The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent much of his life exploring the workings of the unconscious. Freud's work has influenced society in ways which we take for granted. When we speak of Freudian slips or look for hidden causes behind irrational behavior, we are using aspects of Freudian analysis. Many literary critics have also adopted Freud's various theories and methods. In order to define Freudian literary criticism, we will examine how various critics approach Freud's work. We will pay special attention to issues of creativity , author psychology , and psycho-biography .
Creativity and neurosis
Many of us may be familiar with the notion that creativity is intertwined with repression and pain. We may look at the paintings of Van Gogh as a recording of his descent into madness. Both the literary critic Lionel Trilling and Freud have written on the connection between the unconscious and artistic production. In The Liberal Imagination, Trilling writes of the "mechanisms by which art makes its effects" (53). Trilling suggests that these "mechanisms" make the thoughts of the unconscious more acceptable to the conscious, and he refers to "mechanisms" such as the "condensations of meanings and the displacement of accent" (53).
The processes of "condensation" and "displacement" are both described by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams: thoughts and images in dreams may have more than one meaning, Freud says, and one thought or image may be transferred onto another one, possibly because the mind finds the second thought or image more acceptable than the first one. Freud labels the former process "condensation" and the latter one "displacement." Freud devised these terms for his work on the unconscious and the dream process, but the terms also enter into discussions of the artist and her work, since many critics agree with Freud's opinion that the unconscious is the main site of the creative process, as well as the dream process.
Elaborating on this opinion, some critics have wondered to what extent the creative process springs only from those thoughts in the unconscious which result from neurosis. The critic Edmund Wilson has addressed this question in his book The Wound and the Bow. Wilson discusses creativity and neurosis in terms of the playwright Sophocles, and the writers Andr Gide and John Jay Chapman, and the attention paid by all three to the tale of the Greek warrior Philoctetes. The tale is about the nobility of those who suffer on the outskirts of society, and about a society which at the same time needs and rejects these outcasts. Wilson proposes "the idea that genius and disease, like strength and mutilation, may be inextricably bound up together" (289). Wilson notes that these three writers who have shown interest in the noble and suffering Philoctetes themselves all suffered from a type of neurosis (289, 293).
As Wilson's comments suggest, the...