The Freudian Wish and its Place in Ethics

Chapter 1: The Doctrine of the 'Wish'

Edwin B. Holt

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THE Freudian psychology is based on the doctrine of the 'wish,' just as physical science is based, to-day, on the concept of function. Both of these are what may be called dynamic concepts, rather than static ; they envisage natural phenomena not as things but as processes, and largely to this fact is due their preëminent explanatory value. Through the 'wish' the 'thing' aspect of mental phenomena, the more substantive ' content of consciousness,' becomes somewhat modified and reinterpreted. This 'wish,' which as a concept Freud does not analyze, includes all that would commonly be so classed, and also whatever would be called impulse, tendency, desire, purpose, attitude, and the like ; not including, however, any emotional components thereof. Freud also acknowledges the existence of what he calls 'negative wishes ' ; and these are not fears but negative purposes. An exact definition of the 'wish' is that it is a course

( 4) of action which some mechanism of the body is set to carry out, whether it actually does so or does not. All emotions, as well as the feelings of pleasure and displeasure, are separable from the 'wishes'; and this precludes any thought of a merely hedonistic psychology. The wish is any purpose or project for a course of action, whether it is being merely entertained by the mind or is being actually executed; a distinction which is really of little importance. We shall do well if we consider this wish to be, as in fact it is, dependent on a motor attitude of the physical body, which goes over into overt action and conduct when the wish is carried into execution.

Now some wishes are compatible while others are antagonistic, and it is in the interplay of wishes that one finds the text of the entire Freudian psychology. It is a dynamic psychology, utterly, although Freud says little as to the energy which drives the machinery. One will best, I think, not hypothecate to this end any such thing as ' psychic energy,' but look rather, for the energy so expended, in the nervous system, which does, in fact, establish the motor attitudes and their conflicts, and does actuate the muscles to the performance

(5) of conduct. Wishes conflict when they would lead the body into opposed lines of conduct, for it is clear that the body cannot at the same time, say, lie abed and yet be hurrying to catch a train ; and this is the source of conflict in all cases, even those where the actual physical interference is too subtle to be readily detected. It is clear, then, that of two opposed attitudes only one can be carried into effect ; the other is 'suppressed.' We shall later see how the suppressed wish can be still entertained, and whether it can exert influence. Freud finds that many familiar phenomena, such as wit, dreams, lapses of memory, and so forth, are the work of wish-conflicts. And with these we come to a more concrete matter.

Many dreams are quite obviously the pure realization of wishes ; the person does, in his dream, what he deep-down wishes to do, but has been prevented from doing when awake by the cares and importunities of the daily routine, or by some other obstacle. The dreams of children are usually of activities which the mother or nurse bad forbidden during the day; so, too, it is said, the dreams of saints are of rites and practices which the saint yearns for, but for which a prosaic world

( 6) provides too little scope. It is clear enough that all such dreams are dictated by wishes. It would be a most pertinent question, however, to ask how the necessary scenery is provided, the mountain of sweets for the child, and for the saint the rapturous vision of the Kingdom of the Blest. Freud, I think, has not enlightened us here; but we have from other sources sufficient indications that the mechanisms of perception and of will are alike in structure, so far indeed as they are not identically the same mechanism, to make probable the supposition that 'wishes' can count on the cooperation of the, here deceptive, 'senses.'

Such dreams are in any case, so far as their motive and cause goes, clear products of the wish. But many other dreams, the nonsensical and the horrible, are not so readily explained. Herr Pepi, a medical student, was called in the morning when it was time to get up and go to the hospital for his daily rounds. He roused up, but fell asleep again, and dreamed of himself as lying in one of the beds at the hospital; at the head of the bed was one of the official cards reading—" Pepi H. Student of medicine. Age 22 years." Then in his dream he said to himself : "Well, since I'm al

(7) -ready at the hospital I don't have to get up to go there." Then he turned over and slept on. This dream, while nonsensical, still clearly expresses the wish of one who wants to lie abed in the morning. But it provided an excuse for lying abed, and this shows that more than this single wish was at work to produce the dream. This other factor was clearly another wish—to be at the hospital as duty required; and this wish, weaker than the first, was strong enough to transfer to the hospital the picture of a comfortable morning nap, but not strong enough to interfere further in the realization of the wish to lie abed. The dream is a compromise between two wishes, and that is why it is somewhat absurd. Thus we have a clew to the reason for nonsensical dreams ; and for Freud it has been, as generally, the apparent obstacles which have shed the most light. For here we begin to see into the mechanism of character.

The incoherent quality comes from the compromise, in which, because two or more wishes interfere, none is fully satisfied : each wish is in fact, as language aptly has it, 'compromised.' The same mechanism is often evident in daily life, as when with a great show of pity someone dwells

( 8) fondly and repetitiously on the imperfections of another. Here the wish to detract from another person is modified by the wish to live up to convention. The pity is not genuine, because, as the person's conduct shows, it is not strong enough to override the propensity to aspersion. The result is hypocritical and absurd, and in many cases goes so far as to be unintelligible. I have been present when a man literally tortured his wife on a quiet moonlight evening by ostentatiously reiterating, with minor variations, for two hours the sedulous query—" Darling, are you perfectly comfortable? Are you sure you don't need more wraps? " The underlying motive (as I knew from other sources) was torture, but whatever merciful impulses the husband had were so fully expressed in the form of his solicitations, that the hints and protestations made to him by others present and by his wife availed nothing. The husband enjoyed the evening immensely; but the friends were mystified and made uncomfortable, and one remarked afterwards, " He must be crazy ! " In dreams such confounding of motive often goes so far that the dream is, notoriously, unintelligible. The most nonsensical of them are complicated by many wishes, and these

(9) often of a deeply suppressed order; so that it is a long task to unravel them. Nor can the result be always described in a few pages. I will give one of the simpler cases of an apparently meaningless dream.[1]

A girl of about seventeen once asked me to explain this dream. " I met a certain older woman of my acquaintance, on the street. She, put out her hand to shake hands with me. I was about to do the same when all my teeth fell out and into my hand."

