Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

of interest -- cathectic charges, in the technical term -- which have fled from the vast bare blank face of the world as seen in the extreme situations of his truth: in sleeplessness, the nervous darkness, against death and against the inexorable and dragging vista of time which is his being.


Notes

The reader should compare, for a somewhat different view of the matter, Lionel Trilling "Art and Neurosis" [included in this book]. By indicating my disagreements with Mr. Trilling's admirable essay, perhaps I may sum up, in more scientific terms, the psychoanalytic view which lies at the base (perhaps a little hidden) of my own discussion.

Mr. Trilling's main point, perhaps, is that neurosis by itself will not make anyone a great writer; a proposition with which I am in complete agreement. I would also agree with him that there are many neurotics among businessmen and scientists (though I doubt the scientists could match the incidence among literary men). But granting such widespread latent neuroticism (the wives of businessmen could tell us a lot, if they chose), the point would be that with the writer it is not latent but consciously exploited. My difference with Mr. Trilling is that I do not consider the question as primarily statistical: whether a certain group known as scientists contains as many neurotics as another group called writers. My main point, rather, is one about the literary process itself: that this process does, in a certain way, imitate the neurotic process and does exploit neurotic material.

Here it is pertinent to indicate my principal disagreement with Freud, who analyzes the effect of a literary work in terms of the pleasure obtained from fantasies and daydreams. This may do justice to our childish delight in romances -- or to the level at which we read Gulliver's Travels in childhood. But it hardly does justice to the power which the fiction of Kafka, Joyce, or Proust has over us in our adult years. I hold instead that it is the writer's identification with his fantasy, rather than the aspect of fantasy itself, which has power over us, convinces us. (The phenomenon of identification, by the way, is very sparingly discussed by Freud, probably because the psychic transaction involved in it is still quite obscure.) And in this identification with fantasy the writer imitates, up to a certain point, one of the deepest and commonest phenomena of pathology.

Since Freud speaks of the cathexis (i.e., charge of psychic energy) which the child has toward the objects of play, he should have seen that the cathexis of the writer toward the objects of fantasy is more significant than the aspect of fantasy itself. We cited Kafka as a crucial case; equally crucial would be the case of Joyce, who rarely moves us through the elaborateness, surprise, or ingenuity of his fantasies, but by the powerful charge he is able to lay on the most banal episode.

The second element in my analytic view is, admittedly, more speculative,

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