WHAT IS PSYCHOANALYTIC CRITICISM? • Form of literary criticism which uses some of the techniques of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literature • Psychoanalysis investigates the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939) • Freud believes in the notion of the unconscious (part of the mind beyond consciousness which nevertheless has a strong influence upon our actions) • Linked with this is the idea of repression – forgetting or ignoring unresolved conflicts, unadmitted desires, or traumatic past events, so they are forced into the unconscious • Similar process: sublimation, where the repressed material is ‘promoted’ into something grander or disguised as something noble (ie sexual urges may be expressed in the form of intense religious experiences or longings) • Freud suggested a three part model of the psyche, dividing it into the ego, the super-ego, and the id (three ‘levels’ of personality corresponding to the consciousness, the conscience, and the unconscious) Freud Cont’d • Many of Freud’s ideas concern aspects of sexuality • Infantile sexuality – notion that sexuality begins not at puberty, but in infancy, particularly through infant’s relationship with mother Related: Oedipus complex, whereby the male infant conceives the desire to eliminate the father and become the sexual partner of the mother • According to Freud, libido (energy drive associated with sexual desire) has three stages: oral, anal, and phallic • Freudian slip – parapraxis, whereby repressed material in the unconscious finds an outlet through everyday phenomena as slips of the tongue or unintended actions FREUD AND DREAMS Also believed in dream work – process by which real events or desires are transformed into dream images Characters, motivation, and events are represented in dreams in a very ‘literary’ way, involving the translation by the dream work, of abstract ideas or feelings into concrete images SAMPLE FREUDIAN DREAM INTERPRETATION If a person had a dream featuring a Roman soldier: If person were a young adult still living under an authoritarian father, they might want to break away from his influence, and experience adult life to the full Roman soldier might represent the father by a process of association Soldier in the dream is a symbolic representation of his father If person were tempted to rebel by entering a relationship of which the father would disapprove, the Roman soldier might also represent this person Thus, both the feared father and desired lover are condensed into single dream figure of Roman soldier Freud’s example for when his analysis is Legitimate • Freud was on holiday, and met a Jewish man who discussed the anti-Semitism that might hinder their careers. Young man voiced strong feelings, expressing the wish that wrongs might be put right in a future generation. He made this point with a quotation from the Latin poet Virgil spoken by Dido, Queen of Carthage, when she is abandoned by Aeneas. The words are: ‘Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor’, meaning, ‘May someone arise from our bones as an avenger’, but in quoting the line the young man accidentally left out the word ‘aliquis’ (‘somebody’) • Freud corrects the quotation, and the young man (having read Freud) asks him to explain the significance of this simple act of forgetting. • Freud accepts the challenge, asks the young man to say candidly whatever comes to mind if he directs his attention to the forgotten word Young Man’s Response This produces the following: Firstly, similar- sounding words like relics, liquefying, fluidity, and fluid Secondly, St Simon of Trent, whose relics he saw some years ago Thirdly, an article in an Italian newspaper called ‘What St Augustine says about women’ Fourthly, St Januarius, whose blood is kept in a vial in a church at Naples and on a particular holy day it miraculously liquefies. He says ‘the people get very agitated if it is delayed’ Freud’s interpretation • Freud responds that two of these saints have names which link them closely with the calendar, and he has already worked out why the young man forgot the word ‘aliquis’ • Young man has been uneasy, and if he had said the word ‘aliquis’ that would have reminded him again of this anxiety: so the unconscious protects him by deleting the word from his conscious memory • Young man says: ‘I’ve suddenly thought of a young lady from whom I might easily hear a piece of news that would be very awkward for both of us’. He hesitates and Freud asks, ‘That her periods have stopped?’ • Due to the calendar saints, the blood that starts to flow on a particular day, the disturbance when the event fails to take place, Freud solved the ‘forgotten’ word. FREUD CRITICISM Freud’s theories have been distrusted, due to his negative feelings about women (believes women’s sexuality is based upon narcissism, masochism, and passivity, and that they suffer from ‘penis envy’) WHAT FREUDIAN PSYCHOANALYTIC CRITICS DO • Give central importance, in literary interpretation, to the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious mind. They associate the literary works’ ‘overt’ content with the former, and ‘covert’ content with the latter, privileging the ‘hidden’ meanings • Pay close attention to unconscious motives and feelings of the authour, or those of the characters depicted in the work • Demonstrate presence in literary work of classic psychoanalytic symptoms, conditions, or phases, such as oral, anal, and phallic stages of emotional and sexual development in infants • Make large-scale applications of psychoanalytic concepts to literary history • Identify a ‘psychic’ context for the literary work, privileging the individual psycho-drama above social drama of class conflict For example: Hamlet has been interpreted as having a sexual fixation with his mother due to his interest in her sexuality Hamlet cannot avenge his uncle (despite killing others without much thinking) because he is guilty of wanting to commit the same crime himself Has an Oedipus complex, and wish to do away with his father; thus, uncle has merely done what Hamlet wished to do. JACQUES LACAN (1901-1981) • Emphasis on the unconscious itself, as ‘the nucleus of our being’ • As a result of his beliefs, he was kicked out of the International Psychoanalytic Association • The unconscious is not a chaotic mass, but rather is as complex as the structure of a language • If language has a barrier between signifier and signified, then the unconscious is formed similarly LANGUAGE AND PSYCHOANALYSIS Uses the idea of metaphor and metonymy to mirror psychoanalysis In metonymy one thing represents another by means of a part standing in for a whole (ie twenty sail would mean twenty ships). Lacan believed that a person who might be represented by one of their attributes in a dream would be represented another thing by displacement (ie Italian lover might be represented by an Italian car in a dream) Metaphor like ‘the ship ploughed the waves’ condenses a single item into two different images (ship and plough), and as a result mimics what happens in dreams LACAN AND STAGES • Lacan insists that the unconscious is where our true selfhood lies (directly challenges Descartes’ proclamation, ‘I think, therefore I am’) • Lacan discusses our emergence into consciousness: before sense of self emerges, child exists in a realm of the Imaginary, where there is no distinction between self and Other and there is an idealized identification with the mother • Between 6 months and 18 months comes ‘mirror-stage’, when child sees its own reflection in the mirror and begins to conceive of itself as a separate being • At this stage, child enters into language system • Then children enter the Symbolic (understanding that language names what is not present and substitutes a linguistic sign for it) • Contrast between the Imaginary and Symbolic might be seen as analogous to that between poetry and prose WHAT LACANIAN CRITICS DO • Pay close attention to unconscious motives and feelings, and search out those of the text itself (deconstruction) • Demonstrate presence of Lacanian psychoanalytic symptoms or phases • Treat the literary text in terms of a series of broader Lacanian orientations • See the literary text as demonstration of Lacanian views about language and unconscious, particularly the elusiveness of the signified and centrality of the unconscious.
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