'Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious' by D.H. Lawrence (1921)

A selection from Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious by D.H. Lawrence, 1921.

See also Fantasia of the Unconscious, 1922



"Wait till you've been analysed," said one man to another, with varying intonation. A sinister look came into the eyes of the initiates the famous, or infamous, Freud look. You could recognize it everywhere, wherever you went.

Long ago we watched in frightened anticipation when Freud set out on his adventure into the hinterland of human consciousness. He was seeking for the unknown sources of the mysterious stream of consciousness. Immortal phrase of the immortal James! Oh stream of hell which undermined my adolescence! [...] Horrid stream! 

 And so, who could remain unmoved when Freud seemed suddenly to plunge towards the origins? Suddenly he stepped out of the conscious into the unconscious, out of the everywhere into the nowhere, like some supreme explorer. He walks straight through the wall of sleep, and we hear him rumbling in the cavern of dreams. [...] It is the vast darkness of a cavern's mouth, the cavern of anterior darkness whence issues the stream of consciousness.

 What dreams, dear heart! What was there in the cave? Alas that we ever looked!  Nothing but a huge slimy serpent of sex, and heaps of excrement, and a myriad repulsive little horrors spawned between sex and excrement.
Is it true? Does the great unknown of sleep contain nothing else? No lovely spirits in the anterior regions of our being? None! Imagine the unspeakable horror of the repressions Freud brought home to us. ...dream-monsters. We tried to repudiate them. But no, they were there, demonstrable.

We had felt that perhaps we were wrong inside, but we had never imagined it so bad. However, in the name of healing and medicine we prepared to accept it all. [...] The analyst promised us that the tangle of complexes would be unravelled, the obsessions would evaporate, the monstrosities would dissolve, sublimate, when brought into the light of day. Once all the dream-horrors were translated into full consciousness, they would sublimate into well, we don't quite know what. But anyhow, they would sublimate. Such is the charm of a new phrase that we accepted this sublimation process without further question. If our complexes were going to sublimate once they were surgically exposed to full mental consciousness, why, best perform the operation.

We began to realize that complexes were not just abnormalities. They were part of the stock-in-trade of the normal unconscious.

This is the moral dilemma of psychoanalysis. The analyst set out to cure neurotic humanity by removing the cause of the neurosis. He finds that the cause of neurosis lies in some unadmitted sex desire. After all he has said about inhibition of normal sex, he is brought at last to realize that at the root of almost every neurosis lies some incest-craving, and that this incest-craving is not the result of inhibition of normal sex-craving. Now see the dilemma- it is a fearful one. If the incest-craving is not the outcome of any inhibition of normal desire, if it actually exists and refuses to give way before any criticism, what then? What remains but to accept it as part of the normal sex-manifestation?
Here is an issue which analysis is perfectly willing to face. Among themselves the analysts are bound to accept the incest-craving as part of the normal sexuality of man, normal, but suppressed, because of moral and perhaps biological fear. Once, however, you accept the incest-craving as part of the normal sexuality of man, you must remove all repression of incest itself. [...] Since at last it works out that neurosis is not the result of inhibition of so-called normal sex, but of inhibition of incest-craving. Any inhibition must be wrong, since inevitably in the end it causes neurosis and insanity. Therefore the inhibition of incest-craving is wrong, and this wrong is the cause of practically all modern neurosis and insanity.
Psychoanalysis will never openly state this conclusion. But it is to this conclusion that every analyst must, willy-nilly, consciously or unconsciously, bring his patient.
Trigant Burrow says that Freud's unconscious does but represent our conception of conscious sexual life as this latter exists in a state of repression. Thus Freud's unconscious amounts practically to no more than our repressed incest impulses. Again, Burrow says that it is knowledge of sex that constitutes sin, and not sex itself. lt is when the mind turns to consider and know the great affective passional functions and emotions that sin enters. Adam and Eve fell, not because they had sex, or even because they committed the sexual act, but because they became aware of their sex and of the possibility of the act. When sex became to them a mental object that is, when they discovered that they could deliberately enter upon and enjoy and even provoke sexual activity in themselves, then they were cursed and cast out of Eden. Then man became self-responsible; he entered on his own career.
Both these assertions by Burrow seem to us brilliantly true. But must we inevitably draw the conclusion psychoanalysis draws? [...] ...must we... accept the incest-craving as part of our natural desire and proceed to put it into practice, as being at any rate a lesser evil than neurosis and insanity?
It is a question. One thing, however, psychoanalysis all along the line fails to determine, and that is the nature of the pristine unconscious in man, The incest-craving is or is not inherent in the pristine psyche. When Adam and Eve became aware of sex in themselves, they became aware of that which was pristine in them, and which preceded all knowing. But when the analyst discovers the incest motive in the unconscious, surely he is only discovering a term of humanity's repressed idea of sex. It is not even suppressed sex-consciousness, but repressed. That is, it is nothing pristine and anterior to mentality. It is in itself the mind's ulterior motive. That is, the incestcraving is propagated in the pristine unconscious by the mind itself, even though unconsciously. The mind acts as incubus and procreator of its own horrors... . And the incest motive is in its origin not a pristine impulse, but a logical extension of the existent idea of sex and love.

