Metta Spencer

Eros and Responsibility: Freudian and Sociological Perspectives

Presented to the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association meetings in Fredericton, 1977


By Metta Spencer
Erindale College
University of Toronto


Freudian psychology and symbolic interactionism are two popular approaches to the study of human relationships that have large followings within the general population. Not only psychoanalytic practitioners but millions of educated laymen are familiar with Freud's theories. Most people who have studied sociology will have heard of Charles Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead, and the Chicago school of sociology, which they founded and which stimulated such creative contemporary writers as Erving Goffman. The two approaches have much to say to each other. Oddly, however, readers and scholars who have more than a superficial familiarity with one of the approaches rarely are particularly interested in the other. Very few systematic efforts have been made to use one approach as a corrective for deficiencies in the other. Still fewer efforts have been made to fuse the two models and to use the resulting synthesis to analyze any important aspect of the human condition, such as love or ethical responsibility. This paper is offered as a modest effort in that direction in the hope that it may stimulate other efforts by Freudian scholars and sociological theorists.

Sociologists and psychoanalysts do their work by using very different methods and each group tends to mistrust the other's research to an unwarranted degree. "Hard-nosed" social scientists scorn psychoanalysis for its unfalsifiability (how can one tell whether an unconscious wish exists or not, if it is unconscious?) and for generalizing from a neurotic sample of self-selected Western patients to reach inferences about humankind as a whole. Analysts,on the other hand, regard social scientists as exceedingly naive for taking at face value whatever respondents reply to questionnaire items. Surely, they insist, we know enough about unconscious motives to be skeptical about statements people offer to rank strangers.

Still, apart from diehard purists of each school, most researchers can find grounds for dialogue. Depth psychology does have falsifiable aspects, does change in response to emerging problems internal to its own theories and observations. Freud, for example, changed many of his ideas after seeing that they could not hold up in the clinical setting. (His early belief that many neurotics had experienced incest was one such belief that he later abandoned.) Moreover, many sociologists use methods that are just as subjective as any employed by analysts -- introspection, hermeneutic analysis of texts, depth interviews, and so on. Methodology is not the impediment it has been made out to be.

Each school is an approach to social psychology that complements the other. Freudian psychology uses a vocabulary and refers to experiences that the lay reader cannot usually verily by checking against his own experience. If Freud seems sometimes obscure, his followers are certainly more so. Symbolic interactionism, on the other hand, offers such commonsensical account of human experience that it is never challenged as untrue, but often challenged as trivial. Nevertheless, the two schools often are speaking of the same phenomena, and the analysts' discussions can be translated into sociological language, which is more intelligible, notwithstanding the commonplace assertion that sociologists talk gobbledygook.

Symbolic interactionists mouth such terms as "ongoing process," as opposed to the functionalists' favourite term, "structures" but despite their posturing, theirs is not a very dynamic model. Psychoanalysis, by contrast, offers many insights about the sources of human motivations. It abounds with concepts referring to energy within the personality -- "libido", "cathexis", "sublimation", and the like. It suggests how people come to care passionately about some objects and not about others. Symbolic interactionism lacks any such notions about psychic energy. It does have, however, a full appreciation of the importance of the social context for personality formation. As a part of sociology, it must every day deal with such phenomena as status hierarchies, reference groups, relative esteem, and the maneuvering and jockeying for position that are part of the overt power struggles as well as the subtle interpersonal bargainings that make up group life. By contrast, psychoanalytic theory is virtually blind to the importance of such phenomena in the psychic economy of the individual.

Social psychologists and analysts seem to travel in different circles and, as specialists everywhere do, to compartmentalize what they read in each other's fields. I think this is a pity because they might do well to share certain concepts. I want to do that in this paper and use the enlarged framework to address certain enduring human issues that both groups too often leave to philosophers.

Because I cannot assume that many readers will be familiar with both schools of thought, I shall try not to presuppose any extensive knowledge of either school, though since Freud's work is more generally familiar than that of Mead or his followers, I need not summarize it first, as I propose to do for symbolic interactionism.


Symbolic interactionism proceeds from American pragmatism and was closely allied to the thinking of John Dewey. It emphasizes that humankind lives, not just in a physical realm, but in a symbolic realm, and that our doings depend, not simply upon the physical events that we experience as organisms, but upon our interpretations of those events. How we act toward a car, a flower, or a book depends upon the meanings of cars, flowers, or books, and meanings-are learned inside social groups. Because we come into an already-functioning society, we have to learn the meanings shared by members of our group, and we do that by seeing how they act toward objects and how they use words. The meaning of an object is constituted by the experience we expect we could have with it.

The fundamental process by which we become human beings, orienting ourselves in a symbolic world, is called role-taking. It consists of imaginatively assuming the perspective of another person, trying to see the world through his eyes and to grasp what he is trying to say or do. Small children learn the meanings held by others through role-taking, and the process continues throughout life. Whenever we wish to understand what another person is experiencing, we are taking his role, putting ourselves in his position, experiencing empathically what he is experiencing. In every real dialogue or encounter we are being both persons simultaneously, ourselves and the other. Indeed, it is through role-taking that we learn to conceive of ourselves at all. An infant has no self-image, but he gradually comes to take the roles of the people around him and see how they act toward the objects in their world. And because he is an object in their world, he sees how they act toward him -- i.e. what sort of object he is to them. This is the "self" and when one possesses such a concept, he becomes capable of self-reflexive action. Thus, we can address ourselves, remind ourselves, point out features of a situation to ourselves, and so on. Mental activity consists of making indications to ourselves, much as we might make indications to others aloud. Self-awareness arises only after we have interacted with others, thereby learning how they experience us and acquiring a self which we can also address as an object of our own attention.

The process of acquiring a self begins in early childhood, but it is never finished. At first the self we experience is the "Looking-glass-self" -- whatever appraisal we see reflected in the reactions of others. We are always sensitive to the opinions of particularly important persons -- "significant others." Gradually, however, we are able to form a fairly consistent self-image through a process of generalization. That is, having taken many roles, we generalize what they have in common and form an abstraction (the "generalized other"), whose perspective we can assume with some confidence, knowing that it represents a consensus held by the many individuals whose roles we have taken over the years. Thus it is that each of us carries within ourselves images of hundreds of other persons, with whom we may continue to interact internally. One may sustain a dialogue with one's father forty years after his death, imagining his criticisms and formulating arguments against them. One may sustain one's courage or self-esteem in opposition to hardship or stigma by regarding oneself through the eyes of a long-lost loved one whose encouragement always could be relied upon. We are ourselves and a whole society of significant others Os well, whose perspectives we may privately assume. The images of those others inside ourselves are partly memories and partly fantasies, partly our own constructs and partly faithful representations of the people we have known. Whatever assumptions we take for granted are generalizations we have abstracted from our experience with the internalized society of individuals.

Mead pointed out that each of us has two aspects to his personality (the I and the Me) and that both aspects are continually appearing and meshing together from one moment to another. The I is the spontaneous new impulse or idea that arises within us ceaselessly. But as soon as it appears, the Me intervenes. Spontaneous urges do not get carried out unreflectively; instead, we consider the reactions that may be expected of others, should we carry out the impulse. The Me checks action, shapes it, controls it so that our behaviour is organized and fits into the ongoing social life we see around us. But immediately newness intrudes again; the I aspect occurs as a fresh tendency arising within us.

Apart from trivial movements, such a reflexes, sneezes, and the like, human behaviour is not simply the release of instincts or preorganized tendencies as is the case with lower animals. Human action is built up -- partly as learned habits, partly as acts contrived as they ore being carried out. The basic unit of human behaviour is the act which begins with some disequilibrium and proceeds toward some goal, with adjustments being made along the way. An act may last five seconds or fifty years and within any act there may be many subordinate acts. There may be two phases within any act -- one covert, the other overt. During the covert or preparatory phase, one makes indications to himself about his situation. He must first identify the nature of the disequilibrium he is experiencing, for otherwise he may simply be restless. One is never conscious of all the tendencies that occur simply because one cannot pay attention to all of them or identify them correctly. Once one does point out to himself what he wants, he can consider ways of satisfying his wants, though he may never proceed beyond this covert or fantasying phase. He may anticipate that the reactions of others or the consequences of carrying out his plan would be too severe and so he may change or inhibit his act either before or after it is begun overtly. One guides the early phases of an act in terms of the anticipated future phases of the act. However, the future phases are not real here and now but are largely our subjective interpretations, our definitions of the situation. Hence, building up a course of action will be problematic if the situation is ambiguous and open to diverse interpretations. Social interaction often consists of negotiating a common interpretation and meaning so that different individuals can coordinate their line of action. Because meanings are built up collectively, in order to understand what any person or group is doing, one must first try to grasp their shared interpretations of themselves, each other, and the situation they believe themselves to be in. (Mead, 1934.) The self is never something distinct from society; rather, the self and society both develop together through a process of mutual transformation. (Berger and Luckmann,1967.)

