Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

PART III
LITERARY APPLICATIONS

BECAUSE TALENTED WRITERS have been of particular interest to literary critics, their works have provoked a wealth of psychoanalytic interpretations. Genius has been subjected to so many examinations of influences, motivations, biographical commentaries, etc., that we now accept the fact that every writer who has been certified as a classic also deserves his own separate field of expertise. Psychoanalytic contributions which deal with the importance of trivia, insofar as repressed trivia is the meat of analysis, make up much of this literature, and speculation about the minor detail which could conceivably be linked to genius has become the legitimate task of critical activity. Consequently, every essay in the following section refers to the larger literary discussion as well as to specific writers, as the psychoanalyst Stanley A. Leavy comments on John Keats and the critics, Cushing Strout on Henry James, Jan Ellen Goldstein on the Woolfs, Elizabeth Dalton on Dostoevsky, Gail Simon Reed on Voltaire, and Steven Marcus on Freud as a unique type of writer.

We think of the clinical content of Freud's case histories, states Marcus, but forget that they are also major pieces of literature. Freud's presentations resemble the construction of a novel, or even a mystery story, as he unveils and interweaves story, symptoms, dreams, events, and analysis. Like a fiction writer, Freud uses, for instance, his Prefatory Remarks to the Dora case as a framing device, rehearsing motives, reasons, intentions, and events, as he divulges just enough of Dora's and the case's secrets to maintain the reader's interest. Yet Freud repeatedly disavows literary intentions, continues Marcus, itself a characteristic of modern literature and a technique to "soften up" the reader with his unique expository and narrative authority. Contrasting Freud's reports on the incoherence of his patients' stories with the case histories, Marcus finds an implicit contrast between mental illness and mental health--

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