Freud, Saussure and Lacan: Interpreting dreams of a mad king, significations of a modern Ulysses and unrealities in a story of passion
The equation ‘Freud + Saussure = Lacan’ is a student-friendly basis for streamlining the complex theories of these three major modern thinkers towards a common and purposeful analytical illustration of psychoanalytic and linguistic fundamentals. In today’s world of interdisciplinary studies, it is also included in literary studies to help students of literature explore relevant aspects of texts that they read. But how does each component of the quoted relationship relate to literary theory? How may the knowledge of each be employed to enhance the literature student’s grasp over his/her reading? This essay seeks to explore the connections between psychoanalysis, linguistics and literature in relation to the Freud-Saussure-Lacan triad. In doing so, the relevant theories of each will be considered by turn and explicated by applying them to the analysis of selected portions from certain well-known texts.
“At the very least, Freud would recognize that he is a writer of novels, since he compares his analytic constructs to the delusions of his patients and declares ‘deep-rooted prejudices’ to be the guiding and dominating force behind the most abstract speculations of philosophy and science. Science, offering only ‘provisional validity’, is, in his view, simply a mythology…the pleasure which would be added to, or would replace, aesthetic pleasure would be the pleasure of knowledge. To a common pleasure in the fantastical, Freud adds the intellectual pleasure which stems from the resolution of the enigma which, for him, is the work of art; the pleasure which comes from grasping, detail by detail, the connections between a seemingly arbitrary ‘creation’ and the daily reality or past history of the artist.”
Freud’s theories in general and his techniques for interpreting dreams in particular have a lot of relevance to the study of literature. Any dream, according to Freudian theory, is comprised of a manifest content (that which the dreamer sees in his dream) and latent thoughts (the actual psychological drivers that create the dream). The latent thoughts are translated to their manifest form by what Freud calls the primary processes. During sleep, the unconscious, contrary to waking life, often manages to surpass and overcome the control of the conscious. During these times the primary processes of our psyche convert our repressed thoughts (that are otherwise under the strict control of human consciousness) into dreams. This conversion is termed by Freud as the dream work. And the process by which the psychoanalyst works out the way back from the manifest dream content to the latent dream thoughts is what composes the dream analysis.
Some of the primary processes are: -
Translation – The latent thoughts and the manifest content of dreams are simply two descriptions of the same material. In fact Freud describes a dream to be a kind of picture-puzzle. The content is nothing but the thoughts given a different expression: -
“The dream-thoughts and the dream-content are presented to us like two versions of the same subject-matter in two different languages. Or, more properly, the dream-content seems like a transcript of the dream-thoughts into another mode of expression, whose characters and syntactic laws it is our business to discover by comparing the original and the translation. The dream-thoughts are immediately comprehensible, as soon as we have learnt them. The dream-content, on the other hand, is expressed as it were in a pictographic script, the characters of which have to be transposed individually into the language of the dream-thoughts. If we attempted to read these characters according to their pictorial value instead of according to their symbolic relation, we should clearly be led into error.”(PFL4, 381-382)
As a useful parallel, the...
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