Pathology & Civilisation: Neurosis and Cruelty- Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Diagnosing General Pathology

Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Submitted: November 10, 2011

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Chapter 2: Diagnosing General Pathology

In the following chapter I will introduce Nietzsche and Freud’s theories of life and death and destructiveness and creativeness. I will look at how they work within a similar sphere of concerns in their diagnosis of the pathology of civilisation. Areas of overlap can be found in their focus on the potential conflicts of life and death, which both thinkers consider fundamental to the development of civilisation. By identifying the need for relief from this conflict, Nietzsche beginnings to construct a pathological relationship between the mind and the physical world. I will show that a synthesis of the forces of Apollo and the Dionysus are central to Nietzsche’s solution to this conflict. I will now begin by exploring Freud’s concepts of ‘Eros’ and ‘Thanatos’ before focusing on what I will consider to be Nietzsche’s more expansive solution to the repressive force of civilisation.

Life and Death

Freud’s diagnosis of psychological pathology is further explained in the two forces of ‘Eros’ and ‘Thanatos’, or, the instincts for life and death. Freud uses the mythological narrative of Eros to describe the creative forces of the libido, meaning sexual energy, love, in the case of narcissism self-love. Eros is a collection of drives associated with the production of life. In Freud’s early psychoanalytic writings the instincts associated with Eros were opposed by the force of the ego. The later theory Eros became a defense against the death instinct. The conflict between Eros and Thanatos, the struggle between life and death, also attributed to the generation of the neurosis in individual, where the individual cannot manage the renunciation demanded by society, and the ‘super ego’. For Freud this conflict is caused by prohibitions distancing individuals from their animalism in order to protect civilisation from man. This is a fundamental conflict at the center of Freud’s pathology of civilisation. Freud’s ‘life instinct’ observes that individuals will pursue pleasure and avoid pain. However, he later introduces an extra more contentious mechanism to this with the introduction of the ‘death instinct’ or ‘Mortido’. This was embodied in ‘Thanatos’, which for Freud demonstrated an instinctual desire for darkness and peace, an absolute form of happiness. The only way the mind can exist authentically and expansively is through the death of the physical, a release from the restraints of an often-painful external reality in relation to it. Freud would refer to this as a return to an inorganic state. The mind can be described as the immortal side of human nature in that, the mind does not wither and die with age. It must reconcile its entrapment within the body and can only find liberation through the death of its physical confine.

Destructiveness and Creativeness

For Nietzsche the conflict between life and death is represented through creative and destructive forces of competition. Nietzsche similarly employed a mythological narrative to expose this in his diagnosis of the origins of pathology. Nietzsche’s use of the Apollonian civilisation as a constructive force acting on the individual through its words and objects. Ideals of culture that on the surface compare to Freud’s use of the superego. However, for Nietzsche it is, at the same time destructive to the real authentic individual that is not constructed by its culture. It is perhaps this authentic individual that Freud sees as the product of psychoanalysis. However Nietzsche is purposefully ambiguous about what the authentic individual is. Although the idea of authenticity for Nietzsche maybe unproblematic in an ambiguous form Freud however, requires a clear definition of authenticity in order for his psychoanalysis as therapy to function credibly. Health, joy, or life all stand in relation to that description.

“Civilization has to make every effort to limit man’s aggressive drives and hold down their manifestations through the formation of psychical reaction. This leads to the use of methods that are meant to encourage people to identify themselves with others and enter into aim-inhibited erotic relationships, to the restriction of sexual life, and also to the ideal commandment to love ones neighbor as oneself, which is actually justified by the fact that nothing else runs so much counter to basic human nature”[1]

The Apollonian is attached into a concrete existence, however the ‘tragic person’ which encapsulates both Apollonian and Dionysian ways of being, which in necessary conflict requires, as resolution the adoption of one or the other form of concreteness. This is analogous to a kind of courageous vitality that would later feature in Nietzsche's ‘Ubermensch’. Strength and ‘will’ would replace the contagion of weakness and sickness of humanity. It is worth while emphasizing that here we have introduced an idea in Nietzsche’s thinking that stands as the most profound remedy of the inherent conflict in the human animal. Nietzsche identifies an innate, naturalistic, and destructive Instinkt (instinct) in the human subject, and by doing so reveals the sadism of civilised culture alongside the issue of instincts. Nietzsche aphorised or metaphorised the interplay of creativeness and destruction in his first step towards a critical theory of civilisation. Nietzsche’s philosophical insights into the darker regions of the mind where first significantly developed in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), by signifying the psychological connotations of human behaviour and belief systems in Greek culture. This work is fundamental to his development of the pathology of mind and of civilisation by contrasting Modernity with the Apollonian and Dionysian culture of civilisation. Specifically the relationship of the destructive force of human nature presented by the Dionysian, and the illusions presented by the aesthetic ideals of victory and destiny in the Apollonian. This analysis provides a useful starting point from which to speak of the pathology of cruelty and of civilisation as it would come to operate in Nietzsche’s depth psychology. Nietzsche translated the Dionysian ritualistic behaviours as demonstrating that consciousness seeks freedom from the horrors of the body. More specifically the rituals represent a source of freedom from the bombardment of perceptual stimuli and from the cruelty inflicted upon the mind by unfulfilled impulses, a mechanism defined as repression. In the Dionysian ritual, the participants would in effect lose themselves, in that they would seek to remove their consciousness from the body during the throws of ecstasy and intoxication. This according to Nietzsche was an attempt to transcend the repression and conformity and mass delusion imposed by high society morality; in other words a form of beguiling control to be overcome. This is an alternative form of remedy to the inherent conflict that we have been discussing.

