COMM 465 Cal State San Marcos Consumption of Social Media Paper

We use a variety of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-tok, etc.) for different purposes including, but not limited to: shopping, advertising, friendship, networking, workout, diet, and so forth. They are part of our everyday life. We consume social media on a regular basis. We have become so accustomed to scrolling through posts, images, and videos every minute, every hour, all day long. They shape our identity and lived experiences to the extent that some of us can’t just get enough of them.

Use Sigmund Freud’s theory of psyche to discuss your own consumption of a social media of your choice:

5 Psychoanalysis
In this chapter I shall explore psychoanalysis as a method of reading texts and practices.
This means that although I shall to a certain extent explain how psychoanalysis
understands human behaviour, this will be done only as it can be extended to cultural
analysis in cultural studies. Therefore, I shall be very selective in terms of which aspects
of psychoanalysis I choose for discussion.
Freudian psychoanalysis
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Sigmund Freud (1973a) argues that the creation of civilization has resulted in the repression of basic human instincts. Moreover, ‘each individual who makes a fresh entry into
human society repeats this sacrifice of instinctual satisfaction for the benefit of the
whole community’ (47). The most important instinctual drives are sexual. Civilization
demands that these are redirected in unconscious processes of sublimation:
that is to say, they are diverted from their sexual aims and directed to others that
are socially higher and no longer sexual. But this arrangement is unstable; the
sexual are imperfectly tamed, and, in the case of every individual who is supposed
to join in the work of civilization, there is a risk that his sexual instincts may refuse
to be put to that use. Society believes that no greater threat to its civilization could
arise than if the sexual instincts were to be liberated and returned to their original
aims (47–8).1
Fundamental to this argument is Freud’s discovery of the unconscious. He first
divides the psyche into two parts, the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is
the part that relates to the external world, while the unconscious is the site of instinctual
drives and repressed wishes. He then adds to this binary model the preconscious. What
we cannot remember at any given moment, but know we can recall with some mental
effort, is recovered from the preconscious. What is in the unconscious, as a consequence
of censorship and repression is only ever expressed in distorted form; we cannot, as
an act of will recall material from the unconscious into the conscious.2 Freud’s final
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
Figure 5.1
The Freudian psyche.
model of the psyche introduces three new terms: the ego, the super-ego and the id
(see Figure 5.1).3
The id is the most primitive part of our being. It is the part of ‘our nature [which]
is impersonal, and, so to speak, subject to natural law’ (Freud, 1984: 362); it ‘is the
dark, inaccessible part of our personality  .  .  .  a chaos, a cauldron full of seething
excitations.  .  .  .  It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no
organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle’ (Freud,
1973b: 106).
The ego develops out of the id: ‘the ego cannot exist in the individual from the start;
the ego has to be developed’ (1984: 69). As he further explains, the ego
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external
world.  .  .  .  Moreover, the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world
to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality
principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id.  .  .  .  The
ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id,
which contains the passions (363–4).
Freud (1973b) compares the relationship between the id and the ego as similar to a
person riding a horse: ‘ The horse supplies the locomotive energy, while the rider has
the privilege of deciding on the goal and of guiding the powerful animal’s movement.
But only too often there arises between the ego and the id the not precisely ideal
situation of the rider being obliged to guide the horse along the path by which it itself
wants to go’ (109–10). In fact, the ego struggles to serve three masters, the ‘external
world’, the ‘libido of the id’, and the ‘severity of the super-ego’ (1984: 397).
It is with the dissolution of the Oedipus complex (discussed later in this chapter)
that the super-ego emerges. The super-ego begins as the internalization or introjection
of the authority of the child’s parents, especially of the father. This first authority
is then overlaid with other voices of authority, producing what we think of as ‘conscience’. Although the super-ego is in many ways the voice of culture, it remains in
alliance with the id. Freud explains it thus: ‘Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Freudian psychoanalysis
‘Pleasure Principle’
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Figure 5.2
Ego (Super-ego)
‘Reality Principle’
Freud’s conflict model of the human psyche.
representative of the internal world, of the id’ (366). ‘ Thus the super-ego is always
close to the id and can act as its representative vis-à-vis the ego. It reaches deep down
into the id and for that reason is farther from consciousness than the ego is’ (390).
Furthermore, ‘Analysis eventually shows that the super-ego is being influenced by
processes that have remained unknown to the ego’ (392).
There are two particular things to note about Freud’s model of the psyche. First, we
are born with an id, while the ego develops through contact with culture, which in turn
produces the super-ego. In other words, our ‘nature’ is governed (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) by culture. What is called ‘human nature’ is not something
‘essentially’ natural but the governance of our nature by culture. This means that
human nature is not something innate and unchangeable, it is something at least in
part introduced from outside. Moreover, given that culture is always historical and
variable, it is itself always open to change.4 Second, and perhaps much more fundamental
to psychoanalysis, the psyche is envisaged as a site of perpetual conflict (see Figure 5.2).
The most fundamental conflict is between the id and the ego. The id wants desires satisfied regardless of the claims of culture, while the ego, sometimes in loose alliance with
the super-ego, is obliged to meet the claims and conventions of society. This conflict is
sometimes portrayed as a struggle between the ‘pleasure principle’ and the ‘reality principle’. For example, while the id (governed by the pleasure principle) may demand
‘I want it’ (whatever ‘it’ might be), the ego (governed by the reality principle) must
defer thinking about ‘it’ in order to consider how to get ‘it’.
‘ The essence of repression’, according to Freud, ‘lies simply in turning something
away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious’ (147). In this way, then, we could
say that repression is a special form of amnesia; it removes all the things with which
we cannot or will not deal. But as Freud (1985) makes clear, we may have repressed
these things, but they have not really gone away: ‘Actually, we never give anything up;
we only exchange one thing for another. What appears to be a renunciation is really
the formation of a substitute or surrogate’ (133). These ‘substitutive formations’ make
possible the ‘return of the repressed’ (Freud, 1984: 154). Dreams provide perhaps the
most dramatic staging of the return of the repressed.5 As Freud (1976) claims, ‘ The
interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious’ (769).
The primary function of dreams is to be ‘the guardians of sleep which get rid of
disturbances of sleep’ (Freud, 1973a: 160). Sleep is threatened from three directions:
external stimulus, recent events and ‘repressed instinctual impulses which are on the watch
for an opportunity of finding expression’ (45). Dreams guard sleep by incorporating
potential disturbances into the narrative of the dream. If, for example, a noise sounds
during sleep, a dream will attempt to include the noise in its narrative organization.
