Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

PART V
TWO VIEWS OF CARROLL

THERE ARE MANY INTERPRETATIONS of Lewis Carroll's works, and especially of his Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, but we have chosen two very different Freudian approaches -- by the English literary critic William Empson and by the French psychoanalyst/ philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Their premises are very divergent; the former relies on traditional analysis of themes, symbolism, and meanings, and the latter assimilates structural linguistics to his own preoccupations linking the language of schizophrenics to that of poets (both make up new words, frequently based on similarities and differences of sounds and sense). Deleuze's focus is on Alice's use of words, non-sense components of which he compares to Artaud's "breathscreams" and to the defensive and anti-phobic nature of schizophrenic "contraction"; he dismisses classical psychoanalysis as "content with designating cases, analyzing personal histories, or diagnosing complexes."

Empson finds too little psychoanalytic criticism of the Alices, attributing it to symbolism inviting interpretations in bad taste; the shift to the "child-become-judge" allowed the author to make covert judgments. He locates Darwinist ideas in Carroll's treatment of Alice's tears, and in the salt water which is "the sea from which life arose"; in the Looking-Glass, too, "there are ideas about progress at an early stage of the journey of growing up." Both books, Empson argues, "are topical; whether you call the result allegory or 'pure nonsense' it depends on ideas about progress and industrialization." Symbolism is employed subtly to show the contradictions in the social order, as well as in personal

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