Monday, February 14, 2011

“Literature with/or Psychoanalysis”

Literature and Psychoanalysis the Question of Reading: Otherwise. Edited by Shoshana Felman
First published in 1977 Literature and Psychoanalysis is collection of thirteen essays that explore the intertwined relation between literature and psychoanalysis while respecting the position of each one of them.

Shoshana Felman, “To open the Question”
Felman discusses the interconnectedness between literature and psychoanalysis by reflecting on the function of the coordinate conjunction “and” in the title “Literature and Psychoanalysis.”

Jacques Lacan,“Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in Hamlet”
Lacan deploys his theory of the phallus to show how desire determines the characters interaction in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation”
Felman discusses Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw, to draw attention to the ways in which the meaningless can be made meaningful without closing up the language of the unconscious.

At first glance at the title, Literature and Psychoanalysis the Question of Reading: Otherwise, one may think that the book is an attempt to bring literature and psychoanalysis together. However, in her programmatic introduction, Shoshana Felman warns the reader against the tendency to take one for the other very quickly. She warns us that psychoanalysis involves a linguistic relation between two persons, the analyst and the analysand. She contends that unlike the analysts, the literary critic is in the middle of the two functions, between being tempted to assume the authority of the analyst and being subserviently submissive to the text. Felman comments that:

“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” (07)

The critic/the analyst, and the text form a relationship built on tree parties. Though the critic may sometimes be assimilated to the analyst under the formula: critic equals analyst divided by text plus narrator(C= A/T+ N), the critic can also assume the divided self of the analysand. The critic assumes that the text implies a hidden knowledge; hence its perception as a subject presumed to reveal” As such, adopting conceptions of the relations between critic/analyst and text drawn from psychoanalysis may cast doubt on the authority of the text. Within this tension, neither the critic nor the text will achieve an assimilatory supremacy over the other; rather, each will serve as a check, as a subversion of the other's desire to attain complete meaning and knowledge. As such, the narrator, the reader and the critic are each drawn into acting out the systematic division of responsibility for the appearance of the unfamiliar that erupts on each text. Attention to the text, as Felman demonstrates it in “Turning the Screw of Interpretation,” drives back to the analyst and critic’s question of how can one decipher and even stitch the holes of discourse in order to make meaning. In psychoanalysis, the analyst would reflect on how to achieve this without closing the holes unconscious’ language, as it is from them that the veiled meaning of the analysand’s discourse will resurge. However, can the literary critic wear the analyst white gown, sit on his or her sofa and uncover the unsaid without closing up the possibility for a multiplicity of meanings? Felman propose that as the literary “critic is viewed by the text a subject presumed to know,” he or she has to act as a “won’t tell.” As such, the text will then hold intact its locus as an object presumed to reveal itself through the punctuation/cuts of its narrative.
My reading of Felman’s sentence goes against her warning as it is bound toward assimilating psychoanalysis to literature based on the simple fact that both of them produce narratives or texts. The consequence is the temptation of treating all texts as subject to the same framework that Freud sketched out for the defenses, and for the course of the treatment.

1 comment:

  1. This reading offers more of an extended summary or description of Felman's essays than a close reading of a sentence of Felman's. Once you've done your initial one-sentence summary of the text, though, let go of the summarizing impulse to allow yourself to play with/on/in/around the text, as we all know that you're quite capable of doing.