Showing posts with label Literary Theories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literary Theories. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What are the Main Features of Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism?

Psychoanalytic literary criticism can simply be defined as an approach to literature which aims to apply some of the techniques of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literary works. The psychological principles which are used in Psychoanalytic literary criticism were mainly developed by Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Psychoanalytic criticism adopts the methods of "reading" employed by Freud and later theorists to interpret texts. It argues that literary texts, like dreams, express the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author, that a literary work is a manifestation of the author's own neuroses. One may psychoanalyze a particular character within a literary work, but it is usually assumed that all such characters are projections of the author's psyche.

The key concepts which are used in Psychoanalytic criticism include but not limited to unconscious, repression, sublimation, super-ego, id, Infantile sexuality, Oedipus complex, libido, oral, anal, and phallic, transference, projection, Freudian slip, dream work, displacement ,etc. 

All of Freud’s work depends upon the notion of the unconscious, which is the part of the mind beyond consciousness which nevertheless has a strong influence upon our actions. Freud was not the discoverer of the unconscious: his uniqueness lies in his attributing to it such a decisive role in our lives. Linked with this is the idea of repression, which is the ‘forgetting’ or ignoring of unresolved conflicts, unadmitted desires, or traumatic past events, so that they are forced out of conscious awareness and into the realm of the unconscious. A similar process is that of sublimation, whereby the repressed material is ‘promoted’ into something grander or is disguised as something ‘noble’. For instance, sexual urges may be given sublimated expression in the form of intense religious experiences or longings. 

Later in his career Freud suggested a three-part, rather than a two- part, model of the psyche, dividing it into the ego, the super-ego and the diatheses three ‘levels’ of the personality roughly corresponding to, respectively, the consciousness, the conscience, and the unconscious. Many of Freud’s ideas concern aspects of sexuality. Infantile sexuality, for instance, is the notion that sexuality begins not at puberty, with physical maturing, but in infancy, especially through the infant’s relationship with the mother. Concerned with this is the Oedipus complex, whereby, says Freud, the male infant conceives the desire of eliminate the father and become the sexual partner of the mother. Many forms of inter-generational conflict are seen by Freudians as having Oedipal overtones, such as professional rivalries, often viewed in Freudian terms as reproducing the competition between siblings for parental favor. Another key idea is that of the libido, which is the energy drive associated with sexual desire. In classic Freudian theory it has three stages of focus, the oral, the anal, and the phallic. The libido in the individual is part of a more generalized drive which the later Freud called Eros(the Greek word of ‘love’),which roughly means the life instinct, the opposite of which is Thanatos (the Greek word for ‘death’),which roughly means the death instinct, a controversial notion, of course.

Several key terms concern what might be called psychic processes, such as transference, the phenomenon whereby the patient under analysis redirects the emotions recalled in analysis towards the psychoanalyst: thus, the antagonism or resentment felt towards a parental figure in the past might be reactivated, but directed against the analyst. Another such mechanism is projection, when aspects of  ourselves(usually negative ones)are not recognized as part of ourselves but are perceived in our attributed to another, our own desires or antagonisms, for instance, may be ‘disowned’ in this way. Both these might be seen as defense mechanisms, that is, as psychic procedures for avoiding painful admissions or recognitions. Another such is the screen memory, which is a trivial or inconsequential memory whose function is to obliterate a more significant one. A well-known example of these mechanisms is the Freudian slip, which Freud himself called the ‘parapraxis’, whereby repressed material in the unconscious finds an outlet through such everyday phenomena as slips of the tongue, slips of the pen, or unintended actions.

A final example of important Freudian terminology is the dream work, the process by which real events or desires are transformed into dream images. These include: displacement, whereby one person or event is represented by another which is in some way linked or associated with it, perhaps because of a similar-sounding word, or by some form of symbolic substitution; and condensation, whereby a number of people, events, or meanings are combined and represented by a single image in the dream. 

