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"A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad"

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Sigmund FreudEdit

(1856-1939) Freud was an Austrian neurologist who famously founded the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry, a practice based on the belief that our actions, emotions and neuroses have causes unknown to use that can only be accessed by attempting to tap into the unconscious.

Wikipedia writes: "Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression, and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient, technically referred to as an "analysand", and a psychoanalyst. Freud redefined sexual desire as the primary motivational energy of human life, developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association, created the theory of transference in the therapeutic relationship, and interpreted dreams as sources of insight into unconscious desires. He was an early neurological researcher into cerebral palsy, and a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the history, interpretation and critique of culture.

"While many of Freud's ideas have fallen out of favor or been modified by other analysts, and modern advances in the field of psychology have shown flaws in some of his theories, his work remains influential in clinical approaches, and in the humanities and social sciences. He is considered one of the most prominent thinkers of the 20th century, in terms of originality and intellectual influence."

A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad [1925]Edit

In this brief essay, Freud offers a fascinating comparison between the mystic writing pad and the perceptual apparatus of the mind, in which experience functions like writing upon the pad and memory exists as the wax slab that retains the impression. For Freud, the medium of the pad functions like memory in the mind--this is one of the only instances in which Freud reflects on memory as a process of mediation, of contact or transmission between surfaces. In a sense, it is a psychoanalytic media reading of the mystic writing pad.

Freud explains that the pad has three laws, from top to bottom: a sheet of celluloid, a sheet of translucent wax paper, and a wax slab. When one writes upon the pad, an inscription is left on the celluloid, made possible by its contact with the wax paper. To remove the insciption, one merely needs to lift the sheets. This produces a form of note-taking that is both unlimited and yet retains a permanent trace on the wax slab beneath (thus, this tool is "truly" like our perceptual apparatus, unlike a paper notepad or a chalk slate).

For Freud, the mind works similarly--there is the unconscious, the perceptual conscious and a "protective layer". Freud writes: "I do not think it is too far-fetched to compare the celluloid and waxed paper cover with the system Pcpt.-Cs. and its protective shield, the wax slab with the unconscious behind them, and the appearance and disappearance of the writing with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the
process of perception" (211). Yet Freud seeks to take the analogy as far as possible: "My theory was that cathectic innervations are sent out and withdrawn in rapid periodic impulses from within into the completely pervious system Pcpt.-Cs. [...] It is as though the unconscious stretches out feelers, through the medium of the system Pcpt.-Cs., towards the external world and hastily withdraws them as soon as they have sampled the excitations coming from it. Thus the interruptions, which in the case of the Mystic Pad have an external origin, were attributed by my hypothesis to the discontinuity in the current of innervation; and the actual breaking of contact which occurs in the Mystic Pad was replaced in my theory by the periodic nonexcitability of the perceptual system. I further had a suspicion that this discontinuous method of functioning of the system Pcpt.-Cs. lies at the bottom of the origin of the concept of time" (212).

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