8 months ago

Sigmund Freud

Perhaps this brings us

Perhaps this brings us closer to an understanding of what transference between literature and psychoanalysis might be. The strength of psychoanalysis as a technique for reading and understanding rests partly on its important recognition of the construction of meaning that goes on in any attempt to tell a story, whether that story is a childhood memory, a scientific theory or a fairy tale. Perhaps the correct question is not ‘How is it possible to have transference on to a literary text?’ but rather ‘How is it possible not to?’ When we read, we turn language from dead words on a page – infinitely interpretable but not yet interpreted marks – into meaning-filled objects. We as readers give books new life, but we also read them through the lens of past readings. We could also claim that books read us, that the stories we tell about our ‘real’ lives are inseparable from the fictions and fictional forms we have read and lived through. We may view our own lives as taking the form of a romantic novel or a medical case study (see, for instance, the Wolf Man’s relationship to Freud’s famous writing of his life, pp. 65–68). The concept of transference, as laid out by Freud, is a significant aspect of many recent theories of reading, such as reader-response and post-structural psychoanalytic theories. The combination of a poststructuralist focus on the workings of language and the desires unearthed by Freud’s stress on the centrality and shifting forms of memory and sexuality plays a key role in the analytic work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901–81), to whom I shall now turn. But, before I do so, I will first briefly explore the history of the feminist critique of Freud, and the subsequent reclaiming of a different Freud for feminism.

FEMINISM, LACAN AND FILM THEORY Throughout this book, particularly in the chapters on sexuality and the case histories, it has probably become clear why feminists might have good reason to be dissatisfied with the deductions of psychoanalysis. Freud’s views of women are full of ideas which are notoriously difficult to reconcile with a feminist viewpoint. During the 1970s and 1980s (as they had earlier during the 1920s – see Appiganesi and Forrester 1992) women readers of Freud found much to dispute. Centrally, Freud’s focus on penis envy suggested that most women viewed themselves as incomplete men: men who were missing something. Freud’s focus on the conflicting directions that the Oedipus crisis took for men and women also led him to claim that women’s moral development was much weaker then men’s: ‘for women the level of what is ethically normal is different from what it is in men. Their super-ego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so independent of its emotional origins as we require it to be in men’ (Freud 1925b: 342). Psychoanalytic ideas were also used to claim that women were naturally passive and masochistic. Although the force of many of Freud’s early arguments about sexuality was towards a move away from biological determinism, his later articles suggested that psychic determinism – the development of sex and gender difference in the unconscious – was just as inevitable and just as damaging: ‘Time and again, psychoanalysis was seen, even by those … sympathetic to the idea of such a theory, to be not a theory of sexual differences, but a rationalization and legitimation of already existent social roles’ (Appiganesi and Forrester 1992:457). In an early feminist classic, first published in 1949, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir argued that psychoanalysis focused entirely on the masculine model of development, placing the boy’s penis at the centre of the universe, as the desired object, craved by both boys and girls alike (de Beauvoir: [1949] 1992). The Second Sex pointed out the ways in which Freud, in his universalising analyses of the structures of psychic fantasy, ignored the social inequalities that contribute to forming the interior life of all boys and girls. In patriarchal societies boys are more valued than girls; they have more social power. If there is such a thing as penis envy in Freud’s terms, it would be logical to see it as the little girl’s envy of what the penis represents, rather than of the object itself. As Maud Ellmann puts it, ‘women have good reason to envy an organ that promises authority and freedom’ (Ellmann 1994). This position can be seen to both detract from and support Freud’s theories of sexual difference. On the one hand, it criticises Freud’s determinist ideas about women’s sexuality for their blindness to the constraining social situations in which women are placed by patriarchal authority. A glance back over Dora’s history will easily convince us of Freud’s blindness to certain aspects of her case, and his sometimes bullying mishandling of her emotional state. On the other hand, de Beauvoir’s theories can also be used to point out the powerful force of Freud’s arguments. If we shift Freud’s terms slightly, we can say that Freud was right in his analysis of how women experience sexual difference as a loss or lack; however, the loss is not of an organ but of a position (a position which, in fact, they have never been able to occupy). It is not a specific body part but authority, self-confidence, esteem that everyone craves. In our society men appear to have more access to these kinds of social and ego-forming powers than women. Therefore one argument claims that Freud was right about the structure of gender inequality, even if he was terribly wrong about its causes. The quirky, difficult to read but fascinating French analyst Jacques Lacan took Freud’s ideas about the functioning of sexuality and the unconscious and applied those ideas to language,

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