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E 341 (23)

Psychoanalytic criticism, Freud, Oedipus complex, id/ego/superego, the uncanny, doubling, pleasure principle, dreams

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Colorado State University
E 341
Aparna Gollapudi

9 October Psychoanalyzing characters is most common Can also psychoanalyze author, reader Psychoanalytic Criticism Uses insights of psychology and techniques of psychoanalysis to interpret literature Psychology or psychoanalysis need a “mind” – which psyche or mind is available in literary study Mental processes of literary characters (though a frequent objection to this is that characters are textual, not real, and as such have no existence beyond words on page and thus no ‘mind’ to analyze) Literary work as a mental production of the author’s mind and so, a reflection of his/her psyche (though the objection to this might be that it requires making unconfirmable assumptions about author’s mental state) Literature impacts psyche and mind of reader – so could examine psychological effect of the literary work on the readers. Psychoanalysis: what it is and why we need it Humans are the only animal born so completely helpless and that remain comparatively helpless and dependent for such a long period early in life. The process of growing up – socialization requires the most extensive suppression of certain behaviors and physical instincts: toilet training, aggression-control, rules of civilization etc. Humans are required to adhere to the most elaborate, complex rules of civil society. For instance, despite the unusually long interaction with parents as compared to other animals, the most fundamental and geographically pervasive form of the incest taboo is that between parent-child. The incest taboo is aimed at controlling human sexuality, but other forms of control and repression abound. Thus, even if you are very hungry and are in a grocery store without security cameras or anyone watching, you will restrain from taking food because of moral taboo against “stealing”. Our early dependence leads to fears and anxieties; the consistent need to adhere to behavioral rules leads to suppression of instincts and desires. Civilization is repression of desires and fears. So, fundamentally, “Repression is essential to civilization.” The consistent repressions that are part of our emergence as ‘normal’ well-socialized adults (and these could vary in type and intensity depending upon specific situations) are a part of our self that go underground in a sense – but never really go away. This leads to concept of each individual having a “stranger within.” Freud: late 19 century Austria – theories shaped by his time and prejudices so a lot of his ideas have been rejected but some fundamental processes remain in classic psychoanalytic practice His most well-known idea: the now-discredited Oedipus complex ‘Discovers’ infantile, pre-genital sexuality Male infant conceives the desire to eliminate father and become the sexual partner of the mother. In more generalized terms can be seen as male child’s realization of competition for mother’s attention, desire for permanent possession Threat of the father, fear of castration, leads him to relinquish desire and identify with father instead. In broader terms, Father’s injunction ‘NO’ becomes sublimated into conscience and taboo. In case of female infant, theorizes ‘penis envy’ – desire to possess father is the desire to possess penis. His most influential and long lasting contribution to the ways of thinking about the human psyche was the theory that much of our “self” is invisible, locked away as it were, but always attempting to escape: the importance he attributes to the unconscious in our daily life. His tripartite model of the mind Id – instinctual drives Superego – conscience, social rules Ego – conscious mind that relates to others functionally and allows for satisfaction or expression of repressed drives in socially accepted ways This model has been modified and challenged, especially by the “ego psychologists” or the “object-relations psychology” school But even if one suspects this neat tripartite division of the mind, his insights are significant in the sense that they indicate the danger of the ‘stranger within’ who seeks to escape Always ‘return of the repressed’ – the point is – is it going to be in socially acceptable forms or in anti-social or ‘abnormal’ forms Freud: The Uncanny (1919) Starting point: Ernst Jentsch’s 1906 study of the uncanny, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” which concludes: uncanny = fear of the unfamiliar; uncanny = based on intellectual uncertainty. Freud sets out to disprove both points. He starts with the roots of the German words ‘heimlich’ (familiar, at home, intimate, personal) and ‘unheimlich’ (unfamiliar, hidden, strange, mysterious) and the point at which the two meet: uncanny Freud’s definition = the uncanny as a category of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar “This class of frightening things would then constitute the uncanny; and it must be a matter of indifference whether what is uncanny was itself originally frightening or whether it carried some other affect…for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something that is familiar and old fashioned in the mind and which has become alienated from it through process of repression.” Freud attributes the feeling of uncanniness to repressed infantile complexes that have been revived by some impression or some event. What’s outside is actually inside – if something outside is seen as uncanny, or oddly frightening/disturbing/uneasy; that is because it is the sudden and unexpected revelation of what is concealed or repressed within
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