Freud's diagrams from 'The Ego and the Id' (1923)

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On 6 January 1923 the  editor of the Adelaide Register published an explanation for Absent-Mindedness,  a reflection perhaps from Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.

‘At once the most amusing and the least convincing of the doctrines which Freud has reduced from psychoanalysis is that which insists that accidents never happen’, the editor wrote. ‘He believes that slips of the pen and tongue and crockery, printers’ errors, failures to remember names and to perform acts, and many other things which are put down to “absence of mind” are due to the overlooked presence of the “unconscious” mind, which often accounts for things lost, mislaid or broken’.

Skeptical indeed!! The editor continues, despite his doubts, with a good account of Freud’s theory…

‘According to the theory there is a back stairs or nursery region of the mind which never grows up. It retains the interests and the ideas of infancy, added to by later repressed memories, and perhaps by all so-called “forgotten” experiences. This unconscious mind is illogical and non-moral, and alert for opportunities left to it by the carelessness of the conscious to gain expression for itself by taking control of the brain. The unconscious mind is aware of the objects of unconscious thought, somewhat as the secondary person in cases of dual personality is aware of the primary, though in both cases the reverse is seldom the case. And being so aware, the unconscious assimilates the new objects in its own irrational, emotional way, working by association and not by reason. Retaining its infantile zest for mud-pies, for instance, the sculptors unconscious is thinking of these while his sublimated conscious interest is busy with his clay model’.

Cover of

Cover of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

The editor continues, providing further information about Freud’s theory of mind, the breakdown of ego, and the consequent emergence of the id…

‘The real self is the responsible self. However over comparatively unimportant matters the responsible self may relax guard – just as, in insanity, it loses the battle altogether. This relaxed guard explains the slips of the tongue and pen, and all that Freud and Ernest Jones call “the psychopathology of everyday life”.

Freud sees that, when plausible theory is explained by examples , absurdity appears; but he meets it unmoved. With that astonishing frankness about himself which repels the reserve, he tells how the loss of a knife nearly upset his belief in the theory. the knife was beautiful and useful as well as valuable, and he had it in constant use for many years. Even unconsciously he thought he could not have wished to lose it. Then he remembered the circumstances of its acquisition. His wife had given it to him, and the superstition of which he makes no secret made him fear lest it should ‘cut the love’. He lost the knife during a period of estrangement from his wife. Doubtless his unconscious (everyone’s conscious is superstitious, he maintains) had arranged the loss in hope of restoring the love’.

It is interesting indeed, that such a coherent explanation of Freud’s theory is provided for readers’ perusal, despite apparent doubts about its veracity. It may be that the editor was wise, arguing against Freud’s ideas as the common reader might, in order to explain a new idea. Freud’s theories had been circulating in the Australian press and bookshops for a little over a decade.