Similarly, when a sleeper experiences somatic disturbances (indigestion is the most
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
obvious example), the dream will attempt to accommodate this in order not to disturb
the dreamer’s sleep. However, outside and inside stimulus of this sort is always transformed. As he explains, ‘Dreams do not simply reproduce the stimulus; they work
it over, they make allusions to it, they include it in some context, they replace it by
something else’ (125). An alarm clock, for example, may appear as the sound of church
bells on a sunny Sunday morning or as the sound of the fire brigade rushing to the scene
of a devastating fire. Therefore, although we can recognize how outside stimulation
may contribute something to a dream, it does not explain why or how this something
is worked over. Similarly, dreams are also informed by recent experiences, ‘the day’s
residues’ (264). These may often determine much of the content of a dream, but, as
Freud insists, this, as with noise and somatic disturbances, is merely the material out
of which the dream is formulated and is not the same as the unconscious wish. As he
explains, the ‘unconscious impulse is the true creator of the dream; it is what produces
the psychical energy for the dream’s construction’ (1973b: 47).
Dreams, according to Freud, are always a ‘compromise-structure’ (48) – that is, a
compromise between wishes emanating from the id and censorship enacted by the ego:
‘If the meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure to us  .  .  .  it is because [they contain]
wishes of which we are ashamed; these we must conceal from ourselves, and they have
consequently been repressed, pushed into the unconscious. Repressed wishes of this
sort and their derivatives are only allowed to come to expression in a very distorted
form’ (1985: 136). Censorship occurs but wishes are expressed; that is, they are coded
in an attempt to elude censorship. According to Freud’s (1976) famous formulation,
‘a dream is a (disguised) fulfilment of a (suppressed or repressed) wish’ (244).
Dreams move between two levels: the latent dream thoughts (unconscious) and the
manifest content (what the dreamer remembers dreaming). Dream analysis attempts
to decode the manifest content in order to discover the ‘real meaning’ of the dream.
To do this it has to decipher the different mechanisms that have translated latent
dream thoughts into manifest content. He calls these mechanisms the ‘dream-work’
(2009: 246). The dream-work consists of four processes: condensation, displacement,
symbolization and secondary revision. Each in turn produces ‘the transformation of
thoughts into hallucinatory experience’ (1973a: 250).
The manifest content is always smaller than the latent content. This is the result of
condensation, which can work in three different ways: (i) latent elements are omitted;
(ii) only part of a latent element arrives in the manifest content; and (iii) latent
elements which have something in common are condensed into ‘composite structures’
(2009: 247). ‘As a result of condensation, one element in the manifest dream may
correspond to numerous elements in the latent dream-thoughts; but, conversely too,
one element in the dream-thoughts may be represented by several images in [the
manifest content of ] the dream’ (1973b: 49). Freud provides the following example:
You will have no difficulty in recalling instances from your own dreams of different
people being condensed into a single one. A compromise figure of this kind
may look like A perhaps, but may be dressed like B, may do something that we
remember C doing, and at the same time we may know that he is D (2009: ibid.).
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Freudian psychoanalysis
Latent elements also appear in the manifest content via a chain of association or
allusion Freud calls displacement. This process works in two ways:
In the first, a latent element is replaced not by a component part of itself but by
something more remote – that is, by an allusion; and in the second, the psychical
accent is shifted from an important element on to another which is unimportant,
so that the dream appears differently centred and strange (248).
This first aspect of displacement operates along chains of association in which
what is in the manifest content alludes to something in the latent dream thoughts. If,
for example, I know someone who works as a schoolteacher, she may appear in my
dreams as a satchel. In this way, affect (the emotional intensity attached to the figure)
is shifted from its source (she who works in a school), to something associated with
her working in a school. Or if I know someone called Clarke, she may appear in
my dreams as someone working in an office. Again, affect has been moved along a
chain of association from the name of someone I know to an activity associated
with her name. I may have a dream situated in an office, in which I observe someone
working at a desk (it may not even be a woman), but the ‘essence’ of my dream is
a woman I know called Clarke. These examples work metonymically in terms of
similarity based on contraction: a part standing in for a whole. The second mechanism
of displacement changes the focus of the dream. What appears in the manifest
content is ‘differently centred from the dream-thoughts – its content has different
elements as its central point’ (1976: 414). ‘With the help of displacement the dreamcensorship creates substitutive structures which  .  .  .  are allusions which are not easily
recognizable as such, from which the path back to the genuine thing is not easily
traced, and which are connected with the genuine thing by the strangest, most unusual,
external associations’ (1973a: 272). He illustrates this second aspect of displacement
with a joke.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
There was a blacksmith in a village, who had committed a capital offence. The
Court decided that the crime must be punished; but as the blacksmith was the only
one in the village and was indispensable, and as on the other hand there were three
tailors living there, one of them was hanged instead (2009: 249).
In this example, the chain of association and affect has shifted dramatically. To get
back to the blacksmith from the fate of one of the tailors would require a great deal of
analysis, but the central idea seems to be: ‘Punishment must be exacted even if it does
not fall upon the guilty’ (1984: 386). Moreover, as he explains, ‘No other part of the dreamwork is so much responsible for making the dream strange and incomprehensible
to the dreamer. Displacement is the principal means used in the dream-distortion to
which the [latent] dream-thoughts must submit under the influence of the censorship’
(1973b: 50).
The third aspect of the dream-work, operative in the first two, is symbolization,
the ‘translation of dream-thoughts into a primitive mode of expression similar to
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
picture-writing’ (1973a: 267), in which ‘the latent dream-thoughts  .  .  .  are dramatized
and illustrated’ (1973b: 47). Symbolization transforms ‘the latent [dream] thoughts
which are expressed in words into sensory images, mostly of a visual sort’ (1973a:
215). But as Freud makes clear, not everything is transformed in this way: certain
elements exist in other forms. Nevertheless, symbols ‘comprise the essence of the
formation of dreams’ (2009: 249). Furthermore, ‘ The very great majority of symbols in
dreams’, as Freud maintains, ‘are sexual symbols’ (1973a: 187). So, for example, male
genitals are represented in dreams by a range of ‘symbolic substitutes’ that are erect
such as ‘sticks, umbrellas, posts, trees’ and things that are able to penetrate such as
‘knives, daggers, spears, sabres  .  .  .  rifles, pistols and revolvers’ (188). Female genitals
are represented by things that share the ‘characteristic of enclosing a hollow space
which can take something into itself ’ such as ‘pits, cavities  .  .  .  hollows  .  .  .  vessels and
bottles  .  .  .  receptacles, boxes, trunks, cases, chests, pockets, and so on’ (189).
These symbolic substitutes are drawn from an ever-changing repertoire of symbols.