Thus, characters, motivation, and events are represented in dreams in a very ‘literary’ way, involving translation, by the dream work, of abstract ideas or feelings into concrete images. Dreams, just like literature, do not actually make explicit statements. Both tend to communicate obliquely or indirectly, avoiding direct or open statement, and representing meanings through concrete embodiments of time, place, or person.
Jacques Lacan, another post-Freudian psychoanalytic theorist, focused on language and language-related issues. Lacan treats the unconscious as a language; consequently, he views the dream not as Freud did (that is, as a form and symptom of repression) but rather as a form of discourse. Thus we may study dreams psychoanalytically in order to learn about literature, even as we may study literature in order to learn more about the unconscious. Lacan also revised Freud’s concept of the Oedipus complex—the childhood wish to displace the parent of one’s own sex and take his or her place in the affections of the parent of the opposite sex—by relating it to the issue of language. He argues that the pre-oedipal stage is also a preverbal or “mirror stage,” a stage he associates with the imaginary order. He associates the subsequent oedipal stage—which roughly coincides with the child’s entry into language—with what he calls the symbolic order, in which words are not the things they stand for but substitutes for those things. The imaginary order and the symbolic order are two of Lacan’s three orders of subjectivity, the third being the real, which involves intractable and substantial things or states that cannot be imagined, symbolized, or known directly (such as death).
Thus, all psychoanalytic approaches to literature have one thing in common—the critics begin with a full psychological theory of how and why people behave as they do, a theory that has been developed by a psychoanalyst outside of the realm of literature, and they apply this psychological theory as a standard to interpret and evaluate a literary work.

The Rise and Development of Post-colonial Criticism

Post-colonial criticism emerges in the 1990s by undermining the timeless and universal significance of literature made by liberal humanist critics. Specifically, if great literature is claimed timeless and universal, then cultural, social, regional and national differences are made less significant. Post-colonial criticism rejects universalism. It gained currency through the influence of such books as: In Other Worlds (Gayatri Spivak,1987);The Empire Writes Back (Bill Ashcroft,1989);Nation and Narration (Homi Bhabha,1990)and Culture and Imperialism (Edward Said,1993).An important collection of relevant essays (though it does not use the term ‘postcolonialism’) is ‘Race’,Writing and difference(1986),reprinted from two issues of the journal Critical Inquiry and edited by Henry Louis Gates,Jr,one of the best-known American figures in this field.

The first significant issue of postcolonial criticism is to further under-mine the universalist claims once made on behalf of literature by liberal humanist critics. If we claim that great literature has a time-less and universal significance we thereby demote or disregard cultural, social, regional, and national differences in experience and outlook, preferring instead to judge all literature by a single, supposedly ‘universal’, standard. Thus, for instance, a routine claim about the ‘Wessex’ setting of Hardy’s novel is that it is really a canvas on which Hardy depicts and examines fundamental,universal aspects of the human condition.Thus, Hardy’s books are not thought of as primarily regional or historical or masculine or white working-class novels- they are just novels, and built into this attitude is the assumption that this way of writing and representing reality is the unquestioned norm, so that the situations depicted can stand for all possible forms of human interaction. This universalism is rejected by postcolonial criticism; whenever a universal signification is claimed for a work, then, white, Eurocentric norms and practices are being promoted by a sleight of hand to this elevated status,and all others correspondingly relegated to subsidiary, marginalized roles.

Origin of postcolonial criticism

The ancestry of postcolonial criticism can be traced to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the earth,published in French in 1961,and voicing what might be called ‘cultural resistance’ to France’s African empire.Fanon(a psychiatrist from Martinique)argued that the first step for ‘colonialised’ people in finding a voice and an identity is to reclaim their own past.For centuries the European colonizing power will have devalued the nation’s past,seeing its precolonial era as a precivilised limbo,or even as a historical void.Children,both black and white,will have been taught to see history,culture and progress as beginning with the arrival of the Europeans.If the first step towards a postcolonial perspective is to reclaim one’s own past,then the second is to begin to erode the colonialist ideology by which that past had been devalued.

Development of postcolonial criticism

Another major book, which can be said to inaugurate postcolonial criticism proper is Edward Said’s Orientalism(1978),which is a specific expose of the Eurocentric universalism which takes for granted both the superiority of what is European or Western, and the inferiority of what is not. Said identifies a European cultural tradition of ‘Orientalism’, which is a particular and long-standing way  of identifying the East as ‘other’ and inferior to the West. The Orient, he says, features in the Western mind ‘as a sort of surrogate and even underground self’. This means, in effect, that the East becomes the repository or projection of those aspects of themselves which Westerners do not choose to acknowledge (cruelty, sensuality, decadence, laziness, and so on).At the same time, and paradoxically the East is seen as a fascinating realm of the exotic, the mystical and the seductive. It also tends to be seen as homogenous, the people there being anonymous masses rather than individuals, their actions determined by instinctive emotions (lust,terror,fury,etc) rather than by conscious choices or decisions. 

