Above: the cover of Bowie's 1967 Deram album. Credit: Fair use.
The Freudian concept of repression is a multi-purpose critical tool that can be deployed in a consideration of individual psychology, or it can be used to interrogate a society-wide phenomenon. The theory of repression suggests that humans will generally tend to forget about, or disguise certain aspects of existence, for reasons of these things being the cause of anxiety and their being generally unpleasant to think about. One could say that the things we repress are traumatising, unbearable. So our hiding-away is really inevitable, a necessary mechanism. Freud said that feelings of shame or disgust (among other emotional responses) are indicators of the nearby presence of repressed material (or thoughts).
One simple-novel example of the use of the critical tool of repression, or "the repressed," is to regard the first Bowie album--known as the Deram album--as his most important record. The Deram album was systematically repressed by Bowie during his lifetime and since his death the album is still separated off from his other 25 albums. Bowie made numerous false assertions about the album, including claims that it was made as a joke (like a dare), and that it was recorded purely as something to do during his lunch-hours (both of which are provably untrue; in fact the opposite is true, Bowie sweated blood to make the record).
For the Freudian, Bowie's repression of his first album (because it was embarrassing and disgusting to him), immediately makes it a vitally important record. (For another type of researcher or theorist this first album would likely be designated juvenilia--early work--and so largely passed over.) For the Freudian, in this example, the record that the artist most reviled, becomes, almost perversely, a prism or key by which to decode, or gain-insight-into, the wider oeuvre. And interpreting Bowie's work through the lens of the Deram album can thus be described as a classical Freudian reading, in which repressed material becomes central.
(31 December 2018)