If I had to give as concise and accurate a definition as possible of the typical ‘Western Marxist’, I would say: ‘Someone who is firmly convinced that Freud is always right’. No, ‘Freud’ is not a slip of the pen for ‘Marx’. I really mean Freud. Where Marx, and even more where Engels or Lenin, is concerned, the typical Western Marxist has a host of reservations. Some of these are correct (since, obviously, the founders of Marxism were not infallible, they were keenly aware that they had left many problems unresolved, and they were not in a position to foresee many new phenomena which only appeared after they were dead); others are due to ‘revisionism’ in the negative sense of the word, in other words to the influence of bourgeois ideology. Where Freud is concerned, however, there are far fewer reservations, indeed often none at all. If anyone dares to question the peaceful coexistence of Marxism and psychoanalysis, or indeed their perfect compatibility, he may expect nothing but outraged reactions, charges of ‘serious misconceptions’ and vulgar positivism, and so on and so forth. There are still one or two Marxists in the West who, though they recog
However, I must point out that my critics, so quick to accuse me of misunderstanding and irresponsibility in my objections to Freud’s interpretation of one slip, have themselves been somewhat hasty in their readiness to judge a book of twelve chapters (and a substantial postscript) on the basis of a reading of just two of those chapters (and even they slightly abridged). It may well be, upon reflection, that the publication of those two chapters on their own was unwise. But the premise upon which, to a greater or lesser degree, all my critics have based themselves is certainly an arbitrary one: namely, that certain of Freud’s key concepts, not mentioned in the two chapters in question, have been ignored by me in the book as a whole.
For example, almost all my assailants feel obliged to inform me that Freud accepted linguistic explanations of slips, indeed considered that a linguistic similarity (or even, though less necessarily, similarity of meaning) was almost always needed for a slip to occur, but held that such similarities were not true ‘causes’ of slips, just ‘favourable circumstances’ (Begünstigungen). Well, if I had really ignored the distinction between ‘cause’ (the re-emergence of repressed psychic elements) and Begünstigung, then truly my book would not merit discussion and should be thrown away without wasting any more time over it. But in fact a whole chapter (chapter eight) is devoted precisely to considering this distinction. In it I try to show that in the great majority of cases the so-called Begünstigungen are true causes, entirely adequate to explain slips and lapses of memory.
I cannot, for obvious reasons of space, repeat my arguments here. I can only ask my critics to wait for the English edition of my book. Then we can renew our discussion: they will in all probability remain unconvinced, but at least they will have more material to counter and perhaps even refute my arguments. Nevertheless, I would like to take up at once a number of specific points about the interpretation of slips.
In the first place, it seems to me that Jacqueline Rose is not quite right when she seeks to apply the concept of ‘overdetermination’ to the relationship which Freud establishes between the true causes of slips and the Begünstigungen. I am well aware that the meaning of the term
Why did Freud reduce to the status of mere Begünstigungen what were, in my view, true causes (and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, sole causes) of slips and lapses of memory? The principal reason, of course, lies in the Freudian concept of the unconscious and, more precisely, in what in my book I have termed ‘the personalization of the unconscious’ (chapter eleven). But there are two further related reasons of not negligible importance.
First, Freud’s only source for ‘linguistic’ explanations of slips and lapses of memory (apart from a few intelligent but extremely cursory passages in Wundt) was the book by Meringer and Meyer which he often quoted. This is useful as an anthology of material, but very defective as far as the explanations and types of examples it gives is concerned. The authors tend to reduce the majority of linguistic slips to phonetic phenomena (transposition of contiguous sounds, etc.) and offer simplistic physio-pathological explanations for the latter. By contrast, I give appropriate weight also to lexical, syntactic and conceptual phenomena, and provide explanations which, though certainly open to question, are less naïve. I accord particular importance to the phenomenon (well-known in textual criticism, but equally applicable in explaining slips and lapses of memory) of trivialization or banalization (in German Trivialisierung, in Italian banalizzazione; it was rendered in the nlr translation by the too generic ‘corruption’). Why do we tend to replace unfamiliar words or syntactic constructions by others more familiar to us? Because each of us has his or her own linguistic-cultural patrimony, a habitual speech and a stock of words/concepts, and tends to assimilate to this patrimony words, syntactic constructions, designations for objects and sequences of sounds which we do not know or do not often have occasion to use. This explanation (which I have had to