Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery

Article excerpt

ROMANTIC PSYCHOANALYSIS: THE BURDEN OF THE MYSTERY. By Joel Faflak. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008. Pp. xiv + 319. ISBN 0 791 47269 8. $85.00.

In his 1999 essay, 'Analysis Interminable in the Other Wordsworth', Joel Faflak contended that Romanticism invents rather than anticipates psychoanalysis as the struggle for an identity between psychic determinism and self-making. Building on this assertion, Romantic Psychoanalysis explores the tension between a scientific consciousness associated with philosophical enlightenment and a literary unconscious associated with mystification and the pursuit of desire. Central to Faflak's argument is the Freudian distinction between 'Analysis Terminable and Interminable'. Broadly speaking, where 'first-generation' Romantics such as Wordsworth and Coleridge strive for philosophical closure in their dealings with the unconscious in a manner identified by Faflak as 'terminable', 'second-generation' Romantics such as Keats and De Quincey commit to an open-ended and potentially self-destructive form of 'interminable' analysis.

In this intellectually ambitious and challenging study, Romanticism and psychoanalysis share a concern with the threat of the irrational. Specifically, what mesmerises both philosophy and psychoanalysis in their attempt to rationalise the subject is the power of the literary and its ability to conjecture and replicate the irrational space of the unconscious. The threat of poetic disruption is manifested in a variety of ways. In Faflak's discussion of the later Coleridge, for instance, the concern with mesmerism can be read as a return of the poetic unconscious that Biographia Literaria sought to contain within the explanatory range of philosophy. Drawing on Derrida's assertion that the 'greatest speculative power' of psychoanalysis is its 'greatest resistance to psychoanalysis', Faflak goes on to propose that 'the struggle to terminate psychoanalysis as an exploration of the unreason within reason is always unsettled by the unconscious' and that the disruptive means for the unconscious to unsettle this struggle is imagination. The failure of Romanticism to subject the unconscious's dark empiricism to metapsychology emerges as a sequence of 'burdens': the burden of psychic struggle in Wordsworth and Coleridge; the 'burden of the Incommunicable' in De Quincey and the 'Burden of the Mystery' in Keats. …

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