4 months ago

Sigmund Freud


AFTER FREUD Like an endlessly recyclable horror-film axe murderer, the more psychoanalysis is killed off the more it comes back to haunt our culture. This would be no surprise to Freud himself, who insisted that the repressed always returns. The onslaught of attacks on Freud, the renewed emphasis on the biological causes of mental illness, and a turn toward explanations of human behaviour based in evolutionary psychology is turning psychoanalysis into the repressed of our day and age. Therefore, from the psychoanalytic perspective, we can expect it to return spectacularly. One of the most prominent forms of its recent return has been in the area of literary theory. In this concluding chapter we will look at how, over the last century, psychoanalysis has mutated from being a specialised and much disputed view of the mind into, amongst other things, an influential method of understanding modern literature and culture. Psychoanalytic theory has been particularly effective in the area of literary and film criticism, its reading techniques widely disseminated, even when they are not always labelled psychoanalytic. As we saw in the last chapter, Freud was always eager to extend the domain of psychoanalytic insight into vast new arenas. In this final chapter we will examine the ways in which this has taken place beyond Freud. When thinking ‘beyond’ Freud it is important to remember that the terms Freudian and psychoanalytic are not entirely substitutable for one another. From the beginning many of Freud’s followers dissented from some of his ideas and formulated their own versions of psychoanalysis which disagreed with one or more of Freud’s premises. Here I will only mention, in passing, Melanie Klein (1882–1960), an important analyst who followed Freud and whose ideas have been taken up by literary scholars as well as psychoanalysts. Klein saw herself as elaborating on and extending Freud’s original theories, but she also changed his emphases. Unlike Freud, Klein worked directly with children, finding aggressive fantasies of murderous rage and envy in the very young. She too posited a version of the death drive, and her work with very young children suggested that there were psychic dramas of development that extended even further into infancy than Freud was willing to go. If Freud focused primarily on the Oedipal crisis and the entry of the father into the child’s world, Klein was more interested in the loves, hates and wants of the pre- Oedipal, non-verbal child and his or her intense relationship with the mother. Klein developed the technique of play therapy, which assumed that the ways in which children drew or played with toys could reveal underlying fantasies and anxieties, even if they were too young to verbalise their fears. She also founded Object Relations theory. Freud had introduced the idea of object choice; at different times during the infant’s development one or other parent is the object of the baby’s need and desire. Klein became interested in the ways in which a parental figure could become objectified even further, so that a part of the parental body such as the breast could play an important role in infantile development as the object of love, rage or anxiety about its possible withdrawal. Klein’s ideas about play and object relations offer a way of thinking through the baby’s early relations with the mother which has been seen by some feminist critics as an important corrective to Freud’s focus on the Oedipal father and the masculine child (See Klein 1985; Rose 1993; Jacobus 2005; Phillips and Stonebridge 1998.) Although this book is focused on Freud, his ideas and his impact on literary and cultural criticism, it is worth remembering that other versions of psychoanalysis have also left their mark. Freud’s ideas have always provoked controversy and discussion within the confines of the analytic community and outside it. At the end of this discussion we will consider the many strong reactions psychoanalysis has inspired – the hatred and the love, the faith and the mistrust. Freud’s personal life, his analytic practice and his theories of sexuality have provoked enormous heated

debate. One of the most important recent critiques emerged initially from the feminist movement in the 1970s. Since then the feminist critique of Freud has been supplemented by many others in what some have seen as a demolition job. We are forced at the end of this book devoted to explicating Freud’s ideas to return with more force to our initial question: ‘Why Freud?’

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