Academic journal article Style

The Family Dynamics of the Reception of Art

Academic journal article Style

The Family Dynamics of the Reception of Art

Article excerpt

In our verbal accounts of how we read literature, see a work of art, or hear music, usually the first thing that happens is that the "we" disappears and is replaced by an "T": the focus shifts to the individual apprehending the work of art in isolation. This shift occurs despite our increasing sense of language as a social act and the postmodern critique of the concept of the autonomous self. Bakhtin's concept of heteroglossia, for example, implies a polyphonic self, a dialogue with internalized others that complicates the concept of the single, unitary response traditionally ascribed to the one who apprehends the work of art. But Derrida's definition of the self as merely a position in language and Foucault's sense of the self as only an effect of discourse have obscured the fact that the self is not only fictive; as Flax suggests, it is also social, located in particular relationships as well as textual conventions (232-33). Ironically, if even postmodernist arguments must assume some notion of an actual self, it tends to be, as in Foucault's case, a "socially isolated and individualistic view of the self" that "precludes the possibility of enduring attachments or responsibilities to another," and is thus incompatible with "the care of children or with participation in a political community" (Flax 217, 231).

This postmodernist blind spot about particular relationships pervades academic psychoanalysis because the chief authorities, Freud and Lacan, usually assume a relatively isolated individual in conflict with frustrating Others. Because of this orientation to individual consciousness, Otto Rank conceded that in the twentieth century "psychology is the individual ideology par excellence" (389): social psychology, rarely integrated with literary study, remains preoccupied with society as a whole rather than families and small groups. In Freud's early theories, if the individual could maintain his psychic equilibrium by himself, apparently he would have little need for other people; indeed Freud suggests that as civilization develops, family ties and emotions must be sacrificed (Civilization 50-51). Admittedly, Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex does acknowledge the importance of some familial interaction (though it minimizes that of the preoedipal and of the feminine generally), and his later theories do acknowledge the lengthy period of children's dependence and a role for culture and relationships in the superego and the id (Ego 25, 19, 38). Inspired by Levi-Strauss, Lacan also concedes the importance of elementary kinship structures.

Within psychoanalysis, however, it is primarily object relations theorists who acknowledge the importance of the family and social relations. They acknowledge that, in the first six months of human life, "the unit is not the individual[;] the unit is an environmental-individual set-up. The center of gravity does not start off in the individual," but in the preoedipal relationship of mother and child (Winnicott 99). Moreover, with the impact of general systems theory, quantum mechanics, and field and chaos theories, there has been a transition from the drive model to relational-model theories in other versions of psychoanalysis as well. As Barbara Schapiro observed in Literature and the Relational Self,

the basic unit of study is not the individual as a separate entity . . . but an interactional field . . . [T]he psyche cannot be understood as a discrete, autonomous structure. . . . The person is comprehended only within the tapestry of relationships, past and present . . . This relational model in the social and natural sciences has implications for the critical models and frameworks that we bring to the study of literature and the arts. With its focus on dynamic, interactive patterns and relationships, the relational paradigm can redirect our attention to the interconnections, and not just the disruptions, in our cultural and literary analysis. While dismissing essentialist structures and absolute categories or truths, the relational model nevertheless highlights significant orders of connection and relationship; it expands the possibilities for meaning in our understanding of human experience and in the creative reconstruction of that experience in art and literature. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.