He makes this clear in his discussion of the way in which objects that are able to defy
the laws of gravity are used to represent the male erection. Writing in 1917, he points
to the fact that the Zeppelin airship had recently joined the repertoire of such objects
(1976: 188). Although these symbols are drawn from myths, religion, fairy stories, jokes
and everyday language use, objects are not consciously selected from the repertoire:
‘the knowledge of symbolism is unconscious to the dreamer  .  .  .  it belongs to his mental
life’ (1973a: 200).6
Freud is absolutely clear about ‘the impossibility of interpreting a dream unless
one has the dreamer’s associations to it at one’s disposal’ (1973b: 36). Symbols
may provide a preliminary answer to the question ‘What does this dream mean?’
But it is only a preliminary answer, to be confirmed, or otherwise, by an analysis of
other aspects of the dream-work in conjunction with analysis of the associations
brought into play by the person whose dream is being analysed. As he warns: ‘I should
like to utter an express warning against overestimating the importance of symbols
in dream-interpretation, against restricting the work of translating dreams merely
to translating symbols and against abandoning the technique of making use of the
dreamer’s associ­ations’ (477). Moreover, symbols ‘frequently have more than one or
even several meanings, and  .  .  .  the correct interpretation can only be arrived at on each
occasion from the context’ (1976: 470). Again, context will be something established
by the dreamer.
The dream-work’s final process is secondary revision. This is the narrative placed by
the dreamer on the dream symbolism. It takes two forms. First, it is the verbal account
of the dream: the translation of symbols into language and narrative – ‘we fill in gaps
and introduce connections, and in doing so are often guilty of gross misunderstandings’
(1973b: 50). Second, and more importantly, secondary revision is the final policing
and channelling strategy of the ego, making meaning and coherence in an act of
(unconscious) censorship.
After the interpretation of dreams, Freud is perhaps best known for his theory of
the Oedipus complex. Freud developed the complex from Sophocles’s drama Oedipus
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Freudian psychoanalysis
the King (c. 427 bc). In Sophocles’s play Oedipus kills his father (unaware that he is
his father) and marries his mother (unaware that she is his mother). On discovering
the truth, Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile. Freud developed two versions
of the Oedipus complex, one for boys and one for girls. At around the age of three
to five years, the mother (or who has the symbolic role of the mother) becomes an
object of the boy’s desire. In the light of this desire, the father (or who has the symbolic
role of the father) is seen as a rival for the mother’s love and affection. As a consequence, the boy wishes for the father’s death. However, the boy fears the father’s
power, in particular his power to castrate. So the boy abandons his desire for the
mother and begins to identify with the father, fairly confident in the knowledge
that one day he will have the father’s power, including a wife (a substitute symbolic
mother) of his own.
Freud was unsure how the Oedipus complex worked for girls: ‘It must be admitted  .  .  .  
that in general our insight into these developmental processes in girls is unsatisfactory,
incomplete and vague’ (1977: 321).7 As a consequence, he continued to revise his
thinking on this subject. One version begins with the girl desiring the father (or
whoever has the symbolic role of the father). The mother (or whoever has the symbolic
role of the mother) is seen as a rival for the father’s love and affection. The girl wishes
for the mother’s death. The complex is resolved when the girl identifies with the
mother, recognizing that one day she will be like her. But it is a resentful identification
– the mother lacks power. In another account, he argues that the Oedipus complex
‘seldom goes beyond the taking her mother’s place and the adopting of a feminine
attitude towards her father’ (ibid.). Already aware that she has been castrated, the girl
seeks compensation: ‘She gives up her wish for a penis and puts in place of it a wish for
a child: and with that purpose in view she takes her father as a love-object’ (340; original
emphasis). The girl’s desire for her father’s child gradually diminishes: ‘One has the
impression that the Oedipus complex is then gradually given up because the wish is
never fulfilled’ (321). The paradox being, ‘ Whereas in boys the Oedipus complex is
destroyed by the castration complex, in girls it is made possible and led up to by the
castration complex’ (341).8
There are at least two ways in which Freudian psychoanalysis can be used as a method
to analyse texts. The first approach is author-centred, treating the text as the equivalent
to an author’s dream. Freud (1985) identifies what he calls ‘the class of dreams that
have never been dreamt at all – dreams created by imaginative writers and ascribed to
invented characters in the course of a story’ (33). The surface of a text (words and
images, etc.) is regarded as the manifest content, while the latent content is the author’s
hidden desires. Texts are read in this way to discover an author’s fantasies; these are
seen as the real meaning of the text. According to Freud (1973a),
An artist is  .  .  .  an introvert, not far removed from neurosis. He is oppressed by
excessively powerful instinctual needs. He desires to win honour, power, wealth,
and the love of women; but he lacks the means for achieving these satisfactions.
Consequently, like any other unsatisfied man, he turns away from reality and
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
transfers all his interest, and his libido too, to the wishful constructions of his life
of phantasy, whence the path might lead to neurosis (423).
The artist sublimates his or her desire. In so doing, she or he makes his or her fantasies
available to others, thus making ‘it possible for others to share in the enjoyment of
them’ (423–4). He or she ‘makes it possible for other people  .  .  .  to derive consolation
and pleasure in their unconscious which have become inaccessible to them’ (424).
Texts ‘allay ungratified wishes – in the first place in the creative artist himself and
subsequently in his audience or spectators’ (1986: 53). As he explains: ‘ The artist’s first
aim is to set himself free and, by communicating his work to other people suffering
from the same arrested desires, he offers them the same liberation’ (53).
The second approach is reader-centred, and derives from the secondary aspect of the
author-centred approach. This approach is concerned with how texts allow readers to
symbolically play out desires and fantasies in the texts they read. In this way, a text
works like a substitute dream. Freud deploys the idea of ‘fore-pleasure’ to explain the
way in which the pleasures of the text ‘make possible the release of still greater pleasure
arising from deeper psychical sources’ (1985: 141). In other words, fictional texts
stage fantasies that offer the possibility of unconscious pleasure and satisfaction. As
he further explains,
In my opinion, all the aesthetic pleasure which a creative writer affords us has
the character of a fore-pleasure  .  .  .  our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work
proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds  .  .  .  enabling us thenceforward
to enjoy our day-dreams without self-reproach or shame (ibid.).
Although we may derive pleasure from the aesthetic qualities of a text, these are really
only the mechanism that allows us access to the more profound pleasures of unconscious fantasy.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Little Redcape
There was once a sweet little girl who was loved by everyone who so much as
looked at her, and most of all her grandmother loved her and was forever trying
to think of new presents to give the child. Once she gave her a little red velvet
cape, and because it suited her so well and she never again wanted to wear anything else, she was known simply as Little Redcape. One day her mother said to
her: ‘Come, Little Redcape, here’s a piece of cake and a bottle of wine; take them
out to your grandmother, she’s sick and weak and she’ll enjoy them very much.
