R. Gray

German 390/Comp Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Study Questions:

Freud, "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming"


1) Freud implies that all creative writers are driven by egotistical purposes and that the hero of the text is an alter-ego of the author's self. The corollary of this would be that all creative writing is autobiographical in nature, based upon childhood fantasies. Does the idea of wish-fulfillment enrich our understanding of creativity? Take a stand for or against this position. Try to think of some literary or cinematic examples.


2) Are creative artists truly borderline neurotics, as Freud seems to suggest? Or is this just a modern, post-Freudian prejudice, fueled by things like Woody Allen films? Is the connection between pathological individuals and psychologically "healthy," inordinately creative individuals justified? Doesn't it imply that only "illness" is creative?


3) What kind of case can be made for the therapeutic character of art? Freud implies that both literary creation as well as literary reception (the reading of texts) have a therapeutic function by helping us channel our frustrated desires into productive forms. Do you agree? What are the limitations of such a literary aesthetics?


4) Can one make a case for parallels between the structure of literature and the structure of dreams? Can the censorship or distortion mechanisms of the dream-work (condensation, association, displacement, etc.) be aligned with particular literary techniques or structures? Does literature (or cinematic narratives!)  have a "spatial logic" similar to that of the dream?


5) Freud suggests that the pleasure we as readers find in literature derives from our identification with the hero. Can aesthetic pleasure really be reduced to this identification function?  If so, then how do we then explain (supposedly pleasurable) works (such as "Gustl") in which identification is intentionally disrupted?


6) Literature, in Freud's theory, provides us with substitute forms of psychic release. Whereas individuals are loathe to share their intimate fantasies (because they reveal too much about the self), literature makes such fantasies public and gives us avenues for expressing our own repressed wishes. But can literature, and the pleasure we derive from it, really be reduced to therapy? Or is this a narrowly psychoanalytic view?


7) Is it a problem that Freud's literary examples are all taken from what we would call trivial literature? Are modern romances and adventure stories, like the books of

Danielle Steele and Tom Clancy or Ian Fleming, the models he has in mind? What about popular cinema? Can Freud explain so-called "Disney"-culture well? Do his theories carry over to artistically complex literary and cinematic texts?