"Well," I said, "you clearly do not like this older woman. Why not?"

" No, I don't like her," said she, and paused so irresolutely that I repeated my " Why? "

" Well, I suppose it is because she likes a certain young girl of my own age and always tries to come in between us and keep us apart. This girl is my dearest friend."

" And with which of these is the thought of teeth connected? "

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" I have no idea," said the girl, pausing again. Then she added, coloring slightly, " The only thing I recall is that this older woman when she kisses my friend, as she often does, will nibble her cheek playfully like a mother-cat pretending to bite her kitten. And I hate to see her do it."

With this the dream was of course cleared up ; it was the polite and blameless equivalent of saying to the older woman when encountering her on the street, " I would rather lose my teeth than greet you affectionately " (nibble) :—a version of the matter which brought a sudden gleam of intelligence to the face of the girl who had had the dream. It is not often that a nonsensical dream is so easily interpreted; yet even here, as the reader sees, the wishes or motives involved have their roots in the very depths of character. The rôle played by the teeth is interesting because it is halfway symbolic ; that is, while the teeth serve as a symbol of repugnance, their associated context in the dreamer's mind shows clearly how they come to have such a meaning.[2] Symbolism is very common in dreams, but it is often excessively obscure.


A further class of dreams, those of anguish and of horror, seem less amenable to the Freudian explanation. These are frequently dreams of the death of a near relative or friend, in which the dreamer experiences an agony of sorrow (or remorse)., Thus Freud relates : [3] "One day I find a lady very downcast and tearful. She says, 'I don't want to see my relatives ever again ; they must abominate me.' Then she relates, almost in the same breath, that she is put in mind of a dream (the significance of which she of course does not know) which she had when she was four years old ; and it runs as follows—' A lynx or a fox is walking along the roof, and then something falls down or I fall down, and they bring my mother out of the house dead.' Hereupon she weeps bitterly. I had hardly told her that this dream must signify that in her childhood she wished to see her mother dead, and that it is because of this dream that she imagines that her relatives detest her, when she brings out a bit of further evidence to explain the dream : she was once, as a very young child, plagued by a street-urchin who called her 'Lynx-Eye'; and when she was three years old a tile from the

( 12) roof had fallen on her mother's head and cut it so that it bled."

Freud's recognition of the existence of such morbid wishes has offended some persons, who pretend, I suppose, that human nature is not capable of anything so unlovely. Yet I am sure that no one has had to do with children without hearing all too frequently—" You mean old thing ! I hope you die ! So there now ! "—and this uttered with all childish vehemence. In fact, this is perhaps the earliest and most typical reaction of a child when it is vexed by other, and especially by older, persons ; a situation that it does not know how to cope with otherwise. The most trifling irritation will often provoke it. But the child evidently finds that the wish is futile and suppresses it, having hit on more effective means for overriding opposition. Yet if with years of discretion the motives that suppress such a wish become strong, it must not be forgotten that the circumstances which tend to keep it alive and active may grow in gravity and in urgency. The young woman who keeps her fiancé waiting for forty years while she ministers to a crippled parent has an indefeasible interest in the timely decease of her burden. And

(13) certainly there is no clergyman but has often witnessed at funerals how the chastening hand of bereavement is borne with a sprightliness and cheer, not to say alacrity, that have their roots elsewhere than in fortitude and faith.

So in the instance just cited from Freud, if a woman feels that she is detested by her relatives and if she never wishes to see them again, there are two ways of escape—she can go, or they can go! The dream of her childhood envisaged the second and more delectable alternative ; and when later in life she found herself in a similar quandary the memory of this dream persistently suggested itself to her more innocent self. This is the mechanism of ' temptation.' But if such a consummation was wished,' why even in the dream should it be contemplated with anguish? Freud's answer is that while this was wished, other wishes also comprised in the character wished the opposite. For many other reasons, and these the less selfish ones, the woman by no means wished to see her relatives demise. These more rational wishes, which in ordinary waking hours are strong enough to hold the morbid wish in abeyance, constitute the individual's recognized character. It is they, or the mechan-

(14) -isms that embody them, which need the recuperation of sleep ; it is they which 'go to sleep.' Whereupon the wishes which have been held in idleness, and are therefore not fagged, are able to exercise themselves in opposition to the upper group. But sleep is partial and of varying degrees, and a dream so contrary to the person's habitual and normal attitude cannot be put through without arousing the upper group, which then reacts with just the same emotions that it would have in face of the actual waking contemplation of the unlovely wish executed. As is well known, the upper group is often completely aroused by such a dream, and the dreamer finds himself wide-awake and under strong emotional strain. Freud calls this upper group of wishes, which is always the prevailing character of the individual, the 'censor.' Thus a person who has suppressed wishes, and very few have not, has the rudiments of double, or indeed of multiple, personality—a thing which in practical morals has often been shrewdly noted. In fact, Freud has amply demonstrated that 'possession by devils ' is not a merely literary figure of the New Testament.