Set out before it gets hot, and when you’re on your way watch your step like a
good girl and don’t stray from the path, or you’ll fall and break the bottle and
grandmother will get nothing. And when you go into her room, remember to say
good morning and not to stare all round the room first.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll do everything as I should,’ said Little Redcape to her mother
and promised faithfully. Now her grandmother lived out in the forest, half an
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Freudian psychoanalysis
hour from the village. And as Little Redcape entered the forest the wolf met her.
But Little Redcape didn’t know what a wicked beast he was, and wasn’t afraid of
him. ‘Good morning, Little Redcape,’ he said. ‘ Thank you, wolf.’ ‘Where are you
going so early, Little Redcape?’ ‘ To my grandmother’s.’ ‘What are you carrying
under your apron?’ ‘Cake and wine – we were baking yesterday, and my grandmother’s ill and weak, so she’s to have something nice to help her get strong
again.’ ‘Little Redcape, where does your grandmother live?’ ‘A good quarter of an
hour’s walk further on in the forest, under the three big oak trees, that’s where her
house is; there are hazel hedges by it, I’m sure you know the place,’ said Little
Redcape. The wolf thought to itself: This delicate young thing, she’ll make a
plump morsel, she’ll taste even better than the old woman. But I must go about
it cunningly and I’ll catch them both. So he walked for a while beside Little
Redcape and then said: ‘Little Redcape, just look at those lovely flowers growing
all round us, why don’t you look about you? I think you don’t even notice how
sweetly the birds are singing. You’re walking straight ahead as if you were going
to school, and yet it’s such fun out here in the wood.’
Little Redcape looked up, and when she saw the sunbeams dancing to and fro
between the trees and all the lovely flowers growing everywhere, she thought: If I
take Grandmama a bunch of fresh flowers, that’ll please her too; it’s so early that
I’ll still get there soon enough. And she ran off the path and into the forest to look
for flowers. And every time she picked one she seemed to see a prettier one growing further on, and she ran to pick it and got deeper and deeper into the forest.
But the wolf went straight to her grandmother’s house and knocked at the door.
‘Who’s there?’ ‘Little Redcape, bringing you some cake and wine; open the door.’
‘Just push down the latch,’ said the grandmother, ‘I’m too weak to get out of bed.’
The wolf pushed down the latch, and without a word he went straight to the old
woman’s bed and gobbled her up. Then he put on her clothes and her nightcap
and lay down in her bed and closed the curtains.
But Little Redcape had been running about picking flowers, and when she
had collected so many that she couldn’t carry any more she remembered her
grandmother and set out again towards her house. She was surprised to find
the door open, and when she went into the room everything seemed so strange
that she thought: Oh my goodness, how nervous I feel today, and yet I always
enjoy visiting Grandmama! She called out: ‘Good morning,’ but got no answer.
Then she went to the bed and drew back the curtains – and there lay her
grandmother with her bonnet pulled down low over her face and looking so
peculiar. ‘Why, Grandmama, what big ears you have!’ ‘ The better to hear you
with,’ ‘Why Grandmama, what big eyes you have!’ ‘ The better to see you with.’
‘Why, Grandmama, what big hands you have!’ ‘ The better to grab you with.’ ‘But,
Grandmama, what terrible big jaws you have!’ ‘ The better to eat you with.’ And
no sooner had the wolf said that than it made one bound out of the bed and
gobbled up poor Little Redcape.
Having satisfied its appetite, the wolf lay down on the bed again, went to sleep
and began to snore very loudly. The huntsman was just passing the house at that
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
moment and he thought: How the old woman is snoring; let’s see if anything’s
the matter with her. So he came into the room, and when he got to the bed he
saw the wolf lying there: ‘So I’ve found you here, you old sinner,’ he said, ‘I’ve
been looking for you for a long time.’ He was just about to take aim with his gun
when it occurred to him that the wolf might have swallowed the old woman and
she might still be saved – so instead of firing he took a pair of scissors and began
to cut open the sleeping wolf ’s stomach. When he had made a snip or two, he saw
the bright red of the little girl’s cape, and after another few snips she jumped out
and cried: ‘Oh, how frightened I was, how dark it was inside the wolf!’ And then
her old grandmother came out too, still alive though she could hardly breathe.
But Little Redcape quickly fetched some big stones, and with them they filled the
wolf ’s belly, and when he woke up he tried to run away; but the stones were so
heavy that he collapsed at once and was killed by the fall.
At this all three of them were happy; the huntsman skinned the wolf and took
his skin home, the grandmother ate the cake and drank the wine that Little
Redcape had brought, and they made her feel much better. But Little Redcape
said to herself: As long as I live I’ll never again leave the path and run into the
forest by myself, when my mother has said I mustn’t.
The above is a folk tale collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early nineteenth
century. A psychoanalytic approach to this story might analyse it as a substitute dream
(looking for the processes of the dream-work) in which the drama of the Oedipus
complex is staged. Little Redcape is the daughter who desires the father (played in the
first instance by the wolf ). To remove the mother (condensed into the composite figure
of mother and grandmother), Little Redcape directs the wolf to her grandmother’s
house. In a story that is extremely elliptical, it is significant that her description of
where her grandmother lives is the only real moment of detail in the whole story.
Answering the wolf ’s question, she says, ‘A good quarter of an hour’s walk further on
in the forest, under the three big oak trees, that’s where her house is; there are hazel
hedges by it, I’m sure you know the place.’ The wolf eats the grandmother and then
eats Little Redcape (a displacement for sexual intercourse). The story ends with the
huntsman (the post-Oedipal father) delivering the (grand)mother and daughter to a
post-Oedipal world, in which ‘normal’ family relations have been restored. The wolf is
dead and Little Redcape promises never again to ‘leave the path and run into the forest
by myself, when mother has said I mustn’t’. The final clause hints at Freud’s point
about a resentful identification. In addition to these examples of condensation and
displacement, the story contains many instances of symbolization. Examples include
the flowers, the forest, the path, the red velvet cape, the bottle of wine beneath her
apron (if she leaves the path she may ‘fall and break the bottle’) – all of these add a
definite symbolic charge to the narrative.
What Freud said about the interpretation of dreams should be borne in mind when we
consider the activities of readers. As you will recall, he warned about ‘the impossibility
of interpreting a dream unless one has the dreamer’s associations to it at one’s disposal’
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Lacanian psychoanalysis
(1973b: 36). This raises some very interesting theoretical issues with regard to the
meaning of texts. It suggests that the meaning of a text is not merely in the text itself;
rather, that we need to know the associations a reader brings to bear upon the text. In
other words, he is clearly pointing to the claim that the reader does not passively accept
the meaning of a text: he or she actively produces its meaning, using the discourses he
or she brings to the encounter with the text. My particular reading of Little Redcape is
possible only because of my knowledge of Freudian psychoanalysis. Without this
knowledge, my interpretation would be very different. Moreover, my analysis may say
more about me than it does about this particular folk tale.
