Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading

Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading

Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading

Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading

Synopsis

Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading explores some of the ways in which we think about reading and the effects reading has on us. Whether considered as a process, a representation, or a cultural activity, reading involves the idea about inner and outer, absence and boundaries, and the transmission of thoughts and feelings between one person or historical period and another. These ideas provide the basis for much of our thinking about subjectivity and receive their fullest elaboration in the twentieth-century discourse of psychoanalysis. Drawing on the rich tradition of British object relations, Psychoanalysis and the Scene of Reading is a literary critics approach to the scene of reading understood from a pyschoanalytic perspective. Linked essays on books and interiority, memory and landscape, trauma and literary transmission provide a subtle account of writing by Woolf, Austen, Rousseau, and Romantic women, as well as fictional accounts of slavery and colonialism, and Holocaust memoirs.

Excerpt

Mattisse's painting, The Silence Living in Houses (1947; in French, more ambiguously, Le Silence habité des maisons, the inhabited silence of houses) is an image of interior space inhabited not only by silence, but by a reading couple and a book. An abstract, minimally perspectival representation of domestic space opens via a window on to a fluid natural landscape of tree, sky, and cloud. the flatness of the black interior background contrasts with the airily brushed vista outside. in this still life with figures, lines divide the window, frame it with curtains, scratch rudimentary building blocks on the walls, and compose the group itself: two readers at a table, with an open book in front of them and a vase of flowers to one side. But the book remains an empty space--a blank--for light to fall on, and for the viewer to fill with imaginary text or images; perhaps it is one of Matisse's own illustrated books, which he made by a process he considered analogous to that of painting. the cool blue of the figures, the vase, and the table, outlined with light against the sombre ballast of their background, provides both a tranquil focus and a visual connection with the distant blue of the sky. the non-visual (the book as more-than-object) is coded as the colour of intimacy, relationship, and silence, with a bit of distance thrown in. But the overlapping pose of the two human figures (two girls? a mother and child?) conveys as much about the mental activity of reading as the darkened interior. the painting constitutes a meditation on the relation of pictorial elements (volume, mass, perspective, depth, colour) to the mental representations that inhabit them. How effortlessly we 'read' this as an interior that leads the eye from the book to an inviting glimpse of a summer landscape seen through the window; and how easily . . .

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