Tagged: Sigmund Freud


The New York Post is frequently seen on the floor of NYC subway cars, soaking up some unidentifiable liquid.

Unions carrying guns = organized crime.

Derision of Freud’s ideas is a sign of resistance.

The unconscious is “visible” (the privileged criterion for naive empiricism) in its neurotic manifestations: dreams, memories, physical symptoms, compulsions, repetition, Fehlleistungen, etc.

The weakness of the theory is its starting point: the assumption of a “normal sexual aim.”

New course


Theory of the Text

Literature and Society

Literature as a Cultural Field





Theory of the Text

Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” The Second Common Reader: Annotated Edition (San Diego: Harcourt Inc., 2003), 258-270

Jeanette Winterson, “Writer, Reader, Words,” in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York: Vintage International, 1997), 25-44

Paul Ricœur, “What is a Text? Explanation and Understanding,” From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991), 105-124

Edward W. Said, “The Problem of Textuality: Two Exemplary Positions,” Critical Inquiry 4, 4 (1978): 673-714 (read 673-681)

Roland Barthes, “Work to Text,” in Image, Music, Text (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977), 156-164

Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 1-25

Dorrit Cohn, The Distinction of Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 1-37, 109-131

Ian Watt, “Realism and the Novel Form,” The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 9-34

Pericles Lewis, The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1-53

Franco Moretti, “The Novel: History and Theory,” Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013), 159-178

Literature and Society

Georg Lukács, “Realism in the Balance” [1938], in Theodor Adorno et al., Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 2007), 28-59

[Recommended Reading: Thomas Mann, “Tonio Kröger” (1903), in Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories (New York: Vintage International, 1989), 75-132]

[Supplemental Reading] Imre Szeman, “Marxist Literary Criticism, Then and Now,” Mediations 24, 2 (Spring 2009): 36-47

Leo Lowenthal, “Literature and Society,” Literature, Popular Culture, and Society (Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1961), 141-161

Leo Lowenthal, “The Classical French Drama,” Literature and The Image of Man: Studies of the European Drama and Novel, 1600-1900 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 98-135

Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), “The Misanthrope” [1666], In The Misanthrope and Other Plays (London: Penguin Books, 1959), 23-75

Ian Watt, “The Reading Public and the Rise of the Novel,” The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 35-59

Ian Watt, “Love and The Novel: ‘Pamela,’” The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 135-173

[Recommended Reading: Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded [1740] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)]

Lucien Goldmann, “The Revolt of the Arts and Letters in Advanced Civilizations,” Cultural Creation in Modern Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977), 51-75

Lucien Goldmann, “Interdependencies Between Industrial Society and New Forms of Literary Creation,” Cultural Creation in Modern Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977), 76-88

Literature as a Cultural Field

Pierre Bourdieu, “The Intellectual Field: A World Apart,” In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 140-149

Pierre Bourdieu, “The Production of Belief: Contribution to an Economy of Symbolic Goods,” The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 74-111

Pierre Bourdieu, “Prologue/ Flaubert, Analyst of Flaubert: A Reading of Sentimental Education,” The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 1-43

[Recommended Reading: Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education [1869], Revised Edition (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004)]

Franco Moretti, “Modern European Literature: A Geographical Sketch,” Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013), 1-42

Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013), 43-62


Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York and London: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1978), 220-238

Walter Benjamin, “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” in Hannah Arendt ed., Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 19-34

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 1-19, 127-207

[Supplemental reading] W. K. Wimsatt, “The Intentional Fallacy,” The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954), 3-18

Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” in Josué V. Harari ed., Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 141-160

Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image, Music, Text (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977), 142-148

Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), 21-34

Sigmund Freud, “The Creative Writer and Daydreaming,” in The Uncanny (London and New York: Penguin, 2003), 25-34

Mark McGurl, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)

[Supplemental reading] H. Porter Abbott, “Narration,” The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Second Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 67-82