Freud’s translation of psychoanalysis to textual analysis begins with a somewhat
crude version of psychobiography and ends with a rather sophisticated account of how
meanings are made. However, his suggestions about the real pleasures of reading may
have a certain disabling effect on psychoanalytic criticism. That is, if meaning depends
on the associations a reader brings to a text, what value can there be in psychoanalytic
textual analysis? When a psychoanalytic critic tells us that the text really means X, the
full logic of Freudian psychoanalysis is to say that this is only what it means to you.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Lacanian psychoanalysis
Jacques Lacan re-reads Freud using the theoretical methodology developed by structuralism. He seeks to anchor psychoanalysis firmly in culture rather than biology. As he
explains, his aim is to turn ‘the meaning of Freud’s work away from the biological basis
he would have wished for it towards the cultural references with which it is shot
through’ (1989: 116). He takes Freud’s developmental structure and re-articulates it
through a critical reading of structuralism to produce a post-structuralist psychoanalysis.
Lacan’s account of the development of the human ‘subject’ has had an enormous influence on cultural studies, especially the study of film.
According to Lacan, we are born into a condition of ‘lack’, and subsequently spend the
rest of our lives trying to overcome this condition. ‘Lack’ is experienced in different ways
and as different things, but it is always a non-representable expression of the fundamental
condition of being human. The result is an endless quest in search of an imagined
moment of plenitude. Lacan figures this as a search for what he terms l’objet petit a (the
object small other); that which is desired but forever out of reach; a lost object, signifying
an imaginary moment in time when we were whole. Unable to ever take hold of this
object, we console ourselves with displacement strategies and substitute objects.
Lacan argues that we make a journey through three determining stages of development. The first is the ‘mirror stage’, the second is the ‘fort-da’ game, and the third is the
‘Oedipus complex’. Our lives begin in the realm Lacan calls the Real. Here we simply
are. In the Real we do not know where we end and where everything else begins. The
Real is like Nature before symbolization (i.e. before cultural classification). It is both
outside in what we might call ‘objective reality’ and inside in what Freud calls our
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
instinctual drives. The Real is everything before it becomes mediated by the Symbolic.
The Symbolic cuts up the Real into separate parts. If it were possible to get beyond the
Symbolic, we would see the Real as everything merged into one mass. What we think of
as a natural disaster, for example, is an irruption of the Real. However, how we categorize
it is always from within the Symbolic; even when we call it a natural disaster, we have
symbolized the Real. To put it another way, nature as Nature is always an articulation of
culture: the Real exists, but always as a reality constituted (that is, brought into being) by
culture – the Symbolic. As Lacan explains it, ‘the kingdom of culture’ is superimposed
‘on that of nature’ (73): ‘the world of words  .  .  .  creates the world of things’ (72).
In the realm of the Real, our union with the mother (or who is playing this symbolic
role) is experienced as perfect and complete. We have no sense of a separate selfhood.
Our sense of being a unique individual begins to emerge only in what Lacan (2009)
calls ‘the mirror stage’ (see Photo 5.1). As Lacan points out, we are all born prematurely.
It takes time to be able to control and coordinate our movements. This has not been
fully accomplished when the infant first sees itself in a mirror (between the ages of six and
eighteen months).9 The infant, ‘still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence’ (256), forms an identification with the image in the mirror. The mirror suggests
Photo 5.1
The Mirror Stage.
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Lacanian psychoanalysis
control and coordination that as yet do not exist. Therefore, when the infant first sees
itself in a mirror, it sees not only an image of its current self but also the promise of a
more complete self; it is in this promise that the ego begins to emerge. According to
Lacan, ‘The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation – and which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure
of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented
body-image to a form of its totality’ (257). On the basis of this recognition or, more
properly, misrecognition (not the self, but an image of the self ), we begin to see ourselves as separate individuals: that is, as both subject (self that looks) and object (self
that is looked at). The ‘mirror stage’ heralds the moment of entry into an order of
subjectivity Lacan calls the Imaginary:
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
The imaginary for Lacan is precisely this realm of images in which we make identi­
fications, but in the very act of doing so we are led to misperceive and misrecognize
ourselves. As a child grows up, it will continue to make such imaginary identifications
with objects, and this is how the ego will be built up. For Lacan, the ego is just this
narcissistic process whereby we bolster up a fictive sense of unitary selfhood by
finding something in the world with which we can identify (Eagleton, 1983: 165).
With each new image we will attempt to return to a time before ‘lack’, to find ourselves
in what is not ourselves; and each time we will fail. ‘ The subject  .  .  .  is the place of lack,
an empty place that various attempts at identification try to fill’ (Laclau, 1993: 436).
In other words, desire is the desire to find that which we lack, our selves whole again,
as we were before we encountered the Imaginary and the Symbolic. All our acts of
identification are always acts of misidentification; it is never our selves that we recognize
but only ever another potential image of our selves. ‘[D]esire is a metonymy’ (Lacan,
1989: 193): it allows us to discover another part, but never ever the whole.
The second stage of development is the ‘fort-da’ game, originally named by Freud
after watching his grandson throw a cotton reel away (‘gone’) and then pull it back
again by means of an attached thread (‘here’). Freud saw this as the child’s way of coming to terms with its mother’s absence – the reel symbolically representing the mother,
over which the child is exerting mastery. In other words, the child compensates for his
mother’s absence by taking control of the situation: he makes her disappear (fort) and
then reappear (da). Lacan rereads this as a representation of the child beginning to
enter the Symbolic, and, in particular, its introduction into language: ‘the moment
when desire becomes human is also that in which the child is born into language’
(113). Like the ‘fort-da’ game, language is ‘a presence made of absence’ (71). Once we
enter language, the completeness of the Real is gone forever. Language introduces
an alienating split between being and meaning; before language we had only being
(a self-complete nature), after language we are both object and subject: this is made
manifest every time I think (subject) about myself (object). In other words, ‘I identify
myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object’ (94). I am ‘I’ when I
speak to you and ‘you’ when you speak to me. As Lacan explains, ‘It is not a question
of knowing whether I speak of myself in a way that conforms to what I am, but rather
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
of knowing whether I am the same as that of which I speak’ (182). In an attempt to
explain this division, Lacan rewrites René Descartes’s (1993) ‘I think therefore I am’ as
‘I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think’ (Lacan, 1989: 183). In this
formulation ‘I think’ is the subject of the enunciation (the Imaginary/Symbolic subject)
and ‘I am’ is the subject of the enunciated (the Real subject). Therefore, there is always
a gap between the I who speaks and the I of whom is spoken. Entry into the Symbolic
results in what Lacan (2001) describes as castration: the symbolic loss of being that is
necessary to enter meaning. In order to engage in culture we have given up self-identity
with our nature. When ‘I’ speak I am always different from the ‘I’ of whom I speak, always
sliding into difference and defeat: ‘when the subject appears somewhere as meaning,
he is manifested elsewhere as “fading”, as disappearance’ (218).
