Now, I’ve always been something of a sceptic when it comes to psychoanalysis. I don’t really buy into brain-dwellers, and I think that ferreting around in the subconscious is sometimes like digging around a landmine; sometimes, things are buried for a reason. However, our American cousins seem to have a lot of faith in the practice, and since I have to revise the subject anyway, I thought I’d embrace it and see what all the fuss is about.
Freudian psychoanalysis is a method of literary interpretation that places heavy emphasis on the nature of the mind, and how the unconscious influences of the super-ego, ego and id affect the way we conduct our literary and everyday lives. Freud wrote a number of important essays on various topics of literary interpretation. These include his thoughts on narcissism, the short comings of the pleasure principle, the issues surrounding proposed infantile sexuality, and the importance of dream analysis.
Psychoanalysis as a discipline focusses on the talking cure as a way of establishing and tackling the root behind one’s neuroses. This approach can be applied to literature in so far as one searches for one’s neuroses hidden behind imagery that can be found in a text. Freud suggests that everything we do is the result of impulses and therefore to look for these impulses can be conducive to providing a literary analysis of the subject.
All of Freud’s literature is based around the concept of the unconscious, which is deemed as having three levels. The first is the super-ego, which represents the expectations of society and is widely considered as being the voice of morality. The ego represents desires, and attempts to mediate between the id and the superego, whilst the id represents the base human instincts; it is something that is inaccessible.
Freud’s theory of dreams tends to relate back to the content of the id, and the process of establishing the dream-work is perhaps the most important in terms of psychoanalysis. Latent content is the fundamental basis of analysis, made all the more obscure by way of the fact that it is hidden deep inside the content of the dream.
Condensation is the Freudian understanding that one object in a dream represents a number of complex ideas, therefore the content of the dream is deceptively small. Alongside condensation is the concept of displacement, where the dream object’s emotional significance is separated from it’s real object or content and attached to an entirely different one, in order to not arouse the suspicions of the dreamer. Dreams are never simple and represent a huge amount of latent content.
The pleasure principle is something that is always sublimated to something else; the human psyche is more complex than simply the pursuit of pleasure. Other pursuits, such as repeating a certain action, are repeated in order to fulfil the unfulfilled wish. The converse principle, or the reality principle, counters the pleasure principle, when people choose to defer fulfilling a certain desire on the basis that circumstantial reality is opposed to this desire. Society therefore intervenes, creating the reality principle. Freud defines maturity as an ability to tolerate continual deferred pleasure, in favour of conforming with social expectations and understanding. Therefore the ego has become reasonable, and obeys the reality principle in favour of understanding only the pleasure principle. The reality principle does also seek to fulfil desires; however it does so whilst taking into account the problems of circumstantial reality.
This concludes my elementary understanding of Freudian theory, and also proved a very useful revision task.
Thank you for reading!