Self-Analysis Enhances Other-Analysis
by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere
January 8, 1999
This essay argues that self-analysis benefits other-analysis. Be the "other" patient, author, character, historical personality, or cultural object generally, analysts will improve psychoanalytic understanding of that "other" by scrutinizing themselves for any related psychical material. Just as Freud came up with some of his most interesting and intellectually productive concepts while in self-analysis, today's psychoanalyst of literature should engage in self-analysis (not to be confused with autobiographical criticism) for its intellectual potential. Just as clinical psychoanalysts have to be constantly aware of their countertransference with respect to the patient, literary psychoanalysts should learn how to become aware of the transference which comes into existence when they seriously take up the study of any literary object. At the very least, self-analysis helps the scholar to dispose of his or her own mental garbage which might conceivably interfere with objective psychoanalytic understanding.
Self-Analysis Private and Public
To practice psychoanalysis is, among other things, to think about oneself. It is nearly impossible to conduct other-analysis without also conducting self-analysis. At the same time, however, it is uncommon to go public with one's self-analysis. One can normally get on with the work of treating patients, or psychoanalyzing cultural objects and practices without having to say too much about oneself in the process. Nevertheless, I hope to demonstrate in this essay the specific relevance of self-analytic material for literary study.
Much of course has already been written about the psychology of reader response to literature (e.g., Holland 1968; Bleich; Seilman and Larsen). Usually, however, the reader whose responses are analyzed is not the scholar who is doing the analysis, or at least is not admitted to be the scholar who is doing the analysis. On occasion the question of the scholar's own transference is dealt with on a theoretical level (e.g., Schwartz), but very rarely will the scholar actually describe in detail his or her own specific responses to a given literary text (as did Holland 1975, for example). Public self-analysis requires rare exhibitionistic drive, and it is always limited in its depth and detail by the obvious dangers to oneself and to loved ones.
Another reason so little public self-analysis occurs in literary interpretation is that self-analysis entails an admission that literary scholarship is derived, secondary, is in a sense littérature manquée. In other words, many literary scholars cannot handle the anxiety of belatedness, or what Harold Bloom would call the anxiety of influence. Geoffrey Hartman has written something like a self-analysis on this theme ("The Interpreter: A self-analysis").
Outside of the literary field per se there has been some theoretical treatment of the role that the investigator's own psyche plays in scholarly and scientific research (e.g., Schepeler; Devereux 148-61; Lawton 81-94; Rancour-Laferriere, 1988 28-35; Loewenberg 3-13; and especially the various papers gathered in Introspection in Biography edited by Baron and Pletsch). There also exists a number of "confessions" by scholars about the personal motives behind their work (e.g., Tucker; Edel). Finally, there is an extensive clinical literature on so-called countertransference, which I will discuss below.
Most of the publications on self-analysis are to be found in the psychoanalytic literature proper. Freud started it all with the fairly large doses of self-analysis he provided in his writings from the period 1895-1901, i.e., when he was in the process of inventing psychoanalysis. Indeed, it is doubtful that Freud would ever have come up with such absolutely fundamental psychoanalytic concepts as the dream work, family romance, free association, infantile sexuality, Oedipus complex, primal scene, regression, screen memories, the unconscious, wishfulfillment, and a number of others outside of the context of progress in his own self-analysis (Anzieu). Freud's self-analysis did not stop, moreover, once the invention of psychoanalysis was complete. Rather, it continued (although usually not in public form) for the rest of his life, because he felt it was an ongoing antidote to the dangers of misinterpretation due to his own transferences.
Like psychoanalytic therapy generally, self-analysis is never truly complete (SE XXIII, 249; Anzieu 559; Fleming 21-50; Kramer; Ticho; Calder; Beiser; Chessick). Freud termed analysis "interminable." I prefer "asymptotic." At best analysis moves asymptotically toward a point of maximum possible insight, given the situation, and then moves on toward other points, never to actually touch any one of them.
The asymptosis can be discouraging. Freud once stated that "Genuine self-analysis is impossible; otherwise there would be no [neurotic] illness" (SE XIV, 21). I believe this idea is wrong, however, for it is based on the questionable assertion that analytic insight necessarily cures.
Self-analysis is easier than analysis of someone else in the sense that, in self-analysis, one has to overcome only one set of defenses (one's own), while in other-analysis one has to overcome two sets of defenses (one's own and the other's). Also, one should, in principle, know oneself better than anyone else does, for all the material to be known is contained within oneself.
On the other hand, in self-analysis the potential for distortion of reality is great. As Devereux says, self-scrutiny ". . . demands that the ego composed in part of defenses against insight appraise its own reluctance to face reality" (149).
Freud asserted that "In self-analysis the danger of incompleteness is particularly great. One is too soon satisfied with a part explanation, behind which resistance may easily be keeping back something that is more important perhaps" (SE XIV, 21). A recent paper by Henry Mallard illustrates this incompleteness all too clearly. Mallard gives two examples of self-analyses (one by a patient, one by himself) which subsequently proved incomplete when scrutinized by an outside party.
