The Unconscious Between Representation and Drive: Freud, Husserl, and Schopenhauer

  • Rudolf Bernet
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 23)


I would like to talk about the Freudian unconscious as a phenomenon. This is not without risks and raises questions such as: is the event of the unconscious its manifestation, is the event a phenomenon? To speak of a phenomenon in connection with the unconscious, is this not to reduce its alterity? If a philosophical discourse on the phenomenon, a phenomenology therefore, wants to avoid the empiricism of a simple description of phenomena, it will always become, in one way or another, a transcendental discourse regulating the conditions of the appearing of that which nonetheless appears by itself. Does the event of the unconscious lend itself to such a phenomenology? In order to convince oneself that this is not a purely rhetorical question, it suffices to recall the reasons why Levinas has judged phenomenological discourse to be inadmissible when it is a matter of speaking about the coming to appearance of the alterity of the Other [autrui]. Beyond the question, which is a bit academic, of knowing whether phenomenology is in a position to think the event of the unconscious, a real question opens which leads us to wonder about the Levinasian opposition between phenomenon and traumatism, and about its capacity to delimit the ambiguous status of the manifestation of the unconscious. In the process, the notion of the event and its application to the unconscious will receive perhaps a more precise meaning, for, is not the event a phenomenon endowed with a distinctive striking force whose threat is usually averted by resorting to a symbolic elaboration?


Phenomenal World Standard Edition Psychic Life Conscious Life Pleasure Principle 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. S. Freud, Standard Edition (SE) (Hogarth Press, 24 volumes 1953–74): ‘A Note on the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis’ (1912), SE 12, 255ff. and especially ‘The Unconscious’ (1915), SE 14, 159ff.Google Scholar
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    Cf. especially Husserl’s lecture course from 1904–05 entitled ‘Main Topics of Phenomenology and Theory of Knowledge (Hauptstücke aus der Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis)’ This important lecture course deals with phantasy and image-consciousness as well as the themes of perception (Wahrnehmung), attention, and time. The part that deals with the analysis of phantasy and image-consciousness has been published in its entirety in Hua XXIII on pages 1–108. [E. Husserl, Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung. Zur Phänomenologie der anschaulichen Vergegenwärtigungen. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1898–1925), ed. Eduard Marbach, Husserliana XXIII (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1980)].Google Scholar
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    Cf. The World as Will and Representation, Second Book, § 26, 130–139.Google Scholar
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    Cf. especially §§ 18, 20, 21 in the Second Book of The World as Will and Representation, 99–103 and 106–110. Cf. also § 60 in the Fourth Book of The World as Will and Representation, 326–331 and chap. 20 in Vol. 2 of The World as Will and Representation, 468–493.Google Scholar
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    Cf. The World as Will and Representation, Second Book, § 18, 99–103.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rudolf Bernet
    • 1
  1. 1.Katholieke UniversiteitLeuvenBelgium

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