Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature

By Coats, Karen | Marvels & Tales, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature


Coats, Karen, Marvels & Tales


Freud in Oz: At the Intersections of Psychoanalysis and Children's Literature. By Kenneth B. Kidd. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

In seeking to examine the intersection of the history of children's literature and the development of psychoanalytic discourse, Kenneth Kidd sets before himself a daunting task - daunting not so much because of the complexity of the cultural history he seeks to explore but because, as Kidd himself notes, it is difficult "to historicize psychology in a culture largely (in)formed by psychological discourse. We are arguably all colonizers of the psyche, even as we are also all its subaltern subjects, which makes all the trickier the historicist understanding of picturebook psychology" (130). This insight comes rather late in the book and is limited to Kidd's discussion of a particular genre of children's literature, but it could be taken as the central theme of the entire project. Kidd handles his weighty subject with an impressively light touch, even a hint of ironic distance, which enables him to remain mostly objective about the particular ways that psychoanalysis has become a paratext informing children's literature and vice versa. Kidd's work is historical rather than theoretical and hence will be of more interest to those seeking the cultural history of the dialogue between two fields than to those trying to determine the utility of psychoanalysis for literary interpretation.

Kidd argues that psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on childhood experience, legitimates critical interest in children's literature, starting with the fairy tale. His first chapter will be of particular interest to readers of Marvels & Tales, as it not only explores the intersection of classical psychoanalysis with fairytale scholarship but also makes an interesting argument for why fairy tales are largely seen today as children's literature. By exploring the literature of the folk while examining the enduring anxieties and complexes of childhood experience, psychoanalysis granted the fairy tale a new kind of interpretive value and weight, one that linked it to childhood trauma and developing skills for integration and coping. Thus psychoanalysis established a new use for enchantment that paved the way for other children's literary forms by taking magic, enchantment, and play seriously as therapeutic interventions. Nearly every psychoanalyst in the classical tradition has undertaken an interpretive study of fairy tales, but perhaps more important, the case studies of psychoanalysis are shot through with references to classic fairy tales. Kidd claims that this association benefited psychoanalysis as it moved into popular culture and that it also lent gravitas to children's literature studies. He expands this claim in his second chapter, which focuses on the trend in child psychoanalysis for analysts to learn about children by playing with them. He connects this trend to Winnie-the-Pooh, in which a benevolent adult coconstructs the imaginative world where children work out their anxieties through play. He also examines the way that adult critics have played with Pooh in satirical and serious examinations of the book's latent and manifest wisdom.

Kidd's third chapter turns to the big three classics of children's literature: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wizard oj Oz. He explores how these fantasies have been taken up into pop-psychological discourse and have been endlessly repeated through case writing, a genre that Kidd broadens to include not only the writing up of cases but also the interpretations of literary critics and the adaptation of concepts through pop psychology as well as intermedial revisions of the works.

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