Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Psychoanalysis - Lecture Notes

Over the year we've had a series of lectures introducing a variety of theoretical practices which help to broaden our scope and develop our academic and critical skills.

Our first was on Psychoanalysis. Although unfortunately I wasn't able to attend so I couldn't make my own notes, I've done my best to grasp the topic by reading the Powerpoint and doing some research.

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Psychoanalysis aims to study and understand (amongst other things):
 - Development of psyche from birth
 - Development and role of the unconscious in everyday life
 - The development of gender identity (psycho-sexual identity)
 - Understanding the complexities of human subjectivity

As well as a form of therapy, dubbed the "talking cure", it is an established theory of the psyche and a model-based theory that can be applied to other objects and processes. Psychoanalysis allows a greater understanding of our desires, motivations and dreams, and how our unconscious thoughts influence these, and how they stem from our infancy. It foregrounds the idea that we are not entirely controlled by logical and reasonable thought; our unconscious plays a big part in day-to-day thought processes.

The theory was conceived in the late 1890s by Sigmund Freud, who used the techniques involved in treating hysteria patients by guiding them to discover and accept repressed thoughts or memories. Freud was also known for his analyses of dreams in terms of their hidden associations and relation to wish-fulfilment, and for his studies into the habits of infants and their associations towards parental figures. His theory allowed for a 'dynamic unconscious' part of the mind.

The dynamic unconscious develops through our infancy to protect our conscious selves from events, ideas and thoughts that are deemed unacceptable to consciousness, however these thoughts do still affect our conscious selves in some ways.

The unconscious is chaotic, without order and language, and presents itself through uncontrolled ticks, slips or symptoms (thus the "Freudian slip"). Freud's hysteria patients had developed debilitating symptoms as a result of experiences and feelings that they had repressed.

Our development into wilful  conscious beings is full of confusing, contradictory and misapprehended thoughts and ideas, and involves attempts to make sense of both our biological/instinctual self and our logical/thinking self. We instinctively create associations and assumptions through sense data, though these are often incorrect or undependable.

The developing child goes through three stages, following how their behaviour changes and becomes oriented towards certain parts of the body during infancy. The first stage from birth to one year is oral, as the child comes to associate breastfeeding with comfort, and also has the tendency to put objects in their mouth as a way of exploring their environment. The second stage, from one year to three years old is anal, as the child learns to control their bladder and bowel movements through toilet training. The third stage is phallic, and is associated with the genitalia, as the child becomes aware of their body and the body of others, and notably the physical differences between male and female, and gender differences between boy and girl.

During the third stage, the child undergoes the psychosexual experience called the Oedipus Complex - so named after the Greek Mythological tragedy which tells the story of Oedipus, who kills his father so that he may marry his mother - where they develop the desire to sexually possess their mother and feel threatened and otherwise ambivalent towards their father. The feeling stems from childhood dependence and a self-centred world view, and is the culmination of a range of emotions such as love, rivalry, jealousy, and the desire 'to want' vs. 'to be wanted'. The child develops an understanding of both masculine and feminine identities in relation to the phallus - 'castration complex' is when the boy fears castration while the girl accepts that she has already been castrated; as the male becomes aware of the differences between male/female genatalia, he assumes the female's penis has been removed and fears he will also be castrated as punishment by his rival figure, his father.

This can also be analysed symbolically, to represent a fear of being degraded, dominated or made significant - usually an irrational fear.

The female experience is that of penis envy, a theorised reaction to a girl during her development as she realises she doesn't have a penis. This is a defining moment in the development of gender and sexual identity for women. The girl can feel like she is lacking, and desires the power that it represents - she redirects this desire to her father, thus creating the Electra complex (Carl Jung coined this term in 1913), the female "equivalent" of the Oedipus complex (it's worth noting that Freud rejected this term).

The idea of the female experience of penis envy has been criticised by critics and feminists (as has the idea of psychoanalysis as a whole), viewing the concept as patriarchal, anti-feminist and misogynistic, and underlined by masculine narcissism, as it represents women as broken and deficit men.

Nevertheless, the result of these feelings is that the boy fears his castration and his resultant powerlessness, while the girl feels like she is missing something. The child must experience and overcome these feelings and misconceptions to gain their sexual identity, although misconceived ideas of gender, power and identity continue to work throughout our lives.


