R. Gray

German 390/CL 396/CHID 498/English 363/JSIS 488/Lit 298

"Freud and the Literary Imagination"



I.       Basic Information [Course Web Site]

·      Name, Office, Office Hours, etc.

·      Introduction of TA and Discussion Leaders [Tuesday writing workshops]

·      Class Lists

·      Books, Library Reserves, etc. [Ger 390 for bookstore, reserves, reader]


II.      Course Organization (Syllabus)

A.  7 overriding themes

1.   Psyche as Writing Machine; Dream as Text, Text as Dream

2.   Freud's Theory of Literary Creativity

3.   The Oedipus Complex

4.   Eros and Thanatos: The Union of Love and Death

5.   Repression and Social (Dis)Order

6.   The Uncanny and the Literary Fantastic

7.   Freud, Gender, Women: Neurosis and Sexuality

B.  General Structure: Readings in Freudian theory paired with specific literary examples that help elucidate the theory and exemplify its application to literary texts.

C.  Learning Aims:

1.   Introduction into principal themes/theories of Freudian psychoanalysis

2.   Imaginative translation of these theories into narrative fiction (novels, short stories, cinematic "texts") by creative artists

D.  Learning Orientation or "Take" on Freud: Why Freud?
Freud's influence permeates our thought and our culture, even our popular culture. Recent examples: David Cronenberg's film A Dangerous Method, which portrays the relationship between Freud and his early disciple C. J. Jung; or the Broadway play Freud's Last Session, which stages a meeting and exchange between Freud (the confirmed atheist) and the Christian writer C. S. Lewis.

1.   Freud as "discoverer" of the Unconscious?
Freud: "Poets and philosophers discovered the unconscious before me. What I discovered was the scientific method that makes it possible to study the unconscious."
Freud and the "priority" of poets
* Ernst Platner (1776) invented word "unconscious" (Unbewußtseyn)
* Eduard von Hartmann (1869) Philosophy of the Unconscious; 400 pp > 800 pp (1875) > 1500 pp.!
* Freud as theoretician of the unconscious; he advocated for its prominanece in everyday life.
Freud as the theoretician of the unconscious; he tries to systematize it and provide a detailed understanding of how it operates.
Freud also advocated the prominence of the unconscious in our everyday life; it dominates over rational structures and patterns.

2.   Freud and "Science":
--Freud saw himself as an empirical scientist, and conceived of psychoanalysis as a branch of natural science—Freud oriented psychoanalysis as a discipline that fell between philosophy and medicine—For Freud, psychoanalysis has a practical dimension, the treatment of psychoneuroses such as hysteria, paranoia, compulsion disorder, etc.—Recent theories reconcile psychoanalysis with neurobiology; "neuro-psychoanalysis" pursued by Mark Solms in S. Africa; Nobel Prize in Medicine winner Eric Kandel (Austria) argues for coherence of psychoanalytic therapy with neurobiology.

-- Our concern is explicitly not with this dimension of Freudian theory—We are not interested in its truth or validity as scientific theory or program—We are not interested in its practical implications for the treatment of psychic disorders—We ARE interested in Freudian thought as a cultural program, as a philosophy of human nature, a theory of human culture, and in particular in its impact on our own cultural self-understanding. Freud formulated, among other things, a philosopher of life, what the Germans call Lebensphilosophie. Freud as the name for a revolution in popular culture; he revamps our vocabulary, our self-understanding.

2.   Freud and the "Humanities"

·      Few thinkers have had a greater impact on Western thought in the 20th and 21st centuries than Freud.

·      He ranks with the likes of Marx and Nietzsche, as those 2 other great "masters of suspicion" (Paul Ricoeur). What does it mean to be a "master of suspicion"? Above all: one calls into question what otherwise seems obvious. Not merely "question authority!" but "question everything!"

·      "Hermeneutics of suspicion": an interpretive strategy that views the obvious as a strategy of decepetion, as a tactical divergence from "truth"; Marx's notion of "ideology" as a form of blindness to which we subscribe.

·      Freud can be considered the last great systematic thinker of Modernism (roughly from the end of the 18th to the middle of the 20th century); he formulates an epistemology, a theory of the human mind and how it works, that has pretensions to being all-encompassing. In this regard he can be seen in the line of German systematic philosophers that runs from Kant, through Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Paradoxically, what Freud sought to subject to systematic treatment was not human reason (as with Hegel), but the irrational aspects of the human psyche.

