According to Freud, the super ego’s role is to attack the ego. In extreme cases these attacks continue until the ego breaks down, and the subject is caught between the damning super ego and the repressed id.
I know this, because this thing I’ve been proofreading says it over, and over, and over. In fact, it doesn’t say much else. I had a dream last week that I was back in high school and my super ego was attacking me. It took the form of a graduate male art teacher, and he kept telling me to sit down and shut up and stop being such a smartarse. Normally a valid criticism, especially considering who I was back then, except this time I wasn’t even being a smartarse and I was being nice and I really wanted him to like me.
It was very upsetting. I was upset for the whole day. I am still slightly hurt that maybe my super ego doesn’t like me. Perhaps it did, but now it’s really, really pissed off that I’ve made it read all this wank. Well, fair enough. Or maybe the whole concept is bunkum, and normal people don’t even have higher selves, but this process has created an enraged, monstrous policeman of the mind who never existed before – like how killer radiation created Spiderman – and we will fight nightly battles for supremacy in my head. Or maybe I don’t need a super ego to make me feel bad, now that I’ve got this manuscript to do it for me.
‘Have you been writing lately?’ people ask politely in conversation, because it’s hard to know what else to ask an unemployed writer. (Of course this is the last question anyone should ever, ever ask an unemployed writer – somewhere up there with asking a PhD student about their thesis, or a resting actor about their next audition – but maybe you have to be one to know that.)
The answer, of course, is no. It is impossible. Exposure to bad writing kills creativity. Writers should never proofread, copy edit, or teach. We all do at some point, of course, because these things are the lucrative parts of our trade. But these activities should never be maintained for long periods. Every time you rewrite a paragraph of gibberish, try to be kind about a student’s plotless zombie Mary Sue (complete with cheesy and improbable sex scenes), or even do something as small as fixing another person’s comma, a little piece of your own talent crumbles off and dies.
I often wonder if this happens to people in other fields. Does a life drawing teacher go home after a day of looking at wobbly charcoal arses and cauliflower faces, get out the sketch pad, stare at it for hours and decide to watch White Chicks? After Derek Jacoby gives a master class, does he stop off for dinner at a little restaurant, flap the menu around melodramatically, and get kicked out for providing his own ham? Do music teachers find that their repertoire suddenly starts and stops at ‘Heart and Soul’? Do supermarket trainers lose the will to scan?
Perhaps you gain something in the trade off, though. Because I’ve noticed things. As the ability to write a shopping list without medical supervision drops, other senses and aspects are gaining. Confidence. Humour (when spoken, oddly; on paper or computer screen, the words break apart). Music. The dreams again, growing richer in texture, visually spectacular, and more pertinent in meaning. A coming back into the self after a long trip abroad.
Apart from the one about the art teacher. That was a glitch of some sort. Fucking proofreading.
I’m pretty sure the super ego is meant to do more than that, anyway.