The uncanny 

Another Freudian concept is the uncanny, which is a term used to describe something that is simultaneously unnatural yet familiar, or something that was supposed to remain hidden coming out into the open. It is a term describing the boundary between reality and fantasy, and where that boundary might break down. We often deal with the sensations roused by the uncanny by rejecting them outright, as it creates 'cognitive dissonance' due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted yet repulsed by something at the same time.

This theory is of interest to me as a well-known concept within the game and film industries is the 'uncanny valley', which was introduced by Masahiro Mori, a roboticist. Looking at the chart below, the 'valley' is the negative emotional response towards robots, figures or other characters that seem almost but not quite human.

It is a common occurrence amongst reactions to robots with the appearance of humans, and also video game and other computer-generated characters that strive for complete realism. It must be impossible to replicate realism from scratch, so something will always look a bit "off" with photorealistic characters in a game or film. '...make a character too lifelike, and the brain no longer reads it as good animation, but as reality with something wrong about it.' 

It seems with the advancement of technology, there is a new challenge to overcome - how to make characters look highly realistically rendered without falling into the uncanny valley.


The basis of Freudian psychoanalysis are the models of id, ego and super-ego, and their relation to the unconscious, preconscious and conscious. 

The unconscious is where we store things that are thought of as unacceptable by our conscious selves. It is chaotic and represents the hidden and repressed.

The preconscious stores thoughts that are unconscious yet not repressed, such as memories and word associations, and is where we can recall them from.

The conscious is our outward self, personality and identity. 

This structure was developed further into the id, ego and super-ego. We are bio-socio-individual beings, and so the id represents the biological and instinctual part of ourselves, the ego is the individual personality, and the super-ego represents ourselves in relation to others, to social order and to language. Our psychic information is distributed into these 'spaces' separately, and may come into conflict with each other.


Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst who claimed a 'return to Freud' during the 1960s and 70s. He re-conceptualised Freud's findings through the theoretical model of structural linguistics and signification. He posited that the development of the psyche is entwined within the structures of language, and that language molds us as much as we mold it. His post-structuralist theory rejected the belief that reality can be captured in language.  

He also analysed a stage in a child's development known as 'the mirror stage'. This is when a child comes to recognise it's reflection, which signifies a split or alienation - it sees itself both subjectively and as 'other'. Throughout this stage the child can experience feelings of rivalry  as it becomes aware of it's limited movement and dexterity, leading to the eventual formation of Ego which aids reconciliation of body and image/subject and 'other'.

The child can experience 'captation', which is where they become absorbed and at the same time repelled by the image of themselves. The term is used to describe when an object in the external world, such as a person or their reflection, so captivates the subject that it becomes a component in their self image. 

Lacan's theory on the unconscious was that it is structured like a language, and is the discourse of the 'Other' - a series of drives and forces that are inaccessible, and so we experience something to be missing from us; the side of the 'split' where our unconscious emerges.


Psychoanalysis and art criticism

Psychoanalysis is a valuable part of art criticism as it allows a closer look at what it is to be human, our motivations, desires and our unconscious thoughts. Understanding these helps understand why the world is the way it is, and also helps us to understand the motivations of artists and designers. A model-based theory provides a tool for categorising and breaking down individual and groups of art and design works.

It has been particularly effective in advertising; Edward Bernays, the 'Godfather of PR' and Freud's nephew, applied his knowledge of psychoanalysis and unconscious desires to advertising and PR campaigns. He revolutionised the way products are advertised by promoting and appealing to a certain lifestyle rather than focussing on the product itself; he drew customers to his products using manipulation techniques drawn from his greater understanding of the human psyche, to great effect. 

A general understanding of psychoanalysis, and of what drives people to be the way they are, is a highly useful skill for an artist and in particular a designer, as you are able to understand to some extent the needs and desires of your customer base. In terms of film, games and animation, it would certainly improve story-writing skills as you are able to create characters with realistic personalities and thought processes, and understand how to emotionally stimulate your audience. 


To conclude...

Psychoanalysis provides us with a definition of the unconscious, even if it can't tangibly be understood in reality. It also provides a definition of subjecthood outside of logic and rationality. It is a valuable tool to help understand motivations and meanings of art works, and helps us to understand how art and design effects us and why.

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