Hamlet in His Modern Guises

By Alexander Welsh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Hamlet Decides to Be a Modernist

MINDFUL PERHAPS of the correlation between analysis and synthesis in chemical engineering, Freud toyed with the idea of dream synthesis in his own work of analysis, The Interpretation of Dreams.“I cannot disguise from myself,” he rather wistfully remarks, “that the easiest way of making these processes [condensation and displacement] clear and of defending their trustworthiness against criticism would be to take some particular dream as a sample … and then collect the dream-thoughts which I have discovered and go on to reconstruct from them the process by which the dream was formed—in other words to complete a dream analysis by a dream synthesis.” But for his omission of this synthesis in the dream book, he then offers the rather lame excuse that confidentiality forbids such an attempt.1 In any event, the synthesis of a narrative suitable for analysis is probably better left to a novelist, that of a tragedy to a dramatist—more especially when a career of writing is itself the object of representation. Of the latter sort of action, Hamlet became a model in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

More than one novel by Dickens can attest to his ability to synthesize materials for analysis. Great Expectations, with its “taint of prison and crime” verging upon unconscious guilt “starting out like a stain that was faded but not gone,” is just one of the best.2 Condensation and displacement prepare a narrative that, once the different characters find their places, cannot help but provide grist for Freudian analysis like that of dreams. That strain of modernism whose underlying stories are of unconscious meanings could almost be said to have been invented by Dickens, with a little help from Shakespeare. Another strain, a modernism of doubtfulness and loose ends, at once serious and parodistic, often faithful in its way to Hamlet, is distinctly less amenable to psychoanalysis, however many times it is subjected to it. Just nine years before Dickens was composing his novel for weekly publication in his own magazine, Herman Melville was writing Pierre; or, The Ambiguities even while Moby-Dick was still in press, so needful was the

____________________
1
Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams(1900), Standard Edition, 4:310.
2
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, ed. Margaret Cardwell (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 263.

-140-

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