Freud explains at length how repression of desire (sexual, sensual or otherwise) is fundamental to how human behaviour transpires. He termed the superego as the individualization of repression and in consequence a key determinant of character development. Freud’s key insight is how the processes specific to the individual is not exclusive from larger socio-political phenomena. Thus, though the superego was partially based on “the child’s internalization of the father’s superego, the resulting character structure did not always fit hand in glove with the economy”. (Langman, 1991, p. 169) In reality, individual character could be more resistant to modification than established socio-economic structures. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the individual is the basic unit for the construction of culture. This is especially evident in capitalist cultures. But as the character structure was “shaped not only by contemporary experiences but the legacies of earlier generations, more archaic legacies endured sub rosa and could sustain particular values and beliefs despite social change.” (Langman, 1991, p. 169) Hence Freudian Theory has contributed to exposing the interdependence of social formation and individual identity formation.
Further, Freud was one of the first to introduce the idea of the unstable subject, profoundly and uncertainly divided between the conscious and unconscious. This separation comes transpires due to the movement of the individual from being into meaning,
“whereby the raw material of human subjectivity (the infant) encounters the laws of culture and the demand to take up a position within the symbolic structures of that culture (meaning). This means giving up original anarchic and asocial drives and desires in favour of those acceptable to the social order. In doing so, the individual is required to repress those drives and desires into the space that at that moment opens up for them, that of the unconscious. Thus, the movement from being into meaning inevitably involves the founding principle of loss.” (Easthope & Mcgowan, 2004, p. 73)
The function of language is important to understanding the psychological and social formation of the self. Both Lacan and Freud have formulated their ideas on the subject. Lacan, who belonged to a later generation of psychologists than Freud, was of the view that all experiential and existential phenomena discussed in Freudian Theory could be studied in linguistic terms. This is a radical idea that attempts to understand complex cognitive processes in quasi-mathematical terms. The act of internal or external speech “involves intricate, imaginary projections and cross-identifications in which otherness opens up the privileged site of the unconscious.” (Przybylowicz, 1986, p. 5) Hence, a path is paved for understanding individual psychology via an analysis of “the narrative’s rhetorical structures which reveal displaced, repressed desire.” (Przybylowicz, 1986, p. 5) Freud found it problematic in applying his theories and techniques in the study of art and literature. To see the process of literary creation in terms of ‘wish fulfilment’ (which is the basis for human motivation and thought) is neither intuitive nor conventional. Freudian Theory reckons that what manifests as fantasy is actually the unfettered energy of the unconscious.