Posts Tagged ‘Sigmund Freud’

Fecundity of Freud’s writing on literature and critical theory

March 2, 2008

Jacob Russell rereads Freud’s Interpretation of dreams (one of my father’s favourite books too), and writes about the multi-facetedness of the work and his surprise at the frequency with which Freud takes recourse to literature to support his theories:

The Interpretation of Dreams is a multi-faceted work: a record of the early development of psychoanalytic theory, a fascinating glimpse of late 19th Century Viennese middle class culture and intellectual life, a study in the transformation of traditions from their diverse contexts of origin: mythological, aesthetic, classical–recasting them within a new, over-arching ideological framework.


I am struck on this reading of how often Freud turns to literature, how profoundly important these literary sources are for the formation of his ideas, how–unlike his treatment of scholarly and scientific predecessors–literature stands for Freud as ready confirmation of his theories, as examples (properly interpreted, of course), of latent meanings made manifest. Even when he strikingly over-determines his analysis, say, of Lear in the Three Caskets, there is something of his treatment that releases it from claims of ownership, that, paradoxically–in the very act of making the Lear of his essay so entirely his own, he leaves us the Lear that remained beyond him, the Lear that came from the mind of its mysterious and unknowable creator. What more could you ask from a critic? Through the concentrated power of a strictly limited interpretation, reveal the unlimited depths that remain beyond those limits. No wonder, then, the fecundity of Freud’s writing on literature and critical theory.

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