The Ingrained Humanity of a Psychoanalytic Literary Critique

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Psychoanalytic theory begins and ends with the human being. As humans, we are tapestries, guided and molded by our consciousness and unconsciousness, which, combined, inform how we engage with the world and, by extension, how we choose to live our lives. Over time, this tapestry is woven through a cycle of cognitive evolution and maturation or regression depending upon the experiences we endure and the behaviors we adopt. And when the present is psychologically united with the past, the inclusion of our conscious and unconscious behaviors creates an uncertain admixture of cause and effect depending on the quality of those past experiences and behaviors. United, there is alchemy for how we will engage with the world and others—constructively, destructively? Put simply. All this is what makes us human. We are a mental stew that, if properly seasoned, positively affects future behaviors and experiences. If not, well therein lies the friction that informs the story. More on that in a moment.

Throughout our evolution, Tyson (2015) acknowledges in Chapter 2 of her book Critical Theory Today, that we leverage different psychoanalytic tools for coping both consciously and unconsciously. It’s those experiences and their effects on our psyche that cause us to evolve, which has a linear effect on the quality and form of our behaviors and interactions with ourselves and others—are we to be constructive or destructive? For example, if a similar situation arises in adulthood that is similar to a traumatic experience we had as a child, like the loss of a parent, we may regress into that childish psychological state for a time and then repress our feelings given other experiences that denounced us showing emotion, leaving us to be defensive and to “avoid knowing what we feel” given that “we can’t handle knowing” (Tyson, 2015). The example I reference here is demonstrative of a situation that lays siege a core issue Tyson references: Fear of abandonment.

Given how psychoanalysis is a set of tools for better understanding the psychological reasons for behavior, its use as a tool of literary critique is its logical extension given how psychoanalysis begins and ends with people. In the case of psychoanalytic criticism, however, the tool serves as a means of understanding the characters of the text and the writer his/her/themselves in the prose and poetry we consume by giving readers and writers a set of tools to understand the mental depth and breadth of the characters and of the writer/author, not to mention the relevance of giving the writer insight into character development. As a literary critique, psychoanalysis also informs how the experiences that are written into the plotline affect the characteristics of the characters’ behaviors throughout the story, just as psychoanalysis helps us to better understand our own behavior and that of others and how an experience will likely affect that behavior in the future, thus giving us the interesting capacity of foreshadowing.