This, then, is a brief summary of symbolic interactionism's basic assumptions. I want to show next how this model can be used to discuss the inner subjective life, including emotional relationships and repression, topics which neither Mead nor his followers much addressed.


Each human being exists simultaneously in two planes -- as a physical body in a material world, and as an experiencing, imaginative subject in a world comprising emotions, memories, images, beliefs, relationships, logics, and other nonmaterial phenomena. Without categorizing these phenomena as to their content, let us simply refer a them as the subjective world, as opposed to the objective, physical world, or the brute facts of events in space and time.

These two realms obviously interpenetrate and a number of ancient philosophical disputes concern how the elements of one realm relate to elements of the other. For example, one dispute has to do with the causal priority of one realm over the other, idealists emphasizing that man (and, some say, God) determines the events of history in accordance with plans, or ideas. Materialists emphasize, on the other hand, that the material realities of man's existence set the conditions under which only certain ideas become thinkable, and so ideas have no independent status as causes being themselves constrained by physical realities. Although the materialist views are usually associated with Marxism, not all Marxists hold to it, Herbert Marcuse being a notable exception. Marcuse argues that liberating the imagination is a necessary precondition for any material liberation of humankind. His book, One-Dimensional Man, reminds us that the subjective world is uniquely the realm in which possibilities can be considered, as opposed to the material world, which is the realm of settled reality. Yet he points out that the human imagination has been so repressed that most of us cannot entertain the full range of possibilities that we need to be able to consider in order to plan well and create the human freedom that is within our reach. Liberation must begin by liberating the imagination for visionary thinking.

But if we are to liberate our imaginations, we must begin by understanding how our images are, in a sense, not our own, but are constructed and sustained through social experience. And a full appreciation of this reality will require us to probe more deeply into the realities which symbolic interactionism takes as its subject matter, the subjective world. I want to stress two points about the subjective world: (1) It is social in its origin and functioning, and (2) it is not a realm in which we are absolutely free, but we feel accountable for the way we operate within it. Indeed, precisely because we are accountable for it, liberating the imagination is harder to accomplish than we might suppose offhand.


Being self and Other. As physical organisms each of us is limited in space and time, and we have discrete identities as unique individuals. I was born at a specific time and will die at a different time; I can be fingerprinted, named, and blood-typed. Only with difficulty can our organs be transplanted to another's body. I am myself and no one else; I can attain great autonomy in managing my affairs and property. Indeed, 1 cannot even prove that other people exist at all or that the world is really "out there." All I know is what I experience, what I perceive, and I cannot get outside myself to establish that I am experiencing something that is independent from my experiencing of it.

Nevertheless, if such solipsism is logically defensible when we consider ourselves as physical organisms, it is not a philosophy anyone finds plausible, perhaps because it renders the workings of the subjective world absolutely unaccountable. Any description of the world of symbols, feeling, language, and images must start from the assumption that we exist in a community of others, and must show how, contrary to physical laws, we can and do occupy several points at the same time by assuming several perspectives at once. Subjectively we are not ourselves and no one else. Indeed, to attain selfhood we must first experience the subjective world of a number of other persons -- take the roles of many people. Mostly this experience is called "empathy". Max Weber called it "Verstehen" and made it the cornerstone of his method of research. Martin Buber called it "inclusion" -- experiencing "from the other side." It takes place in dialogue, even in conflict with an opponent.

It takes place most notably in love, as Buber illustrates with this example.

"A man caresses a woman, who lets herself be caressed. Then let us assume that he feels the contact from two sides -- with the palm of his hand still,and also with the woman's skin. The two-fold nature of the gesture, as one that takes place between two persons, thrills through the depth of enjoyment in his heart and stirs it. If he does not deafen his heart he'll have -- not to renounce the enjoyment but -- to love." (Buber, 1947:96-7.)

Can a man feel both his hand and her skin? Any neurological diagram of the human body would prove not, but subjectively the phenomenon is incontrovertible, which shows that the imagination is just as subjectively real as sense impressions derived from our own nerve endings. As Rollo May adds, "...the lover often cannot tell whether a particular sensation of delight is felt by him or his loved one -- and it doesn't make any difference." (Love and Will, p. 310.)

All genuine social interaction consists of experiencing from both sides at once -- one's own and Other's side. Moreover, a momentary encounter between Self and Other is not a once-only event that happens only in the present and then vanishes, as is true of the unique event in the physical world. It exists in the subjective world too, which is not limited in space and time. The encounter may be experienced before it actually happens (as a fantasy) and after it happens (as a memory.) Indeed, it may be experienced a thousand times subjectively without ever occurring at all in physical reality. And such a fantasy or memory may create observable effects in the physical organism, as when a person physically participates in a sexual experience when his partner is only a daydream.

It will not do to stress the difference between "real" relationships and "inner, symbolic, imaginary" ones. For even interactions with others in present time are not only physical encounters, but subjective experiences, constituted minute by minute through the interpretive symbolic activities of the participants. We react not only to each other as bodies but to our internal images of each other, whether in present time encounters or in fantasy. And our wildest fantasies are constructed in part from the scraps of memory left over from reality. The real and the symbolic realms interweave throughout every experience of our lives, every moment of every day.

Psychoanalytic Theory about Images. Though sociologists have elaborated the notion of role-taking and the acquisition of images and meanings through role-taking, psychoanalysts have described many other facets of this subjective activity. The best account is perhaps that offered by Herbert Fingarette, whose discussion I shall draw upon heavily. (1963: 250-265.) What sociologists call the "images" of self and of other, analysts usually call the "self-representation" and the "object representation" respectively. However, they point out how qualities commonly migrate from images of self to images of others or vice versa. Or from images of one other to images of a different other. And they recognize that we do not experience everything about Other when we take his role, but only selective aspects of him. What we select differs, and psychopathologies and unhappy relationships may result as much from failure to distinguish between Self and Other in important spheres as from failure to take the role of Other at all.

Projection is almost the opposite of introjection. It involves imputing my experience to others, imagining that they have qualities that are mine. It involves moving attributes from the self representation onto the object representation. Introjection, on the other hand, involves moving attributes from the object representation to the self representation. Displacement involves moving attributes from one object representation to another, as for example when one perceives a political leader as a kindly, loving father (or an overbearing father, for that matter). Empathy (inclusion, role-taking, Verstehen) may be seen as a particular case of introjection. As Fingarette describes the experience,

"The comprehensive object-representation (i.e. the image of the other person-in-his-situation) shifts temporarily to functioning as if it were an element of the self, as self-representation. I perceive John as a part of my self rather than as an alien object. I extend the psychic boundaries of my self. Thus the first phase of the process is one of introjection.

"Having introjected the John-image, I now respond as subject to the circumstances as they impinge upon my self (i.e. upon the John-image as an element now included in my self-representation). The second phase of the procedure establishes an amplified John-image, an image including an 'inner life' as well as the more 'externally' perceivable qualities.

"After this second phase of inner experiencing, of thoughtful fantasy,I complete the three-stage empathic process by re-projecting the John-image: that is, the image of John-in-his-situation now once again shifts to functioning psychically as object-representation. Thus 1 may now properly speak of perceiving empathically John's feelings rather than of merely inferring how he feels or, in the mid-stage of the process, of perceiving 'my own' feelings. These three theoretical stages correspond to distinctly different, phenomenologically identifiable modes of perception." (1963:258.)

I agree with Fingarette's description of the three aspects of empathy but I cannot consider them "sequential stages". A symbolic interactionist would be more correct in asserting that all three aspects occur simultaneously, and that for that matter one goes on experiencing himself at the same time as well. We assume many perspectives simultaneously. When taking the role of Other we do not hop back and forth from Other's head to our own, but occupy both at once.

