The Analyst's Ear and the Critic's Eye: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature

By Groarke, Steven | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, February 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Analyst's Ear and the Critic's Eye: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature


Groarke, Steven, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


The Analyst's Ear and the Critic's Eye: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature by Benjamin H. Ogden, Thomas H. Ogden Routledge, Hove and New York, 2013; 478 pp; £23.99

What does it mean to read? The Analyst's Ear and the Critic's Eye is a book that is probably best read backwards. Full versions or extended extracts of previously published essays on Kafka, Frost, and Philip Roth are reprinted in the appendices, and I think it helps to start with these essays before turning to the three main chapters. It would be a mistake to take the appended texts as read and, therefore, to ignore the context in which they are being re-read. In a book that is primarily concerned with engaged reading, where the interpellation of the individual as a reader may be seen as the main criterion of the book's achievement, it is important for readers to participate actively in the reading experience. And starting with the appendices allows for a fuller appreciation of the dramatic interplay of contrasting voices, or the 'third voice' of poetry, in Eliot's (1953) phrase, that lies at the heart of this book. It allows one to retrace the transformation from the I-voice to the we-voice that underpins the Ogdens' rethinking of the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature.

The book is worked around the contested shift from singular to plural personal pronouns. And while the poet's "deep ear" (Seamus Heaney, quoted on p. 64) is called on in significant ways to sanction what matters; clinical psychoanalysis makes the running throughout the book. A series of essays written by Thomas Ogden over the last 10 years or so provides the more immediate background to the book. These are remarkable essays by any standards, two characteristically intriguing examples of which form the basis of the first two chapters, alongside an additional chapter based on Benjamin Ogden's reading of Roth's The Ghost Writer. The book, which comprises co-authored re-readings of these essays, is "unique" (p. 4) only in an anecdotal sense: Thomas Ogden is an analyst; Benjamin Ogden, a literary scholar. But leaving aside the authors' biographies, I think the book raises more fundamental questions about the value of critical thought from the standpoint of psychoanalysis. It attempts to reclaim the literary-critical reach of psychoanalysis, indeed, at a time when critical response per se is increasingly absent from intellectual life.

In literary-historical terms, this may be seen as a work of reclamation: addressing the wider critical import of psychoanalysis in terms of what is essential to psychoanalysis itself recalls the first generation of critics in the Frankfurt school. And the Central European Jewish imaginary, if not its surviving representatives in this incomparable group of critics, has an immediate claim on a post-Freudian reading of Kafka. Accordingly, the Ogdens' treatment of A Fasting Showman brings things sharply into focus in terms of what defines a critical response to Kafka. In the event, the Americanization of Jewish-European literature, an indispensable context for contemporary readings of Kafka in translation, is passed over in silence. This is perhaps the single most revealing move in the book: the Frostian 'accent of sense' takes precedence over the intellectual and cultural legacy of Mitteleuropa.We might want to question whether speaking, as opposed to standing, is the right verb for 'there' in poetry. For the Ogdens, however, it seems clear that the living part of the poem, as Frost would have it, is only 'there' so long as it remains sourced in conversation.

Taking Frost as their central frame of reference, the Ogdens steer clear of any obvious literary alignment, but they raise other and interesting problems. Besides the response to Kafka, there is a more general question of how one turns plain-speaking - the shifting tones of speech that Robert Lowell identified in Frost, or what Ian Hamilton saw as Frost's "determined eagerness to charm" (1973, p. …

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