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Pyschoanalytic Readings

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 3 years, 7 months ago
What One Needs to Know
What to look for in literature

Freud's "normal" process of infant development (and associated revisions): oral stage, Oedipus complex, identification with father and law.


Look for representation of successful socialization or neurosis, places that "abnormal"adjustment appears as hidden, transferred, or displaced desires; as problematic identifications; as violent or otherwise "deviant" impulses.

Literature reveals psyches in distress; social processes or institutions out of alignment with human psychological needs; "happy endings" as successful resolutions of neuroses, or repressive disregard of them; tragic outcomes indicate the stakes involved in unaddressed inner conflicts.


Lacan's processes of infant development, and his psychic "orders"
Look for language exposing "mirror stage" issues, or a rupture from an unconscious, pre-Oedipal experience of complete unity; look for images, symbols, myths that reveal an idealized "imaginary" order and that simultaneously mark its absence.

Show literature to be part of the symbolic order, a structure of language and other signs that, when orderly, demonstrates the Law of the Father; reveal the process through which we fashion selves in absence of a unified consciousness and identify places we conform to and occasionally evade limiting forces.



(for example)

Nothing exceptional; a good grasp of literary context and some knowledge of surrounding culture.
Look for contrary or otherwise problematic human impulses or actions: in this case, the tendency of families to desire both endogamy and exogamy.

Show how characters work to resolve social and psychic pressures; how institutions make visible and focus unconscious conflict; how conflicts within institutions might admit solutions worked out by subjects (characters, for example) internally.




  • What seems repressed in a text, either by its characters or by the form of the text itself?
  • What kinds of defense are deployed against repressed urges or identifications?
  • Where do you see the repressed re-emerging, either in the form of displacement or sublimation or some other expression of unconscious?
  • What represents authority or the need to repress in the text?  How does this authority function, and what are the effects on the “self”?


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