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Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

Guardian: The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism

By Mark Edmundson
Reviewed by Jonathan Derbyshire  
The Guardian, Friday 31 August 2007

In 1914, Sigmund Freud published a short essay about Michelangelo's statue of Moses. Freud had seen the sculpture, which shows the prophet holding tightly on to the tablets of the law, in the church of St Peter in Chains in Rome, and had been mesmerised by it. What was most arresting, he wrote, was that Michelangelo depicted Moses not in a transport of fury at the misdeeds of the Israelites but rather in the process of containing his anger. Michelangelo had recognised, in other words, that "Moses is flesh of sublimation" (sublimation, for Freud, being the means by which base instincts are renounced).

According to Mark Edmundson, the article on Michelangelo's Moses marked a decisive shift in the focus of Freud's work. Where previously he had been concerned with what is repressed and therefore unconscious in the human mind, now he was interested in what it is that does the repressing. The concept of the superego, "the centre of authority in the human psyche", enters Freud's thinking at this point as a solution to the question of how the ego structures repression.


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