To the question, then, whether a person 'wishes

( 15) to have a painful dream,' Freud's answer is, of course, No. But the submerged part of a personality contains many wishes which the better portion ordinarily holds in check, but which, if they succeed in realizing themselves even in a dream, arouse the upper personality to feelings of horror and remorse. This view, so far from being novel or subversive, fits at once into the picture which the most ancient moralists have given us. A fearful dream is an exact counterpart on the plane of imagination, of what only too often happens in actual waking life : a person's lower self 'gets the better of him,' he commits an evil deed, instantly comes to himself ' again, and suffers an agony of remorse. Unmistakably one of his selves wished the evil and did it, while another self surveys the result with consternation. Again the same thing happens in revery, where the upper self (censor) is somewhat relaxing its vigilance: many a man in revery contemplates deeds and projects which he would not let himself carry out, or even think of, in moments of complete alertness. But such revery is an instructive indulgence, for it is a perfectly just psychological observation that, " As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." It might

( 16) also be called Freud's motto. The suppressed motives gain currency if thus exercised, and by just so much are amalgamated with the upper self and become a part of it. The 'still small voice' is the popular but just designation for the protest of the semi-dormant upper self when, in revery, fancy, or imagination, lower impulses have succeeded in intruding on the field of consciousness; and I know of no more cardinal doctrine for the cultivation of moral character than that of the still small voice. But of this later. Our point here is that the sole difference between dreams, revery, and waking life is in the degree of vigilance exercised by the censor. In dreams the censor is most relaxed, and evil wishes which at no other time would be tolerated can then express themselves. If there are any ! The dreams that a person has are significant of what does lie smoldering within him.

Such, in outline, is Freud's explanation of dreams. He has devised a method, 'psychoanalysis,' for deciphering the more obscure ones. And, although many dreams are very refractory, and Freud himself looks on some of his analyses as incomplete or even doubtful, yet the results are so illuminating, and so comparable with phenomena

( 17) of the waking life, that I think no one who goes into the facts and scans them without bias will doubt the fundamental soundness of Freud's view that dreams are the work of wishes.

Now suppressed wishes find other means of expression than dreams, and means by which to influence the consciousness and acts of waking life. These are most startlingly evident in mental derangements, and it was in connection with hysteria and other nervous disorders that Freud commenced his study of human character. Into this field we need not go, although it is well to keep in mind that no sharp line divides the normal from the abnormal, and that what Freud says of the normal mechanism is well substantiated by careful observation of the exaggerated abnormal cases.

Another phenomenon which shows the working of subterranean forces in character is that of wit and humor. After reviewing the long list of theories and definitions of humor, which is as dense a jungle of misconception as anywhere exists, Freud caps them all with his simple formula that every form of wit or humor is nothing but a means of 'letting the cat out of the bag.'[4] But what

(18) cat, what bag, and what are the means? The cat is one of these suppressed wishes, the bag is the confinement imposed by the vigilant censor, and the means are a variety of devices to trick the censor, particularly by taking advantage of the latter's weak points. Thus the man who said, " The Rev. Mr. —'s prayer yesterday was the most eloquent prayer that has ever been presented before a Boston audience," was really charging the preacher with caring more about his audience than about God. But it eludes the speaker's censor because, firstly, the remark barely misses of conveying high praise; secondly, because the same or similar phrase with 'sermon' put in the place of 'prayer' is fairly habitual and not a few persons are able to rattle the remark off ' without thinking.' For precisely the same reasons it can be counted on to pass the censor of anyone to whom it is addressed. In fact, while such a comment is as derogatory as it can well be, it is so nicely adjusted to the weaknesses of the average person's censor that probably even the preacher who was its victim would have been unable to take serious offense. Thus this sly tribute of praise gives vent to the teller's suppressed attitude of hatred (or it may be envy,

(19) etc.) without traversing any of the accepted social conventions. And the censor is generally strong on conventions.

And, further, it clears the way for a similar release of suppressed wish in the person to whom the comment is made. The function of a joke in the inventor's mind and its rôle in the minds of those who hear or read it are not always identical. As to the former, of course, humor occurs spontaneously or not at all : one cannot grind out wit to order. At the most one can cultivate a facetious, habit of mind, which means a censor that rigidly regards the conventions but imposes no more sincere check on illicit wishes. One can see this in many degrees, and one recalls that the ' saint' is traditionally grave and shows no trace of facetiousness. Wit is never saintly, and is always sly; yet, as will appear, it need not be vicious. But to rack one's brains for a joke is to court the impossible. When a joke comes, it infallibly produces a smile even though the person be quite alone. I think there can be no doubt, although here I am going exactly counter to Freud,[5] that this is due to an