·      Freud himself saw three revolutionary upheavals in modern human self-understanding
1) The Copernican Revolution = displaced human beings and planet earth from the center of the universe
2) The Darwinian Revolution = questioned human being's connection to the divine by asserting human descent from lower animals, apes, etc.
3) The Freudian Revolution = asserts that human beings are not "masters in their own house"; i.e., we are not in rational control of ourselves, led by reason, rationality, logical thinking, etc., but rather subject to inscrutable drives, impulses, urges: the unconscious mind  as driving force of our lives—Freud liked to use the image of a person riding bareback on a wild horse to illustrate this situation. Upshot: we are not simply "homo sapiens," rational human beings, but also highly irrational and instinctual.—History of the unconscious: Leibniz, "obscure" and "clear" or "distinct" ideas, perceptions, etc. Enlightenment epistemology postulated a gradual transformation of everything dark and obscure (unconscious) into something fully illuminated (conscious).

Freud and Freudianism; Testimony to Freud's Significance: Lionel Trilling, on Freud's influence in the 20th century:

"The effect that psychoanalysis has had upon the life of the West is incalculable. Beginning as a theory of certain illnesses of the mind, it went on to become a radically new and momentous theory of the mind itself. Of the intellectual disciplines that have to do with the nature and destiny of mankind, there is none that has not responded to the force of his [Freud's] theory. Its concepts have established themselves in popular thought, though often in crude and sometimes perverted form, making not merely a new vocabulary but a new mode of judgments." (Introduction to Ernest Jones's Freud Biography, 1962)

Other voices:

"Freud's conceptions [. . .] have begun to merge with our culture, and indeed now form the only Western mythology that contemporary intellectuals have in common."—Harold Bloom (1986) Note the irony: Freud saw himself as an empirical scientist, but today he is regarded as a prominent myth-maker!

"Today, Freud's contributions are so broadly accepted, so tightly woven into the fabric of our culture and our experience of ourselves, that, in the broadest sense, we are all 'Freudians.'" (Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black, Freud and Beyond, p. xviii)

"Psychoanalysis is not only a professional and scientific discipline within our culture, but a form of thought, an approach to human experience, that has become constitutive of our culture and pervades the way we have come to experience ourselves and out minds." (Mitchell and Black, p. xviii-xix) Implication: In order to "know thyself" human beings today must be aware of the Freudian inheritance that conditions the way they think.

"We live, at least according to numerous commentators, in the Age of Freud, a cultural moment in which the critical and the descriptive terminologies readiest to use sound with unmistakably Freudian resonances." (Mark Edmundson, Toward Reading Freud, p. 3)

Examples of Freudian ideas in popular thought:
1) Belief in an "unconscious" mind; predominance of the unconscious, the irrational, the "dark" side;

2) "Truth" and meaning do not lie at the surface, but are hidden; necessity of interpretation to uncover truth;

3) Power of mind over matter; dominance of thought over our bodies;

4) Human motivations hidden from ourselves as well as from others;

5) We are guided by unrecognized drives or instincts; Desire as "cosmological principle of a secular age" (Malcolm Bowie); desire as a god-substitute, the modern version of "fate" or "destiny";

6) We are not "masters in our own house" (as Freud said); our belief in agency or self-control over ourselves and our lives is an illusion or delusion; "treachery of objects";

7) We deny, repress, or refuse to accept unpleasant "truths";

8) Preeminence of sexuality (libido) in our lives;

9) Sexuality not monolithic (monogamy; heterosexuality), but rather highly variable;

10) Formative power of early experiences in determining character;

11) Centrality of oedipal themes in family life; identification, rivalry, etc., things llike father-fixations or mother-fixations;

12) Notion that we "project" onto others our own problems, issues, thoughts, unpleasant or unacknowledged aspects of ourselves.

13) Insistence on ambivalence as the principle of psychic (unconscious) life; no contradictions, but rather non-dialectical oppositions; no either/or, but instead a both/and; one can love and hate at the same time, the same object; one can affirm and negate simultaneously (yes/no).

Recent Recognition of Freud's Impact

Exhibition, "Conflict and Culture," shown in New York, Los Angeles, and at the Library of Congress, that interrogates Freud's "legacy," the controversies surrounding his theories, his popular impact. (Link to the exhibition site on course web site)

150th Anniversary of his birth in 2006: plethora of recognitions, reassessments, rehabilitations, exhibitions, etc.

