Psychoanalysis and the Tragic Sense of life.http://www.columbia.edu/~rr322/Tragedy.html
Psychoanalysis and Tragedy
Just as the journey is so often the metaphor for the process of discovery that takes place at the very heart of tragedy, so, too, is it one of the most compelling of metaphors for the process of psychoanalysis. This is true because in both instances the central figures are striving to discover things that involve unknown territory and primitive dangers. In both, a contemplative stroll on the parapet can end up bringing one face to face with one's terrifying ghosts; a walk down to the harbor can lead ultimately to a confrontation with one's monsters. In neither case does the confrontation occur by chance. Rather, it is only when the journey is undertaken with a special courage and pursued with an unusual perseverance that such monumental confrontations ever come to be. Such journeys are precisely the province of the worlds of psychoanalysis and of tragedy.
To undertake such a journey is what is asked of patients in psychoanalysis. It is a journey into territory neither analyst nor analysand knows completely, and both participants must recognize that they cannot know in advance what they will ultimately discover.
Nevertheless, it is not a journey which is entered into blindly, for each party knows something of what is in store. The analyst, as expert --or perhaps guide, has been on such expeditions before. He knows how to go about such an exploration, even if the particular territory in question is new to him. The analysand, on the other hand, is the owner of the territory. He has far more local knowledge and initial familiarity with the landscape and its inhabitants --even if there be regions he has walled off and not dared to enter into very deeply.
Psychoanalysis, like tragedy, is vitally concerned with those regions of an individual's experience that defy exploration. It recognizes that there are secrets people carry deep within themselves and treat as unapproachable. At times the secrets are horrible, and always the secrets are terrifying. The very concept of the unconscious, quintessential to all psychoanalytic theories, is predicated on precisely this belief. Whether conceived of as being completely the result of repression, as it is in most post-Freudian systems, or in the more classical way, as a combination of some instinctual inheritance and that which is repressed thereafter, the unconscious represents that part of an individual's psychic existence that the individual considers too dangerous to be known.
The avoidance of these terrible secrets constitutes the essence of all psychopathology. Erwin Singer (1973) wrote that at the heart of all psychopathology was the abandonment of "a birth right and a fundamentally given human capacity: to see what can be seen, to grasp what can be grasped." (p.187) Thus it is that the forces of repression counsel one, like Jocasta warned Oedipus: "I beg you --do not hunt this out --I beg you, if you have any care for your own life." Psychoanalysis calls on one, like Oedipus, to "not be persuaded to let be the chance of finding the whole thing out clearly."
If there is any value judgment that is intrinsically psychoanalytic, it is the Socratic bias that the unreflective life is not worth living, or its New Testament version, "The truth will set you free." Freud (1915) insisted that psychoanalysis must have at its very foundation the absolute commitment to truthfulness. As in the tragic vision, the psychoanalytic approach demands that one use "all the resources of his soul," (Freud, 1916-1917, p. 454; here using Riviere's translation) in the pursuit of the truth.
Tragedy and psychoanalysis are cognizant both of man's hunger for full and direct experience of himself and of his world, and of his simultaneous propensity desperately to hide from it. Both place ultimate stress on the value of the quest for this truth, while at the same time recognizing the monumental courage required not to flee and abandon the journey.
Thus psychoanalysis attempts inexorably to draw one deeper and deeper into this journey of confrontation with one's self. It calls on the individual to overcome his repressions and face that from which he has been hiding --to transcend the bounds of the secure systems he has established to keep full and immediate experience at bay.
The patient in psychoanalysis, like the tragic hero, senses that this journey threatens ultimately to bring him face to face with some ancient terror that stalks his world. And, in one way or another, all psychoanalytic theories would agree with him.