I wrote The Caliban Complex, my self-psychoanalytical study, in October 1988 and revised it in the summer of 1989 — thirty years ago. I proposed in that writing that I struggle with severe superego pathology.
I recently came across a technical paper by Peter Blos, “The Genealogy of the Ego Ideal” that contains statements that parallel The Caliban Complex.
I’ve been going around in circles with therapists about this for the last thirty years. In 1990 I saw in psychiatric consultation one of the leading psychoanalysts in Washington, DC; I don’t think he knew what I was talking about.
Peter Blos wrote: “The consolidation of the ego ideal lies at the center of this struggle, in which [the adolescent boy] first fails, but finally succeeds by reconciling the idealized father imago he loves with the imperfect, if not downright evil, father person he hates.”
In The Caliban Complex I wrote the following.
6. The persistence of the Oedipus complex in the unconscious is traditionally viewed as pathological. Yet the ability to withstand an intense Oedipus complex may indicate the unusual ego strength characteristic of the creative. Eissler writes: “The [average] person needs a dissolution of the Oedipus conflict, or at least a substantial reduction in its intensity, in order to survive; whereas, . . . the [creative] person is not only strong enough to endure the stress of the severest conflicts, but actually needs intense conflicts as a vis a tergo in order to be incited over and over again to renewed accomplishments.” Eissler, K.R. Talent and Genius: The Fictitious Case of Tausk Contra Freud, at 289 (Quadrangle Books: 1971).
Indeed, the persistence of even a vigorous Oedipus complex in the unconscious may not necessarily vitiate, or preclude the development of, an equally vigorous father identification. The dramatic tensions in Wagner’s opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which owe their syncretic strength in part to an integration of the temporally-opposed psychic forces of Oedipal conflict and father identification, suggest the unconscious psychological concerns of the opera’s creator. One can infer, based on analysis of the opera, that in Wagner’s unconscious an intense Oedipal conflict raged against an equally intense father identification. Three of the central male characters, Walther von Stolzing, Sixtus Beckmesser, and Hans Sachs are each in love with Eva Pogner, while Walther and Beckmesser vie for hand in marriage. The characters’ relations fall into two triangles, one comprising Walther-Beckmesser-Eva, and the other comprising Walther-Sachs-Eva. The relationship between Walther (symbolic son) and Beckmesser (symbolic father) is characterized by bitter rivalry and antagonism. Sachs, on the other hand, acts as a benign and benevolent mentor with whom Walther identifies. The two dramatic characters, Sachs and Beckmesser, are in a psychoanalytical sense simply two separate images of a single figure– the “father.” Beckmesser (a personification of the castrating father imago) represents the son’s image of the father during the Oedipal period (“messer,” i.e., “knife,” suggests castration), while Sachs (a personification of the pre-Oedipal idealized father imago) represents a later, more mature image of the father as mentor). The disparate roles of Sachs and Beckmesser undoubtedly reflect the dual and conflicted image of the father in Wagner’s unconscious. The subject’s longstanding fascination with the opera is revealing.
In the conclusion of The Caliban Complex I provided a road map of my superego.
The vacillations apparent in the subject’s interpersonal relations may be traced to his own internal psychological functioning, specifically, to the relationship of an ambivalent ego to a powerful and bifurcated superego comprising conscience (superego precursor) and ego-ideal. Certain trends in the subject’s ego seek to placate an exacting superego precursor by complying with that agency’s need to deny the ego’s instinctual demands; these trends are rewarded with the gain afforded by secondary narcissism. Other trends in the ego oppose submission to the claims of the superego precursor and seek the satisfaction of instinctual demands; the strength of these latter trends may be enhanced through the ego’s identification with individuals who resemble the ego-ideal[such as Dr. P–] (see footnote 13, paragraph 1). See Freeman, Daniel M.A., Foulks, E.F., and Freeman, P.A. “Ghost Sickness and Superego Development in the Kiowa Apache Male” The Psychoanalytic Study of Society 7:123-171, at 145-146 (Yale University Press: 1976) (discussing the choice by the Kiowa Apache male of a friend or alter ego, based on characteristics that the individual feels he needs in order to complete himself and restore his original feeling of narcissistic safety and well-being). The subject’s hesitations in interpersonal relations would appear to be a function of the relative strengths, which vary at any given time, of competing trends within his ego vis-à-vis the superego precursor and the ego-ideal.
These insights and observations should have been enough to give a heads-up to a psychoanalyst. But in fact they weren’t. I am describing severe superego pathology — as described by Peter Blos in his 1974 paper, “The Genealogy of the Ego Ideal.” I am so brilliant that not even the experts know what I am talking about.