Their emotions and reactions are always determined by racial considerations(they are like this because they are Asiatics or blacks or Orientals)rather than by aspects of individual status or circumstance(for instance,because they happen to be a sister, or an uncle, or a collector of antique pottery).As Said says,after quoting the example of a colonial administrator’s 1907 account of life in Damascus, ‘In such statements as these we note immediately that  ‘the Arab’ or ‘Arabs’ have an aura of apartness,definiteness,and collective self-consistency such as to wipe out any traces of individual Arabs with narratable life Histories’. Reading literature with the perspective of “Orientalism’ in mind would make us, for instance, critically aware of how Yeats in his two ‘Byzantium’ poems (‘Sailing to Byzantium’,1927 and ‘Byzantium’,1932) provides an image of Istanbul, the Eastern capital of the former Roman Empire, which is identified with torpor, sensuality, and exotic mysticism. At such moments Yeats adopts an ethnocentric or Eurocentric perspective, seeing the East as an exotic ‘Other’ which becomes the contrasting foil to his own pursuits and concerns, all of which the poem presents as normative. Interestingly, Edward Said has written an essay on Yeats which reads him in the context of postcolonialism(reprinted in Said’s Culture and Imperialism).Said views the desire, frequently expressed in Yeat’s work, to regain contact with an earlier, mythical, nationalistic Ireland as typical of writers whose own position is postcolonial, and this is closely related to Fanon’s idea of the need of reclaim the past. Characteristically, postcolonial writers evoke or create a pre-colonial version of their own nation, rejecting the modern and the contemporary, which is tainted with the colonial status of their countries. Here, then, is the first characteristic of postcolonial criticism –an awareness of representations of the non-European as exotic or immoral ‘Other’.

For Yeats, as often with the postcolonial writer, an uneasy attitude to the colonial language is evident: his injunction to Irish poets, that they should learn their craft, implies the need to serve a humble apprenticeship. This ‘humble’ attitude to language may remind us of Stephen Dedalus’s thoughts about the English language in James Joyce’s A Portrait Of the Artist as a Young Man, especially the early scene in which Stephen is patronized by an English priest because of his use of a local dialect word. Stephen tells himself ‘the language in which we are speaking in his before it is mine…My soul frets in the shadow of his language’. More recently, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, in a poem entitled ‘The Ministry of Fear’, recalls his childhood unease and self-consciousness about his pronunciation of English. This linguistic deference amounts to a sense that the linguistic furniture belongs to somebody else, and therefore shouldn’t be moved around without permission. Some postcolonial writers have concluded that the colonizers’ language is permanently tainted, and that to write in it involves a crucial acquiescence in colonial structures. Language itself, then, is a second area of concern in postcolonial criticism.

As this implies, Yeats, being a member of the Protestant ruling class in Ireland, has a double identity as both colonizer and colonized,and it is the recognition of such double identities which is one of the strengths of the postcolonialist view.Thus,the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe,publishing his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958,was criticized by an early reviewer for affecting to identify with African villagers when actually his university education and his broadcasting job in the capital city of Lagos should         make him identify, it was implied,with the values of ‘civilisation’,supposedly brought to Africa by Europeans. This emphasis on identity as doubled,or hybrid,or unstable is a third characteristic of the postcolonial approach.

At one level Achebe’s use of a village Africa corresponds to Yeasts’ evocation of a pre-colonial, mythological Ireland of heroes and heroines.At another level,the double or hybrid identity is precisely what the postcolonial situation brings into being.The shift in attitudes in the 1980s and 1990s was towards postcolonial writers seeing themselves as using primarily African or Asian forms, supplemented with European-derived influences,rather than as working primarily within European genres like the novel and merely adding to them a degree of exotic Africanisation.All postcolonial literatures, it might be said, seem to make this transition.They begin with an unquestioning acceptance of the authority of European models and (especially in the novels) and with the ambition of writing works that will be masterpieces entirely in this tradition.This called the ‘Adopt’ phase of colonial literature, since the writer’s ambition is to adopt the form as it stands, the assumption being that it has universal validity. The second stage can be called the ‘Adapt’ phase, since it aims to adapt the European form to African subject matter, thus assuming partial rights of intervention in the genre. In the final phase there is,so to speak, a declaration of cultural independence whereby African writers remake the form to their own specification, without reference to European norms. This might be called the ‘Adept’phase,since its characteristic is the assumption that the colonial writer is an independent ‘adept’ in the form,not a humble apprentice, as in the first phase, or a mere licensee, as in the second. This stress on ‘cross-cultural’ interactions is a fourth characteristic of postcolonialist criticism.

