freud: structure of the self

In An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud presents a starkly economical model of the self, composed of an "inner" and innate world of native drives (the id), an outer world of physical conditions and imposed cultural conditions, an ego to mediate the id and this outer world, and a self that represents the accommodation of cultural/family influence,the super-ego. Because the ego must mediate in terms not only of aggression and retreat ("venatic" relations of pursuit and flight) but also signified (as a part of a symbolic system)and sign (body), the ego forms a complex relation to the id.

Part of this complexity is played out in the relationship between an "ego self" constructed to meet the demands of the symbolic network of physical realities and social relations, and the imaginary libidinal self that can be articulated only in terms of objects that also serve as the cause of desire, visible only through "anamorphic" relationships within reality (dreams, fantasies, errors, misreadings, etc.).

This series of "Freudian" bolagrams borrows from Lacan's interpretation of Freud, and emphasizes themes of visuality, anamorphosis, and physical spaces and objects chosen as the "sites of cathexis."


The Möbius-band relationship between the subject and world is given Freudian labels by doubling the subject. The demands of the environment - both social and physical- are seen within the symbolic network of signifiers created by language and culture. "Authority" leads the ego to develop a super-ego version of the self whose structure is determined by the "Que vuoi?" question — "What do you want of me?"

Demand and the satisfaction of demand is the fuel for this line of "transitive" relationships.Need is satisfied — albeit in ways where symbolic value is stronger than any abstract "objective" value — within a system of substitution. In Freudian terms, "oral" relationships are re-written in terms of "anal" ones (symbolic substitutions).

The anamorphosis ( ) of the ego results from the convergence of conflicting dialectic structures. On one hand,there is the structure of aggression and flight that creates a"venatic" (hunt-like) logic. On the other hand there is role of the body as a the material presence of the ego (signified)but also a surface and medium itself (signifier), a map, gestures,actions.

Within this matrix of overlapping concerns,another self is created to relate directly to the desire of the id, the relation to the subconscious, and the structures of the subconscious created by desires, fantasies, and dreams.

The new subject is able to take up a viewpoint outside the dominant network of signifiers and see, primarily through the body's ambiguous position in and relation to space and time, what Lacan labels as the "object-cause of desire." Various object-causes of desire work as a surplus to the authority - the objects and social structures - that regulate the venatic line restricting the freedom of the hysterical subject.The C/C' relationship violates the presumed "scale" relationship that places the 'id' within the ego, as a primitive and personal core. This scale violation generates an identical effect in the object-world, where the surplus, though small and at first insignificant, inverts the scene and "frames it from the inside."

The application of the Möbius model to the Freudian schema helps clarify other Freudian fundamentals,such as the Oedipal relationship of the child to the mother, or whoever/whatever represents the mother. Because the symbolic demands of the family structure prevent the satisfaction of desire, the subject must split itself in order to relate to the mother-er in some surplus way. The Möbius structure allows society to be strengthened, not threatened, by the extraterritoriality of the Oedipal desire, which plays the role of a "sacrifice in miniature."

This anamorphic transformation of the ego-body points to gestures and other "silent languages" that redefine the body, particularly in terms of non-traditional erogenous zones. This re-mapping may be displaced, through the use of tattoos, dress, jewelry, and other devices whose "subtexts" are at first seen in terms of status, social attractiveness, magic, or health.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved