CLIT 396: Freud and the Literary Imagination
Final Journal; Theme 1: Lieutenant Gustl
While it is valid to argue that stream-of-consciousness narration is the literary form that is most aligned with Freudian theory pertaining to the unconscious, this form of fiction is still extremely limited in its capability to expose the inner workings of the human subconscious. Although stream-of-consciousness narration does allow the reader a rare proximity to a character's unconscious, it is clear in reading such works as Arthur Schnitzler's Lieutenant Gustl that this proximity is somewhat of a mirage. For simply in attempting to portray thoughts logically and verbally (that is, actually translating thoughts into language) to another human being, one loses a large degree of "rawness" that characterizes the unconscious; the thoughts of the character are subjected to the organization and censorship of the author and therefore become products of the conscious mind. This degree of separation, if you will, is significant in itself without considering the implications of the author's own psychological involvement in developing the character, which, obviously, also diminishes the validity of an interior monologue as a recording of the unconscious mind.
I would first like to look at the handout that quotes the French writer Eduard Dujardin as the foundation for my examination of the narrative style in question. Dujardin establishes an excellent definition of stream-of-consciousness narration when he states that "the interior monologue is the speech of a character in a scene, having for its object the direct introduction of the reader into the interior life of the character, without any interventions in the way of explanations or commentary on the part of the author." And indeed, according to this definition, Lieutenant Gustl would be an excellent example of interior monologue. One need only look at the opening passage of the short story to understand how the piece exemplifies this element of stream-of-conscious narration: "Let's see what time it is--perhaps I shouldn't look at my watch at a serious concert like this. But no one will see me. If anyone does I'll know he's paying as little attention as I am. In that case I certainly won't be embarrassed--Only quarter to ten (p. 251)?" In these few lines Schnitzler has expertly established the setting (time and place) of the tale and has also given the reader a conception of Lieutenant Gustl's ego without leaving the mind and thoughts of the protagonist. The lack of interruption in character and reader interaction is essential in facilitating the reader's complete submersion into the characterÕs mind. The submersion, in turn, allows the reader to feel as though they are witnessing the true inner workings of the character's mind- getting a window, if you will, into the unconscious associations of the protagonist, in this case Lieutenant Gustl.
I would argue, though, that at this point the understanding between reader and protagonist becomes a well-developed illusion. Dujardin continues to explicate interior monologue by saying, "In the matter of content, it is an expression of the most intimate thoughts, those which lie nearest to the unconscious; in its nature it is a speech which precedes logical organization, reproducing the intimate thoughts just as they are born and just as they come--" Yet in reading Lieutenant Gustl this part of Dujardin's argument seems to romanticize the narrative style. While it is true that the insecurities and "most intimate thoughts" of the Lieutenant are indeed revealed in the course of the narration, the idea that the thoughts precede logical organization is proven false by observations of the author's employment of composition techniques such as foreshadowing and irony (seen in the repeating theme of the oratorio and church, which appear both at the beginning and the end of the story). The stream-of-consciousness narrative is still a narration, and therefore the author feels compelled to force his own authoritative organization and narrative structure upon the fluidity of the protagonist's thoughts. In this process the author has essentially performed an aesthetic reversal of the distortion which would normally characterize unconscious thought processes.
The last part of Dujardin's assessment of stream-of-consciousness can also be recognized as an exaggeration of the benefits of this style of narration. Following the same argument formulated above it is simply not possible to claim that a piece that has been composed as carefully as Lieutenant Gustl is "reproducing [the protagonist's] intimate thoughts just as they are born and just as they come." According to Freud's theory, thoughts can only be born from the unconscious into the conscious mind through a process of distortion, displacement, condensation and other disguise mechanisms that are clearly not employed in Schnitzler recording of Gustl's evening. The protagonist's neurosis, self-consciousness, and egotistical qualities as they are revealed in the short story, prove that Schnitzler is exposing a side of this character that escapes Gustl's own self-understanding. In order for Gustl to sincerely be indulging in such self-deprecating thoughts his rational mind (acting as a self-critical mechanism) would have to be shut down as in dream, and even in that case thoughts such as the ones recorded here would be born in quite a different order and form.
Therefore, while Lieutenant Gustl does have certain elements that are aligned with Freud's theory of the unconscious (repression, sexual thoughts and association- though even this element is explicated for the reader), it could hardly be called the "paradigmatic Freudian literary technique." There is too much coherence and organization in the piece, too little conflict within the portrayal of self, and not enough evidence of distortion mechanisms for the narrative to truly represent the unconscious and its interactions with the conscious in human protagonists.
Final Journal, Theme 2, National Myth
There are many aspects of Freud's essay Creative Writers and Daydreaming that are extremely fascinating; however, to me one of the most interesting points he made in the entire work was addressed in a single sentence, very close to the end of the piece. Freud, almost in passing, states that "it is extremely probable that myths, for instance, are distorted vestiges of the wishful phantasies of whole nations, the secular dreams of youthful humanity" (p. 442). This statement spoke to me, calling to mind a class that I took a while ago that focused on national myths. In thinking of this class and the way in which national myth has, in the past, yielded its incredible influence on entire populaces, Freud's statement suddenly acquired relevance and significance.
The class I took focused on myth as a method of manipulation, used to enhance the power of political leaders. After reading the Freud quote, however, it occurred to me that perhaps national myths are not believed by a populace because they are convincingly woven, but rather because the populace themselves chooses, or wants, to believe in the myth. In this way, the myth becomes a product of the society and not the leader or aspiring leader of the nation. If one considers that many national and historic myths serve to simplify reality and then that most people would wish for reality to be simpler (especially when faced with national crisis or difficult political decisions), it follows that mythology can be seen as a mechanism of wish-fulfillment. In this way national myths fulfill a populationıs wish for the simplification of truth.
Perhaps the most obvious and universal (or rather non-case specific) example of the simplification of truth is the mythological development of "the other". In seeking to unite a population, leaders often propagate historic and contemporary myths that isolate their following from other populations in the area. The population in turn accepts and perpetuates these myths because it longs to be able to identify a clear "good guy" and "bad guy" within the dynamics of the conflict. Also, in being able to entirely antagonize their neighbors and/or enemies (utilizing myth), the population can by contrast perceive themselves as heroic. In this way, the myth can be seen as wish-fulfillment: it converts a complicated interaction into a simple battle of good versus evil and promotes a positive image of self for an entire national population.
The use of mythology to create a conception of the other is an international political technique. It was used in Rwanda to mythically exaggerate ethnic differences between the warring Hutus and Tutsis. Internationally it is evident in the isolating stereotypes that have evolved in relation to the Jewish population. Germans and Czechs used it to divide the population of Bohemia along essentially imaginary lines. Milosevic mercilessly bombarded his people with mythology of their heroic role in the Battle of Kosovo so that the Serbs would be able to legitimize their own self-image and justify their role in the Balkan Wars. Around the world mythology has served as a justification for ethnic cleansing and warfare; this is another way in which it can be interpreted as wish fulfillment as mythology instills meaning into conflicts that otherwise seem futile.
I found this application of Freud's theory to be insightful as an explanation of why national mythology, which is often clearly false, is believed by so many people globally. Just as some people seek to delude themselves, so a population seeks to make the world around it simpler and to justify its participation in such complicated and contradicting actions as war. In a world as complicated as our own, simplicity is nearly impossible to come by; assuming that absolute simplicity can only be achieved through mythologizing the political reality of a nation, then it is not surprising that people would find solace in the tradition of national myth.
Final Journal, Theme 3, The Judgment
Kafka's The Judgment is constructed around the tensions between a father and his son and so is a perfect piece of literature in which to observe Freud's theory, "The Oedipus Complex." It is possible to analyze the story utilizing different aspects of the theory, and each analysis would yield its own particular understanding and correlation between theory and text. However, I feel that in applying Freud's assertion that the father figure in a child's life is eventually "introjected into the ego, and there it forms the nucleus of the super-ego, which takes over the severity of the father" (p. 664) one can get the most out of Kafka's brilliant short story. In this reading one can examine the consolidation of the father and son, the ability of the father to reveal the delusion inherent in the ego's perception of self and, most importantly, the capability of the super-ego to pass judgment on the ego.
The Judgment begins with Kafka's portrayal of Georg's self-perception, revealed in his contemplations on the letter that he is composing to his friend in Russia. In this self-perception the reader can see that Georg characterizes himself as a successful business man and a good son and that he is satisfied with his engagement to a girl from a "well-to-do family." In this portrayal, Kafka has introduced the reader to Georg's ego-id; next, Kafka allows the reader a more complex understanding of the inner-workings of Georg's psyche by introducing the reader to Georg's super-ego, personified in his father.
Initially Kafka consolidates the father and son characters by having the father, in referring to the mother, use the possessive adjective "our" several times over. One of the times is quoted, "the death of our dear mother hit me harder than it did you" (The Judgment, (p. 82). In this phrase the reader can already sense the super-ego/father's capability to pass judgment and inflict guilt upon the ego/Georg. Also, one can interpret the father and son living in one house together and alone, as symbolic of the cohabitation of the ego and superego in the psyche. Once the consolidation of characters has been thus established and reaffirmed, the father begins the process of "uncovering" Georg's true self and thereby disillusioning the reader who has been misled by the previous assertions of the ego. At first, Kafka displays a battle over authority between the two characters, but eventually it becomes clear that the father will emerge victorious.
Kafka portrays the father's uncovering of Georg quite literally, when the character proclaims "You wanted to cover me, I know--but I'm far from being covered up yet" (The Judgment, p. 84). In the father's repetitive efforts (both physical and verbal) to assert his strength and superiority over Georg, he manages to cast a shadow of doubt onto all that Georg has thus far revealed to the reader, namely the existence of his friend in Russia and his dedication to his role as a good son. This reveals the conflictual nature of the psyche's concept of truth, explicated by Freud: "Conflicts between the ego and the ideal will, as we are now prepared to find, ultimately reflect contrast between what is real and what is psychical, between the external world and the internal world" (Freud Reader p. 643). This is exactly what the conflict between Georg and his father ultimately achieves. The father says, "But thank goodness a father doesn't need to be taught to see through his son" (The Judgment, p. 85); the reader can also say thank goodness a superego can place a reality check on a deluded ego.
Lastly, Kafka continues his metaphor of father as superego in having him assign Georg his final judgment, "I sentence you now to death by drowning!" (The Judgment, p. 87) Freud states, "The superego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression--the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on in the form of conscious or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt" (Freud Reader, p. 642). Clearly Georg's Oedipus complex was rather powerful for the domination of his super-ego is complete and he follows its orders to his death.
Through this analysis of Kafka's story one ultimately justifies his statement following the story's drafting, "Thoughts of Freud of course." In The Judgment the father is a personification of Georg's super-ego, just as Georg himself is representative of his ego. In portraying the dynamics of the character's interactions, Kafka has expertly depicted the inherently conflicting relations of the ego and super-ego, with the super-ego's ultimate triumph as the "much stronger of [the] two" (The Judgment, p. 86).
Final Journal, Theme 4, Eros and Thanatos
The more familiar I become with Freudian texts, the more I find my thoughts to be entirely saturated in Freudian influence. One of my favorite aspects of this class has been noticing how applicable it is to the world outside of the classroom, and most poignantly to my other classes. Using Freud it has been possible to find interconnecting themes that weave their way through different subjects and writings from different parts of the world. At the same time that we were reading Death in Venice and examining the evidence of the divine interaction of Eros and Thanatos within the text, I was reading an autobiographical novel entitled The Life of Arseniev by Ivan Bunin. In this text the author's association of death and sex (or love) was undeniable; using diction he united the two themes by labeling them both as "incomprehensible". Every mention of death was coupled with a notation of sexual instinct. For example, when the protagonist is attending a funeral, he observes "the grave was already made flush with the ground; Annchen [protagonistÕs lover] was wearing a new, cambric dress" (p. 98, Life of Arseniev). Also, in Bunin's description of corpses one could note an almost sickening, obsessive, love-like and simultaneously morbid fascination with death, for example "a dainty doll with bloodless, inanimate face and black eyelashes almost shut" (p. 46, Life of Arseniev).
In noting the intermingling of love and death, I thought that I would bring the Freudian theory on Eros and Thanatos to the attention of my professor; a class discussion ensued which was very interesting. For starters, no one in the class was familiar with Freud and yet the discussion was so essentially tainted by his philosophy that it was almost eerie. It made me wonder why Freud was able to put into words, and to widely disseminate, concepts that are so inherent in the human composition. In the Comparative Literature lecture, Professor Gray discussed the intermingling of love and death as being rooted in the fact that the two experiences are infinitely human and in my parallel discussion in my Russian Literature class the association was similarly explained. It was decided that love and death are the two experiences by which humanity can define itself eternally; and more importantly, we all realized that it is love and death which enhance life and give it meaning. I found this to be the most interesting observation, because I do believe that love and death enhance life from opposite angles- love allows us to forget that anything is more important than what we are experiencing at the moment, and death compels us to appreciate life as a whole. In this way, when one couples the power of love and death one can achieve the most profound appreciation of life.
Also, rooting this strange interaction of two seemingly opposing experiences in the most fundamental and simple of all purposes (allowing us to appreciate what we have in breathing and living) explains how the association can exist without human's daily acknowledgement. It is so deeply built into our psychological make-up that it receives little conscious consideration; as Bunin says, "And in everything there was death, death intermingled with eternal, lovely and futile life" (p. 93, Life of Arseniev)). In both The Life of Arseniev and Death in Venice the association was incredibly prevalent and central to the text, and yet in neither work was the association ever explicitly recognized. So it is, it seems, in life- the two most awe-inspiring aspects of existence are constantly considered, but yet almost never immediately related to one another.
Final Journal, Theme 5, Pieta
On May 21st, 1972 a man named Laszlo Toth entered St. Peter's at the Vatican and took a hammer to Michelangelo's world-renowned sculpture, the Pieta. Specifically, Toth attacked the face of the Virgin Mary shattering it into hundreds of tiny fragments. In this act he sought to destroy one of the most beautiful creations of humankind, one of the prime examples of the artistic capabilities of humanity. Toth in fact cited the beauty of Michelangelo's depiction of the Virgin as the cause for his attack, saying that the face of the sculpture was so beautiful that it sexually aroused him; according to the dogma of religion, it was horrifying to this man that a deity would inspire such a sexual response. In Toth's drive to destroy the sculpture, one can see evidence of one manÕs failure to reconcile his sexual instincts with the rational world.
In the Future of Illusion Freud stated, "art offers substitutive satisfactions for the oldest and still most deeply felt cultural renunciations, and for that reason it serves as nothing else does to reconcile man to the sacrifices he has made on behalf of civilization" (p. 692 Freud Reader). But what if this reconciliation fails and the piece of art only reminds one of the depth and incompleteness of their repression? Clearly this was the case with Toth; all of his life society and religion had told him to repress any concept of the Virgin Mary as a woman, and when the Pieta defied this societal, rational truth by arousing in him sexual instincts, the man had a mental breakdown. What ensued - the attack itself, the chaos it caused and the world attention it received - is a perfect exemplification of Freud's term, "disorder".
The attack proves the danger inherent in social repression. Toth's action was a revolt against this repression and a rebellion against the dogmatic repression of Christianity, which was discussed by Professor Gray as the "manifestation of masochism in society." It is proof that instincts can never be entirely nullified, but that they can only be repressed, stilled beneath the surface awaiting their ignition (which is always possible).
Freud, of course, argues that it is possible to find a balance between instinct and rationality and that ideally human beings will be able to reconcile the rational confines of society with their dark instinctual life. In Young Torless, this ultimate reconciliation was achieved by the protagonist, and to symbolize the entirety of Torless's synthesis of instincts and rationality Musil concludes his story with evidence of Torless's "acceptance of his mother as a psychological and instinctual being" (Gray). Toth's attack can be seen to exist in direct opposition to this reconciliation, as it represents the inability to accept human qualities within the most symbolic mother in our society, the Virgin Mary.
Final Journal, Theme 6, Language
The theme of the uncanny was the one that I had the hardest time comprehending in this class. Despite the logical sense that the theory eventually did make for me, I feel like a barrier still stands between me and the theory. That barrier, I have alas identified as language. For the first time, in reading The Uncanny, I found that not knowing German was a serious hindrance to my comprehension of Freud - and not literal comprehension but theoretical. The true insight that can be achieved from Freud's Uncanny can in reality only be gleaned when utilizing the words "heimlich" and "unheimlich." Freud himself understands this, as in the body of the theory he includes a list of sentences a few pages long that attempt to explicate the words. I would argue that even this extensive, wordy struggle ultimately fails to portray the sensation that Freud aims to arouse in his readers. In German one can appreciate the "broad semantic significance" of the words that define Freud's theory; in German the beauty of their duality, their cooperative opposition is highlighted, but the English translation of the terminology is far too limited. I, then, seek to conclude that Freud's Uncanny is really untranslatable.
In hearing Professor Gray talk about the "semantic continuum" of heimlich and the way in which it "circles around to the point where its meanings oppose one another", I experienced the exact feeling which Freud was trying to define in his theory. The way in which the antonym (unheimlich) of the word (heimlich) causes one to recall and recognize an aspect of the original word perfectly conveys all that Freud was trying to express in his theory. The definition of heimlich is in itself uncanny in a way that the English "uncanny" can never be. In studying this particular Freudian theory it is possible to recognize the limitation of translation; a limitation that I find important to remember at all times when reading translations. In our criticism of Freud, it is essential for us to remember that we are not only reading him from a different time period, but in a language that lacks the complexity of the text's native tongue.
In Bachmann the English reader experiences a similar sort of inherent limitation of comprehension. This is best and most obviously exemplified in Franza's extremely Freudian slip on page 83. In English it reads, "I don't really know why, but we had a box, though neither of us got much out of victims, I mean opera". In English this slip seems overly exaggerated, forced and clumsy, but if one reads the endnote explaining in the similarity in German of the "dative case plural for 'opera' (opern) with that for 'victims' (opfern)", suddenly the complexity and beauty of Bachmann's utilization of German is elucidated. The translator of Bachmann's story states at the end of this same endnote "Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to capture this important nuance in English." One can say the same thing for Freud's theory of the uncanny.
Final Journal, Theme 7, Bachmannıs Franza
Bachmann's Der Fall Franza was by far my favorite piece that we read for this class. Without going into the absolute beauty of her literary style, the book's masterful and original representation of a post World War II, feminine critique on psychoanalysis served as a perfect conclusion to the course. For me, the most pertinent of all the parallels between my own personal objections to psychoanalysis and the ones made by Bachmann in Der Fall Franza was her conception of the existence of fascism in interpersonal relationships. It had never occurred to me to use the word to describe human relations although I so freely use it to critique governments; indeed my initial reaction to the use of the word in the book's summary flap was similar to Franza's reaction, "You say fascism, but that sounds strange, for I've never heard that word used to describe a personal relationship. Why does one only refer to fascism when it has to do with opinions or blatant acts?" (Book of Franza, p. 75) It is in the last clause that Franza hits on what was so powerful (to me) about the description: "blatant acts". For indeed, psychoanalysis is not blatantly or outspokenly the desire to control, to eliminate individuality of thought and action, even though that is ultimately the ends that it achieves. In theory, psychoanalysis is, rather, the desire to liberate the individual from a "disease". In this contrast between the reality and the theory of psychoanalysis, one cannot help but note hypocritical undertones that are also emphasized by Fascist leaders when they seek to gain power.
It is precisely the duality and two-facedness of psychoanalysis that so deeply disturbs Franza, and one can assume Bachmann herself. The process of psychoanalysis as detailed in Freud's Dora Case and portrayed more indirectly in Der Fall Franza, is one of mastery and masculine control which requires feminine submission; in this way psychoanalysis can again be seen to mirror fascism, now not only in its theology but in its tactics as well. The manipulation that is depicted in both psychological cases (Dora's and Franza's) is sickening and clearly shows the way in which psychoanalysis is a process of coercion and not liberation. The two-facedness of psychoanalysis is also highlighted in Der Fall Franza by the exterior respectability and air of aristocracy which Doctor Leo Jordan wears. The falsity and hypocrisy inherent in his image can be seen in both the Nazi doctors and in Freud himself, who at times can be noted hiding harsh thoughts and judgments behind words and technicalities,
Overall I feel that it was important to conclude this class by reading a work like Der Fall Franza. In this piece we, as critical Freudian readers, were encouraged by Bachmann to use what we had learned about Freud all quarter against the mastermind himself. Unlike the other texts that we read in this class, Der Fall Franza is not a manifestation of Freudian thought but a brave and poignant rebellion against it. While, on the whole I do find it very useful to be familiar with Freudian theory, I must say that in my heart I am in agreement with Bachmann's conception of Freud as arrogant, sexist and demeaning to his patients. In reading her highly developed tone and argument, I was able to find a voice for my own objections to Freudian practice and theory; particularly in her brilliant, eloquent and original analogy relating psychoanalysis and Fascism I was able to find a perfect metaphor to summarize all of my feelings about the process. This is a rare gift from author to reader and I am eternally grateful to Bachmann for giving voice to a complex sentiment which, following this course, is deeply imbedded in my own conscious but which I would have long struggled to describe and define in words.