But the results of self-analysis are not necessarily false, even if they be partial or somewhat distorted. If practiced, moreover, for a long period of time, self-analysis can provide ever-expanding insight (Chessick reports carrying on a self-analysis for over 25 years after his initial training analysis). Freud himself never gave up on his own self-analysis, and he advocated that therapists analyze themselves on an ongoing basis. The benefits, he believed, outweighed the disadvantages. Most subsequent clinical writers on the subject have also come down in favor of self-analysis, even while recognizing its many pitfalls (e.g.: Horney; Kramer; Bollas; Ticho; Calder; Beiser; Chessick).
The benefits of self-analysis, I believe, are particularly great when the goal is not therapy, but intellectual discovery in the realm of applied psychoanalysis. Not much has been written about this topic because most psychoanalysts are preoccupied with therapy (indeed most of the clinical writers on self-analysis seem absolutely oblivious to applied psychoanalysis). But even the limited insights of self-analysis may have considerable scientific consequences. These insights, moreover, can be achieved by scholars who, like Freud, have no formal training analysis behind them.
Consider an example from the history of psychoanalysis. Freud, as is well known, saw homosexual wishes lurking behind Herr Schreber's paranoid fantasies. The judge's unjustified fears, paraphrased by Freud as "He persecutes me," really signified "I love him" at a deep, unconscious level (SE XII, 63). This controversial claim was evidently true, for it has largely withstood the falsifying onslaughts of experimental psychology. Paul Kline, in his meticulous overview of the empirical tests of psychoanalytic theories, says that ". . . the Freudian theory of paranoid schizophrenia is confirmed" (340). In one study, for example, paranoids recognized tachistoscopically presented homosexual words ("fruit," "fairy," "homos," "queer," etc.) much more quickly than did non-paranoids (Daston).
What was there about Freud's self-analysis that might have contributed to his discovery of the homosexual etiology of paranoia? In a recent paper Phyllis Grosskurth has shown that Freud may have been projecting something of his homosexual self into Schreber. Indeed Freud came to recognize his own homosexual preoccupations precisely during the course of his study of Schreber's memoirs: ". . . the case seems to have provided Freud with an opportunity to work out some of his unresolved difficulties about the homosexual component of his own intense relationship with Wilhelm Fliess, from whom he had parted bitterly a decade earlier" (38). As evidence, Grosskurth quotes from a letter Freud wrote to Sandor Ferenczi in October of 1910: "Since Fliess's case, with the overcoming of which you recently saw me occupied, that need has been extinguished. A part of homosexual cathexis has been withdrawn and made use of to enlarge my own ego. I have succeeded where the paranoiac fails." In another letter to Ferenczi Freud congratulated himself for "having overcome my homosexuality." In December of the same year, he wrote to Jung: "I am all Schreber" (as quoted by Grosskurth 38).
Clearly, the homosexuality Freud saw in Schreber, with whom he intensely identified, had something to do with his own admitted homosexuality.1 Freud felt free to admit this in letters to close colleagues, that is to say, in a genre of writing which for him was self-analytic and was in many respects the functional equivalent of a diary. But such an admission would have been out of place in his published analysis of Schreber, for it would have lessened his credibility, especially in the prudish cultural context he was working in (compare Calder, who felt free to discuss his own "negative oedipal wishes"). It is not as if Freud deviously and maliciously hid his homosexuality from the reader of the Schreber paper. Rather, it did not belong there. Certainly Freud had the right to choose whether or not to discuss his own homosexuality in print.
Freud, then, brought his own problem to bear on Schreber's problems. But that does not mean that what Freud saw in Schreber was only an illusion (I have already mentioned the experimental studies of paranoia). Freud might not even have taken an interest in Schreber if there had not been some objective similarity between himself and Schreber, and, more importantly, he might not have discovered the homosexual background of paranoia generally if he had not been dealing with his own homosexuality in his self-analysis.
To judge from Freud's handling of the Schreber case, self-analysis is related to both the analyst's own mental life and to the intellectual discoveries the analyst makes while self-analysis is occurring. In principle, it seems to me, this double relationship ought to hold, no matter what the particular object of psychoanalysis is. For example, it ought to hold in the psychoanalysis of literature. Self-analysis should be relevant to both the literary scholar and to whatever conceptual constructs the scholar formulates when psychoanalyzing such literary entities as an author, a reader, a character, personal relationships between characters, a trope, a narrative structure, etc.
One way to facilitate self-analysis is to write down what one is thinking. Not everyone who keeps a (regular or sporadic) diary is necessarily doing what psychoanalysts mean by self-analysis. This is as true of the famous literary artists who kept diaries (e.g., Tolstoy, Gide) as of ordinary diarists. But a private diary or journal can nevertheless be very congenial to genuine self-analytic endeavor. The diary offers a concrete external space for internal dialogue without at the same time requiring the presence of a real second person.
