Core Concepts Series I: Libido

All organisms can be observed coupling with objects that exist outside the boundaries of their bodies. This reaching out into the world is inherently a process of motion, implying a reliance on energy. Consider for instance the amoeba’s expansive movements towards its sustenance. Here we have an object which seems to inspire in the organism an energized movement eventually resulting in the union of the organism with the object. Sigmund Freud called the energy exerted by the organism in this scenario libido, which means ‘desire’ in Latin. It will be also referred to in this series as ‘drive energy’ and later, ‘orgone.’

Psychoanalysis and everyday life have shown that tension is subjectively experienced prior to this object union and is dissipated thereupon. It is commonly said that in such cases, one desires, lacks or wants the object and that the idea of coupling therewith has become psychically charged, as it were, with libidinal energy. In theory, this energy is released and the drive is gratified when the organism unites with such objects. The charging is called cathexis or libidinal investment while the release is called catharsis or libidinal divestment.

Object-libido is essential to the organism’s survival and health because it is, by default, directed towards necessities. For instance, analysis has shown that the infant’s breast-feeding is a cathartic, libidinal process; this is evidenced by the fact that, for those in whom this drive was not adequately gratified, the tension persists into adult life. The libidinal drives are concerned with those things that facilitate the organism’s power and thriving. Only when they are inordinately frustrated do they assume the monstrous characteristics that Freud erroneously ascribed to their nature (1).

Even though Freud predicted in the 1920s that psychoanalysis would be shortly supplanted by a somatic “organotherapy” (2), the libido is considered to be a purely psychic energy by psychoanalysts today. As I will show in future installments, the libido is a physical energy that does work on physical systems. For now, I leave psychoanalysts with this question: how, if the libido is purely psychic, does it compel the physical body towards objects and why can it be exhausted in movement?

When, for whatever reason, a society adopts mores which are inimical to the organism’s objective, biological needs, children must censor expressions of object-libidinal striving, leading to a build-up of drive energy. However, these stases of energy still demand discharge and the organism devises maneuvers in an attempt to vent them. Usually they are inadequately cathartic when compared with the attainment of the original goal. When a person’s drives are continually frustrated, the stasis of libido continually grows, outpacing the rate at which these maneuvers can dispose of the energy. At this point, the various symptoms of neurosis appear; they are a continuation of the body’s attempt to dispense with intolerable drive energy.

(1) Reich, Wilhelm – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter IV. The Development of the Orgasm Theory, Part . Destruction, Aggression and Sadism pg. 154-159

(2) Reich – The Function of the Orgasm – Chapter V. The Development of the Character-analytic Technique, Part 4. Sexual Stasis – The Energy Source of the Neurosis pg. 144

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