CriticaLink | Freud: On Narcissism | Discussion Questions
  1. Perhaps the most far-reaching effect of Freudian theory in Western culture is its "de-centering" of human consciousness. Rather than the unified "reason" or "cogito" that had dominated much of Western philosophy's conception of the human mind, Freud posits a multi-part "psychical apparatus" that is not self-consistent--in fact, it is in constant tension and conflict. How does the theory of narcissism, drawn from the myth of Narcissus, contribute to Freud's de-centering of consciousness?

  2. Many people react strongly against Freud's characterizations of gender identities and gender relations. Freud's social milieux is often cited as an explanation for his views on gender. Can you find places in this essay where Freud takes for granted social structures affecting gender relations that have changed since his time?

  3. In terms of his views on gender identity, in what ways can Freud be called an "essentialist?" In what ways does he himself critique essentialist views?

  4. Freud has received a great deal of criticism for his treatment of homosexuality. Many queer theorists, however, find Freud helpful in their efforts to understand the operations of desire and the social structuring of sexual identities. Freud's own positions on homosexuality often appear contradictory. Can you find places in "On Narcissism" where Freud a) pathologizies homosexuality and b) offers a view of homosexuality that does not necessarily stigmatize or pathologize gay people?

  5. How clear is the distinction between "ego-instincts" and "ego-libido" in this essay? Freud himself remarks on the difficulty of distinguishing these components of his theory (77). What makes the distinction so difficult?