Psychoanalytic Criticism Essay

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Psychoanalytic criticism originated in the work of Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who pioneered the technique of psychoanalysis. Freud developed a language that described, a model that explained, and a theory that encompassed human psychology. His theories are directly and indirectly concerned with the nature of the unconscious mind. The psychoanalytic approach to literature not only rests on the theories of Freud; it may even be said to have begun with Freud, who wrote literary criticism as well as psychoanalytic theory. Probably because of Freud’s characterization of the artist’s mind as “one urged on by instincts that are too clamorous,” psychoanalytic criticism written before 1950 tended to psychoanalyze the individual author. Literary works were read—sometimes unconvincingly—as fantasies that allowed authors to indulge repressed wishes, to protect themselves from deep-seated anxieties, or both. After 1950, psychoanalytic critics began to emphasize the ways in which authors create works that appeal to readers’ repressed wishes and fantasies. Consequently, they shifted their focus away from the author’s psyche toward the psychology of the reader and the text. Norman Holland’s theories, concerned more with the reader than with the text, helped to establish reader-response criticism. Critics influenced by D.W. Winnicott, an object-relations theorist, have questioned the tendency to see the reader/text as an either/or construct; instead, they have seen reader and text (or audience and play) in terms of a relationship taking place in what Winnicott calls a “transitional” or “potential space”—space in which binary oppositions like real/illusory and objective/subjective have little or no meaning. Jacques Lacan, another post-Freudian psychoanalytic theorist, focused on language and language-related issues. Lacan treats the unconscious as a language;
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