Fingarette notes that the object-representation of John is built up in part from our sense impressions of John and in part from empathic perceptions. Every time I experience John empathically I add more details to my object representation. "The more realistic an object-representation, the more it is built up out of a continuing series of these object perceptions, introjections, thoughtful fantasies, and re-projections."(1963:259.) Some writers distinguish among empathy, vicarious experience, and identification. Vicarious experience is then described as a more intense sort of involvement in which the object representation is highly cathected, as for example in a disaster movie when we scream or bite our knuckles as the shark approaches the hero. Self is forgotten in the anguish of feeling with Other.

Identification is generally defined as a relatively enduring change in self representation which results from the introjection of material from object representations. Children and youths engage in this process a great deal, building up their selves through selectively identifying the significant others.

Empathy, on the other hand, may be considered a more transitory experience in which one introjects selectively and with a more limited cathexis. One tentatively experiments with being Other in only this or that aspect of his experience. Trouble may arise when the process cannot be limited appropriately or when one fails to distinguish adequately between his representations of self and Other. Thus, a parent may continue to see his child as an extension of himself and fail to recognize that the child's interests and preferences are different from his own.

When I compare Fingarette's account of the way we move material from one image to another according to the needs of our unique psychic economy, I am struck by the complexity of the exchanges going on in the inner, subjective world. By contrast, the symbolic interactionist's account of the emergence of a self seems much more deterministic, relying as it does on the notion of the self as a precipitate of all the images one has seen in the looking-glasses, the reflected appraisals of others. The psychoanalytic model also sees the self as made from "the precipitate of abandoned drive-objects, that is of identifications," (Rapaport, 1951: 725) but it recognizes more explicitly that the child selects certain aspects of these object representations for its identifications. It also recognizes that the self projects,displaces, varies in its expenditure of cathexis, and in many other ways plays an active part in its own construction, according to its emerging psychic needs. On the other hand, I should not portray the sociological account of the establishment of the self as a thinner theory than that of Freud, for it includes a certain aspect that psychoanalysis fails to recognize -- the notion image of the self as something that has to be negotiated, bargained for, claimed and sustained in social interaction.

Negotiating for a self. Much of the work of managing our subjective world consists of struggling to attain the inner self-images that will allow us to be overtly what we wish to be And it is a struggle that involves us deeply with other people, for it is through social relationships that self-images are created and sustained or overturned. As Albert Cohen as written,

"We may lay claims to being a certain sort of person, but this claim must make sense in terms of the culture of those we are dealing with, and we must make these claims stick. To lay a claim is to say, in effect: 'I am such-and-such a sort of person; I invite you to deal with me on this basis; you may expect certain things of me.' To make the claim stick, we must validate it by meeting the cultural criteria of the role. We know we have done this when others,by their responses, indicate acceptance of us as valid specimens of the role. In so doing, we also confirm our conception of ourselves. We cannot really tell whether we are 'leaders', 'glamor girls,''pool sharks,' or 'brains' without venturing into the icy waters of social interaction, trying our hand at the role, and seeing how others respond." (Cohen: 1966:98.) Validation of self-images must come from social consensus: does one's description of himself coincide with the description other people might provide? Indeed, as Cohen suggests, there are certain traits that one cannot claim for oneself, but that are valid only when attributed to one by others -- sexual attractiveness, for example. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and not only beauty but many other attributes that are widely desired for self-images -- warmth, wittiness, generosity, dignity, and so on.

David Riesman is most famous for suggesting that the character of modern man is predominantly other-directed, i.e. that much of what we do is contrived to elicit the approval of those around us. (Riesman,1950). I am not sure how much this tendency varies from one society or one epoch to another, but in any event the underlying basis for this tendency is surely universal and inescapable -- that many aspects of our self-image must be conferred upon us by others, for otherwise we cannot believe in them ourselves. Unlike Riesman, who depicted other-directed man as a shallow fellow with hardly any soul, I want to show in this paper how profound an existential problem it is to create selves we can be glad about in the face of contrary imputations by others.

Thus, the self-image is so powerful a farce that human beings will do almost anything to maintain the creditability of their own. Erving Goffman's work is an eloquent testimonial to the importance of the self, as when he points but the desperate rationalizations and other imaginative work stigmatized people do in proving to themselves that their own worth cannot be measured by the images others hold of them.

The self-image is both cause and consequence of the quality of our performances before Other. To "liberate the imagination," as Marcuse would have us do, would allow us to entertain visions of possibilities for future acts that a repressed mind could never consider. One must be able to imagine doing an act before one can undertake it -- i.e. the covert phase of the act must precede the overt phase. When we limit our self-image to what we already are instead of considering as well what we might be, we are in need of Marcuse's liberation.

But how can we see ourselves as what we are not? Fortunately, each of us has two aspects, not only the Me but also the I, which thrusts up new images and possibilities for consideration -- at least for a moment, before the Me squelches them. It is the Me that negotiates the best deal it can get in the company of others to allow possibilities to become realities. It is the Me that mediates between the I and the Other.

To a large extent, a self-image is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is why we try so hard to get a good one. But because it must be offered to us (or at least confirmed) by others, we become drawn into the complex etiquette of presenting ourselves in public with sensitivity and making deals with others to sustain each other's pretensions. Not all others have equal weight, however. A significant other is a person whose opinion we value extra highly and who can counteract law morale resulting from having a public image known far and wide for its failings. But of course the rejection of a significant other also carries extra weight and can be devastating. Another person may also prove influential by recognizing and encouraging possibilities that one had not dared to claim for oneself. In such a case, one is stimulated to undertake overt acts through the "liberated imagination" of someone else.

More often, however, the images we hold of ourselves are the result of past failures and achievements. It is in the arena of action in the world that we try our strength and find out who we are. Even there, however, strategy counts, and fortunes can be made and lost in public reputability, on credit, as it were. Thus, if I do not have a self-image sufficient for a role I want to perform. I must either pretend that I do (bluff) or flee from the role in chagrin. If I can pretend credibly; I may actually acquit myself rather well in the performance, win the approval of others, and enhance my self-image for the next challenge. That is a case of betting and winning. A strategy for enhancing self-image, like a strategy for enhancing power, consists of investing whatever limited self-image (or power) resources you possess wisely, so that you win, thus compounding your investment. But you might lose (cf Neustadt, 1962).

Many people lack the nerve to bluff, but importune instead. Thus an alcoholic may plead with his wife to have faith in him, to see him as a strong person, for only through her can he retain the self-image he needs far abstaining. Unfortunately, her image of him is not subject to her will power, and indeed, begging her to have faith in him provides the weakest possible basis for her to actually do so, as he is perfectly aware. Quite often in the struggle for reputability, those who have, get more. Those who lack, lose more.

Disclosure and Secrecy. One feels obliged to construct images of others that are both accurate and generous. Because that is not always possible, politeness may require a considerable discrepancy between the image of Other we acknowledge holding publicly and the image we harbour within. Moreover, the self we risk claiming publicly (the Me) may diverge from the self we are aware of privately (the I). Official social interactions take place between those aspects of the self for which people are willing to acknowledge responsibility, and which they are prepared to justify if called to account. Much is left unsaid, and feigning is a basic skill in polite society. Nevertheless, in every conversation more is disclosed than we overtly express. Paul Ekman, who studies the expression of emotion in faces and gestures, has established the commonplace occurrence of "leakage," the inadvertent display of hidden feelings ("I") in faces that are meant to be well-controlled, displaying the "Me". (Ekman and Friesen, 1969.) And how we view others is consequential, even when it is revealed to them by leakage. Rosenthal and Jacobson's work on teachers' secret expectations of pupils' behaviour shows what an impact such images may have. (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968).

Accountability for images. In ordinary talk we often speak of fantasies and images as if they were uniquely the realm in which the mind is totally free to produce any thoughts and feelings whatever. Perhaps so, but the remarkable fact is that our fantasies are rarely fantastic at all but tame and lawful. We cannot imagine just anything, even when we try. (See if you can imagine your own bedroom and furniture upside down. I can't.) (Angyal, 1965.) Our images of other people are just as lawful. Except when we are dreaming or nearly asleep we are unlikely to imagine our friends sprouting wings and flying around the room. Why not?

