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Psychoanalytic literary theory - background

a short intro to the foundation of the psycholit theory

Darcia Jones

on 9 February 2018

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Transcript of Psychoanalytic literary theory - background

Psychoanalytical literary theory - an introduction
Author, text, reader
The Oedipus Complex
Personality theory
Oedipus complex
Relationship with text
includes everything we are aware of
Based on the theories of Sigmund Freud -
"father of psychoanalysis"
Personality theory
instinctive and primitive
driven by "pleasure principle"
seeks immediate gratification
responsible for dealing with reality
moderating influence between desires of the id and rules of the superego
mission control for what's "right", "fair", "just" and "moral"
concerned with socially appropriate and acceptable behaviours
exists to oppose the drives of the id
information that is stored in our brains that is accessible with effort
A reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges that lie outside our awareness and can't be readily accessed without some type of therapeutic intervention (for example, counselling, hypnosis, cognitive behavioural therapy...)
some critics assume that a literary work is a reflection of author's own psychological experiences - childhood traumas, family relations, sexual conflicts etc.

psychoanalytic critics believe that literary characters are "psychoanalyze-able" and this will help readers understand their personalities and motivations

these experts will argue that readers are affected on a psychological level by what writers do - ie. how we react or respond to how a text is written or how a character is represented... BUT only if a reader is willing to engage in a relationship with that text
Psychoanalytic critics ask...
how are characters' behaviours affected by the id, ego, superego?
what is the role of sex in the text? anger? morality? envy? regret? guilt? violence? jealousy? feelings of failure or inadequacy?
how are characters affected by their subconscious and unconscious minds - dreams, fears, memories, past experiences?
what motivates particular actions in the text?
what elements of the text reflect issues of psychology - repression, anxiety, depression or mental illness?
is there evidence of Oedipal or other family dynamics in relationships between characters?
what does the work suggest or imply about the psychological being of its author?
What about this text and/or character appeals to or repels a reader? Why?
Consider the character's memories, peer and
family relationships, dreams, attitudes towards
self and others, fears, childhood and upbringing,
traumas, fixations, unresolved emotions...
This will help you understand and appreciate character.
Examine the author's use of suspense, symbolism, foreshadowing and flashback, imagery, narrative voice, parallel situations...
This will help you understand and appreciate the
impact of the text on you as a reader and the artistry of the writing.
Psycho = psyche = mind, soul, innermost self
analysis = breaking something down to better understand it
According to Freud, a normal part of unconscious development
wherein a young boy will feel a natural sexual attraction to his
mother and a jealousy or hatred or mistrust towards his father that may manifest in a desire to kill him - the father stands in the boy's way of possessing his mother.
Eventually, the boy's development leads him to identify with his father (they both have penises and both want to possess the mother, after all) and he unconsciously will seek a partner whose attributes remind him of his mom.
Theoretically, girls feel similarly about their mothers preventing them from possessing their fathers. This is referred to as the Electra Complex. These feelings ultimately result in them wanting to have a man like their fathers later in life.
When things go awry, the brain resorts to a number of DEFENSE MECHANISMS in order to cope...
denial - a refusal to accept reality
acting out - giving into impulse, perhaps unconsciously
fantasy - retreating into fantasy world and ignoring reality (often aided by the use of alcohol or drugs)
procrastination - putting off dealing with problems or issues
idealization - seeing someone or something more positively than what's deserved
displacement - shifting emotion to a target other than the deserving one
rationalization - making (usually weak) excuses to justify one's behaviour
repression - trying to "push down" or ignore emotion, pretending like it doesn't exist
withdrawal - intentionally removing one's self from situations that could be painful or difficult
Defense mechanisms are NORMAL behaviours. But, if they become extreme, can contribute to neuroses and other mental illnesses which will require treatment, either with drugs, with therapy, or with a combination of the two.
Readers must work hard to understand texts.
This demands that you -
slow down your reading and pay attention to details
read without distractions (like music and cell phones)
activate your brain - infer meaning, read between the lines, rely on prior knowledge
involve yourself in the text - try to relate to characters and situations by recalling parallels from your own experience
read with pen or pencil in hand - mark up the text, make notes or use sticky notes
review parts that you don't understand rather than skip past them
ask questions - work hard towards finding meaning - "So what? Why does it matter?"
The Rule of Threes - suggests that things that
come in three are more satisfying, effective and
understandable. Consider this:
Father-Son-Holy Ghost
"life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
The Three Musketeers
Understanding literary theory
Or what we'll be calling
"The Lenses"
Some of you will see the image of an old woman. Others will see the profile of a much younger one. Still others won’t see either woman, but something entirely different perhaps.

Nobody really “knows” the “right” answer.
There probably isn’t one. And that’s OK because
all interpretations should be considered valid if
the viewer can argue a compelling case based on
the picture itself.

This is an exercise in perspective -- in explaining what you see and, perhaps more importantly, in respecting what others see and learning from them.

A potentially complicated phrase that just explains exactly what you did with the optical illusion – examined it from different perspectives so as to “see” it more fully – only this time, you would choose different angles from which to read literature.

Given that texts can have multiple meanings and that, as readers, we should be respectful of different interpretations, the world of critical literary theory aims to enhance our understanding of what we read by introducing us to different lenses through which to examine those works.

The Literary Theory that we will study has been created out of the work of some of the world's greatest thinkers. By using their "lens", we will read and view different literary texts in order to appreciate and understand them from a variety of perspectives. It sounds much more difficult than it is... trust me.
What is a literary theory?
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