(20) overflow of energy from the hitherto suppressed wish into the facial muuscles; why just these muscles is not known, although one gets a hint from Darwin's book on " The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals." After this, if the suppressed wish is sufficiently relieved by the one discharge, the joke is forgotten and the smile fades ; but if the wish has a larger store of pent-up energy, the joke lingerrs in the mind and the smile on the face; it may be for days. A person who is habitually in this corndition is, in the vernacular, a ' chucklehead.' But,, on the other hand, the censor may be aroused too, greater vigilance; and the person ' straightens tout his face' and 'sobers down.' Just what shall happen depends on the relative strengths of the suppressed wish and of the censor, and on the amount of release which the joke affords as well aas on the degree of violence which it does to the censor. A really 'slick' piece of wit, like Mark Twain's " When in doubt, tell the truth," does no violence to anyone's censor, and is a perennial outlet for - one's contempt of deceitful humanity. It is sly but not vicious. Freud here involves us in a doctrineof the 'latent energy of suppressed wishes' ; andalthough this may sound

(21) highly metaphorical, it is an exact statement and easily explained in the strictest physiological terms.[6]

The reception of a piece of humor by a second person is subject to the same principles, but the conditions present more chance for variation. In the first place, the recipient may not have any suppression such as the joke would release. At a dinner-table where the hostess was a Christian Scientist I once heard a professional diner-out relate how, in a Christian Scientist's family of his acquaintance, the pet cat had given birth to blind kittens. It was very sad. The ' Science' healer was immediately consulted, and after ten days of absent treatment the kittens were restored to perfect sight. I tried in vain to kick the gentleman under the table as soon as I scented his drift, but he was not to be deterred ; the joke was a frost ; and after he departed the house rang with injurious comment:—he was a 'wife-beater,' and she, poor thing, might even then be 'committing suicide.'[7]

(22) It is clear enough that a piece of humor will miss fire when fired at a person who has not the requisite suppressed complex. In the instance just given this second person had not only no such suppression but the very reverse, and the joke was taken for exactly what it was—an act of aggression against Christian Science. Clearly, then, humor can generally be passed only among persons of similar suppressions ('prejudices'); and one notes, in fact, that it flows freely in circles of intimate friends, while it gives place to stiff formality in other assemblies in proportion to the lack of an established congeniality. The man who wants to be witty before a large audience must limit himself to ventilating suppressions which are fairly common to the race. The safest way is to appeal to the Old Adam in us all which secretly regards the fellow-man as a rival and prospective antagonist. The Germans aptly name this principle ' Schadenfreude,' for which we seem to have no equivalent. Even here the censors are of different degrees ofstrictness, and one must adapt one's Schadenfreude

( 23) to the average censor of the audience. One person finds it excruciatingly funny to hear a wan and lonely old woman sitting down on a tack; while another can scarcely bear to hear that Mr. X., the once promising but now middle-aged and disappointed senator, " has a glorious future behind him."

During the administration of one of our recent Presidents, the following varieties of unfriendly comment could be heard in different levels of society

"That 'ere Rosyvelt is a —— ——crazy fool " (corresponding to no censor at all).

“ The Old Colonel acts like a brainless bedlamite " (where the reference to a time of extreme popularity, the charm of alliteration, the indirectness of ' acts like,' and the somewhat cryptic value of the word 'bedlamite' all conspire to beguile a feeble censor).

" Ah, yes ! Teddy is unquestionably our headforemost citizen " (affectionate playfulness of the form 'Teddy,' and approximation to the encomiastic ' foremost. citizen ').

"In the last great Day of Judgment President Roosevelt will undoubtedly take his

( 24) place somewhere between St. George and St. Vitus."

Probably no one could be found to whom all four statements would be acceptable, although their actual purport is identical. On the other hand, the friends of Mr. Theodore Roosevelt and of his policies would not tolerate the first form, nor exactly relish the second or the third, while I have heard his warm admirers laugh heartily at the fourth.

It may be asked why, if this theory of wit is sound, a person should ever be brought to tolerate a joke at his own expense ; since he surely harbors no suppressed wishes against himself. The answer could be given that there is in each of us, besides the self-asserting or egoistic instinct with its allied group of wishes, an 'instinct of self-abasement '; [8] if this is the case, any wishes allied to this instinct, if suppressed (as they would be by an egoistic censor), would predispose a person to relish humor directed against himself. I have not observed a case which I feel to be certainly of this sort. But I know of two other types ; one false and one genuine. There are persons quite devoid of humor who

(25) have learned to watch others and to laugh almost exactly when and as they laugh. One such, a woman, passes among her friends for a witty creature; she has gathered a large repertoire of witticisms from the most approved sources, along with the proper mimetic accompaniment. These she displays along with other allurements on social occasions. Since she has a tolerable memory and fair intelligence, she carries the thing off rather well. Sometimes, however, the machinery creaks ; her fun is not always apposite, and at the jokes of others she is apt to laugh a hint too loudly in order to prove that she sees the point and, unfortunately, just a breath too late (at her own jewels she exhibits only a studied and discreet smile) ; if it is a joke which divides the assembly into amused and indignant factions, she is lost. Some find her very amusing; so do I. Now such a person, if confronted by a joke at his or her own expense, and if something in the context gives him the clew that it is a joke, has to decide again from the context whether to be angry or to feign amusement. If the occasion as a whole has been intimate and friendly the person will often decide to emit gales of laughter.

