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On Rediscovery

On Rediscovery

On Rediscovery

Once again, the philosopher Peter Natter reads a book against the backdrop of the Bregenzerwald. This time he tackles Sigmund Freud.

For my latest reading session in the Bregenzerwald, this time I choose a relatively small volume of writing from Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) extensive body of work. The region will act as the field that I want to cultivate with Freud’s thoughts and insights: farming and soul analysis under one roof. Freud’s overarching thesis is that psychological processes are organised in such a way that averse tensions (with which we are only all too familiar) such as hunger, thirst, fatigue or sexual stimulus, trigger behaviours, the aim of which is the elimination of these disinclinations or the creation of desire. Sooner or later, we aim to satisfy needs so that we can be at peace and carry on, undisturbed by ourselves. So far, so good – all the more if we succeed in reducing these tensions in a socially acceptable, culturally coded way. To our ears, this sounds like a very reasonable economic view of human activity (on a large and small scale), especially in everyday life. If only it were that simple.

Time is the first stumbling block that stands in our way: Impatience, to be specific, or in economic terms in the form of deadline pressure and practical constraints. Now is an opportune first occasion to close Freud’s book for a moment, to enjoy the view over the lower Bregenzerwald from the house in the Sieban district of Großdorf, to gaze from the Bödele to the Pfänder along the horizon, and to pause for a moment and give the Bregenzerwald the floor. Time, as an element of urgency, is present here, but, as I have experienced more than once, it may be neutralised by the rhythms of the seasons and nature. In these rhythms, all manner of averse feelings (i.e. necessities) are gently embedded. What has to be done is predefined. Freud calls this “the reality principle.” Even as a child in the 1960s, I admired, probably unconsciously, how the farmers followed mysterious signs and instinctively recognised what work needed to be done. I intuitively admired the power it gave them to follow the reality principle. And then, at the end of the day when the work was done, what peace and satisfaction was written on their sweat-drenched faces! Keyword peace: This is focal point of Bregenzerwald’s tourist offerings in contrast to the speed at which so much else is moving. Opening my copy of Freud once again, his message is clear: “For the living organism, protection against stimuli is almost a more important task than reception of stimuli.” Written over a hundred years ago, the idea has lost none of its validity; on the contrary, technical and electronic achievements give it additional weight, and what’s more: drama. Samples taken from the outside world must suffice for inner orientation, postulates Freud. The question, then, is how to avoid chasing in the footsteps of reality without ever being able to catch up with it, like a donkey chasing a carrot that he will never be able to reach. The game is what now comes into play: “We always play – and wise is he who knows,” wrote Arthur Schnitzler, a contemporary and physician colleague of Freud. It was a game: This is perhaps best illustrated by how I originally experienced the essence of the people of Bregenzerwald and their activities, essentially fieldwork. As in every real game, everything happened with the necessary seriousness, resulting from a deep inner drive and with great personal commitment, but also with just as much joy as absent-mindedness. In other words: playful. The question of all questions is that of balance: “The rediscovery of the identity is itself a source of pleasure,” says Freud. What gives this movement its tension is the emphasis on repetition: it is about finding again. This is something completely different from a simple finding. Freud thus expressly refers to the conservative character of the drives. I consider this to be extremely important – and primeval: it is about preserving, catching up, bringing together the original, not simply the old, with the present. Drives are then not something that drive us forward like servants under the whip, on the contrary they are forces that like strong magnets provide order, that draw us to where it is good for us to be. “Draw (o Jesus) my soul with skeins of love,” is an apt description of this system as derived from a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 96).

At the end of his writing, Freud uses the words of a poet, Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866), to encapsulate his theory. Does Freud’s theory explain the Bregenzerwald or the Bregenzerwald Freud’s theory? Neither, but the parallels are astonishing, even if they touch each other only in infinity, as is the norm with parallels. Rückert, quoting the Iranian poet Al-Harîrî: “Whither we cannot fly, we must go limping.” I have no problem with this sentiment and little to add. It is one of those insights that one either faces or runs away from, even if it is actually more of a limp. It applies according to the principle itself and especially in the age of tractors and milking machines, in the age of milk and meat production instead of agriculture and animal husbandry. Not even digitalisation, which is blindly worshipped, can do anything about it; it can only mask it in a makeshift and unfortunate way. Bregenzerwald can teach this, but must also learn this again – why not from Sigmund Freud?

Sigmund Freud: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Student Edition Vol. III, S. Fischer Verlag 1975

Author: Peter Natter
Edition: Winter Travel Magazine 2018-19