Early in this essay I unearth a similarity between Norman N. Holland’s reader-response theory and responses to literature by the English essayist William Hazlitt, and I briefly trace some similarities and differences between Holland’s approach and that of David Bleich and Stanley Fish. Drawing attention to a shift in Holland’s work from concern with how we read literature toward questioning why we read literature, I point out that this helps to explain why Holland turned to neuroscience. Referring in particular to more recent essays and to his magnum opus Literature and the Brain I argue that Holland’s major insights into the question of why we read literature are to be found in what he says about the interplay between the brain’s right and left hemispheres. I conclude, however, that such insights also problematize the emphasis on feeling-dominated response that has been a feature of Holland’s work since the beginning.
Literary critic Frederick Crews is self-deceived in asserting that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience; philosopher of science Adolf Grünbaum is self-deceived in arguing that it is a failed natural science. Because both have made a category mistake, because, as Jürgen Habermas and Paul Ricoeur contend, psychoanalysis is in essence a hermeneutic practice, the arguments of Crews and Grünbaum can have no legitimate impact on the practice of literary criticism. Once these arguments have been successfully demolished, no literary scholar need exhibit any trepidation whatever in using psychoanalysis as a framework for criticism.
Whimsical, anthropomorphic taxidermy of the Victorian era has been dismissed as marginal novelty. Yet why do we feel it also to be, in some undefined way, emblematic of Victorian visual culture? Anthropomorphic works—such as studious rabbits intent at their desks in a rural village schoolroom, athletic toads playing a frenetic game of stick-and-hoop, or elegantly attired kittens attending a wedding—represent a conflation of human and animal, of death and life, which simultaneously evokes fascination and repulsion. A closer look compels questions about the internal processes driving its creators and attracting its audience: why did such grotesque anthropomorphic expression flourish at this precise point in history? Its encoded meanings reveal, on scrutiny, rich strata of information about the meaning of anthropomorphism within the Victorian psyche, suggestive of wider anxieties surrounding the tension between theology and traditional cosmological perspectives, and the shifting association between humans and animals in Victorian England.
In her seminal work “Modern Fiction” (1925) Virginia Woolf asserts that the most interesting and fruitful way for the modernist novelist to proceed is to appropriate what she calls “the dark places of psychology” into literary writing. The image of “dark places”, especially when put into the context of the psychology of the 1920’s, almost immediately conjures up a Freudian perspective. However, as this paper argues, in addition to the Freudian overtones there is more to a full appreciation of Woolf’s psychology-related assertions in “Modern Fiction.” Taken in conjunction with her previous text, “Character in Fiction”(1924), it seems possible to read Woolf’s manifestos through the lens of the empiricist psychology of William James. Primarily relying on rhetorical analysis of Woolf’s vocabulary, this paper aims to disentangle the dynamic relationship between the distinct Jamesian and Freudian psychological schools influencing Woolf’s programmatic writings.
Freud likened Lady Macbeth and Rebecca West to patients destroyed by success due to guilt. In my paper, I show that these masculine women feel overwhelming guilt for the deaths of their respective fathers, and commit suicide in order to expiate this guilt. Lady Macbeth feels as if, by instigating the murder of the King, she had murdered her father, and Rebecca West finds out that the invalid she had cared for, and whose death she had caused, was her father. This trajectory bears resemblance to that of Oedipus, who felt no compunction for having killed Laius as long as he regarded him as a stranger, but was overwhelmed with guilt when he realized that Laius was his biological father. Macbeth and Rosmersholm constitute artful presentations of the masculine woman’s oedipal complex, and the structural parallels between the two plays strongly suggest that Macbeth served as a template for Rosmersholm.
This paper explores the strikingly similar use of psychoanalytic imagery in the films Psycho and The Lady in the Van. The paper argues that the latter film is a deconstruction of the former’s political aims. Where Psycho uses psychoanalytic imagery to warn of the danger that strong female autonomy poses to normal psychic development, The Lady in the Van uses the same tropes to expose the mendaciousness of such thinking. The paper concludes by demonstrating how Psycho represents a counter challenge to the political pretensions of The Lady in the Van. Bennett’s film is on the face of it a critique of middle class attitudes to homelessness. However, this paper demonstrates that by offering a psychological explanation for Miss Shepherd’s alterity, The Lady in the Van mimics the psychiatrists detailed diagnosis of Norman Bates’s perversion at the end of Psycho. This is argued to be problematic because the repeated explanation of the alterity of the strong voice of the mother reduces the uniqueness of the character to a symptom rather than an expression of autonomy. Ultimately the paper makes a case for the cultural significance of these films for exploring the political use of psychoanalysis to promote different social ends.