The Symbolic is an intersubjective network of meanings, which exists as a structure
we must enter. As such, it is very similar to the way in which culture is understood in
post-Marxist cultural studies (see Chapter 4). It is, therefore, what we experience as
reality: reality being the symbolic organization of the Real. Once in the Symbolic our
subjectivity is both enabled (we can do things and make meaning) and constrained
(there are limits to what we can do and how we can make meaning). The Symbolic
order confirms who we are. I may think I am this or that, but unless this is confirmed
– unless I and others can recognize this in the Symbolic – it will not be really true.
The day I was awarded my PhD I was no more intelligent than the day before, but
in a symbolic sense I was: I now had a PhD and I could call myself Doctor! The
Symbolic order had recognized and therefore allowed me and others to recognize my
new intellectual status.
The third stage of development is the ‘Oedipus complex’: the encounter with sexual
difference. Successful completion of the Oedipus complex enforces our transition from
the Imaginary to the Symbolic. It also compounds our sense of ‘lack’. The impossibility
of fulfilment is now experienced as a movement from signifier to signifier, unable to
fix upon a signified. For Lacan (1989), desire is the hopeless pursuit of the fixed signified
(the ‘other’, the ‘Real’, the moment of plenitude, the mother’s body), always forever
becoming another signifier – the ‘incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier’
(170). Desire exists in the impossibility of closing the gap between self and other – to
make good that which we ‘lack’. We long for a time when we existed in ‘nature’ (inseparable
from the mother’s body), where everything was simply itself, before the mediations of
language and the Symbolic. As we move forward through the narrative of our lives, we
are driven by a desire to overcome the condition, and as we look back, we continue to
‘believe’ (this is mostly an unconscious process) that the union with the mother (or the
person playing the symbolic role of the mother) was a moment of plenitude before the
fall into ‘lack’. The ‘lesson’ of the ‘Oedipus complex’ is that
[t]he child must now resign itself to the fact that it can never have any direct access
to  .  .  .  the prohibited body of the mother.  .  .  .  [A]fter the Oedipus crisis, we will
never again be able to attain this precious object, even though we will spend all
our lives hunting for it. We have to make do instead with substitute objects  .  .  .  with
which we try vainly to plug the gap at the very centre of our being. We move
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
among substitutes for substitutes, metaphors for metaphors, never able to recover
the pure (if fictive) self-identity and self-completion.  .  .  .  In Lacanian theory, it is
an original lost object – the mother’s body – which drives forward the narrative of
our lives, impelling us to pursue substitutes for this lost paradise in the endless
metonymic movement of desire (Eagleton, 1983: 167, 168, 185).
The discourse of romantic love – in which ‘love’ is the ultimate solution to all our
problems – could be cited as an example of this endless search. What I mean by this is
the way that romance as a discursive practice (see discussions of Foucault in Chapter 6
and post-Marxism in Chapter 4) holds that love makes us whole, it completes our
being. Love in effect promises to return us to the Real: that blissful moment of
plenitude, inseparable from the body of the mother. We can see this played out in the
masculine romance of Paris, Texas. The film can be read as a road movie of the unconscious, a figur­ation of Travis Henderson’s impossible struggle to return to the moment
of plenitude. The film stages three attempts at return: first, Travis goes to Mexico in
search of his mother’s origins; then he goes to Paris (Texas) in search of the moment
when he was conceived in his mother’s body; finally, in an act of ‘displacement’, he
returns Hunter to Jane (a son to his mother), in symbolic recognition that his own quest
is doomed to failure.
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Laura Mulvey’s (1975) essay ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’ is perhaps the classic
statement on popular film from the perspective of feminist psychoanalysis. The essay
is concerned with how popular cinema produces and reproduces what she calls the
‘male gaze’. Mulvey describes her approach as ‘political psychoanalysis’. Psychoanalytic
theory is ‘appropriated  .  .  .  as a political weapon [to demonstrate] the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form’ (6).
The inscription of the image of woman in this system is twofold: (i) she is the
object of male desire, and (ii) she is the signifier of the threat of castration. In order
to challenge popular cinema’s ‘manipulation of visual pleasure’, Mulvey calls for
what she describes as the ‘destruction of pleasure as a radical weapon’ (7). She is
uncompromising on this point: ‘It is said that analysing pleasure, or beauty, destroys
it. This is the intention of this article’ (8).
So what are the pleasures that must be destroyed? She identifies two. First, there is
scopophilia, the pleasure of looking. Citing Freud, she suggests that it is always more
than just the pleasure of looking: scopophilia involves ‘taking other people as objects,
subjecting them to a controlling gaze’ (ibid.). The notion of the controlling gaze is crucial
to her argument. But so is sexual objectification: scopophilia is also sexual, ‘using another
person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight’ (10). Although it clearly presents
itself to be seen, Mulvey argues that the conventions of popular cinema are such as to
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
suggest a ‘hermetically sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence
of the audience’ (9). The audience’s ‘voyeuristic fantasy’ is encouraged by the contrast
between the darkness of the cinema and the changing patterns of light on the screen.
Popular cinema promotes and satisfies a second pleasure: ‘developing scopophilia
in its narcissistic aspect’ (ibid.). Here Mulvey draws on Lacan’s (2009) account of the
‘mirror stage’ (see earlier section) to suggest that there is an analogy to be made
between the constitution of a child’s ego and the pleasures of cinematic identification.
Just as a child recognizes and misrecognizes itself in the mirror, the spectator recognizes
and misrecognizes itself on the screen. She explains it thus:
The mirror stage occurs at a time when the child’s physical ambitions outstrip his
motor capacity, with the result that his recognition of himself is joyous in that he
imagines his mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than he experiences
his own body. Recognition is thus overlaid with misrecognition: the image recognised
is conceived as the reflected body of the self, but its misrecognition as superior
projects this body outside itself as an ideal ego, the alienated subject, which, reintrojected as an ego ideal, gives rise to the future generation of identification with
others (9–10).
