Saturday, April 10, 2010

Shoshana Felman, intro to Literature and Psychoanalysis

Shoshana Felman, ed. Literature and Psychoanalysis; The Question of Reading: Otherwise. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1980.

While literature is considered as a body of language—to be interpreted—psychoanalysis is considered as a body of knowledge, whose competence is called upon to interpret. Psychoanalysis, in other words, occupies the place of a subject, literature that of an object; the relation of interpretation is structured as a relation of master to slave, according to the Hegelian definition: the dynamic encounter between the two areas is in effect, in Hegel’s terms, a “fight for recognition,” whose outcome is the sole recognition of the master—of (the truth of) psychoanalytic theory… (Felman, from the introduction 5)

Often leaves dissatisfied the literary critic, the reader of a text, who feels that…the psychoanalytic reading of literary texts precisely misrecognizes (overlooks, leaves out) their literary specificity; that literature could perhaps even be defined as that which remains in a text precisely unaccounted for by the traditional psychoanalytic approach to literature. In the literary critic’s perspective, literature is a subject, not an object; it is therefore not simply a body of language to interpret, nor is psychoanalysis simply a body of knowledge with which to interpret, since psychoanalysis itself is equally a body of language, and literature also a body of knowledge… (6)

What the literary critic might thus wish, is to initiate a real exchange, to engage in a real dialogue between literature and psychoanalysis, as between two different bodies of language and between two different modes of knowledge. Such a dialogue has to take place outside of the master-slave pattern, which does not allow for true dialogue, being, under the banner of competence, a unilateral monologue of psychoanalysis about literature. (6)

In an attempt to disrupt this monologic, master-slave structure, we would like to reverse the usual perspective, and to consider the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature from the literary point of view. We would not presuppose, as if often done, that the business of defining, of distinguishing and of relating literature and psychoanalysis belongs, as such, to psychoanalysis. (6)

Instead of literature being, as is usually the case, submitted to the authority and to the knowledge of psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis itself would then here be submitted to the literary perspective. This reversal of the perspective, however, does not intend to simply reverse the positions of master and salve in such a way that literature now would take over the place of master, bur rather its intention is to disrupt altogether the position of mastery as such, to try to avoid both terms of the alternative, to deconstruct the very structure of the opposition, mastery/slavery. (7)

It could be argued that people who choose to analyze literature as a profession do so because they are unwilling or unable to choose between the role of the psychoanalyst (he or she who analyzes) and the role of the patient (that which is being analyzed). Literature enables them not to choose because of the following paradox: 1) the work of literary analysis resembles the work of the psychoanalyst; 2) the status of what is analyzed—the text—is, however, not that of a patient, bur rather that of a master: we say of the author that he is a master; the text has for us authority—the very type of authority by which Jacques Lacan indeed defines the role of the psychoanalyst in the structures of transference. Like the psychoanalyst viewed by the patient, the text is viewed by us as “a subject presumed to know”—as the very place where meaning and knowledge of meaning, reside. With respect to the text, the literary critic occupies thus at once the place of the psychoanalyst (in the relation of interpretation) and the place of the patient (in the relation of transference). Therefore, submitting psychoanalysis to the literary perspective would necessarily have a subversive effect [7] on the clear-cut polarity through which psychoanalysis handles literature as its other, as the mere object of interpretation. (7-8)

From the very beginning, indeed, literature has been for psychoanalysis not only a contiguous field of external verification in which to test its hypotheses an to confirm its findings, but also the constitutive texture of its conceptual framework, of its theoretical body. The key concepts of psychoanalysis are references to literature, using literary “proper” names—names of fictional characters (Oedipus complex, Narcicissm) or of historical authors (masochism, sadism). Literature, in other words, is the language which the psychoanalyst uses in order to speak of itself, in order to name itself. Literature is therefore not simply outside psychoanalysis, since it motivates and inhabits the very names of its concepts, since it is the inherent reference by which psychoanalysis names its findings. (9) … We would like to suggest that, in the same way that psychoanalysis points to the unconscious of literature, literature, in its turn, is the unconscious of psychoanalysis; that the unthought-out shadow in psychoanalytic theory is precisely its own involvement with literature; that literature in psychoanalysis functions precisely as its “unthought” : as the condition of possibility and the self-subversive blind spot of psychoanalytical thought. (10)


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