Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Extra-Mural Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Extra-Mural Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

HISTORICAL STUDY is generally thought of as reliable and down-to-earth, so Walter Benjamin's fanciful mention of a "puppet called 'historical materialism'" seems a bit shocking. The surprise is not so much the puppet's "Turkish attire" or the "hookah in its mouth" as its purpose-built role--to win philosophical disputes by dealing out empirical facts while secretly relying on theology. Benjamin is critiquing a historicist practice lacking "theoretical armature"; he advocates instead engagements capable of "brush[ing] history against the grain"--the sort of approach New Historicism subsequently adopted. (1) Still, the image of an automaton carries unsettling implications of a mechanical, manipulable, and, at worst, potentially deceptive capacity in historicist study. Because historical materialism may mystify its own theoretical principles, Benjamin calls for a methodology bolstered and tempered by philosophical consideration.

Benjamin's puppet serves as a reminder of the ongoing critical dispute, especially visible in early modern studies, between historicist practice and transhistorical theory. The long dominance in literary study of historicism, the recent advent and development of cultural studies, and inflated rumors of the "death of theory" have given license in some camps to avoidance of hermeneutic or methodological questions, and even to a disdain for theory, particularly psychoanalytic theory. Of course, attacks on theory are not new; in Paul de Man's famous take, "the resistance to theory is a resistance to the use of language about language," so that "theory is itself ... resistance." (2) Theoretical engagements with historicism are, and aim to be, disruptive, for the acknowledgment that facts themselves are subject to ideological shaping complicates the narratives history can tell--with the damage to de Man's own reception after the revelation of his wartime involvements offering a case in point. Psychoanalysis, a theory altogether concerned with stories told about the past, has its own developed historiography, which is skeptical of certainties, alert to layered and redoubled meanings, and interested in the implications of transference, while accepting of the unfolding nature of discourse. (3) Thus Jacques Derrida can characterize resistance to psychoanalysis as "one of the cards dealt to our time" and suggest not only the self-resisting tendency embedded in the system of thought "like an auto-immune process" but also the inventiveness of resistance itself. (4) In recent years, the continued evolution of psychoanalytic thought, together with creative forms of resistance and what Derrida called the "invagination of borders" by other discourses, has resulted in work wedding analytic methods and principles with other lines of inquiry, including historicism. (5) Such cross-fertilization is clearly visible in Carla Mazzio and Douglas Trevor's influential Historicism, Psychoanalysis, and Early Modern Culture, as well as in recent publications by Harry Berger, Jr., Marshall Grossman, Julia Lupton, Tracey Sedinger, and others, including those whose work follows. (6) The unanticipated appearance of psychoanalytic theory in all three papers of a plenary session devoted to "postmodern theory/early modern belief" at a recent meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America was the genesis for this forum, which offers a sample of the work being done at the juncture of psychoanalytic theory and other discourses, especially historicism, in the study of early modern literature.

These developments do not herald a new synthesis of historicism and psychoanalysis, for the two discourses are typically combined in contestatory or dialectical ways, in scholarship that exploits as well as explores the tension between empiricist and theoretical models. Yet the new sense of flexible borders suggests that we can identify the arrival in early modern studies of what Jean Laplanche called "extra-mural psychoanalysis" (le psychanalyse hors-lesmurs). …

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