Psychoanalytic Criticism by vs32eC4


•   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
•    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
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
 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’
•   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
 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
•   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’)

•   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
•   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
       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
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
•   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
•   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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