Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

PART I
EARLY PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY

THE FUNCTION OF THE WRITER, the meaning and value of his work, the essence of aesthetic experience, and much more have been questioned over the last twenty-five hundred years. No definitive answers have been found. Goethe remarked that he never wondered how his writing might benefit humanity; his attempt instead was to gain insight to enhance his own personality, and then to state simply what he found to be good and true. Freud, who frequently referred to Goethe, did not claim to know the sources of creative imagination. But he did believe that his discoveries about the functioning of the unconscious, which by now have permeated all of modern culture, would pave the way for new means of examining artistic works. Freud's genius lay not only in his pschyoanalytic theories but in his writing, although when he himself spoke of "writing," he thought of poetry or fiction.

When Freud addressed the importance of daydreaming for creative writers, he linked the imaginary activities of artists to those of children at play. Though deceptively simple, this connection not only revolutionized child-rearing practices, but opened up the most fruitful means of examining creative works in relation to their authors' lives and talents. Because both the artist and the child at play are serious about their worlds of fantasy, which they nevertheless distinguish clearly from reality, Freud proceeded to compare their activities and behavior. He found that both originate works of their own and rearrange the things of this world to please themselves. But when the writer taps his imagination, and transforms it with the help of technique, states Freud, he transcends his own

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