Fantasies and images are created for several purposes -- most notably as the covert phase of an act -- as sort of a mental rehearsal preparatory to carrying out the act overtly. Clearly, such images must be realistic if they are to help us meet the contingencies of real life.

However, fantasies and images have another important part to play in the inner life -- as ways in which we can give ourselves emotional support and other gratifications when real life denies us what we need. At the simplest level we see evidence of this phenomenon in the findings of psychologists that hungry people refer to food more often in stories they make up than do well-fed people. The fantasy food is a substitute for the real thing. Obviously it does not nourish the body, but presumably it does something to satisfy.

Our images of others can serve a similar purpose, gratifying us with imaginary emotional support when the persons we love are not able to be present. We learn quite young to internalize an image of mother so we can take her role when she is absent and soothe ourselves by being both Baby and Mother at once.

In bereavement adults often do the same thing; they carry around the lost loved one inside themselves and interact with him, encouraging themselves from his perspective and even feeling love from both sides, as the loved one and as Self. This sort of internalized relationship can be a source of great and long-lasting emotional strength. Concentration camp inmates, for example,sometimes were able to go on facing life only because of the presence within them of a relative who may or may not have been alive at that time. Of course, it is possible for such an internal relationship to become so important that it draws one away from life instead of giving one the courage to meet new situations well. One thinks of Queen Victoria in this context, preoccupied with Albert throughout her long life instead of opening herself up to new possibilities. However, such aberrant uses of internal images seem to be less common than constructive uses.

Indeed, what seems to me more striking is the opposite fact -- that it is not at all easy to use fantasies as a source of substitute gratification. even when their use seems justified and even healthy. Little empirical evidence exists on this point and I may be proved wrong when some is collected, but my impression is that people are uncomfortable (or guilty?) about using fantasies as substitutes for real relationships and that they find such fantasies hard to sustain. Consider, for example, how much less acceptable it is to talk about masturbation than about illicit sexual activities or even what used to be called perversions. It cannot be the act itself that arouses guilt, but must be the fantasies that accompany it. (Philip Roth reports that after he published Portnoy's Complaint people began to treat him in a peculiar way.) Did Queen Victoria have sexual fantasies about her lost Albert? What about deformed people who have no prospect of finding sexual partners: do they have a rich fantasy life instead? What about jilted lovers: do many of them supply love and caresses to themselves in fantasy that they no longer enjoy with the lost partner? My speculation is that the answers are mostly negative. People sometimes report trying and failing to create a gratifying fantasy, or even a vivid memory of previous pleasures. One even finds that the object representation, the image of Other, has a will of its own, and that it will not do, say, or feel anything that Other would not actually do, say or feel in real life. Ordinary people cannot escape from an unsatisfying situation into a fulfilling dream world, for their fantasies simply will not cooperate. We have to go deal with the real people we know and get whatever joy we are to receive from them or, only if they are willing, from our images of them.

What I am suggesting is that we are accountable (or at least seem to feel accountable) to others for our images of them. Our fantasies are not our own, though we are responsible for them. They are products we create and share with others. They are the basis of our continuing relationships with others. And, like other ideas in the subjective world, they may diffuse throughout ongoing world life, much as if our veins were connected and the same blood coursed through us all.

Similarly, Fingarette writes of our moral responsibility for our wishes. He does not see "neurotic guilt" as something different from "real guilt", something from which the neurotic should be relieved by reassurances. Instead, he argues (and thinks that Freud would agree) that the neurotic suffers from real guilt for harbouring evil wishes. The patient must came to suffer,must feel the burden of that guilt, and then only when he changes his wishes can he be relieved of the guilt. (1967; 86.)

We see, then, that our initial assumption was wrong. The realm of the imagination -- of fantasies and wishes, either conscious or unconscious -- is not a realm of complete freedom, in contrast to the realm of the physical body. We think of the material world as reality and the subjective world as possibility, but that is too simple. Liberating the imagination will never be entirely possible because we hold ourselves responsible for our thoughts, just as we do for our acts.

Of course, it is not only by participating in a collective subjective world that we are drawn into relationships with others.. The imagination, we have seen, is a social activity, but so is the life of the body.


The late Ernest Becker's book, The Denial of Death,is a brilliant recasting of psychoanalytic theory revolving around the paradox that commands our attention in this paper -- that man is half animal, half symbolic. Becker maintains that this duality presents us with problems that no human can escape and that are the underlying sources of anguish. Human beings, unlike other animals, know they are mortal,and this knowledge is the fundamental basis of anxiety. As we have already discussed, we are never in full control of the symbolic realm. the subjective world. Even less are we in control of the physical realm, for death is inevitable and may strike at any moment. Becker discusses many of the other ways in which the body. with its urges and contingencies, overwhelms our spiritual ambitions. A child may attempt to exist strictly on the symbolic level, and then vomit Or he may observe his parents' intercourse and be horrified by their grunts and groans, proof of the futility of his project to transcend the body. Following Norman O. Brown, Becker considers Freud's notion of anality a misunderstanding. The anus represents to the child the finitude, the decay and death of the body. "To say someone is anal means he is trying extra hard to protect himself against the accidents of life and the danger of death, trying to use symbols to triumph over natural mystery, trying to pass himself off as anything but an animal." (Becker,l974, Ch. 3.) The body is a reality that defeats our aspirations for glory and humiliates us. We are, says Becker, gods that shit.

It is not necessary for us to go into Becker's provocative argument that the source of human anxiety is the fear of death. Whether it is that or the necessity of managing erotic impulses, in any case it is the limitation of our physical bodies that is the source of our trouble.

And yet it is the body that forces us to return, time after time, to society when we might otherwise withdraw. The imperatives of our bodies require the cooperation of others, both their physical and their symbolic cooperation. In particular, we need each other for our capacity to forgive and to promise, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out. Two aspects of the physical world cause us dread and anxiety: its irreversibility and its unpredictability. By irreversibility I mean that we may take actions which, once started, can never be undone,even though we did not and could not know what we were doing. The forgiveness of others releases us from the moral consequences of what we have done, though it cannot undo the physical reality. (Arendt, 1958:213.) Arendt writes,

"The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties belong together in so far as one of them,forgiving, serves to undo the deeds of the past,whose 'sins' hang like Damocles' sword over every new generation; and the other, binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition, islands of security without which not even contiguity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men....

"Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities. Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before one's self." (1958:213.)

We depend on others but they are no more free than we are, and the finiteness of material resources (including time) raises problems of social competition and conflict that would not plague pure spirits. We must enter into contractual accommodations with others to gain their collaboration. Much of sociology is concerned with the study of power and of exchange relationships. Sociologists are highly aware of the power dimension in social life, but tend to think of it in terms of controlling physical resources that enable one to coerce others by manipulating the conditions of their physical existence. With physical resources we can lock people up, threaten them with guns, offer them bribes, do work that meets their needs, pay whatever price they ask, and so on. Without such resources we suppose ourselves to lack power.

It seems to me important, however, to realize that the power dimension arises not only in the physical side of human relationships, but also in the symbolic side. We can exercise power over others when we limit their imaginations, when we create repressions in them. And so it is important to discuss how it is that people repress each other -- if, indeed, they do.


Repression is the inhibiting of native tendencies and impulses that arise within the self. However, when using the term we do not always make it clear whether we mean the inhibiting of incipient thought or actions, for both occur. I think the more important meaning of repression refers to suppressing thoughts -- which are often the covert phase of an act that, remaining unthought, can never have an overt phase. That is what Marcuse had in mind when he said that the liberation of humankind must begin by freeing the imagination.

Because of the normal workings of our nervous systems and because of our acquired habits, we carry out actions all day automatically, without reflecting upon them. When I walk or drive a car I need not make indications to myself about all the features of my situation, but only about features that are problematic -- a barricade in my path, perhaps, or a flat tire. However, we do not mean by repression all those experiences that we do not notice because they ore unproblematic; instead, we refer to the effortful suppression of noticing impulses that are problematic. Repression is costly, using up psychic energy.

Marx and Freud disagreed as to how much humankind could be liberated for the physical enjoyment of pleasure. Marx saw most human misery and repression as resulting from man's need to wrest a living from nature, and from the opportunity for some men to appropriate the fruits of other men's labour. With improved technology and a revolution against the ruling class, both of these factors could be minimized and a new era of human freedom would begin.