[Supplemental reading] Wayne C. Booth, “Telling and Showing,” The Rhetoric of Fiction, Second Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 3-20


Pierre Bourdieu, “Outline of a Sociological Theory of Art Perception.” The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 215-237

Pierre Bourdieu, “Principles for a Sociology of Cultural Works.” The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 176-191

Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” in Jane P. Tompkins ed., Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 50-69

Pierre Bourdieu, “Reading, Readers, the Literate, Literature.” In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 94-105

Jeanette Winterson, “Art Objects,” in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York: Vintage International, 1997), 3-21

Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Charlotte: University of North Carolina Press, 1991)


Michael Wood, Literature and the Taste of Knowledge (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1-12, 37-67 (“Introduction: Among the Analogies” and “After Such Knowledge”)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1989), 3-24

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1927)

All the old dudes

When glam hit 40 it turned glum.

It’s doubtful people waited for bad weather before hitting upon the idea of god(s). I wonder why these scholars didn’t bothered to familiarize themselves with Freud’s Totem and Taboo or even Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. One finds animistic thought among well-fed and housed children.

Oliver Stone has cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Edward Snowden in a new biopic. It’s unfortunate that Gérard Depardieu is too massive to portray Mr Putin convincingly. However, Viktor Yanukovych, Steven Seagal and Franklin Graham can play themselves.

It’s no surprise that corporations are upset with the new executive branch recommendations to the FCC concerning “net neutrality.” Such “legal persons” never willingly submit to democratic oversight. However, the chutzpah of cable companies offering a range of crappy (and expensive) services is astonishing.

The limits of scientific scopophilia

In medical training you are accustomed to see things. You see an anatomical preparation, the precipitate of a chemical reaction, the shortening of a muscle as a result of the stimulation of its nerves. . . . In psycho-analysis, alas, everything is different. Nothing takes place in a psycho-analytic treatment but an interchange of words between the patient and the analyst. The patient talks, tells of his past experiences and his present impressions, complains, confesses to his wishes and his emotional impulses. The doctor listens, tries to direct the patient’s processes of thought, exhorts, forces his attention in certain directions, gives him explanations and observes the reactions of understanding or rejection which he in this way provokes in him.

Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Lecture I.

The creative writer

In my reading of “The creative writer and daydreaming” (in The Uncanny, [Penguin, 2003]), I don’t sense that Freud seeks to draw a distinction between “normal” creative writers and the “pathological” productions of a Schreber. Unlike his usual tendency to use a perceived alliance between neuroses and infantile sexuality as a means to show that something ‘normal’ (like memory) is bound up with the unconscious, he compares childhood play/fantasy with adult fantasy, and attempts to show both a break and continuity between child’s play and adult fantasizing; then he attempts to draw an analogy between what he’s learned from this comparison and creative writers of a certain sort: writers who “create their own” material and not those who “like the epic and tragic poets of classical times, take over ready-made material” (“Creative writer”, 30) (I’ll return to a problem in this distinction below*). His “evidence” for this sort of writer/writing centers on “more modest authors of novels, romances and short stories, who nevertheless have the most numerous and enthusiastic readership” (“Creative writer”, 30) (Freud, unfortunately, neither explains nor justifies this choice). What interests Freud (and all he is really concerned about) are those works in which a “hero” or psychological individual is the “centre of interest.”


