On the Limitations of Psychoanalysis and Allied Theories on Literature and Art

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FAYAZ AHMAD MAGRAY

There are four ways in which the knowledge of psychology may help us in the criticism of literature:
1. It helps us in understanding the creative process and certain happenings in the mind of the writers that are responsible for the act of literary creation;
2. It teaches us how to discover the relationship between certain qualities of a particular work of literature and the attitudes and the states of mind of the author of that work; .
3. It helps us to develop an insight into human nature through the behaviour of the characters in a given work of literature;
4. It helps us to understand in terms of psychology why a literary work is valuable to the reader.
Now let me explain these thematic issuers separately.
The first point I mentioned is well established.
Plato has discussed how the poet is inspired with a kind of frenzy and how he is not in himself when he writes poetry .The poet is a kind of an insane being according to Plato. The Romantic poet Shelly was echoing Plato when he said that even the greatest poet cannot say , “I will write poetry” and that the poet writes , not by an act of will but rather involuntarily by the inconsistent visitation of inspiration.
Only he and the Romantics glorified the mental states of inspiration by calling it divine and refusing to describe it as kind of madness in the platonic fashion.
The Freudians have presented their view of the relation between art and neurosis; the Jungians have found in work of literary art archetypal images and echoes of basic and recurring myths and there have been any number of modifications and additions to both kinds of theory . There is a notion in psychology that artist is neurotic , sick , maladjusted , that art is somehow a byproduct of this sickness.
Here the Platonic view appears in the scientific phraseology of psychology: what Plato calls insanity, the psychologists describe as neurosis or mental sickness.
My second point is the relation between work and the author.
Freud saw the work of art as analogous to fantasy which may be treated as the symptom of the psycho analysis of the author or that of the characters in a play or novel. Art then is the result of repressed desires located in unconscious.
The reader on the other hand discovers in the text as a secret expression of which he desires to hear the turn given to psycho analytical criticism to the post structuralist tendency which is best seen in the work of Jacques Lacan. He sees the unconscious as coming into existence simultaneously with language.
My third point is about literature and human psychology. This is best illustrated in Drydon’s definition of drama as a “just and lively image of nature”; through the behavior of characters we discover universal human psychology . It is in this sense that we discover psychological realism in Shakespearean plays
My last point is about the psychological theory of value.
This is I A Richards theory of value which refers to what satisfies most of our desires is most valuable. That is, the literature that satisfies most of our desires is most valuable.
In regard to my first view it has to be admitted that the poet is not a normal human being but this lack of normality need not be regarded as insanity or abnormality; his distinguishing characters might be his supernormal and yet very healthy sensitivity that sweetly songs at the slightest touch like the strung wires of violin. We need not always label poets as neurotic. Some of them at least are of a sage and mystical bent.
The second is less satisfactory: there appears a little justification in the assumption that the poet’s unconscious mind always find expressions in his poetry. Sometimes and in some authors it is not discernable.
Shakespeare is so objective that it would be silly to find in powerful speeches of his characters an exhibition of his inward being.
The third and fourth ways are quite reasonable, but for the obvious limitations of the psychoanalytical school as that of sociological and the Marxist school too which is that it only tells us how a work is produced , what psychoanalytical content it involves and how it satisfies the reader’s desire . But , it does not us evolution of poetry and it is silent about the principals of art.
To sum up , the great Allama Iqbal’s pearls put into apposite perspective the nature of art and literature:
Great art is not the slavish imitation of nature ( esoteric or exoteric) but an act of projecting on it a charm and a beauty emanating from the inner world of the artist”

—The author, a teacher, can be reached at: magrayfayz0000@gmail.com

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