In contrast, the Apollonian distanced the human from true self-destructive emotions, which resulted in a separation from the essential connection with the self and its earthly nature. Individuation, which Nietzsche views as the fundamental principle of Apollo, lies at the bottom of all our perspectives on reality. Meaning that this perspective does not reflect reality nor nature and human kinds true place ‘on the earth’ as he describes it. In contrast, the Dionysian addresses a naturalistic reality with its destruction of the physical and the creation of the new. Importantly for Nietzsche as for the Dionysian, destruction is essential for the creation of something new.

As pointed out much later by the libertarian and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk[2], by evoking the metaphor of the Dionysian and the Apollonian dialectic, Nietzsche is not implying that one should be valued above the other. It is important to understand this contrast in terms of two creative forces emerging from the same nature: “They are the instruments of immediate satisfaction of the aesthetic instinct of nature. In other words, the aesthetic instinct derives from nature”. [3] The Apollonian presents the power of conquest and strength vital for human progress. However, the pursuit of éxtasis or ecstasy, equates to a form of death in the Dionyisiac dialect, in that it describes the sense of standing outside of ones self. This is significant in Nietzsche’s portrayal of the Dionyisiac as it signifies the death of the self or previous conditions of consciousness, and more importantly the end of suffering. In essence, Nietzsche is showing that the mind can escape the body through the intoxication and phallicism of the hedonistic Dionysian rituals. In fact, these activities could be described in terms of psychosexuality in that sexuality played a psychological function in the rituals, as pleasure was not sought purely for physical gratification. The death of the physical is necessary to show that the self is an illusion. Again the Dionysian form of existence presents for Nietzsche one form of resolution to existential conflict.

Generally, Apollo is considered to represent the more cerebral aspects of mankind and Dionysus the libido and gratification. However, by synthesising the two aims of these cultural forms Nietzsche reveals a psychological connection and dependency in reflecting the pathology of civilisation. The pathos of the Dionysian was central to Nietzsche’s task of the revaluation of values, creating a new standard of values, which he called a Dionysian, value standard. The Greeks considered Dionysus as the embodiment of life, inexhaustibly creative but inescapably destructive. Nietzsche used this value to affirm life in the present, in this world, celebrating life for what it is rather than disapproving of it for what it has yet to achieve. Nietzsche uses the Dionysian affirmation of existence as an instrument in his diagnosis of modernity. Because the Dionysian attitude in its destruction of the self serves as the basis of a critique of the civilised order. For Nietzsche the Apollonian illusion requires order and subjugation, which generates a conflict with the instincts. Both Nietzsche and Freud valued the positive contributions that civilization has on human life on providing an authority with which to control the will from succumbing to its destructive tendencies. Such as has been expressed in the Dionysian intoxication, this was not a productive force for human existence. In isolation it is the lust for uninhibited power and the harbinger of cruelty and thus prohibited.

Nietzsche rejects the excessive rationalism presented by the Enlightenment. This assertion is built in to The Birth of Tragedy in that the Enlightenment represents the victory of the Apollonian over the Dionysian. By utilising the idea that civilisation has essentially evolved through this struggle of the apollonian and the Dionysian Nietzsche established himself as one of the first post-modern critical theorists. However, Nietzsche would later withdraw this focus on the Dionysian concept stating on reflection that this was “burdened with all the errors of youth” (Attempt at Self Criticism, §2). The connotations of this early analysis on Nietzsche’s part are nevertheless essential in understanding his response to the pathological state of Modernity.

The dichotomy presented in this early work is central to Nietzsche in revealing the connection between conflict and repression, and led to the development of Nietzsche’s fundamental conception of a ‘will’. As will be shown in what follows, a ‘will’ which would later become the basis for Nietzsche’s psycho-pathological interpretation of civilisation. In the case of the individual, the ego must reconcile one or the other instincts as potential source of cruelty. Therefore cruelty is revealed to be at the base of civilization itself by Nietzsche in the form of this conflict of ‘will’ and civilization. Or in the case of Freud the ‘super ego’ becomes the intrapsychic extension of society. Civilisation presents its diagnosis and imposes its judgment upon the individual ego accordingly. The ego must try to reconcile these two forces and so death and darkness become the steer away from the cruelty of life, directing it towards peace. And so the term cruelty itself becomes a moral term of civilisation, in that it can be right or wrong. Sickness is a moral indictment when used in a cultural sense, as a sick society is unacceptable to the cause of civilisation as apposed to the psychological sickness of the individual, which is not customarily seen on moral terms. Nietzsche reveals a sickness along the way to his target, which is to release the ‘will’ at the base of the human psyche.

In this chapter I have shown that Nietzsche and Freud value the positive contributions that civilization has made to human life. We can conclude that Nietzsche and Freud were both concerned with how individuals manage the journey of life. For Nietzsche it was the authenticity of this journey that must be observed above all else. Nietzsche provides a discourse with which to understand individual suffering, and by doing so he gives suffering the status of something life affirming and necessary.


[1] Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, P.62

[2] Peter Sloterdijk, Thinker on Stage, Nietzsche’s Materialism,1989

[3] Paul- Laurent Assoun, Freud and Nietzsche P.56


© Copyright 2017 Stuart Wray. All rights reserved.

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