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A HOLE will not rest until something is stuck in it," writes Groddeck, referring the symbolic significance of nostrils. Similarly, one could say that The Book of the It has much in common with nose-picking: it pokes around in tabooed corners and it is fun.
An unorthodox disciple of Freud, Goddeck is today written off as a quack whose successful cures so called organic diseases by a combination of diet, massage, and psychoanalysis have been forgotten, even though his theories foreshadowed current advances in psychosomatic medicine.
Having incorporated the basic tenets of Freudian theory as it existed in 1923 into his private mystical world view, Groddeck provided a springboard from which Freud was later able to add the important model of dynamic conflict among the Id, Ego, and Superego to his previous topographical (unconscious-preconscious-conscious) model.
Conceived as a series of witty letters to a friend, Book of the It offers an unsystematic presentation of the It (the German Es), a concept which underwent radical changes appearing in systematic form with Freud's The Ego and the Id.
The contrast with Freud proves instructive. For Freud, the Id was that component of the pysche containing primitive emotional impulses which the human ego seeks to gratify without trespassing upon the demands of the (conscience). Groddeck's It, on the other hand, has power even over what Freud calls the ego, which it created. For while Goddeck recognizes that we sense the "I" to stand over and against the IT, he repudiates the existance of an "I": ["I am by no means I, but a continually changing form in which the IT displays itself, and the 'I' feeling is one of its tricks lead man astray in his self-knowledge, to render his self-deception easier."]
Unfortunately, one's understanding of the IT concept bogs down when Groddeck describes a separate It to each human cell, to each organ, and to the left and right sides of the body. The idea is further confused when he insists that the roots of every human event lie in the IT, even such an accident as being a passenger on a plane that crashes.
The Book of the It has more than historical alue. In his whimsically disorganized discussions of symbolism, and society, Groddeck offers insights often as fresh today as they were in 1923; and his philosophical acceptence of ambivalence betrays a creative and critcal intelligence one rarely finds in psychoanalysis.
GRODDECK breaks down the distinction between "mental" and "organic" diseases, both of which he calls manifestations of an It under conflict. "I am forever asking of my patients the purpose of their illness, (which) has to resolve the conflict, to repress it, or to prevent what is already repressed from entering consciousness." By discovering what patients did not wish to smell, Groddeck claims to have cured their colds. Yet he takes a modest view of his curative power, for "the success of the treatment is not determined by what we prescribe, but by what the It of the sick man makes of our prescriptions."
In seeing disease as "a vital expression of the human organism," he finds a use for psychoanalysis in discovering the causes of the individual's specific psychosomatic creation. Consonant with this theoretical approach, his therapeutic technique concentrates on the analysis of symbol formation in dreams and from free associations. Symbolism belongs to the It (as it does to the Freudian Id), and thoughtful insights into examples of individual and cultural symbols such as the bisexuality of Christ on the Cross spice the entire book. More important for us, Groddeck brings to light some striking instances of symbolic symptom construction that modern psychoanalytic theory seems to have neglected.
In one letter, he describes his finding that male fantasies of being pregnant lie at the core of such assorted disturbances as bleedings, intestinal worms, indigestion, pericarditis, wens, and other swellings, including obesity. "His (the man's) It creates the swollen stomach by means of eating, drinking, flatulency, or what-not, because it wishes to be pregnant, and accordingly believes itself to be so." To my knowledge, despite the daily usage of such metaphors as "pregnant with meaning," the symbolic importance of pregnancy goes unnoticed these days.
When we add to Groddeck's postulate that the It creates everything human the proposition that it is a distortion for a society to distinguish between sick and healthy, we arrive at his radical critique of culture. The prevailing ideas of society, he writes, rationalize the sickness of the majority while emphasizing the neuroses of the minority: "The exhibitionist is in the same class as all those other people labeled with the final 'ist,' the sadist, the masochist, the fetichist. They are in essence the same as ourselves, who call ourselves healthy; the sole difference is that we allow our desire to play only where custom permits, while the 'ist' is out of date."
The most individual aspect, and thus the most haunting contribution of The Book of the It is not, as Lawrence Durrell claims in his introduction, the philosophy of non-attachment, but the consistent recognition of the dialectical oppositions within the psyche. "Man lives under the law: where love is, there also is hate, where respect, there is also envy." Throughout the letters, he expresses an intuitive grasp of the complex interplay between ambivalent forces. From the pain and pleasure of birth in bloodshed, man destroys as he creates, dies as he lives.
"It is only since I began to occupy myself with analysis that I have realized how beautiful life is," he writes. To gain some appreciation of Groddeck's kind of beauty, you need but follow your It to the corner bookstore.
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