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The other sort of case is where the aspect which is pointed out for ridicule is so little intrinsic to the person's actual self that this actual self is quite able to experience Schadenfreude over it ; he 'objectifies' it. Once in camp I was trying to chop wood, while another, more experienced chap looked on. I was doing it abominably, and at one stroke that was worse even than the others I said, to save my face, I suppose, " Oh, dear, I missed that stroke." " Which one? " said he dryly; and set me to laughing till the tears ran down my cheeks. Since then I have learned to chop wood, and I should now feel annoyed if an onlooker were to ask me which of my strokes I referred to as the unsuccessful one. When grown-ups assemble for a frolic and play children's games, they laugh as heartily and as genuinely at their own awkwardness and failures as at those of others. A man or woman not doing so betrays the fact that he or she is not sufficiently mature to have left the petty prowesses of childhood behind ; but still accounts them an adornment of personality and a matter for pride. This in an adult is ' arrested development.'

One further point about wit. The man to whom a joke spontaneously occurs usually merely smiles,

( 27) though he sometimes laughs ; while the man to whom the joke is narrated usually laughs, though he may merely smile. This difference is due to the incubation process in the former case, where the suppressed wish is working against opposition, and by the time it gets to the surface it has not so much energy left to flow over into the facial muscles. In the man to whom a joke is told the suppressed wish is released suddenly and without effort on its own part, so that its whole energy passes into the laugh. Apart from this factor the phenomenon depends solely on the relative strengths of wish and censor.

Such, in brief, is Freud's doctrine of wit. The mechanism is the same as that which produces dreams, the only difference being that since in the latter case the censor is partially in abeyance, the wishes which can then manifest themselves are of a sort so profoundly suppressed that they could hardly pass the waking censor, even in the form of wit. They are of things too deep for jesting; as in the case narrated of little 'Lynx-Eye.' They are indeed usually quite unknown to the waking consciousness, so that there is no more effectual means for exploring the hidden depths of one's own

( 28) character than the careful interpretation of one's own dreams. Here, too, the censor may be sufficiently alert to require the seditious impulse to assume a highly disguised form ; as in the case of wit. On the other hand, all such suppressions as can come out in wit are just so much the freer to express themselves during sleep ; and they do so with the greater license, as may be seen by a comparison of obscene jokes with obscene dreams. Both wit and dreams reveal the deeper levels of character, and Freud is entitled to say: Tell me what a man laughs at and dreams about, and I will tell you what man he is.

It is not alone in these two classes of phenomena that suppressed wishes come into evidence. They manifest themselves, as some of the foregoing illustrations have intimated, in every act of daily life. And this is the more important fact for our present aim, for it shows us 'wishes' or, better, purposes so little suppressed that we can observe them actually operating to guide or misguide the conduct hour by hour of any human being. And here we begin to see that character is nothing but an assemblage of purposes, and that the question for ethics is—What shall the purposes be?—and,

( 29) How shall they be organized? But I must not anticipate.

Freud, whose professional interest is medical, has written a fascinating book, called in English " The Psychopathology of Everyday Life," [9] and several shorter monographs on the less conspicuous manifestations of wish interaction. These, with several able works that they have inspired,[10] establish a new art of reading character and enable us for the first time to study the subject intelligently. Here, as always with a new source of insight, such knowledge as we previously had of character is not subverted, but amplified and made more precise. We have always to some extent read one another's character without knowing quite how; the novelist, the dramatist, and the actor have undertaken to depict it. I believe it is not too much to say that now for the first time we know what character is.

In the ordinary phenomena of everyday life the

( 30) subconscious motives are often not deeply suppressed ; so little so, in fact, that it is more a question of their being for the moment in or out of attention.' Thus there are many varieties of handshake—the robust, the anemic, the cordial and sincere, the officially 'cordial' but actually indifferent, the disdainful, the hostile, the handshake of commerce (hard grip with eyes sedulously averted), etc., etc. We all' instinctively' read this silent language, and profit by it ; and the finer nuances are contained in small tensions and pressures that a third person often cannot see. Thus when at introduction a person grasps your hand with all apparent cordiality, and at the same time you feel it infinitesimally but firmly propelled away from himself, you know that the meaning is' So far and no farther; and so far only for the sake of appearances.' The person doing this is often quite unaware of the slight pushing away of your hand, unaware of the little part-gesture that so belies the expression of his face ; yet at another moment he is probably conscious enough of some sort of unfriendly feeling toward you. The person has lied with his face and with the general gesture of his hand, but in spite of himself the motive to be con-

(31) -cealed has significantly qualified his act. The fact is this : one cannot extend one's hand toward another with cordiality (i.e., to seize and to retain) when another motive within one is making for a different use of the same muscles. A close observer would undoubtedly detect equivocation in the facial expression as well. This hindrance besets every lie, whether white, black, or gray.

These motives which unconsciously shade and qualify all overt conduct, and which are not so deeply suppressed but that they can at another time come to consciousness and themselves determine the overt conduct, are called by Freud ' preconscious ' (' vorbewusst ') ; and the distinction between conscious and preconscious includes the ordinary psychological distinction between the field of attention' and ' introspection' and the 'fringe of consciousness,' the subconscious, etc. From the preconscious there is every shade of gradation down to the deeply suppressed. Furthermore, preconscious motives, like conscious ones, are invariably reënforced by others which lie deeper and these by others still more deeply suppressed, and so on down. A few illustrations.

