The Monstrous Brain: A Neuropsychoanalytic Aesthetics of Horror

Article excerpt


Psychoanalysis touches many aspects of the 'two cultures' which seem so hard to reconcile and some analysts oppose neuropsychoanalysis as a dangerous biologizing of the mind (Blass and Carmeli 2007). It may seem that psychoanalytic applications to art and neuroscience are contradictory and pulling in opposite directions. However, the groundwork for a neuropsychoanalytic aesthetics has already begun (Oppenheim 2005, Holland 2003, 2007). Horror seems particularly appropriate for this interdisciplinary project, as it is prototypically a 'body genre' (Williams 1995) privileging affective bodily participation, and the centrality of powerful basic emotions such as FEAR (Panksepp 2004). Psychoanalysis has always had an affinity with horror (Day 1985, Schneider 2009, Creed 1993, Freud 1919, Jones 2008) but is increasingly challenged by new cognitive science approaches (Hasson et al. 2008, Price 2009). This article seeks to bring findings and methods of neuroscience into psychoanalytic film theory, and proposes a neuropsychoanalytic research programme into (horror) film spectatorship. Based on a presentation made at the tenth International Neuropsychoanalysis Congress, Paris 2009

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The Monstrous Brain: A Neuropsychoanalytic Aesthetics of Horror?

Joseph Dodds, University of New York in Prague

I. Psychoanalytic Aesthetics and Neuropsychoanalysis: Opposing Representatives of the 'Two Cultures'?

Horror Films serve as a barometer of those things which trouble the night thoughts of a whole society (Steven King 1981, 131)

Psychoanalysis touches many aspects of the 'two cultures' which seem so hard to reconcile, and one particularly controversial recently emerging field is neuropsychoanalysis. Many psychoanalysts oppose the neuroscientific tendency as a dangerous biologizing of the mind (Blass and Carmeli 2007), some fear it may lead to turning away from fascinating interdisciplinary work in aesthetics (Glover 2008), film/literary criticism (Wright 2000, Sabbadini 2007) and cultural/social theory (Clarke 2003). It may seem that psychoanalytic applications to art, film and culture on the one side, and to neuroscience on the other, are contradictory and pulling in opposite directions, representing the maximum tension between the 'two cultures', a kind of 'split-brain' (Gazzaniga 2008) for psychoanalysis and academia.

Recently characterised by Georg Northoff (2007) as "the nodal point between philosophy and the neurosciences", neuropsychoanalysis is a rapidly developing new interdisciplinary research field, encouraging dialogue between researchers from a varieity of disciplines interested in the mind/brain: psychoanalysis, cognitive and affective neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, psychopharmacology and attachment research. It can also be viewed as one important response to the so-called crisis of psychoanalysis, helping to begin to answer the Popperian charge by increasing the empirical support for many basic psychoanalytic propositions which can now no longer be deemed in principle unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific (Popper 1959). These include areas as diverse as dream theory (Solms 2003), defence mechanisms (Ramachandran 1994, Northoff and Boeker 2006), infant (Stern 2000) and child development (Mayes, Fonagy and Targert 2007), object relations and attachment (Gerhardt 2004, Green 2003. Cozolino 2006), emotions (Panksepp 2004), psychotherapy (Cozolino 2002), the self (Schore 1999, 2003a,b), consciousness (Damasio 2000, Solms and Turnbull 2005), and the unconscious (Mancia 2006, Shevrin et al. 1996).

In some sense the neuropsychoanalytic project is as old as, or even older than, psychoanalysis itself, with Freud publishing over 300 neuroscientific papers before he 'invented' psychoanalysis and making several important contributions to the field (Gamwell and Solms 2004). Despite reluctantly abandoning his own 'neuropsychoanalytic' Project for a Scientific Psychology (Freud 1950) after realising integration between psychoanalysis and biology was premature given the primitive neuroscience of his time, Freud always retained a hope that such an integration would prove possible in the future (Freud 1920). …