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Her argument is that popular cinema produces two contradictory forms of visual
pleasure. The first invites scopophilia; the second promotes narcissism. The contradiction
arises because ‘in film terms, one implies a separation of the erotic identity of the
subject from the object on the screen (active scopophilia), the other demands identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator’s fascination with
and recognition of his like’ (10). In Freudian terms, the separation is between ‘scopophilic
instinct (pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object)’ and ‘ego libido
(forming identification processes)’ (17). But in a world structured by ‘sexual imbalance’,
the pleasure of the gaze has been separated into two distinct positions: men look and
women exhibit ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ – both playing to, and signifying, male desire (11).
Women are therefore crucial to the pleasure of the (male) gaze.
Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object
for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator
within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of
the screen (11–12).
She gives the example of the showgirl who can be seen to dance for both looks.
When the heroine removes her clothes, it is for the sexual gaze of both the hero in the
narrative and the spectator in the auditorium. It is only when they subsequently make
love that a tension arises between the two looks.
Popular cinema is structured around two moments: moments of narrative and
moments of spectacle. The first is associated with the active male, the second with the
passive female. The male spectator fixes his gaze on the hero (‘the bearer of the look’)
to satisfy ego formation, and through the hero to the heroine (‘the erotic look’) to
satisfy libido. The first look recalls the moment of recognition/misrecognition in front
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Slavoj biaek and Lacanian fantasy
of the mirror. The second look confirms women as sexual objects, but it is made more
complex by the claim that
[u]ltimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference.  .  .  .  She connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a penis,
implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure.  .  .  .  Thus the woman as icon,
displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look,
always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified (13).
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
To salvage pleasure and escape an unpleasurable re-enactment of the original castration
complex, the male unconscious can take two routes to safety. The first means of escape
is through detailed investigation of the original moment of trauma, usually leading to
‘the devaluation, punishment or saving of the guilty object’ (ibid.). She cites the narratives
of film noir as typical of this method of anxiety control. The second means of escape
is through ‘complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish object or
turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather
than dangerous’ (13–14). She gives the example of ‘the cult of the female star  .  .  .  [in
which] fetishistic scopophilia builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming
it into something satisfying in itself ’ (14). This often leads to the erotic look of the
spectator no longer being borne by the look of the male protagonist, producing
moments of pure erotic spectacle as the camera holds the female body (often focusing
on particular parts of the body) for the unmediated erotic look of the spectator.
Mulvey concludes her argument by suggesting that the pleasure of popular cinema
must be destroyed in order to liberate women from the exploitation and oppression
of being the ‘(passive) raw material for the (active) male gaze’ (17). She proposes what
amounts to a Brechtian revolution in the making of films.10 To produce a cinema no
longer ‘obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego’ (18), it is necessary to break with illusionism, making the camera material, and producing in the audience ‘dialectics, passionate detachment’ (ibid.). Moreover, ‘[w]omen, whose image has
continually been stolen and used for this end [objects of the male gaze], cannot view
the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental
regret’ (ibid.). (For feminist criticisms of Mulvey’s argument, see Chapter 8.)
Slavoj 2i4ek and Lacanian fantasy
Terry Eagleton describes the Slovenian critic Slavoj yižek ‘as the most formidably brilliant exponent of psychoanalysis, indeed of cultural theory in general, to have emerged
in Europe for some decades (quoted in Myers, 2003: 1). Ian Parker (2004), on the
other hand, claims that ‘[t]here is no theoretical system as such in yižek’s work, but it
often seems as if there is one.  .  .  .  He does not actually add any specific concepts to
those of other theorists but articulates and blends the concepts of others’ (115, 157).
The three main influences on yižek’s work are the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
Friedrich Hegel, the politics of Marx and the psychoanalysis of Lacan. It is, however,
the influence of Lacan that organizes the place of Marx and Hegel in his work. Whether
we agree with Eagleton or Parker, what is true is that yižek is an interesting reader of
texts (see, for example, yižek, 1991, 2009). In this short account, I shall focus almost
exclusively on his elaboration of the Lacanian notion of fantasy.
Fantasy is not the same as illusion; rather, fantasy organizes how we see and understand reality. It works as a frame through which we see and make sense of the world.
Our fantasies are what make us unique; they provide us with our point of view;
organizing how we see and experience the world around us. When the pop musician
Jarvis Cocker (former lead singer with Pulp) appeared on BBC Radio 4’s long-running
programme, Desert Island Discs (24 April 2005), he made this comment: ‘It doesn’t
really matter where things happen, it’s kinda what’s going on in your head that makes
life interesting.’ This is an excellent example of the organizing role of fantasy.
yižek (1989) argues that ‘“Reality” is a fantasy construction that enables us to mask
the Real of our desire’ (45). Freud (1976) gives an account of a man who dreams that
his dead son came to him to complain, ‘Can’t you see that I am burning?’ The father,
Freud argues, is awoken by the overwhelming smell of burning. In other words, the
outside stimulation (burning), which had been incorporated into the dream, had
become too strong to be accommodated by the dream. According to yižek (1989),
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
The Lacanian reading is directly opposed to this. The subject does not awake
himself when the external irritation becomes too strong; the logic of his awakening
is quite different. First he constructs a dream, a story which enables him to prolong
his sleep, to avoid awakening into reality. But the thing that he encounters in the
dream, the reality of his desire, the Lacanian Real – in our case, the reality of the child’s
reproach to his father, ‘Can’t you see that I am burning?’, implying the father’s
fundamental guilt – is more terrifying than so-called external reality itself, and that
is why he awakens: to escape the Real of his desire, which announces itself in the
terrifying dream. He escapes into so-called reality to be able to continue to sleep,
to maintain his blindness, to elude awakening into the Real of his desire (45).
It is the father’s guilt about not having done enough to prevent his son’s death that is
the Real that the dream seeks to conceal. In other words, the reality to which he awakes
is less Real than that which he encountered in his dream.
yižek (2009) provides other examples from popular culture of the fantasy construction of reality. Rather than fulfilling desire, fantasy is the staging of desire. As he explains,
[W]hat the fantasy stages is not a scene in which our desire is fulfilled, fully satisfied,
but on the contrary, a scene that realises, stages, the desire as such. The fundamental
point of psychoanalysis is that desire is not something given in advance, but something that has to be constructed – and it is precisely the role of fantasy to give the
coordinates of the subject’s desire, to specify its object, to locate the position the
subject assumes in it. It is only through fantasy that the subject is constituted as
desiring: through fantasy, we learn how to desire (335).
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
In this way, then, ‘fantasy space functions as an empty surface, a kind of screen
for the projection of desires’ (336). He gives as an example a short story by Patricia
Highsmith, ‘Black House’. In a small American town old men gather in a bar each
evening to remember the past. In different ways their memories always seem to
become focused on an old black house on a hill just outside town. It is in this house
that each man can recall certain adventures, especially sexual, having taken place.