Typically, he returns to childhood, but not for the purpose of restating the tale of infantile fantasy and desire: his interest rests upon the giving up of child-like play (in the course which reality replaces wishes [and this foreshadows Freud’s discussion of “the omnipotence of thought” in Totem and Taboo]) and the repulsion an adult feels towards his/her own fantasies (which, according to Freud involve either ambition or sex). Whereas a child “does not hide his games [from an audience of adults],” the “adult, on the contrary, is ashamed of his fantasies, hiding them from others and guarding them as his most personal intimacies; as a rule he would rather admit to his wrongdoings than disclose his fantasies” (“Creative writer”, 27). One would expect Freud to move from this insight to explain how creative writers overcome such an inhibition in themselves which remains in effect for ordinary adults. However, in my view, Freud doesn’t have much to say about such creative writers as such that is of psychoanalytic import. What he asserts about these writers — as opposed to their writings — is the following: “It has struck me that in many so-called psychological novels there is still only one person, again, the hero, who is described from within; the author sits, as it were, inside the hero’s mind and looks at the other characters from the outside. On the whole the psychological novel no doubt owes its special character chiefly to the tendency of the modern writer to split up his ego, by self-observation, into partial egos and consequently to personify the conflicting currents in his mental life in several heroes.”

This is very interesting: implicit here is the concept of projection (which goes with fantasy and Freud’s analysis of dreams, taboos, and animistic thought). But Freud’s claim that an author’s writing can be accounted for by this process, in the absence of an observation of the author under analysis, seems to violate the methodological prerequisites of the psychoanalytic technique (not that this stops Freud in many cases, such as his essay on Leonardo Da Vinci). But the other problem* is this: he assumes that the literary texts that are of interest to him (romance-hero novels, psychological novels) are an unconscious manifestation of the author’s own psychological life. This sort of view could be challenged from two standpoints: (1) it ignores “genre”: it may be the case that the novels Freud feels are created ex nihilo in fact are produced from ready-made materials (i.e., conventional narrative forms, plot structures, types of characters and character development) that have no connection to the writer’s internal psychical life; (2) it is open to the convincing challenge (made much later, of course) that “The writer belongs to a language which no one speaks, which is addressed to no one, which has no center, and which reveals nothing. He may believe that he affirms himself in this language, but what he affirms is altogether deprived of self” (Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, 16).


Freud admits that he hasn’t really said enough about the “creative writer.” In the last paragraph, he gets to what I feel is more important in this essay: an account of the psychological effects produced by aesthetic forms (as he does in his essay “The uncanny”). What the creative writer does, according to Freud, is to overcome the reader’s repulsion towards fantasy.

However, when the creative writer plays his games for us or tells us what we are inclined to explain as his personal daydreams, we feel a great deal of pleasure, deriving no doubt form many confluent sources. How the writer achieves this is his most intimate secret: the true ars poetica lies in the technique by which he overcomes our repulsion, which certainly has to do with the barriers that arise between each single ego and the others. We can make a guess at two of the means used by this technique: the writer tones down the character of the egoistic daydream by modifying and disguising it, and bribes us with the purely formal – that is aesthetic – bonus of pleasure, which is offered to us so that greater pleasure may be released from more profound psychical sources, is called an incentive bonus or fore-pleasure. In my opinion, all the aesthetic pleasure that a creative writer gives us is in the nature of a fore-pleasure, and the real enjoyment of the literary work derives from the relaxation of tensions in our minds. Maybe this effect is due in no small measure to the fact that the writer enables us, from now on, to enjoy our fantasies without shame or self-reproach (“Creative writer”, 33).

Behind this argument are claims Freud makes about how unconscious wishes are expressed in distorted form in parapraxes, dreams, and memory. Of particular importance is the idea that wishes can’t be expressed directly and that (in dreams) the “dream-work” works over the wish, presenting the wish to us in a “safe” form, much as a dissident writer, who — in a repressive political regime that employs an official censor — writes a fairytale of chickens defeating foxes, permits her readers to experience a type of (fantasized) fore-pleasure that substitutes for the real, but forbidden pleasure of overthrowing the regime in reality.


In sum, I think he has more interesting things to say (in this essay) about psychological effects that are produced by literature than the psychological sources of the creative process itself (and what the author brings into this process from her unconscious). What I find interesting in his version of psychoanalysis is the fact that – in theory, if not in practice – the line between normal and abnormal is not rigidly drawn: after all, he includes modern science – e.g., psychoanalysis – under the category of “omnipotent thought” (as well as animism and religion).