In treating of writing in his "Papers on

( 32) Psycho-Analysis," Dr. Ernest Jones describes how his typist, who has previously worked in a lawyer's office, is prone in copying his manuscripts to mistake his own words for legal terms more habitual to her ; thus she will read and write down 'illegal' for ' illogical,' etc. Dr. Jones adds (p. 71), " I have found that distinctness of calligraphy is powerless to prevent such mistakes." Why ' calligraphy'? thought I, since of course calligraphy is necessarily distinct, and Jones besides being a careful writer perfectly knows his classics. Of course he had unconsciously written ' calligraphy' instead of ' chirography,' because of the delicate boast which is thus conveyed that his handwriting is always, even when indistinct, 'beautiful.' To this extent his ego-complex had eluded his censor. This was too good to lose, so at the bottom of the page I wrote in pencil, with reference to ' calligraphy' above, " Should be ' chiro-' : Another case of Verschreiben [lapsus calami] w. odious cause." And then the joke was on me. I had fully intended to write ' obvious,' and was as astonished to see 'odious' as if another person had written it. And another had—my own suppressed other which had been egregiously condemning Dr. Jones's far less

(33) blameworthy slip of the pen. Not every page of print records thus three slips; but they are frequent and almost invariably symptomatic. To show the continuity of these suppression phenomena, it should be noted here that my 'odious' for obvious' will by another person be accounted a mere slip of the pen,' 'pure accident ' ('like nonsensical dreams '), a 'joke' on me, a significant symptom about me, or a hateful piece of ' spite 'according to the motives in that other person's mind and their relative strength.

It is well known that an author cannot read his own proof so well as another person can who is less tempted to preoccupation with the contents; and many persons read their own proofs twice, once for the thought and again for the spelling, etc. ; because each set of considerations suppresses for the time being the other. But habit and other preconscious motives exercise specific influence as well. For the first few times of my seeing the words ‘Cort Theatre ' I read them ' Court Theatre.' Dr. Jones, an Englishman, relates how on searching an American newspaper for English political news, his attention was caught by the heading ' General Danger'; on looking more closely he saw that it

(34) was 'German Danger.' Where one word has two meanings, the wrong meaning is often 'read in.' Once after the second of a series of three subscription dances, I sent to the person in charge (a university professor) to obtain two extra tickets for ' the last dance.' He wrote me back, " The 'last' dance has occurred. You probably mean the next." But so eager had he been to make me out a fool that he inclosed no tickets, and I had to write again to assure him that it was not to a dance which had taken place that I was now planning to bring friends. At that time I had never heard of Freud and was utterly mystified by such unaccountable stupidity.' Undoubtedly the man apperceived' my letter as a plain request for tickets to 'last week's dance'; and this trick his preconscious egoism played on him.

In reading aloud, slips of the tongue are in the same way symptomatic, and it is well known how one's inner attitude toward the theme alters one's word-emphasis ; it is, practically impossible for anyone except a professional actor to read with feeling and ' expression' a composition with which one is not in sympathy. Nor is the actor's ability to do so a matter of habit and training; the

(35) mimetic professions attract a peculiar type of person—far below the average in steadfastness of character (settled convictions, point of view, etc.), and this lack compensated by an abnormal development of egoism. Having little or no fixed character of his own, the actor is by virtue of this very defect able to fall into any rôle that is handed him ready-made; he has no deeply ingrained wishes, suppressed or other, which work against his ' part.' He can be all things to all men ; while his egocomplex is always gratified (however disgraceful the rôle) by the glamour of protagonism.[11] A man or woman with positive character is disqualified for being an all-round actor, and will succeed only if he or she sticks to a certain ' line' of ' congenial' rôles ; and what this ' line ' shall be is determined by both his conscious and subconscious wishes. The fact accounts for certain peculiarities of dramatic professional life.

In view of the only too obvious and universally acknowledged fact that a man's general trend of

( 36) conversation, like his deeds, expresses his character, it is amusing to see with what incredulity persons will often receive the statement that the finer details of speech and action (such as 'slips of the tongue' and the previously mentioned ' slips of the pen ') are significant as well. A man once even argued with me that the manner of a handshake possessed no significance. And lapsus lingua are often accounted one of the pet absurdities of the Freudians. Once in going to make a call on Mrs. A. I had to pass the house of Mrs. B., who was sitting on her front verandah. I am always irritated by Mrs. B. and at this time was feeling particularly out of patience with her because she had not shown herself very neighborly during a recent illness of Mrs. A. But I like Mr. B. immensely and wish to 'keep in' with the family; so that I had to nibble Mrs. B.'s bait and spend an impatient half-hour on her verandah. When I arose to go I undertook to be amiably untruthful and to say, "I'm so glad that you were out on the verandah as I was going by." But my treacherous lips actually brought out, " I'm so sorry that you were," etc. The reader may be skeptical as to the cause of this slip; but Mrs. B.

(37) was not, and did not invite me to her house for over a year; as served me quite right.

The skepticism of many persons in regard to the symptomatic quality of these little lapses is in itself an interesting phenomenon. Firstly, I detect in myself a reluctance to urging the point:—the other man wags his head and chuckles so patronizingly, " Oh, you Freudians are all daft." I almost burst with suppressed merriment, for, having done my duty in offering a valuable secret, the secret is still mine : my censor is disarmed because I have done my best and been mocked; and so Schadenfreude is let loose. I am little disposed to press the matter. An aged rustic at a circus gazed long and uncomprehendingly at the cassowary and after a time exclaimed aloud, " Gosh derv it all ; ther' ain't no sech bird ! " The cassowary, it is said, continued to smile, and was not moved to argue the point.

