Perhaps we can get a start on what I mean by "The Unconscious" by going
back to Freud's _original_ purpose in positing such an entity -- before
he began to proliferate oedipus complexes, egos, ids, & other mythology.
The problem was to explain _memory_. The reader of this post is probably
not thinking of the capitol of Japan at this moment, and perhaps hasn't
given it a thought for hours, days, even months. But every reader now
has Tokyo in mind. Where did that knowledge hide during all that time
when it was not in your conscious thought? Freud's answer, there was an
entity, a _place_ as it were, a _storeroom_, where all that knowledge is
hidden away until the conscious mind has a reason to retrieve it. It was
a brilliant suggestion in a way, a definite move forward in
But it was _wrong_; nothing is stable in memory. All that knowledge has
to be endlessly recreated micro-second by micro-second -- and in fact
much of it comes to be false memory. (In fact, the more vivid one of
your childhood memories is, to some extent the more apt it is to be
_totally_ false. Stephen Gould in one of his essays describes such talse
memories from his own childhood, falsified by photographs which showed
that the memories were inconsistent with the physical facts.) So our
brain is an incredibly busy place, 'keeping' all that information alive
by constantly recreating (inventing) it so it will be on tap when we
Memory reached by hypnosis, "recovered memory," undue trust in eye
witnesses in criminal trials are all grounded in the concept of passive
memory storage. (The computer is _not_ a good analogue for the brain,
but the contrast between ram & a hard disk is illustrative of the
contrast between memories constantly recreated in the brain and memories
"stored" in the unconscious as in a warehouse.)
A sprinkling of works which in one way or another touch on this:
Israel Rosenfield, _The Invention of Memory: A New View of the Brain_,
New York: Basic Books, 1988.
Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human
Brain_, New York: Quill, 2000. (Orig. 1994).
Michaels Roth, ed., _Freud: Conflict & Culture_, New York: Knopf, 1998.
Frederick Crews, ed., _Unauthorized Freud: Scholars Confront a Legend_,
New York: Penguin, 1998.
Sebastiano Timpanaro, _The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis & Textual
Criticism_ (tr. Kate Soper), London: Verso, 1985. (First Published 1974