Freud was not so optimistic. In his view of human unhappiness, socialism would not make much difference because the basic reason for repression is man's commitment to civilization itself. Whatever economic system we devise,we still will value cleanliness, order, and beauty, and these values require of everyone considerable self-control. (Civilization and Its Discontents, ii) Marcuse, the Freudian Marxist, proposes an intermediate view -- that much repression will indeed remain a part of humanity's lot, but that some repression does result from an exploitative class structure, which can be overthrown. A political revolution will help.

Self-repression. Ernest Becker has taken a rather different view of repression, maintaining that it is indeed unavoidable, for the simple reason that we each repress ourselves. He differs from Freud and most others, who regard society as demanding that we renounce instinctual g ratification. Becker suggests that it is not society's fault; life is simply too overwhelming for the human being to experience fully. To Becker, repression refers to the suppression of subjective experiences, not merely overt acts. He writes,

"Man experiences real creature feeling before the crushing and negating miracle of Being. By the time we leave childhood most of us repress our vision of the primary miraculousness of creation. It is too overwhelming. The child isn't so much bothered by the nature of his inner drives as by the nature of his world. The child abandons ecstasy in order to create the illusion he controls his life and death. This is a vital lie. We are all dishonest about reality; we do not control our own lives. Full humanness means full fear and trembling, at least some of the waking day." (1973: Ch. 4.)

Again, Becker writes admiringly of Kierkegaard, who saw that man is beaten by life because

"...he fails to face up to the existential truth of his situation -- the truth that he is an inner symbolic self, which signifies a certain freedom, and that he is bound by a finite body, which limits that freedom. The attempt to ignore either aspect of man's situation, to repress possibility or to deny necessity, means that man will live a lie, fail to recognize his true nature, be 'the most pitiful of all things.'" (Becker, 1973:75.)

Becker adds a second explanation for the fact that we all repress ourselves -- that our powers of attention and time are limited, so we cannot do everything but must choose which of the many events happening to us we shall attend to, and which we shall decide not to notice. Of course, some priorities and selectivity will always be necessary. I would not have called this "repression" but perhaps it is just that. At any rate, Harry Stack Sullivan's account of repression was of that sort.

If we are prepared to accept simple inattention as repression, I think it is even more justifiable to point to another sense in which we repress ourselves. We have already mentioned it: our inability to sustain fantasies and memories that are incongruous with respect to present time reality. What I am suggesting is that the very primacy we give to reality over wish-fulfillment probably is a chief source of self-repression. We can hardly regret it as a matter of principle, however; if we were not generally committed to devoting our attention to reality, most of us would stay spaced-out in our own dream worlds instead of active in the world that we share. Still, there are people for whom we might wish it possible to enhance experience through the imagination when it cannot be enhanced in any other way.

Repression through the negotiation of selves. In general, though Becker is right in suggesting we do repress ourselves, I don't think anybody would worry very much about that. Most self-repression is pro-survival,designed to get us through the day intact. What we do worry about obsessively, however, is the quality of our relationships with others. And rightly so, for it is in our dealings with others that we may incur repressions that we wish to avoid and that we seek desperately to undo.

Everyone has experienced traumas that shaped his life thereafter, but to my mind most of the heavy burden of repression we all carry was not acquired in such momentous occasions, but in the routine transactions of daily living. We play our lives out before critical audiences of others, and we learn to anticipate their reactions and to adjust our behaviour as we go along. Sociologists call that social control, but might just as well call it repression. I respond to gestures of Other and my response shows him what I expect of him, what I recognize him to be, and what I hope he will do. If my image of him is important to him, he will be influenced by it, if only to protest against it and demand that I recognize other factors in him that I have denied. If he is important to me, I will pay attention to his response. The two of us constitute a social system, and through our reciprocal interactions we build up a small culture of our own -- a shared definition of the situation, a set of meanings we both understand,and images of ourselves as seen through the other's eyes. We each help the other discover some of his possibilities and we each fail to recognize other possibilities. Whatever we fail to acknowledge in the other, we take part, to that degree, in repressing. No guns or money are involved, but the exercise of power in this way through purely symbolic exchanges affects our lives in a much deeper sense than coercive power ordinarily does.

Behaviourist psychologists write about the social control phenomenon in other language. They talk about "reinforcing" certain behaviour patterns and "extinguishing" others through "non-reinforcement". Every human encounter can be seen as a game in which participants seek to reinforce or extinguish aspects of each other that they do or do not admire. It is not an attractive metaphor, but such "games" may be collaborative and mutually supportive instead of competitive and conflictful.

Nevertheless, each one of us has undergone the "extinction" of many cherished possibilities through the non-recognition of others. These are our repressions, and we each seek to revitalize ourselves, to discover what we have lost. We each quest for the self we could be, and in search of it we muse over our relationships, wandering what went wrong.


Ernest Becker's book elaborates on the duality between body and spirit, always assuming that to be spirit and not body would be a great victory, were it attainable. He suggests that transcending the finiteness of the body is a fundamental human ambition, and that we dislike recognizing that our bodies were created by powers outside ourselves. This he calls the causa-sui project -- our wish to be the father of ourself. This is a drive for autonomy, not just for today, but for the permanent control of our body, control extending before its beginning and after its ending, indefinitely.

Of course he is right, as far as he goes. However, were it possible to attain physical immortality, that would solve only half our problems, for as we have already suggested, our existence in the subjective world is not wholly free. Without any coercive instruments we mutually repress our imaginations and diminish our Selves. There is another causa-sui project that may be as important (I am not sure) as the one directed toward autonomy over the body. I have in mind the project to become one's own person as a subject, a spirit, a mind. If one is humiliated by recognizing that his parents procreated his body, he is even more humiliated by recognizing that they gave him his Self as well. That we experience ourselves first as an object through the eyes of others and only later as a subject, that is the ultimate shame. That our self-image was defined for us by others before we became ourselves, that is shame. That all the objects constituting our subjective world exist for us only because others have showed us what they are, that is shame. That whatever we experience as good or bad we assess with values others have given us, that is shame. That we cannot look upon our society and appraise it except in terms of the standards it has given us, that is shame. Our causa-sui project is not just to become the father of our own bodies, but of our own minds and souls as well. To transcend our birth, our death, and the social relationships that create our self. To choose what to think, feel, and desire, as if we had not learned what to think, feel, and desire. To be what we choose, and not just what others have recognized us to be. These are the goals behind the search for autonomy. And, if the goal of transcending our physical finiteness can never be attained, perhaps this goal, the search for subjective freedom, to some degree can be attained.


Positivistic sociologists have ambitions of being able to predict on the basis of inductively established "social laws". Freud, however, though he was more positivistic (Hughes, 1958:133) than symbolic interactionist sociologists, shared their backward-looking orientation. their search for the origins of human behaviour in antecedent events, their unwillingness to attempt predicting the future. (Rieff, p. 130) He asserted that while "the chain of causation can always be recognized with certainty if we follow the line of predict it along the lines of synthesis is impossible." (1920)

Because sociology and classical psychoanalytic theory both search the past far causes, their concerns cannot be devoted very much to the second causa-sui project I have described -- for self-sufficiency in the symbolic realm. Such a project is much more important to a different philosophical approach, existentialism, which shares very little with sociology and only during the past twenty years or so has found any common ground with psychoanalysis.

Edward Tiryakian has shown some of the ways in which existentialism differs from "sociologism''. a philosophical position that he attributes to Emile Durkheim, but that could also be attributed to symbolic interactionists in some particulars. He writes,

"Existentialism is a philosophy of rugged individualism: existential thought conceives the individual existent to be without recourse to any objective certainty about his position in the world, without any anchors in a cognitively objective apprehensible reality, without any external props by means of which he might feel secure. Consequently, all existentialists ultimately share the belief that it is up to the individual himself to solve his own existential problems, particularly the problem of his own becoming." (l962:153)

As a sociologist, on.the other hand, "Durkheim believed emphatically that society pervades the individual: he cannot, without contradicting his nature, liberate himself from the limits imposed upon him by his participation in the social world, any more than he can escape from the physical universe. A society without individuals is a chimera, and so is a human personality without any social relations whatsoever. The authentic selfhood of the person is to be found only through participation in a collectivity. in social reality. This view is antipodal to that of existentialism." (p.155.) T

he important difference is that the social sciences and psychoanalysis look backward for causes ("What forces brought me to where I am now?") whereas existentialism looks forward to responsibilities. ("Now that I am here,what shall I do about this situation?") As Fingarette has pointed out, we

"cannot take moral and decisional questions to be a mere subclass of factual questions about causes or forces whether objective or subjective." In an actual crisis one "cannot -- I emphasize cannot -- think of his action as causally necessitated." One might try to do so by saying to himself, "Since my action will be the mathematical result of all the causal forces impinging upon me now, the best thing to do is wait and see what I do do." But even in such an absurd case, the person is deciding to wait and see.(Fingarette, 1967:144-6.)