Secondly, the skeptical are often made so by a suppressed wish. Apart from the common reluctance in persons to accept a truth frankly which they see is so simple that they ought to have found it out for themselves, many persons have the dim but instantaneous intuition that if the little nuances

( 38) of conduct are symptomatic, their own lives must be one long self-betrayal. Therefore this must not and shall not be true; they will not believe it. Against such a disconcerting discovery the (partly suppressed) ego defends itself and obscures the man's ' critical,' judgment. I once met a fairly well educated business man who thus passionately rejected everything pertaining to Freud. The man was himself one of the most unconscionable liars who ever lived; he distorted every fact to his own liking, and so grossly that few persons were misled except (in the end) himself. He came to be gravely self-deluded, and his life was one long unconscious self-exposure. This man could see nothing but nonsense in Freud. Early in life he had calculated, as so many do, that a lie is best couched in the form of a 'reluctant admission,' as thus "I cannot any longer resist the conviction that So-and-so is a complete failure in business." (From which you could safely infer that So-and-so was a successful and hated rival of this man.) This euphemistic precaution finally crystallized into the set phrase, " I confess frankly that," etc., which finally was observed by the man's acquaintances (non-Freudians) so invariably to lead up to an

(39) amazing whopper that they in turn fell into a habit. In talking to one another, if one of them caught himself stretching the truth, he would correct himself merely by playfully adding, " I confess it frankly." The man in question had alleged that he had 'never dreamed,' but one evening when dreams were the topic of conversation, and a person seemed to be ' out of it 'who had never had any dreams, he proceeded to narrate some of his own (the persons present were comparative strangers and might be expected not to know of his interesting idiosyncrasy) until a Freudian present was moved to a point of honor, and exclaimed, " I beg your pardon, Sir, but since you are not a Freudian, you are unwittingly making the most intimate revelations. I do not wish to be an eavesdropper, even in such a way." This abandoned person, whose motto had become literally, " Evil be thou my good," exhibited later in life, it was said, an almost pitiful emotional recoil at any mention of deceit and untruth, and at one time was known to say, " The word 'lie' is not in my lexicon." It scarcely needed to be.

Illustrations of the influence of more or less suppressed 'wishes ' on all phases of life could be

(40) multiplied without number; for in fact life itself is nothing but these wishes working themselves out in action. Some of them are ' conscious,' others preconscious,' while others are hidden more deeply in the once mysterious levels of the subconscious. The reader who cares to follow this aspect of our subject further will find a great store of examples in the volume by Dr. Jones to which I have already referred, and in the works of Freud himself. I will narrate but one further case, because it is unlike any which I have found recorded and shows an even subtler working of the unconscious than is sometimes met with. I was present at the incident to be related, and will vouch for the accuracy of the account. Some of the ' wishes ' involved are of the sort that more nearly resemble ' subconscious ideas.'

On a day in July, five men, M., L., H., and two others, all intimate friends, spent the afternoon at a country-club playing golf. A sixth man, T., an intimate friend of all except of H., with whom he was merely acquainted, was to dine with the party on the verandah of the club-house. T. arrived late and found the five friends seated at table and his own place waiting for him. In the course of the

( 41) evening, conversation fell on a certain Miss Z., a distant cousin of T.'s, and a person with whom all six of the men were more or less acquainted. Miss Z. was an attractive young woman who had taken a doctorate of philosophy, and written a book or two on esthetics ; she had recently become engaged to a young architect, a specialist in concrete construction, and was to be married in the following month. M., L., H., T., and probably the other two, knew these items. When Miss Z. was mentioned, L. turned to H. and said, " Tell T. [her cousin] what you said this afternoon about Miss Z.'s engagement." H. turned this off lightly, and went on to something else; whereupon L. said again, "Oh, go ahead! Tell T. what you said." H. evaded the point once more, and undertook to change the subject. Then T., whose curiosity was now aroused, broke in, " Oh, come on, H.! What was it about Miss Z.'s engagement?" H. again parried.

At this so marked reluctance on the part of H. to repeat his remark about Miss Z. and her engagement, T. (her cousin) began to suspect that the speech had been in some way derogatory to Miss Z. This exasperated T., who, for an intelligible but not

( 42) a very good reason, already slightly disliked H. Then T., who had only just arrived on the scene and had no knowledge of the speech which H. refused to repeat, broke out with considerable heat and made the apparently idiotic declaration:"Well, if you won't tell it, I will!" H. still refused, and T. then brought out from no visible source : " Well, what you said was that Miss Z. is going to exchange the abstract for the concrete ! "

This was in fact exactly what H. had said in the afternoon, and what L. had tried to get him to repeat. As all the persons present knew that T. had had no opportunity of learning what the remark had been, their astonishment amounted to consternation. The most astonished person of all was T. himself ; while H. was silent and a trifle sullen, as if he half suspected that a trick had been played on him.

