Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Psychologism and the Novel: The Case of Selma Lagerlof's 'Goesta Ferling's Saga.'

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Psychologism and the Novel: The Case of Selma Lagerlof's 'Goesta Ferling's Saga.'

Article excerpt

Man composed his own figure in the interstices of [a] fragmented language.

Michel Foucault (386)

In discussions of the historical emergence of psychological reasoning through the postulation or breaching of psychological interiority, literary texts are often selected as privileged examples or documents. In such cases, literature is primarily considered in its secondary, belated role of applying principles of psychological characterization that already have emerged in the surrounding culture. Much less has been said about the active role literature undoubtedly played in the production of psychological reasoning. It is this production of a logic of the psyche in literature that I here want to highlight by way of the hermeneutic figure or function of psychologism.

The function of psychologism can be seen at work in the European novel's first monumental achievement, Don Quixote. While marking both the end of epic-mythic narration and specifically Romanesque principles of narration and the beginning of the novel, it also directly thematizes and dramatizes this shift in representational principles in a self-conscious, ironic fashion that became the hallmark of novelistic discourse.(1) Whereas traditional genres "know" nothing about themselves as genres, about their difference from other genres (they are "ideological" in the Althusserian sense of "having no outside"), Don Quixote is a novel precisely because it includes such meta-generic reflection.

The way in which Don Quixote dramatizes its difference from the romance is, however, not without a certain mystification. To a high degree, the difference is inscribed in the psychology of the protagonist. The novel, in other words, dramatizes its own difference from the Romanesque tradition in terms of its protagonist's psychological battles between delusionary fantasies and reality. Don Quixote, we learn, has become deranged by reading too many romances. He has lost the ability to distinguish between the dragons of fantasy or fiction and the windmills of reality; or, in other words, he has not yet learned to equate fantasy with romance and reality with the novel. Thus, Cervantes's novel naturalizes its novelistic representation of reality. That this reality is inhabited by a protagonist who stubbornly continues to act according to the conventions of the Romanesque world is presented as his - i.e. the protagonist's - confusion. This fact demonstrates how psychologism came to function not merely as one of the explanatory principles in the novel, but more importantly as a meta-principle through which the major differences in representational logic distinguishing epic-mythic from novelistic discourse were bracketed and imploded into the hidden psychological interiority, the "surplus of humanness" (Bakhtin 27) with which the novelistic character was equipped.

Psychologism is indicative of the general way in which the novel came to frame and incorporate other genres into its own representational and explanatory horizon and thereby subvert the entire system of genre. Taking the novel at its word, it alone speaks about social and objective reality; all non-novelistic forms of representations are instances of magic thinking that, unless novelized, must be epistemologically bracketed by a licentia poetica.

The hegemony of novelistic discourse which was gradually established is evidenced by the way in which the concept of the epic in modern times has been displaced and rendered innocuous. While for the romantics, the term epic denoted a form of narration qualitatively distinct and radically different from the novel, post-romantic criticism neutralized the term into a vague, descriptive category designating any form of broad historical narrative. Epic accordingly became little more than a synonym for narrative making it possible to speak of epic novels. This reluctance to maintain a qualitative distinction between epic and novel should be understood as a symptom of the hegemony of novelistic discourse in literary criticism. …

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