As Bergson pointed out (but was probably not the first to do so) determinism belongs to the past. We cannot decide what will happen in the post. Responsibility belongs to the present and future -- insofar as it is within our power to decide what to make happen. Pending decisions cannot be derived from knowledge about the past. Hence, our capacity for exercising responsibility, for making sensible decisions, does not depend upon freeing ourselves from past influences. The second causa-sui project is misdirected energy, for how we originated is irrelevant: whether we created ourselves or whether our parents procreated our bodies and our social group created our minds, we are responsible now, like it or not:

We have to make decisions and nothing that is past can make those decisions for us or assure us that our choices will be correct. Fallible as we are, we are responsible for what we do. If we try to evade responsibility, we are responsible for that decision too. Freud and Durkheim did not lose their freedom to choose by looking backward toward the causes of behaviour. Nor did existentialists gain any certainty of choosing wisely by looking forward instead toward the responsibilities of behaviour. Our philosophies can neither diminish our freedom nor give us control over all the consequences of our actions. We are free; the future is uncertain; our actions are irreversible. The best we can do is to help each other by our promises and our forgiveness to face our freedom, which is as often a reason for dread as for rejoicing It is often useful to look into our pasts for the causes of our actions. But we also look into the future for the purpose of our actions. (May, 1969:91.)

Willing and Discovering. Existentialism is a philosophy of willing. It points out that we must use our own will, and that we do use them all day long, even when we allow others to decide for us. And that the important thing is to own up to using our wills whenever we do so. All of these statements are important, true, and excellent advice as well.

However, I think it is not uncommon for existentialists to demand that the will assume burdens that do not properly belong to it. Some things about ourselves and our situation are not open for us to decide now, but ore given. They constitute the context within which we use our wills, but they are not now matters for us to choose, but rather for us to recognize. Because they ore not always immediately apparent, it often requires considerable attention to recognize them. That is, we must actively try to discover these realities. Indeed, it is often quite difficult to decide whether the task we face is one of discovering the truth about what is, or alternatively one of deciding what to do. For example, do we control our feelings or do we discover our feelings? Do we define the meaning of a situation or do we realize the meaning in a situation? Sometimes we use the former expression, which suggest that meaning and feelings are to be willed, and sometimes we use the latter expressions, which suggest that they are to be recognized. We can try to feel this or that sentiment, but it doesn't always work, and when we appear to succeed, we are often left wondering what it is we really feel underneath. We can try to infuse a situation or a relationship with meaning but this too is often an obvious sham.

Existentialists are divided into two camps -- those who generally accept the notion of transcendence and those who do not. Generally the religious thinkers believe in transcendence -- that man must orient himself to something larger than himself (generally, but not necessarily, God) and that the most fundamental decision any person has to make is how to relate to this transcendent being. One does not create God, one simply decides whether to respond to God.

A secular formulation of this notion was that proposed by Viktor Frankl,who uses the tern "life" as other writers use the term "God". He maintains that life presents challenges to each human being from one moment to the next. Each situation has a meaning and man's task is to discover the meaning and respond to it fully. Life issues a call; man chooses whether to respond or not. Man does not create or will the meaning, but recognizes it, for it exists out there, as the context in which one finds himself. (Frankl, 1962)

The other existentialists insist that the human being finds himself thrown into a meaningless universe which has no intelligence and cannot summon him to anything. Man must summon himself, and the criteria he employs in setting projects for himself are all of his own making. He is accountable to himself. As Sartre argues, even if God existed and sent angels with messages, man would have to decide whether to believe the angels were genuine and so man would still be responsible for believing or disbelieving. (Sartre, 1946)

I don't know how to resolve this debate between the two camps ontologically. Personally, in resolving it in my own mind I think I did not choose which side to believe, but looked hard at myself to discover which I believed, and as it turned out, I am in the transcendence camp. Perhaps you will settle the issue by deciding, willing, but I doubt it. (Maybe that is what theologians mean when they say faith is given by grace, that we do not will it for ourselves.)

Not only existentialists are divided on the question of transcendence, but so are social scientists and psychoanalysts. Freud saw the idea as childish self-deception; Jung and Durkheim did not. (Freud, The Future of an Illusion; Durkheim, Elementary Forms of Religious Life. )

Responsibility and Caring. When we say someone is responsible we may mean either (a) he is the person who has to decide what to do, or (b) he is not irresponsible, but cares about the implications of what he is doing. (Fingarette, 1967:28.) This "caring" is the fundamental attitude that distinguishes moral, concerned human beings from irresponsible ones. It is a fact that we have to decide matters; that is inescapable. But how we do it is another matter. Some show a proper regard for the seriousness of decisions they have to make, whereas others do not seem to care what happens.

Is caring itself an act of will? I think not entirely so. Caring is the feeling one has upon recognizing the meaning of a situation or the possibilities in a person. To recognize meaning and to care are precisely the same experience, though "meaning" is out there in the situation and ''caring'' is inside oneself -- a feeling, an energy. Both ore given, not willed. When we try to will them, inauthenticity results. We hove to discover what it is we care about, what has meaning for us. And then, within that discovered context, we exercise responsibility, we decide what to do. Willing takes place within a context that is not willed, but recognized.

Clearly, there are periods in our lives that seem meaningless when we go through the motions of living but feel indifferent as to the outcome, when our lives are well organized in an orderly routine, but when we lack spirit and cannot care. It is important to search for the sources of that emotional energy that we lack and cannot supply by our wills. I think that caring is the activity of Eros, the life force that preoccupied Freud during the final years of his life.


From this point on, I want to develop a coherent theory of love from both sociological and psychoanalytic perspectives -- chiefly the latter. I am not sure that I believe this account myself, and I know it will appear to derive from a misreading of Freud. However, my account merely shifts an accent in Freud, while I think remaining faithful to the original texts. My own question ( and it is a question, not a conviction) is whether this may not have been what Freud was actually driving at all along. In this, my interpretation will come close to that advanced by Philip Rieff in his book, Freud: The Mind of a Moralist,though I think I go further than Rieff.

I want to take seriously this notion: that, far from liberating our instincts from repressions for the uninhibited expression of sexual urges,Freud considered the human quest to be for the perfectly formed repression above all else. Not only does our society depend upon our being repressed so it can draw upon our eros, which we channel into productive work and diffuse into generalized solidarity, but we as individuals depend upon repression for our continuing source of eros -- our life force, the energy we need for caring. What I am pointing to is a paradox that was the basis of Freud's pessimism, his conviction that man could never attain happiness because of inherent contradictions in his desires.

Eros, we have seen, is not something we can generate for ourselves. True, it is an energy that we want to be able to pour outwards from ourselves, but before we can give it away we must have received it as a gift. It is experienced as being loved first, and then becomes something we in turn can give.

But to experience being loved is to enact subjectively an I-Thou relationship, to be two people at once, self being loved and Other, giving the love. (And usually vice versa.) There is no way to feel the flow coming in except to take the role of both Self and Other simultaneously. Now, to experience such a relationship in reality gives us a role to take, and we can assume that perspective and give ourselves love internally whenever we want to, whether the person is around or not. We use the object representation that we carry inside ourselves. However as we have seen, that object representation is not our "possession" but must accurately depict Other experiencing us. If we know he does not really love us, we cannot use that object representation to love ourselves subjectively. Our imagination owes a debt to reality and must always pay it. So we must have a real relationship with one who loves us, or at least a memory of someone who, when last known, did love us and, so far as we know still does. If we find out to the contrary, even years after the person has died, we then lose the use of our object representation of him. We must use a representation of a real relationship, because the imagination cannot create what it has never experienced.

