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Totem and Taboo: Resemblences Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics was a book written by Sigmund Freud published in German as Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker in 1913. It was a collection of four essays which had been published in the journal Imago from 1912-1913 as an application of psychoanalysis to the fields of archeology, anthropology, and the study of religion. Of the four essays — "The Horror of Incest", "Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence", "Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts", and "The Return of Totemism in Childhood" — the last was the most unique and wide-ranging in its argument.
The Horror of Incest[edit | edit source]
The first and shortest of the four essays concerns totemism and creation of family structures and thus incest taboos. Freud uses examples mostly from the Aboriginal Australians peoples as gathered and discussed by anthropologist J.G. Frazer.
Freud discusses various ways in which the exogamy of the totemsystem prevents incest not only among the nuclear family, but among extended families as well. In addition, the totem system prevents 'incest' among members of the same totem clan who are not related by blood and considers as incest relations between clan members which could not produce children (i.e. looking at one another). From this, Freud concludes that the taboos are not set up for a totally 'practical nature' and thus must have some psychoanalytical justification.
He concludes the essay with a discussion of the mother-in-law taboo, and concludes that the incestuous wishes which are repressed to the unconscious among civilized peoples are still a conscious peril to the uncivilized people in Frazer's studies.
Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence[edit | edit source]
In this essay, Freud considers the relationship of taboos to totemism. Freud uses his concepts 'projection' and 'ambivalence' he developed during his work with neurotic patients in Vienna to discuss the relationship between taboo and totemism.
Like nuerotics 'primitive' peoples feel ambivalent about most people in their lives, but will not admit this consciously to themselves. They will not admit that as much as they love their mother, there are things about her they hate. The suppressed part of this ambivalence (the hate parts) are projected onto others. In the case of natives, the hateful parts are projected onto the totem. As in: 'I did not want my mother to die, the totem wanted her to die.'
Freud expands this idea of ambivalence to include the relationship of citizens to their ruler. In ceremony surrounding kings(often quite violent, such as the king must starve himself in the woods for a few weeks) he considers two levels to be functioning "ostensible" (i.e. the king is being honored) and 'actual' (i.e. the king is being tortured).
Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought[edit | edit source]
The Return of Totemism in Childhood[edit | edit source]
In the final essay, Freud argues that combining one of Charles Darwin's more speculative theories about the arrangements of early human societies (a single alpha-male surrounded by a harem of females, similar to the arrangement of gorilla groupings) with the theory of the sacrifice ritual taken from William Robertson Smith located the origins of totemism in a singular event, whereby a band of prehistoric brothers expelled from the alpha-male group returned to kill their father, whom they both feared and respected. In this respect, Freud located the beginnings of the Oedipus complex at the origins of human society, and postulated that all religion was in effect an extended and collective form of guilt and ambivalence to cope with the killing of the father figure (which he saw as the true original sin).
Translation into English[edit | edit source]
The English translation was published in 1918; it met with an initially chilly reception from the anthropological community, reflective of a change in scholarship towards ethnography and away from the more speculative "theoretical anthropology". However in later years, Freud's approach, if not the specific theory advanced, would become much more prominent within anthropological literature as incorporated into the post-structuralist approach.
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