The son of Man

How do Freuds theories illuminate The son of Man
Sigmund Freud was a neurologist and a philosopher who proposed many theories on how the mind works.  Among these theories, there are some which help people understand and look beyond the surface of things.  He explained the uncanny feelings that people have toward unfamiliar events and how these feelings reflect an unconscious sense.  His theories help one to understand and look differently at artworks such as The Son of Man by Rene Magritte.

People have different sensitivities toward the uncanny feeling.  Freud explains the uncanny is the class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar (Freud, p. 34).  However, there are different notions of this uncanny feeling. Everyone experiences this kind of feeling in their lives.  When something is unfamiliar, which is also known as unheimlich in Germany, it causes intellectual uncertainty and doubt in people followed by fear.

There are different sources to this uncanny feeling.  One of these sources might be repetition.  Freud believes that Whatever reminds us of this inner repetition-compulsion is perceived as uncanny (Freud, p. 35).  When something happens once, we call it chance but if the same event happens twice or more, it creates an uncanny atmosphere.  For example, one might not be apprehensive if his hotel room number is 62.  However, if that persons age is 62, it will cause an uncanny feeling and if that person sees number 62 even in more places, it will create a greater anxiety.

Sometimes, we go to places or events that we think we have been to before and  or it has happened to us before.  We are not sure if we dreamed of it or if it has actually happened.  It is called the notion of Deja vu or a French term which means already seen.  This usually creates a strange feeling in people.
In our life we have sets of beliefs that are new and different from what people used to believe in the past.  However when something happens that supports the old thoughts and conflict with our new beliefs, we have an eerie feeling.  The uncanny feeling can come from many things.  It might be something we see or something we read like stories.  Sometimes, artworks such as paintings give a mysterious feeling to viewers.  In other words, uncanny is an aesthetic quality.  It is something that was familiar to us but has somehow become unfamiliar and scary.

Moreover, Freud discusses the unconscious mind and how it affects humans.  He believes that ones behavior is determined by ones unconscious mind.  We are different from who we are and who we think we are. All the acts and manifestations which I noticed in myself and do not know how to link up with the rest of my mental life must be judged as if they belonged to someone else (Freud, p. 51) he explained.

The first thing that one should know about the unconscious mind is that our inner impulses are sexuality motivated.  However, unconscious is not always sexuality.  In addition, Freud believes that there is a direct relation between dreams and the unconscious.  Dreams are like garbage cans of the conscious mind during the day.  Sometimes, we hold back and repress our impulses, because of the way we live in society, but these impulses have to come out in some way, which is in our dreams.  In sleep, somehow we will not resist our unconscious thoughts and will let it out in symbolic forms.  Basically, dreams are our inner eyes.

So how do Freuds theories help one to understand the masterpiece by Rene Magritte called The Son of Man  The painting consists of a man standing in front of a cloudy sea and there is a stone wall behind the man.  He is wearing a suit and bright red tie.  There is a green apple in front of his face that is partly covering his face.   Before understanding Freuds theories, one might look at this painting and see an ordinary man with an apple covering his face.  At the first glance, one might find the only weird thing about this painting is the apple in the air.  It is quite noticeable that even though everything else about the painting is ordinary, there is something unfamiliar about it.

After reading about what Freud says about our unconscious and uncanny feelings, there is a whole new meaning to this painting.  This painting has significance because of our unconscious thoughts and we do feel something but we do not know why we feel this way.  The meaning is not immediately evident to our eyes.  What we try to do unconsciously is to try to see the mans face.  We try to visualize his face and his expression to make sense of this painting.  Nevertheless, the apple is there not by coincidence but by purpose.   It is there to tell us that we always try to see what is covert or hidden.  Even though the apple is in the air, the painting looks realistic and as Freud mentioned Everything is uncanny that out to have remained hidden and secret, and yet comes to light (Freud, p. 51) maybe this is why we have an uncanny feeling towards it.

Humans are always interested in what is obscure or unknown.  There is an inherent feeling of interest we get from hidden objects that we do not get from visible objects.  Perhaps due to this reason, we feel uncanny about this painting.  There is a conflict between the hidden object and the visible.  Furthermore, there are small details that one will see if they look deeper into this painting.  The mans left arm appears to be bended backward, which is something unusual and scary which is another reason for the strange feeling viewers get.  Another detail that might catch viewers eyes is the lowest button of the mans suit is missing.  This could not be a coincidence since the artist was very careful with the details.  If one looks at what is visible from the mans face, it is obvious that his facial expression is not a happy one.

There is more meaning than just positive meaning to this painting.  If we look at the title of the painting, we can make sense of the context.  The title of this painting is The son of Man, which refers to the son of Adam.  The man dressed in the suit with a red tie represents the modern era.  Basically, the message Rene Magritte was trying to show through this painting might have been that even in modern era, humans still have the temptation that they cannot control.  Mans temptation might be unconsciously motivated which, as Freud explains

The unconscious comprises, on one hand, acts which are merely latent, temporarily unconscious, but which differ no other respect from conscious ones and, on the other hand, processes such as repressed ones, which if they were to become conscious would be bound to stand out in the crudest contrast to the rest of the conscious processes.

This painting reflects the unconscious sense.  The artist shows that the product of the human mind cannot be presented merely by an image with positive meaning.  This painting is significant due to the reasons stated before.  It gives the viewer an uncanny feeling and reflects human unconsciousness.  The artist has something in mind that he wants to transfer to his viewers, but these thoughts and meanings might not always be positive.

By looking at this painting, one can see that Freuds theories illuminate this masterpiece. At first glance, one will get the uncanny  strange feeling that Freud talks about and it is due to the unfamiliarity of the viewer to the painting.  The whole painting speaks of something unknown. It is as if the painter is hiding something.  The viewer is unconsciously searching for a meaning within the painting.

Interestingly though, the first thing one sees in this painting is the green apple, however, the viewer does not pay much attention to it and instead, he or she wants to look at the face.  The mans face is partially concealed by the painter.  Yet, our temptation to seek secrets and to see behind the apple is like the temptation that Adam had with the forbidden apple.

By applying Freuds theory, it is obvious to see that this painting reflects our unconsciousness and it has an uncanny  mysterious feeling attached to it, which makes this painting all the more interesting.  In the case of The Son of Man the language helps the viewer as well.  Without the title it is hard to see beyond our curiosity and to see the mystifying significance of this painting.  It is easy to forget the main intention of the artist, which was the production of human mind.

This painting definitely confirms the theories of Freud and actually demonstrates these to the viewers, which makes this artwork an amazing masterpiece by Rene Magritte.


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