This is as yet a mere assertion. It cannot be made good until we determine the nature of the true, pristine unconscious, in which all our genuine impulse arises- a very different affair from that sack of
horrors which psychoanalysts would have us believe is source of motivity. The Freudian unconscious is the cellar in which the mind keeps its own bastard spawn. The true unconscious is the wellhead, the fountain of real motivity.



Tis obvious we cannot recover our moral footing until we can in some way determine the true nature of the unconscious. The word unconscious itself is a mere definition by negation and has no positive meaning. Freud no doubt prefers it for this reason. He rejects subconscious and preconscious, because both these would imply a sort of nascent consciousness, the shadowy half-consciousness which precedes mental realization. And by his unconscious he intends no such thing. He wishes rather to convey, we imagine, that which recoils from consciousness, that which reacts in the psyche away from mental consciousness. His unconscious is, we take it, that part of the human consciousness which, though mental, ideal in its nature, yet is unwilling to expose itself to full recognition, and so recoils back into the affective regions and acts there as a secret agent, unconfessed, unadmitted, potent, and usually destructive. The whole body of our repressions makes up our unconscious. 
The question lies here: whether a repression is a primal impulse which has been deterred from fulfilment, or whether it is an idea which is refused enactment.

This motivizing of the passional sphere from the ideal is the final peril of human consciousness. It is the death of all spontaneous, creative life, and the substituting of the mechanical principle.
It is obvious that the ideal becomes a mechanical principle, if it be applied to the affective soul as a fixed motive. An ideal established in control of the passional soul is no more and no less than a supreme machine-principle. [...]  The ideal is but the god in the machine the little, fixed, machine principle which works the human psyche automatically.
We are now in the last stages of idealism. [...] The identity of love with sex, the single necessity for fulfilment through love, these are our fixed ideals. We must fulfil these ideals in their extremity. And this brings us finally to incest, even incest-worship. We have no option, whilst our ideals stand.
Why ? Because incest is the logical conclusion of our ideals, when these ideals have to be carried into passional effect. And idealism has no escape from logic. And once he has built himself in the shape of any ideal, man will go to any logical length rather than abandon his ideal corpus. Nay, some great cataclysm has to throw him down and destroy the whole fabric of his life before the motor-principle of his dominant ideal is destroyed.

...the pushing of the ideal to any further lengths will not avail us anything. We have actually to go back to our own unconscious. But not to the unconscious which is the inverted reflection of our ideal consciousness. We must discover, if we can, the true unconscious, where our life bubbles up in us, prior to any mentality. The first bubbling life in us, which is innocent of any mental alteration, this is the unconscious. It is pristine, not in any way ideal. It is the spontaneous origin from which it behooves us to live.
What then is the true unconscious? It is not a shadow cast from the mind. It is the spontaneous life-motive in every organism. Where does it begin? It begins where life begins.