There is now, however, a general agreement amongst the men that it would be
dangerous to go back to the house. A young newcomer to the town informs the men
that he is not afraid to visit the old house. When he does explore the house, he finds
only ruin and decay. Returning to the bar, he informs the men that the black house is
no different from any other old, decaying property. The men are outraged by this news.
As he leaves, one of the men attacks him, resulting in the young newcomer’s death.
Why were the men so outraged by the young newcomer’s behaviour? yižek explains
it thus:
[T]he ‘black house’ was forbidden to the men because it functioned as an empty
space wherein they could project their nostalgic desires, their distorted memories;
by publicly stating that the ‘black house’ was nothing but an old ruin, the young
intruder reduced their fantasy space to everyday, common reality. He annulled the
difference between reality and fantasy space, depriving the men of the place in
which they were able to articulate their desires (337).
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Desire is never fulfilled or fully satisfied; it is endlessly reproduced in our fantasies.
‘Anxiety is brought on by the disappearance of desire’ (336). In other words, anxiety is
the result of getting too close to what we desire, thus threatening to eliminate ‘lack’
itself and end desire. This is further complicated by the retroactive nature of desire.
As yižek observes, ‘ The paradox of desire is that it posits retroactively its own cause,
i.e. the objet a [object small other] is an object that can be perceived only by a gaze
“distorted” by desire, an object that does not exist for an “objective” gaze’ (339). In
other words, what I desire is organized by processes of fantasy that fix on an object and
generate a desire which appears to have drawn me to the object but which in fact did
not exist until I first fixed upon the object: what appears to be a forward movement is
always retroactive.
1. The film Human Nature presents a very funny staging of this idea. Freud (1985)
uses the volcanic eruption at Pompeii in ad 79 as a means to explain repression and
how to undo its work: ‘ There is, in fact, no better analogy for repression, by which
something in the mind is at once made inaccessible and preserved, than burial of
the sort to which Pompeii fell a victim and from which it could emerge once more
through the work of spades’ (65).
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
2. Another way to think of this is as the difference between repression and suppression: the former is when something is blocked from consciousness, whereas the
second is a conscious effort not to think about something.
3. In the original German, ego, super-ego and id are Ich (I), über-Ich (over-I) and es (it).
4. Freud’s idea of human nature is similar to that developed by Karl Marx. In volume
1 of Capital Marx distinguishes between ‘human nature in general’ and ‘human
nature as historically modified in each historical epoch’ (1976c: 759). Human
nature in general consists of certain needs and capacities. These can be divided into
those that are ‘natural’ and those that belong to our ‘species being’. Our ‘natural’
needs and capacities we share with other animals (food, shelter, reproduction,
etc.), those of our ‘species being’ are unique to us as humans and are historically
and socially variable in their concrete manifestation. In other words, and contrary
to many conservative accounts, human nature is not fixed and unchanging; it is not
something set, but always in a state of becoming. What it means to be human in
the contemporary world is very different from what it was 5,000 or 10,000 years
ago. It will be different again in the future.
5. Parapraxes offer the other main means of access to the repressed. See Freud, 1975
and Storey, 2014.
6. Another example of the play of culture in psychoanalysis is language. The asso­
ciations a patient may bring to something will be enabled and constrained by the
language(s) he or she may speak. Moreover, the various examples that Freud
(1976) provides of words standing in for something other than their literal meaning are also limited to the language(s) the patient understands.
7. The manner in which Freud discusses the girl’s experience of the Oedipus complex,
especially the language he uses, seems to suggest that a real understanding of the
process was not very important to him.
8. It should also be noted that Freud (1977) believed there were two ways to navigate
the Oedipus complex: ‘positive’, which resulted in heterosexuality, and ‘negative’,
which produces homosexuality. A boy may ‘take the place of his mother and be
loved by his father’ (318).
9. ‘As a witty poet remarks so rightly, the mirror would do well to reflect a little more
before returning our image to us’ (Lacan, 1989: 152).
10. For Brechtian aesthetics, see Brecht (1978).
Further reading
Storey, John (ed.), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 4th edn, Harlow:
Pearson Education, 2009. This is the companion volume to the previous edition of this
book. A fully updated 5th edition containing further readings is due for publication in
2018. An interactive website is also available (, which
contains helpful student resources and a glossary of terms for each chapter.
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.
Further reading
Copyright © 2018. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
Belsey, Catherine, Culture and the Real, London: Routledge, 2005. A very clear account
of Lacan and yižek.
Easthope, Antony, The Unconscious, London: Routledge, 1999. An excellent introduction
to psychoanalysis. Highly recommended.
Evans, Dylan, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, London: Routledge,
1996. Indispensable for understanding Lacan.
Frosh, Stephen, Key Concepts in Psychoanalysis, London: British Library, 2002. An
excellent introduction.
Kay, Sarah, YiZek: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003. An excellent
introduction. I particularly like the way she acknowledges that sometimes she just
does not understand what yižek is saying.
Laplanche, J. and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, London: Karnac Books,
1988. A brilliant glossary of concepts.
Mitchell, Juliet, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1974. A classic and
groundbreaking account of how feminism can use psychoanalysis to undermine
patriarchy. As she claims, ‘psychoanalysis is not a recommendation for a patriarchal
society, but an analysis of one’.
Myers, Tony, Slavoj YiZek, London: Routledge, 2003. A very accessible introduction to
yižek’s work.
Parker, Ian, Slavoj YiZek: A Critical Introduction, London: Pluto, 2004. Another very good
account of yižek’s work. The most critical of the recent introductions.
Wright, Elizabeth, Psychoanalytic Criticism, London: Methuen, 1984. A very good introduction to psychoanalytic criticism.
yižek, Slavoj, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. An excellent introduction to yižek and popular
Storey, J. (2018). Cultural theory and popular culture : An introduction. Taylor & Francis Group.
Created from csusm on 2022-03-27 19:32:31.

Calculate your order
Pages (275 words)
Standard price: $0.00
Client Reviews
Our Guarantees
100% Confidentiality
Information about customers is confidential and never disclosed to third parties.
Original Writing
We complete all papers from scratch. You can get a plagiarism report.
Timely Delivery
No missed deadlines – 97% of assignments are completed in time.
Money Back
If you're confident that a writer didn't follow your order details, ask for a refund.

Calculate the price of your order

You will get a personal manager and a discount.
We'll send you the first draft for approval by at
Total price:
Power up Your Academic Success with the
Team of Professionals. We’ve Got Your Back.
Power up Your Study Success with Experts We’ve Got Your Back.
WeCreativez WhatsApp Support
Our customer support team is here to answer your questions. Ask us anything!
👋 Hi, how can I help?