What Are the Aims of Freudian Psychoanalysis When Used in Textual Criticism and Can They Be Reconciled with the Romantic Conception of Authorship?

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What are the aims of Freudian psychoanalysis when used in textual criticism and can they be reconciled with the Romantic conception of authorship?

A psychoanalytic approach to textual criticism focuses heavily on the author of the text, and their subconscious motives behind their writing, rather than studying the text itself. When applying a psychoanalytical approach to the criticism of texts, pieces produced by not only authors, but poets, writers, filmmakers and other artists can be studied in order to understanding the psyche behind their creator. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, brought forward theories and discussed characteristics that composed the field of psychoanalysis, that when applied to literature, make it possible to study the authors subconscious motives through symbols in the composition of the text, which Freud described as unconsciously produced substitutes (Petocz 1999:14).

The purpose of this essay is to investigate and discuss psychoanalysis and its role in textual criticism in detail, while comparing and contrasting its core foundations, characteristics and ideas in relation to the notion of Romanticism; a key literary period that developed during the 18th and 19th century and began with the initial idea of inspiring imagination through text. Indentifying and discussing the relative features of Freudian analysis and the concept of Romantic authorship throughout this essay, in alignment with gauging an understanding of intention of these concepts as an imperative will be essential in concluding whether the aims of psychoanalytic criticism can be reconciled by Romanticism.

Psychoanalysis as a concept, dedicates a section of each individual’s mind to repressed memories, ideas, thoughts or desires and is referred to as the unconscious (Plotnik 2005:558). The proposed reasoning behind the repression of these memories, desires, ideas or thoughts is that they could be potentially psychologically damaging or threatening to an individual’s self-concept (Plotnik 2005:655). Although Freud did not propose the idea of the unconscious, his extensive research into the field and its impact on the individual led him to conclude that these repressed memories, feelings and thoughts can have significant effects on aspects of an individual’s personality that may not be explained by understanding an individual’s consciousness (Plotnik 2005:656). Separate from his research on the unconscious and repressed feelings and thoughts, Freud believed that an individual’s childhood has significant effects on shaping the individual into an adult, because during childhood, the unconscious is active in exercising sexual drives and feelings and demanding for them to be brought to consciousness, despite efforts of the unconscious to repress them (Plotnik 2005:656). According to Freud, these repressed feelings and thoughts from childhood manifest and can later be exposed in adulthood (Plotnik 2005:656).

When applying psychoanalytic criticism to literature, Freud’s notion of instinct psychology, later known as ID-psychology (Wright 1998) is imperative. ID-psychology is the concept of sexual instincts drive and influences each individual’s life (Wright 1998). Freud’s topography of the mind explores how the conscious and preconscious constantly battle with the unconscious, in making decisions regarding how to act and how to behave in life (Watts et al. 2009:54). It is in the unconscious that the sexual urges and the “pressure of need” (Wright 1998:33) are driven and derived, and will appear and have influence upon an individual through their actions and personalities (Wright, 1998; Plotnik, 2005; Watts et al. 2009). Alongside creating and harbouring sexual or pressuring desires, the unconscious is also where memories, feelings and thoughts are stored (Plotnik 2005). It is in the unconscious that Freud believed that any thoughts, feelings, memories or desires which may be psychologically harmful are stored, because...
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