The flow of erotic love between two people is the greatest of all pleasures and when it is going well they will spend it all on each other, not saving any to shore with others. Freud insisted it was possible to spend it all, for love is a self-consuming phenomenon. Intense passion cannot last indefinitely if one can pour it out without limits upon the loved object. That fact is the source of all our trouble.

If a couple give themselves up to their relationship as much as they want,their love will consume itself. They will make love until they get bored and then have no energy left to care about anything else. Or so Freud assumed.

Neither they nor society want that to happen. Erotic longing is better than boredom, even to the lover himself. Eros not given to the beloved con be sublimated in productive, creative work in the world and shored diffusely with others in the form of caring. Such aim-inhibited eros replenishes itself continuously and can be claimed and drown upon by the social group; Freud suggested it was the energy that made civilization possible. But that requires repression. Self must desire Other but the desire must not be allowed full expression. Some libido must be saved, lest the love affair dwindle off toward entropy.

Several sociologists. notably William F. Goode (1959:38-47.) and Philip Slater (1963:339-364) have written of love as a social problem that all societies recognize and seek to control. These writers point out that two people in love are so likely to withdraw their libidinal cathexes from the wider social group that there is a real danger they will stop caring about their responsibilities and feel perfectly satisfied with their dyadic relationship. All societies see this as a threat and seek to contain love or even suppress it, so as to claim most or all erotic energy for the group's purposes. Goode argues that romantic love is recognized as possible in every society (contrary to some opinions) and suggests that everywhere courtship is controlled by peers or parents.

"Some structural arrangements seek to prevent entirely the outbreak of love, while others harness it...The theoretical importance of love is thus to be seen. in the socio-structural patterns which are developed to keep it from disrupting existing social arrangements." (1959) Slater points out what a lot of trouble society devotes to interrupting couples -- such as staging big weddings and other social events, tying honeymooners' pajamas in knots,and so on. Neither Slater nor Goode ask themselves this question,however: If Freud is right that uninhibited mutual passion burns itself out, why do societies go to so much trouble to suppress lovemaking? "Why don't they let couples "get it out of their systems" as soon as possible so they will lose interest in love and return to the wider community? The reason is supplied by Freud: the community depends upon eros as a source of energy, which it must not allow to be depleted. Thus it must do contradictory things -- encourage great passions within people, and then interfere with these passions, diverting it for social ends. A quiescent, satisfied lover is of no value to the group; only a relatively frustrated lover has energy that can be topped. Goode and Slater do not mention that the group urges people to form the very erotic bonds that it finds such a threat subsequently.

Not only is society ambivalent, stoking up love and then trying to cool it, but each lover is himself ambivalent as well. Self needs eros, life force, for it is the only source of joy and vitality and one cannot produce it by himself. He wants aim-inhibited (hence self-replenishing) love, so he must (a) cathect Other, who will (b) love him but (c) not consummate the love, but who will (d) want to do so, rather than rejecting him. This is a formula for frustration and longing. It is a feeling of aliveness,meaningfulness and joy, mixed with desire and painful pining. Two strong forces must be present and in conflict -- one a passion pressing intensely for fulfillment and the other a barrier prohibiting fulfillment. But the lover does not want to feel ambivalent; he wants to feel the wholehearted passion, yet have that passion curtailed by opposition that does not imply rejection. It is no good loving someone who rejects him; to empathize with someone who hates oneself is only to create self-hatred, which is experienced as depression and low self-esteem. He wants to internalize someone who loves, even desires, him but who is prevented by external constraints from fully acting upon that erotic desire. One needs a barrier that is not experienced as one's own creation, but as something imposed and accepted, gracefully or otherwise.

A taboo serves just such a purpose. According to this model, the incest taboo must have been set up for the specific purpose of inhibiting the first love relationships people form in life, thereby providing them with the barrier they need to keep from squandering their fund of eros as fast as it is given to them. The beloved parent must not reject the child, but express unstinting love, but always recognizing that the taboo is absolute, objective, and that any breach of it is unthinkable. Frustration is not an unfortunate side effect of this repression; on the contrary, the repression is set up precisely to create the frustration, the aim-inhibited eros that can then be diverted for the person's own internal psychic requirements and/or for the requirements of his wider social group.

But of course the frustration is stressful and one does not easily give up trying to gain gratificotions from the love object. Only after a great struggle can one accept that one is not being rejected personally but for a higher purpose. Then one grudgingly renounces active striving for Other's sexual response and settles for the internalized abject representation, who lavishes desexualized love upon him, creating a fund of eros.

It is not completely clear how this desexualized eros can be re-sexualized -- i.e. how one manages to love another person sexually. for by internalizinq the original Other (presumably, one's opposite sex parent) one also internalizes the sexual taboo, so it is impossible to imagine sex with him. If Self derives his ongoing supply of eros by loving himself through Parents's eyes. he cannot be seeing himself as a sexual love object. Presumably the inhibition of imagination in that regard is the repression that causes people to have so much difficulty feeling sex and tenderness toward the same person. which Freud found an almost universal problem.

Furthermore, should Parent (or other love object) fail to lavish love upon Self, an emotional deficiency must result that one seeks to fill with subsequent relationships. The transference relationship with a therapist is clearly such an attempt. It is fostered by the existence of an ethical norm forbidding sexual contact with patients which is functionally equivalent to the original incest taboo. Given that firm barrier, patients who are deficient in self-love seek to internalize the therapist as a source of eros.

In other relationships, however, repression is not so strictly exacted. One can live out one's desires, within limits. One need not subsist wholly on the fantasies of internalized others. One falls in love again and again throughout life, and each time eros erupts into the subjective world,it is like a volcano -- all fire, excitement, and destruction. There is so safe way to experience it. Each time, one recognizes great possibilities in Other, invests libido in him, and opens oneself up to the love that may or may not come. Love is blind, unrealistic, but one might also say love is visionary, that it sees beyond what is toward what might be. It is the great liberator of the imagination. It raises hopes that may be defeated, creates meaning where life was flat, orderly, and routine. Eras is life force -- and also madness, disorder, a threat to every commitment, the source of every kind of crime and irresponsibility. It is also the source of new commitments, new meaning, new caring.

What a risk one takes in loving? Having laid rational plans, one is swept into violent attachments, passionate commitment. One never chooses eros; it simply happens. Or rather, Self recognizes qualities in Other that summon eros, and then the destruction and renewal begins. The soul is revivified, even at the cost of destroying whatever commitments had become meaningless. It is never an act of will; existentialism cannot command it to be disciplined, though within its unchosen context, will still must function; decisions still must be made and cannot be attributed to passion itself. Caring is a gift that comes to us, but may overwhelm us as well. Even one who wishes to retain a fund of eros for sublimation and prudent social expenditures, somehow may will instead to throw away order for the sake of a passionate binge that he knows will exhaust itself in tedium eventually, unless it destroys him first.

A few people, however, understand the importance of repression in their own psychic economies. As Ernest van den Haag has argued, frustration is no more "unnatural" than free expression of feelings, and may be just as healthy.(l962:43-7) One who has sufficient will power can deliberate use self-repression to save up eros. Freud held that creative people do just that; by repressing themselves they store up eros to use in art, philosophy, or science. Another strategy, only slightly less repressive, is to maintain a love relationship but inhibit it severely. One thinks of Dante adoring Beatrice from a distance. Of Kierkegaard, breaking his engagement with Regina Olsen, the only woman he ever loved, and who loved him all her life. Of Ruth Benedict and Edward Sapir, who wrote letters and poems to each other almost daily for years, without impairing Sapir's marital commitment. Of George Bernard Show, who was especially frugal in physically expressing love, but lavish in expressing it verbally. His marriage was celibate but loving, and he conducted more than one passionate affair strictly by mail -- notably with the actress Ellen Terry. He watched her performances in his plays but declined to meet her until their long love affair by correspondence had finally ended. Freud would have claimed that these people were able to be creative in the symbolic realm because they repressed the claims of their bodies so stringently. And presumably he had such an objective in mind for himself; his biographers say his own sexual performances ceased at the age of 45. So far as I know, no sociologist has attempted any research to determine whether repression of sexuality fosters creativity. It is a promising topic.