This notion of the double, or divided, or fluid identity which is characteristic of the postcolonial writer explains the great attraction which post-structuralism and deconstruction have proved to be for the postcolonial critic. Post-structuralism is centrally concerned to show the fluid and unstable nature if personal and gender identity, the shifting, ‘polyvalent’, contradictory currents of signification within texts, and the way literature itself is a site on which ideological struggles are acted out.This mind-set is admirably suited to expressing the numerous contradictions and multiple allegiances of which the postcolonial writer and critic is constantly aware.This post-structuralist perspective is seen in the work of such representative figures as Henry Louis Gates Jr,Gayatri Spivak,and Homi Bhabha.In all three of these a complex Derridean-Foucauldian notion of textuality and fields of discourse is immediately apparent. Similarly in all three,the surface of the writing is difficult and the route through to any consequent political action (or stance,even) is necessarily indirect. This kind of postcolonial criticism roughly corresponds, then, to the theoreticised ‘French’feminist criticism associated with figures like Julia Kristeva or Helene Cixous.The example of postcolonial criticism offered later is from the work of Edward Said,who is less overtly theoretical,seems to accept some of the premises of liberal humanism,and has a more ‘up-front’ political affiliation (his identification with the Palestinian Arab cause).His work is in this regard reminiscent of the ‘Anglo-American’ variety of feminist criticism, which likewise seems (to me) more overtly political and certainly more immediately accessible.

If the three stages mentioned earlier (Adopt,Adapt,and Adept) provide a way of seeing postcolonial literature, then a way of seeing the stages of postcolonial criticism would be to suggest, as we have just been doing,that they closely parallel the developmental stages of feminist criticism. In its earliest phase, which is to say before it was known as such,postcolonial criticism took as its main subject matter white representations of colonial countries and criticized these for their limitations and their bias:thus,critics would discuss the representation of Africa in Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, or of India in E. M. Forster’s A Passage To India, or of Algeria in Albert Camus’s The Outsider. This corresponds to the early 1970s phase of feminist criticism when the subject matter was the representation of women by male novelists like D.H. Lawrence or Henry Miller-the classic instance is Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. The second phase of postcolonial criticism involved a turn towards explorations of themselves and their society by postcolonial writers. At this stage the celebration and exploration of diversity, hybridity, and difference become central. This is the stage when, in the title of the well-known pioneering work in this field, ‘the empire writes back’. This corresponds to the  ‘gynotext’ phase of feminist criticism,when there is a turn towards the exploration of female experience and identities in books by women.The analogy between these two types of criticism might be pushed a little further, so that a parallel might also be perceived with the split in feminist criticism between ‘theoretical’ and ‘empirical’ versions, as suggested above. Thus, in postcolonial criticism we might see a split between variants very directly influenced by deconstruction and post-structuralism-such as the work of Homi Bhabha-and work like Said’s which accepts a good deal from liberal humanism, is written in a more accessible way, and seems perhaps to lend itself more directly to political engagement.

Roland Barthes’ Theory of Five Codes

According to Roland Barthes, all narratives share structural features that each narrative weaves together in different ways. Despite the differences between individual narratives, any narrative employs a limited number of organizational structures (specifically, five of them) that affect our reading of texts. Rather than seeing this situation as limiting, however, Barthes argues that we should take this plurality of codes as an invitation to read a text in such a way as to bring out its multiple meanings and connotations. Rather than reading a text for its linear plot (this happens, then this, then this), rather than being constrained by either genre or even temporal progression, Barthes argues for what he terms a "writerly" rather than a "readerly" approach to texts. According to Barthes, "the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages". This closing of the text happens as we read, as you make decisions about a work's genre and its ideological beliefs; however, when you analyze any one sentence of a work closely, it is possible to illustrate just how impacted with meaning (and possibility) any one sentence really is. Barthes exemplifies what he means in S/Z, in which he takes a short story  by Honoré de Balzac (Sarrasine) and analyzes each individual sentence for its relation to five master codes.

