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An Examination of the Frames of Literary Criticism - from Leavis to Derrida - in Relation to theFreudian Frame of Psychoanalysis

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posted on 2024-07-02, 06:32 authored by Matthew Lamb

Many of the errors inherent in Sigmund Freud's thinking have been inherited by such critics as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida, who have based their own work on both psychoanalysis in general and on Freud in particular. Although much work has been done dismantling Freud's work and legacy there have been very few attempts to assess the effects of these findings on disciplines other than psychology. It is this gap, within the discipline ofliterary studies, that the current research is attempting to fill.

Psychoanalysis posits that the human mind is divided into two oppositional domains the primary and secondary processes - and is formed through an interplay of these two processes. This psychoanalytic structure is in turn based upon - among other sources, such as Plato and Immanuel Kant - the philosophical structure established by Arthur Schopenhauer, who argues that human being is divided into two realms - one governed by the intellect, and the other governed by the will - and that this structure is formed through an interplay of these two realms. The arguments supporting the notion of the primary process, however, do not survive scrutiny.

From Schopenhauer's work, Freud has established an interpretive framework that is modelled on the interpretation of dreams, and the notion of the latent-dream content. This allows Freud to explain how the unconscious id, through the mechanism of repression, positions the super-ego in such a way that oversees and directs the action of the conscious ego in its dealings with both itself (self-consciousness) and the external world, but also in how it protects these against further demands from the id. But the arguments supporting the notions of latent-dream content and repression, established upon the indefensible notion of the primary process, also does not survive closer scrutiny.

Freud's essential structure is comparable to the interpretive assumptions and critical frameworks adopted by Barthes, Lacan and Derrida, themselves modeled on the interpretation of written texts. Barthes uses an underlying linguistic system (langue) to activate the idiolect in such a way that positions individual utterances (parole) within a "translinguistic" world; Lacan uses the lack, and the symbol of this lack (objet petit a), within the Symbolic, in order to structure the Imaginary; and Derrida uses arche-writing, the differance of its traces (the signifier), within the khora, in order to structure both the subject and the categories with which it approaches the external world. The thread of this inheritance may be seen in the development of these ideas between each of these individual's work: from the will to the id, through to langue and to both the lack and arche-writing; from the intellect to the ego, through to parole and to both the Imaginary and the subject; with both of these threads structured together through the super-ego, and from the idiolect through to both the Symbolic and the khora. As these structures depend on Freud's basic assumptions, it appears that they must also be flawed. At the same time, these shared errors also mask specific difficulties peculiar to each individual's work. Exposing these inherited errors reveals also these further difficulties. I therefore conclude-that these structures upon which much contemporary criticism is based, through the work ofLacan and Derrida in particular, need to be re-examined in light of the apparently flawed assumptions on which they practice.


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Central Queensland University

Peer Reviewed

  • No

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • Traditional

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