Strategic interaction in love. Although psychoanalysts have made the most significant contributions to our understanding of love as an intra-psychic process, as in their discussions of the conservation of libidinal energy, the sociological model has been employed occasionally to analyze the interpersonal relations of lovers, especially in their complex maneuverings to maintain control, even as they allow themselves to lose it. Although this is-simply a typology, and not a dynamic model, the recent account of love proposed by John Alan Lee fairly compels one to read it as a process as well. One cannot help seeing his three most interesting types of love as three different strategies lovers may take in dealing with each other, according to their expectations of success or failure.(Lee, 1975:514-528.)

Lee contrasts "erotic", "ludic", and "manic" love, plus some other less interesting types that we need not consider here, inasmuch as they seem to involve low levels of cathexis. Roughly, erotic love (in his restricted sense of the term) is passionate, wholehearted, physical love in which success depends upon sufficient self-esteem to avoid haste, desperation, or any sense of urgency. "Ludus" is more of a game, in that the lover is careful not to became too involved to break off the relationship with good manners and style. Sophistication and lack of jealousy are expected, and success depends upon one's ability to remain detached between affairs. "Manic" love, on the other hand, is a desperate situation. The lover is intensely involved, anxious, inordinately jealous, overwhelmingly obsessed, and very likely to botch the relationship.

Lee has established that such relationships are most likely to fall upon persons with low self-esteem, loneliness, and a lack of secure social status. He suggests that manic love is a mixture of ludic and erotic love, and it is easy to see how this might be so.

If self-esteem depends upon the self-love one generates through an internalized object representation, a loving Other, then those who lack such an emotional resource are probably desperate and urgent in their quest for such a relationship. Because of their deficiency they have little to offer a partner, for ability to give steady, untroubled love depends upon the secure internal obsession of an abundant fund of eros. They are aware of their incapacity, seek to rectify it, but know that they have little to offer and much to risk in such an encounter. Two ludic lovers make a fine pair, and so do two erotic lovers but in a ludic-erotic dyad, the erotic person is likely to be disappointed. Whoever starts out with an inadequate internal source of eros is unlikely to sustain the appearance of being confident, easy, and so on. Actually hoping for too much, he may try to disguise his dependency by pretending to be or actually trying to become noncommittal. The combination of ludic and erotic strategies in the same personality yields mania, an effort to preserve ones self by remaining detached, cool and noncommittal while desperately yearning for the benefits that might be conferred by eros, were it possible to carry off such a passionate affair.

It is a reasonable hypothesis that whether a given affair will be erotic, ludic, or manic depends upon their previous love histories of the participants, which determine the status of the respective self-love resources as they enter the relationship.

If the manic lover is desperate, the ludic lover must be past desperation; he has given up hope of internalizing love, and is willing to settle for less than intimacy. Lee's description of ludus is reminiscent of Buber's description of an I-It relationship -- one in which Other is an object to be manipulated but not a "Thou" to experience from the other side. This attitude is based upon defensiveness, but one can understand defensiveness in love, which is a risky business at best. Rollo May put it well when he suggested that, when falling in love, one gives away the very centre of himself and does not know whether he will get it back.

Giving the centre of oneself can be a gesture understood and appreciated as a gift by Other, or it can be seen as an overwhelming expectation, a claim for more than Other can give in response. Knowing that his feet are of clay, Other feels unable to sustain the unrealistic representation that has been formed of him. Ernest Becker suggests that we make gods of men when we love them, and knowing that they are mortal too, they must flee from the encounter. He writes,

"When we look for the 'perfect human object' we are looking for someone who allows us to express our will completely, without any frustration or false notes. We want an object that reflects a truly ideal image of ourselves. But no human object can do this; humans have wills and counterwills of their own, in a thousand ways they can move against us, their very appetites offend us." (1974:166)

One fears giving away the centre of himself -- -- especially because it may be received as a gift by Other, or as a burden too heavy to accept. Yet we do not live for ourselves alone, but want to devote ourselves to another, earthly or transcendent. Faith in the transcendent being a gift few moderns receive, the more common search is for still a greater Other than one has yet known, a fearful search that one knows is doomed to fail. The alternative is an effort to try to become self-sufficient, the provider of eros for oneself. This is the third causa-sui project -- the wish to be able to give oneself love that nobody else will provide. The wish for liberation from the limitations of others' erotic capabilities. Such a project would truly make one independent from society. But, as anyone with a deficit of eros knows, in that respect it is never possible to become the father of oneself.


This paper is a philosophical exercise in idealism with somewhat pessimistic conclusions. The idealism comprises the argument that what we do depends upon what ideas we hove as much Os upon the physical conditions of our situation. Moreover, I have acknowledged the validity of existentialism as a polemic urging us to realize that we choose, we decide, we are responsible for our own fates. But with all those idealistic postulates accepted, pessimism remains: we cannot choose simply anything, for our options are finite and the activity of willing is subject to multiple contingencies of social origin. Our task often consists of recognizing important but not obvious features of these contingencies.

First, we are limited as animals in the physical realm. Becker was right in demanding that we stop claiming more control over our lives as organisms than we can ever attain. It is a lie to say we control our lives, for we shall all die and repressing our fear of that diminishes our consciousness.

Second, we are limited in the symbolic realm. Our categories of thought are derived from social experience, not chosen by us. Our subjective images of the world, of other people, and even of ourselves, are built up through social interaction. We have a part in that activity but ore never the sole author of those images -- even the fantasies we concoct for private enjoyment. We are accountable for our images -- both to reality itself and to the other people we represent in our minds, to depict them with sensitive regard for the hopes they cherish for themselves and with respect for their true opinions. Existentialists are too likely to describe our relations with other people as choices, whereas in reality we are negotiating with them to arrive at our preferred interpretations and images of ourselves, of others, and of social reality. We do choose, but only among possibilities that we can imagine, and our images are produced collectively; we do not possess our own set of them.

Third, we are limited in the emotional realm. We must choose, but to be truly responsible we must care about our decisions, experience them as meaningful, approach them seriously. Yet the attitude of caring is not a matter of will, but of eros, the life force that comes upon us as a gift -- destructive or joyful. Our will is involved when we interact strategically with others to build up a fund of eros, but the final outcome depends upon their reactions as well.

If this paper departs from Freud in any important particular, it is in seeing eros not as a biological urge derived from sexual desire, hence as dependable as thirst or hunger, but as a social product, hence contingent upon chancy personal encounters. Eros is not a dependable energy within us, though it is indeed related to sexuality. It is love we give ourselves and then others by taking the role of a real person who has loved us, and experiencing his loving. Such an internalized Other is a self-replenishing source at eros. Without experiencing a relationship with such a real person, however, one cannot create a fund of eros for himself.

Moreover, if one has such a relationship, the natural tendency is to expend the inflowing eros by giving it back to the beloved in a sexual encounter. Or to another beloved, a surrogate. Freud has argued that this tendency would undermine civilization if it were unchecked. We must be prevented from giving all our erotic energy to the one we love, for we must convert some of it into caring and generalized feeling for the wider community and its concerns. Hence we have repressions -- barriers inhibiting the full expression (or even the full imagining) of sexual bliss with our beloved. These barriers may be taboos -- or simply rules governing social roles, such as psychotherapists' ethics, norms limiting legitimate sexuality to marital partners, and so on. The advantage of such social institutions is that they create sexual barriers that are impersonal and universal and when upheld need not be seen as personal rejections. An internalized lover may be an abundant source of eros, which one experiences inwardly as vitality and self-esteem, and can sublimate outwardly as caring and interest in world life. Yet, Freud suggested that all this depends upon repression, which is stressful and never as gratifying as physical lovemaking.

We are free; we do choose; but the conditions of our choosing are not always the ones we prefer. Many of us wish to transcend these limitations,to become autonomous in ways that are impossible. Becker says we want to become self-creators, but that we cannot do because we are animals. I say there are other reasons as well: as minds we are social products and our very ability to love and to care derives from the love others give us -- or sometimes do not give us. We cannot make ourselves what we are not, though we can negotiate and bargain with others to sustain the images, the concepts, and even the love we need in order to act responsibly.

Paradoxically, repression both conserves our emotional energy and limits our vision of what is possible. Eros, recognizing possibilities in Other, sometimes breaks through repression, liberating our spirits and calling for a response from Other, who may find the summons liberating or a burden of expectation too heavy to bear. Eros brings destruction and renewal, which we do not choose, but witness as the miracle of life, the context in which our willing must proceed.


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