The five codes are as follows:

The hermeneutic code (HER.) refers to any element in a story that is not explained and, therefore, exists as an enigma for the reader, raising questions that demand explication. Most stories hold back details in order to increase the effect of the final revelation of all diegetic truths. We tend not to be satisfied by a narrative unless all "loose ends" are tied; however, narratives often frustrate the early revelation of truths, offering the reader what Barthes terms "snares" (deliberate evasions of the truth), "equivocations" (mixtures of truth and snare), "partial answers," "suspended answers," and "jammings" (acknowledgments of insolubility). As Barthes explains, "The variety of these terms (their inventive range) attests to the considerable labor the discourse must accomplish if it hopes to arrest the enigma, to keep it open". The best example may well be the genre of the detective story. The entire narrative of such a story operates primarily by the hermeneutic code. We witness a murder and the rest of the narrative is devoted to determining the questions that are raised by the initial scene of violence. The detective spends the story reading the clues that, only at the end, reconstructs the story of the murder. 

The proairetic code (ACT.) refers to the other major structuring principle that builds interest or suspense on the part of a reader or viewer. The proairetic code applies to any action that implies a further narrative action. For example, a gunslinger draws his gun on an adversary and we wonder what the resolution of this action will be. We wait to see if he kills his opponent or is wounded himself. Suspense is thus created by action rather than by a reader's or a viewer's wish to have mysteries explained.

These first two codes tend to be aligned with temporal order and thus require, for full effect, that we read a book or view a film temporally from beginning to end. Barthes at one point aligns these two codes with "the same tonal determination that melody and harmony have in classical music". A traditional, "readerly" text tends to be especially "dependent on [these] two sequential codes: the revelation of truth and the coordination of the actions represented: there is the same constraint in the gradual order of melody and in the equally gradual order of the narrative sequence". The next three codes tend to work "outside the constraints of time"  and are, therefore, more properly reversible, which is to say that there is no necessary reason to read the instances of these codes in chronological order to make sense of them in the narrative.

The semantic code (SEM.) points to any element in a text that suggests a particular, often additional meaning by way of connotation. In the first lexia that I quote above from Barthes' S/Z, "Sarrasine" is associated with "femininity" because of the word's feminine form (as opposed to the masculine form, "Sarrazin"). The question of femininity later becomes an important one in Balzac's story about a man's love for a castrato that he, at first, believes to be a woman. By "connotation," Barthes does not mean a free-form association of ideas (where anything goes) but "a correlation immanent in the text, in the texts; or again, one may say that it is an association made by the text-as-subject within its own system". In other words, Barthes marks out those semantic connotations that have special meaning for the work at hand.

The symbolic code (SYM.) can be difficult to distinguish from the semantic code and Barthes is not always clear on the distinction between these two codes; the easiest way to think of the symbolic code is as a "deeper" structural principle that organizes semantic meanings, usually by way of antitheses or by way of mediations (particularly, forbiddend mediations) between antithetical terms. The concept is perhaps most analogous to Algirdas Greimas' understanding of antagonism and contradiction in narrative structure. A symbolic antithesis often marks a barrier for the text. As Barthes writes, "Every joining of two antithetical terms, every mixture, every conciliation—in short, every passage through the wall of the Antithesis—thus constitutes a transgression." 

The cultural code (REF.) designates any element in a narrative that refers "to a science or a body of knowledge". In other words, the cultural codes tend to point to our shared knowledge about the way the world works, including properties that we can designate as "physical, physiological, medical, psychological, literary, historical, etc." The "gnomic" code is one of the cultural codes and refers to those cultural codes that are tied to clichés, proverbs, or popular sayings of various sorts.

Together, these five codes function like a "weaving of voices," as Barthes puts it . The codes point to the "multivalence of the text" and to "its partial reversibility", allowing a reader to see a work not just as a single narrative line but as a contellation or braiding of meanings: "The grouping of codes, as they enter into the work, into the movement of the reading, constitute a braid (text, fabric, braid: the same thing); each thread, each code, is a voice; these braided—or braiding—voices form the writing".