III. Psychological Approaches to Literature
During the twentieth century there was a shift away from the “who done it “genre to the “why did he do it” Major writers have included Hermann Hess., Franz Kafka, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
In literary criticism some critics have abandoned the formalistic/aesthetic approach because of their limitations and inadequacies in coming to terms with the major concerns of modern literature. Rather than being “Art for Arts sake”, modern literature tends to be more exploratory and didactic. The emphasis is more on character and motivation than on form and structure.
The psychological approach to literary criticism is very controversial and is easily abused.
Some critics argue that it was already used by Aristotle in his Poetics in the 4 th century BC, when he defined tragedy as combining the emotions of pity and terror to produce “catharsis”.. These critics argue that this is merely a sub—conscious emotional response to literature.
1. Core theory — the unconscious aspects of the human psyche.
Most of our actions (mental processes) are motivated by psychic forces over which we have little control.
· Mind is like an iceberg — its greatest weight and density lies below the surface.
Two kinds of unconsciousness
a) pre—conscious — latent not directly aware of something, however with effort. it can be retrieved
b) unconcious — something very difficult to revivte mocceesfully blocked or repressed. Comes out in perverse ways.
Ex Novel/Movie — “Marnie
.2. Second theory (now rejected by most psychologists including Carl Jung, his disciple).
“All human behaviour is ultimately motivated by sexuality.”
3. Freud’s Three Psychic Zones
1. The Id — reservoir of libido
— primary source of all psychic energy
— functions to fulfil the primordial life principle
— our basic drives (S)
— pleasure principle
— no rational order / organisation/ will
— impulse to obtain gratification of instinctual needs
no regard for social conventions — asocial
— no values — good/evil amorphous/ amoral
— source of all aggression desires
— lawless, self—destructive
— pre—Freudians called it the “devil” in man
regulating agency to curb the Id
— protects the individual and society
— rational, reasoning, logical
— partially conscious
— aware of reality
3.. Super Ego
— Largely unconscious
— moral censoring agent
— conscience, self—image, pride
— moral restrictions or repression of Id.
— blocks off or represses those drives which society regards as unacceptable.. operates on rewards and punishments
— an overactive Super Ego creates unconscious guilt (complex).
Healthy person has a well balanced Pyche, while an imbalance of any one force causes mental stress — neurosis - today of called a syndrome or a disorder.
Id pleasure principle animals
Ego reality mankind
Super Ego morality “ angels
Applications of Frued’s theories
1) Symbolism — most images interpreted in terms of sexuality
a) concave images (ponds, flowers, cups, vases, caves, hollows, tunnels)
—female or womb symbols
b) long (erect) images (towers, snakes, knives, swords, trees, poles, sky scrapers, missiles)
— male or phallic symbols
c) activities (dancing riding, flying) symbols of sexual pleasure.
· Of ten pushed too far — Little Red Riding Hood
2) Child Psychology
infant and childhood are formative years a period of intense sexual development and awareness.
First five years children pass through several phases in erotic development.
1) Oral 2) Anal 3) Genital
Frustration in the gratification of any of these: eating, elimination, or reproduction may result in an adult personality that is warped.
If a child’s development is arrested in any one of these phases, he may develop a “fixation”.
1. Oral — pre—mature weaning may result in cigarette smoking
2. Anal — overly strict toilet training — fastidious, fussy
3. Genital — close attachment to parent — may develop either an Oedipus or Electra Complex.
Psychological Defence Mechanisms
Our ego is very delicate and fragile and so we often use ways and means to try to protect it. In the face of confusion, disappointment, failure, conflict and frustration, our psyche needs help to cope. Without “psychological crutches” we become stressed or anxious. We can have three reactions to Anxiety or stress:
1) Attack problem and develop solutions.
2) Ignore the problem, hope it will go away.
3) Defend ourselves (our ego, self esteem, image)
The fight or flight reaction.
I Substitution - Compensating
· Overdoing one thing to cover up deficiencies in other areas.
· conversationalist — good talker — not a doer.
I I. Repression - Blocking
· Try to forget failures or unfortunate incident.
· we forget to perform unpleasant duties.
I I I RATIONALISATION - Justifications
· we substitute a “good reason” for an action rather than the real one.
· wishful thinking — not reasoning
IV. REGRESSION - Reverting to former states.
· Reverting to childish behaviour or habits
· often covers up fact that we can not cope with problem.
· Basic drives become expressed in socially accepted forms.
· hostility expressed in competitive sports.
· a blood thirsty individual becomes a butcher.
VI. - IDENTIFICATION
· Role—playing — we take on characteristics of a person we admire. a Hero—worship or modelling (apeing)
· Protective Shell
· being aloof, distant, unconcerned, cold, “don’t care”
· self-sufficient, detached “cool”.
VIII. SCAPEGOATING - Justification
· Blaming our own faults, deficiencies, inadequacies on others.
· Trying to remain objective, analytical, untouched in an emotionally threatening event.
X. MALINGERING - A Psycho-somatic disorder
· Adjusting through injury.
· Taking to your bed
· Having a headache
· Feeling sick to the stomach
XI. AGGRESSION -
Reacting rather than responding to a situation.
· You become overwhelmed by frustration and a sense of powerlessness or impotence to the extent that you react in a violent, vindictive and destructive manner.
XII. Stockholm Syndrome:
In 1974 US newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the course of the next three months she warmed to their cause and embraced it; she slung an M1 carbine over her shoulder and pulled a bank robbery for them.
Hearst may be the classic example of the Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which hostages eventually identify with their captors.
XIII. The Abilene Paradox.
A family member suggests that they all drive 53 miles to Abilene that night for dinner. One by one they agree. Great idea. They drive to Abilene; the meal sucks. And on the way home they all confide they actually didn’t want to go to Abilene in the first place.
Merits of Psychological Approach:
In the right hands, this approach can be useful in understanding motivation and causality. Psychoanalysis has helped us to understand human behaviour and many writers have explored this field to great advantage.
Freud’s contribution to the formative and impressionable childhood years has also assisted us in providing conditions to maximise children’s potential.
Limitations of Psychological Approach:
While beneficial, we have to realise that Psychoanalysis alone will not lead to a full understanding of a work of art. There are many other valid interpretations.
Reacting rather than responding to a situation.
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