One evening recently, my literature group dove into Seeds, by Sherwood Anderson. This short story explores the Freudian, sexual dynamics within a young woman. Largely raised without a father figure, she craves sex, and yet, simultaneously, is entirely repelled by it. At the end of this article, I will discuss how such art can add to vital culturist discussions.
This young woman who is repelled by sex exudes it in other ways; she routinely keeps the door ajar when showering and lays around the boarding house in seductive poses. Near the end of Anderson’s story, her landlady tries to evict her for this inappropriate behavior.
Facing her imminent eviction, the young woman runs into the room of a poor painter who has a facility for words. Among the men, this painting intellectual had taken the least notice of her. While asking the painter to "take her," she drops to her knees. When the trailing landlady enters the room and sees this, she pulls the wanton woman up to her feet and both women begin berating the painter. This reaction seems counter-intuitive, until we consider Seeds as a Freudian analogy.
Positing Freudian symbolism, I told my literature group that the sex-obsessed woman is the id: that is, the primal sexual drive postulated by Freud; the landlady represents the super-ego (that is, what society demands of you – in this instance keeping your sexual urges contained); and the man, the painter, represents the ego. Our egos are the attempt to balance the two opposed forces, to satisfy our sexual drive within the limits of social propriety.
In the literature group I defended Anderson's main supposition, the idea that unresolved issues from our family upbringing impact who we love and what we do for a living. I know that, in my own case, I have followed in my father's profession of being a professor, partially out of competition. And, my battle for acknowledgement – this very article in fact – in some ways comes from an urge to be acknowledged, to make up for love I lacked as a child.
But, then I took a leap of faith – I postulated that Koreans (I live and work in Korea) have fewer subconscious traumas than westerners. Koreans feel less individual strife as they do what their families and nation tell them to do. Being collectivists, they live with a much stronger sense of super-ego and very repressed ids. My friends disagreed: Korea is very strict around virginity prior to marriage, yes, but it has – as a result – more prostitution than other nations. I cannot confirm that assertion. But, this brings up the idea of psychoanalyzing nations.
Nations have different psychologies. The id has been let loose in the West. We have forgotten that sexual force needs to be controlled and constrained by the super-ego. And this is disastrous. If our young women are all pregnant by seventeen with no sense of social responsibility, their generation will not get educated. This dismissal of the super-ego, calling society's restraints 'artificial,' will lead to the West's end as a first-world civilization. On the other hand, Korea is not making babies. It is turning into a first-world ghost town. Balance is required.
In Anderson's Seeds, the painter offers to marry the sexually driven woman. He sees this as a way to resolve her issues. But, he then realizes that she will still be a mess of untidy subconscious drives (he realizes this because he sees such never-ending drives in himself and realizes marriage will not solve them). He thinks undertaking a marriage in the hopes of quieting the subconscious is dishonest and shallow. Perhaps fearing he'll lose inspiration for his paintings, he abandons the young woman.
I agree that we will never stop the battle between rationality and irrationality – individually or collectively. But, I disagree that this means we throw out institutions such as marriage. In fact, I take our inability to resolve subconscious struggles to mean we can keep marriage without fear of mental sterility. Thus, in fighting over Anderson's short story, my literature group hit upon some fundamental realizations about our selves individually and our society.
We need to debate the balance (or imbalance) of the id and super-ego in our culture. We need to understand the impact of our considering limitations 'artificial' and 'inauthentic.' Literature groups and engrossing psychoanalytic stories such as Anderson's Seeds can provide a great springboard for such discussions. That's why, as a culturist, I implore you to start a literature group, read Anderson's Seeds, and disseminate cultural psychoanalysis.