that have been internalized in the formation of the ideal ego, so that the paranoaic is in fact in rebellion against his or her own inner monitor, which manifests itself as "voices" or "conspiracies" that only seem to be located outside the person's consciousness. Another feature of normal psychic life that is exaggerated in paranoid states is self-observation. Freud calls this the "self-regarding attitude," and claims that it can be noted in a number of experiences, including dream states. (Freud seems to make a self-deprecating joke at this point: he writes that he overlooked such self-observing functions in dreams in his earlier work on dream states--the most important of which is the 1900 text The Interpretation of Dreams--because it is not a significant feature of his own dreams, but probably plays a larger role in the dreams of others who are "gifted philosophically and accustomed to introspection" [97]. It is hard to imagine that Freud is really that modest.)

The following passage suggests a link between the power of the internal monitor and what Freud has described as the "dream-censor." Dreams often do not directly depict the fulfillment of wishes, for example, but rather distort the various elements of the wish-fulfillment scenario. Freud believes that an internal censor is responsible for this distortion. Even though the psyche is freer in dreams to play out its desires, dream representations are still subject to a surveillance similar to the monitoring of conscious life that Freud has just been describing.