3.         Freud and Literature

·      Thomas Mann once nominated Freud for the Nobel Prize in Literature! = Recognition of Freud as a writer, a stylist, a creative thinker.
Freud awarded "Goethe Prize" of city of Frankfurt/Main in 1930; prize for literature!

·      Freud himself was ultimately aware of the marginal nature of his claims to scientific and positivistic validity for his theories. He once wrote:
"My self-knowledge tells me I have never been a doctor in the proper sense."
and in a similar vein:
"It still strikes me, myself, as odd that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science."
Case histories such as "Rat Man," "Little Hans," "Wolf Man," or the "Dora" case = as much literary narratives as they are scientific documents.

·      Freud's theory of mind stresses not logical, rational categories, but rather poetic, creative principles. For Freud, all of us are "poetic" deep down. We think in metaphors, associations, displacements, images, etc.
Lionel Trilling (Freud: Within and Beyond Culture): "The great contribution [Freud] has made to our understanding of literature does not arise from what he says about literature itself but from what he says about the nature of the human mind: he showed us that poetry is indigenous to the very constitution of the mind."

·      Freud viewed creative writers as the true discoverers of the unconscious, as precursors to psychoanalytic science; hence literature as a source for models of psychoanalysis (see hand-out on Freud and creative writers)
Freud wrote: "[Poets and Novelists] know a whole host of things between heaven and earth of which our philosophy has not yet let us dream. In their knowledge of the mind they are far in advance of us everyday people, for they draw upon sources which we have not yet opened up for science." ("Delusions and Dreams in Jensens Gardiva," 1906-07).
And also: "The description of the human mind [provided by the creative writer] is indeed the domain which is most his own; he has from time immemorial been the precursor of science, and so too of scientific psychology. [. . .] The creative writer cannot evade the psychiatrist nor the psychiatrist the creative writer, and the poetic treatment of a psychiatric theme can turn out to be correct without any sacrifice of its beauty." ("Delusions and Dreams").

·      Common applications of Freudian theory to literature
1) Interpretation of authorial "intention"—unconscious intention
Freud saw creativity as fundamentally related to neurosis (see hand-out)
(Hugo von Hofmannsthal consulted the Studies in Hysteria while composing the libretto for Richard Strauss's Elektra opera.)
2) Interpretation of literary characters based on their psychological motivations; presumes that they are flesh-and-blood people, mimetic copies of "real" individuals
3) The influence of psychoanalytic theory on the aesthetic structure of literary works; dream-logic; stream-of-consciousness; metaphorical representation; the literary fantastic, etc. This is our primary focus!

·      Literature as the unconscious of psychoanalytic theory? Is psychoanalysis founded on a set of literary models that form its founding "myths"?
Jean Starobinski: “In considering what psychoanalysis might contribute to literature, we are therefore led to turn the question around, to ask instead what elements psychoanalysis might have borrowed from literature and incorporated into its own doctrine.”
Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Shakespeare's Hamlet
Sadism (Marquis de Sade)
Masochism (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch)

4.   Specific Selection of Texts and Authors for Examination in this Course

a.   Limitation to modern writers = those who were contemporaries of Freud's or who followed him in time.
Why? Our focus is primarily on the manner in which Freudian theory has influenced the production of literature, not its critical "reception."—Freud had a shaping influence on the literature of "modernism": the avant-garde, Dada, etc. Literary innovation based often in Freudian theory of mind.—In literature: Joyce, Kafka, Lawrence, Musil, Borges, etc.—In visual arts: Dali, Picasso, Beckmann, etc.

b.   Restriction to German and Austrian writers:
--Due in part to Instructor's expertise—This is where Freud's impact and reception was most immediate and most powerful.

5.   Broader Applications of Freud to Literature

a.   Some classic examples:
--Ernest Jones's Hamlet and Oedipus—Bruno Bettelheim's application of Freudian theory to legends and fairy tales in The Uses of Enchantment—Freud himself wrote on literature and art in general: e.g. on Shakespeare, on Dostoevsky, on Michelangelo, on Leonardo—Freud himself was a traditionalist in artistic and literary matters: read the classics, like Goethe and Schiller: well-educated German/Austrian bourgeoisie—Freud disliked the avant-garde arts (Expressionism; Surrealism) to which his theories often contributed.

b. Freud saw emergence of myth in primitive societies as moment when mass psychology transforms into individual psychology; birth of the individual as the mythic hero! Again, this is a literary model for the explanation of human cultural development!