This incident more nearly resembles 'thoughttransference' than any other that I have witnessed ; and I happen to know positively that T. was in no way apprised of H.'s remark before he, T., reproduced it. Nevertheless the explanation is simple. The little word-play on which the incident turns is derived by a simple process from

( 43) very simple data—Miss Z.'s quality of femmesavante, and her fiancé's of concrete builder. It occurred ' spontaneously' to the minds of both H. and T. This is in itself no more remarkable than the case of two acquaintances meeting on a cloudy morning, and saying simultaneously, each with a glance at the other's umbrella, " Ah, I see that you are expecting rain." In our case the observation passed the incubation process in H.'s mind in the afternoon, and was consciously spoken by him to his friends. In T.'s mind it was still in the incubation and had never come to consciousness, for T. so affirms, and says further that until the words came out of his mouth he had no idea as to what he was going to say, to back up his rash challenge to H. This shows that the speech was passed through its last stages of incubation and brought to utterance by the stimulus of the peculiar social situation; especially by the slight vexation felt toward H. That the speech should have come out without conscious foreknowledge of what it was to be is perfectly natural; if one comes to think of it, most of our talk is uttered in this way.

The two most interesting questions involved are: why H. had refused to repeat his so innocent re-

( 44) -mark of the afternoon, and why T. was prompted to risk a challenge which, since he was not conscious of anything wherewith to back it up, was practically certain to put him in a silly predicament. As to the former, it is safe to conjecture that H. secretly disliked T. perhaps even more than T. disliked H., and that when called on by L. to repeat himself for the benefit of T., had slightly the feeling of being ' put through his paces,' being shown off to please T. This he would certainly resist; particularly as the joke to be repeated was now stale for four persons there present whom he did like. This feeling, that one's dignity is being invaded, is very deeply rooted, and one has often seen dogs, cats, and babies absolutely refuse to exhibit their little tricks and accomplishments when commanded to do so before a stranger; in such cases I, if I am the stranger, turn my back and the trick is instantly performed.

Secondly, as to T.'s foolish challenge. The evidence itself shows that T. did not know ' consciously' what he expected to say further, for had he known he would almost certainly have expressed his irritation by saying: not, " Well, if you won't tell it, I will ! " but, " You needn't trouble your-

(45) -self to repeat your silly joke; it was only that Miss Z. is going to exchange the abstract for the concrete." The speech actually made sounds very much like the small boy's challenge to some slightly bigger tormentor, " If you don't gim'me back my jackknife, I'll, I'll, I'll—" Both speeches express anger, but in that of T. the note of impotence is replaced by one of foolhardiness. This is evidence, I think, that T.'s subconsciousness held in readiness not merely the play on ' abstract'—' concrete,' but a more or less comprehensive plan of action ('wish') with regard to the situation as a whole: T.'s upper consciousness could go on ranting as rashly as it liked, for T.'s subconsciousness had guessed the answer to the conundrum, and was pretty confident of its being the correct answer: it would produce it when wanted. As it did. This would be a very simple achievement for the subconsciousness, in comparison with the remarkable cases observed by Dr. Morton Prince in " Miss Beecham " and other of his patients.[12]

This completes our analysis. The case is merely an instance of the interplay between wishes and

( 46) ideas, partly conscious and partly subconscious, taking place under peculiarly dramatic circumtances. It would easily have converted a toosuperficial observer to a firm belief in 'thoughttransference '; and no one could have allayed this by suggesting that the case was possibly referable to 'muscle-reading,' for it quite certainly was not. It only remains to add that T. does not recall having uttered so foolish a challenge on any other occasion; and that, as Freudians will already have anticipated, H. professes at the present time to have not the slightest recollection of the episode, save that there was a dinner at the country-club at which So-and-so and So-and-so were present. And lastly, the identical jest about Miss Z.'s exchanging the abstract for the concrete turned up about a week later from a third and unquestionably independent source.


  1. Freud's "Traumdeutung" gives many complicated dream-analyses (Deuticke, Leipzig and Vienna, 3d edition, 1911). The English translation by A. A. Brill is entitled "The Interpretation of Dreams" (Allen & Macmillan, London and New York, 1913).
  2. In hysteria, vomiting is regularly a symptom of repugnance, not of indigestion.
  3. Op. citat., S. 187.
  4. "Der Witz " (Leipzig and Wien, 2d edition, 1912).
  5. Freud, strangely enough as I think, refers the smile or laugh to energy coming from the censor and due to the latter's relaxing its hold on the suppressed wish.
  6. Cf. the Supplement, " Response and Cognition."
  7. And you, O Gentle Reader (to use an outworn mode), I fear may like this tale because it grants you three suppressed wishes-a dig at Christian Science, one at the venom of indignant hostesses, and a vision of the discomfiture of that ubiquitous nuisance, the professional funny-man. Yes, and a fourth, for it shows me foolishly trying to avert impending gloom by kicking vainly against the unfeeling air.
  8. Cf. William McDougall: " Social Psychology" (Methuen, London. 8th edition, 1914, p. 62).
  9. Berlin, 4th edition, 1912: English translation by A. A. Brill (Unwin, London, and Macmillan, New York, 1914.)
  10. Of these perhaps the most notable are the works of Dr. Ernest Jones. His " Papers on Psycho-Analysis " (Wm. Wood, New York, 1913) are the best single work in English from which to derive an understanding of the whole Freudian psychology.
  11. My first hint of this was from a shrewdly observed short story of, I believe, Alphonse Daudet's. Since then I have seen at first hand ample confirmation of the point. Out of his 'part' the actor is not infrequently a downright imbecile, and a monster of egoism. The actor's is merely the excessively mercurial and labile character.
  12. "The Dissociation of a Personality" (Longmans, Green, )London, 1906). "The Unconscious" (Macmillan, New York, 1914).

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