Freud, Jung and Joyce: Conscious Connections

By Heaney, Liam F. | Contemporary Review, July 1994 | Go to article overview

Freud, Jung and Joyce: Conscious Connections


Heaney, Liam F., Contemporary Review


THE American poet, Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), whose writing, verse and prose demonstrates an evident interest in psychological enquiry indicated that he had been strongly influenced by Freud from about 1912 and goes on to suggest that everybody had been influenced by Freud whether they were aware of it or not. Indeed, novels such as Punch: The Immortal Liar (1921), Priapus and the Pool (1922), and The Pilgrimage of Festus (1923) demonstrate his use of direct psychology in his subject matter. These novels show a debt to both Freud and to Joyce. Clearly, the all pervasive nature of Freud's influence suggested by Aiken may be exaggerated to some extent. However, it is fair to suggest that Freud's appeal to the writer and artist is strong. This has arisen mainly because Freud provided ways in which psychoanalysis could be applied to past works of art. He also directed artists and writers to ways in which psychology could be used to understand people and their inner desires, motivations and struggles.

There is considerable evidence to show that Freud and Jung influenced the thinking of writers. For example, May Sinclair in Mary Olivier: A Life (1919) exploited Freud's Oedipus conflict and love-hate relationship between a mother and her daughter, using the 'stream of consciousness' technique. The American psychologist, William James (1842-1910) used the term 'stream of consciousness' to refer to the way any one idea is fringed with overtones of others. Sinclair in her novel employs the technique with good effect, presenting events, sensations and images to illustrate a character's development.

The technique was further refined by Virginia Woolf in The Lighthouse (1927) and in The Waves (1931). In these novels, narration is set aside and replaced by sequential, poetical moments of living. William Golding, also uses the technique with engaging effect in Pincher Martin (1956). Again, a stream of ideas, sensations and images gives the reader an opportunity to explore the mind of Pincher in a way not too dissimilar from the psychologist analysing the thoughts and feelings of his subject. The fact that Pincher is a fictional character does not obviate the analysis, although the interpretation about Pincher as a person will quite clearly differ between psychologist and reader.

The novels of James Joyce, particularly Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), decisively influenced the development of the stream of consciousness. In these novels Joyce presents, in rapid succession, the thoughts, impressions, emotions and reminiscences of his characters often disregarding logical sequence or syntax. This is intended to mirror the complexities of the subconscious mind. Other writers used Freudian motifs to explore lovers' jealousies, neuroses, child-parent relationships and the alienation of artists from society. The Irish short story writer, Frank O'Connor, explores the Oedipus conflict in a humorous short story aptly and significantly called, 'My Oedipus Complex'. Other notable writers include Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Henry Richardson and Albert Camus.

Jung's influence has also been considerable. J. B. Priestley weaves his ideas into Literature and Western Man (1960). The title of Maud Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns of History in Poetry (1934) stems directly from Jung's theories, while Alex Aronson's Psyche and Symbol in Shakespeare (1972) is an interpretation of Shakespearian drama with respect to Jungian psychology. Herman Hesse was also influenced by Jung's concepts, particularly in Der Steppenwolf (1927) where he explores the notion of 'the outsider'. Jung himself extended the reins of his research by reading Joyce's Ulysses and then writing an essay on the novel. In a letter to Joyce, regarding Ulysses, Jung comments that 'the 40 pages of non-stop run in the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches'.(1) We can assume from this that he found Joyce's novel intriguing if not baffling.

It is clear from the literature that both Freud and Jung were interested in exploring the key elements of personal worlds. …

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