Some forms of psychotherapy, such as psychoanalysis, Jungian therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, Gestalt therapy, Japanese Morita therapy, and a few others utilize the diary as an ancillary technique. The socalled Intensive Journal method developed by Ira Progoff goes much further. Each participant in a Journal Workshop is given a black notebook with blank pages and twenty color-coded, printed dividers on such topics as "Daily Log," "Dialogue with Society (Group Experiences)," "Dialogue with the Body," "Dream Log," "Twilight Imagery Log," and "NOW: The Open Moment." The journal work is highly organized, but the approach is relaxed. Slowly and meditatively the pages are filled, inner connections are made, an overall "Tao of growth" is perceived by the writer, an ever evolving "inner wisdom" is achieved (Progoff 16, 269-84). Over the years there is supposedly a cumulative therapeutic effect.
Some of Progoff's colleagues choose to keep a journal by proxy for a creative historical personage. One of these has been published. It is titled A Life-Study of Franz Kafka 1883-1924, by Ronald Gestwicki. Most of the chapters of this curious book contain an imaginary conversation between "Ron" and "Kafka." The result is not at all Kafkaesque. The chief value of the book resides, I think, in its therapeutic function for Professor Gestwicki.
Some of the diary literature touches on self-psychoanalysis, but most does not deal with it explicitly or extensively. This is quite understandable. A diary is a private record of experience, but not all private matters are psychoanalytic in nature. For example, the written record of a dream is not an analysis of a dream, although it might be the first step of an analysis. Progoff speaks of "working with our dreams" (228-52), not psychoanalyzing them, not even interpreting them.
Tristine Rainer, in her very readable 1978 book The New Diary, reaches psychoanalytic explicitness in the advice she offers. There is no "right way" to keep a diary, she says. One should only be concerned with writing spontaneously, honestly, deeply. Thoughts should be allowed to flow freely. It is a mistake to try to correct mistakes. "Wrong" opinions and slips of the pen should not be crossed out.
Many diarists have regretted crossing out what they have already written. It is more valuable to add new insights to an entry than to erase or cross out or rewrite. Spur-of-the-moment negative judgments may actually be resistance to an insight that might later prove invaluable.
It takes the perspective of time to know what has significance in a diary. Some misspellings or word accidents acquire meaning upon rereading. "Freudian slips" may give you a key to subconscious attitudes or feelings. And some are quite entertaining. I once accidentally wrote "spychiatrist" for "psychiatrist." In another entry I wrote "Was" for "Wes," the name of a man with whom I was about to end a relationship. Clearly my subconscious was ahead of me in considering it already past. The hand tells the truth, so write fast and trust your body. (39)
Freud of course advocated something very similar to this with his socalled "basic rule" (Grundregel) that all psychoanalytic patients must abide by, namely: ". . . say whatever goes through your mind" (SE XII, 135). The diarist, in some moods at least, proceeds by this same method of "free association" which the patient follows on the couch. As Rainer points out, the various terms which have grown up around this procedure--free association, active imagination, automatic writing, stream of consciousness, free-intuitive writing--all refer to essentially the same thing (62).
For some it is difficult to relax to the point of free-associating on paper. But when one does, the results can be astonishing to ordinary consciousness. Marion Milner describes this experience in her fascinating 1934 book, A Life of One's Own. A diary entry about the sea suddenly flies off to thoughts of God:
SEA . . . mother--perhaps derived from `mer'--feeling ashamed when they laughed at Miss R.'s and they said I'd painted the sea blue--why did I feel such accusations always unjust, a hot fighting to deny and escape--to bathe in the sea. What does it mean? Deep cool green water to dive into, but often no bathing-dress and people watching and I never would bathe naked and damn the people-?-? God is this what the sea means?--lose myself--. . . . (Milner, 61-62)These somewhat incoherent thoughts take the diarist aback:
I was surprised at God coming into it. At that time if anyone had asked me what I thought about God I would have probably given a non-committal agnostic opinion, taking into account the latest fashion in science. I would have assumed that I had thus satisfactorily dealt with the question, taking it for granted that emotional troubles about it were things of the past, no doubt quite suitable during adolescence, but no concern of the twentieth-century adult. But since the word had cropped up in my free ideas about the sea, it now occurred to me that my automatic self might not hold the same views as my deliberate self. . . . (62)Quite reasonably Milner asks: "Might not these apparent beliefs of my automatic self, although I had no notion of their existence, possess the power to influence my feelings and actions?" (65).
With time Milner's "automatic self" did in fact play an ever larger role in her life, sometimes sending her into a panic, or provoking intense guilt feelings. Although the few sentiments expressed about psychoanalysis in A Life of One's Own are somewhat ambivalent, the ultimate destination of the book's author seems inevitable. Writing more than fifty years later, Milner states: "I was so astonished at what my diary keeping had shown about the power of the unconscious aspects of one's mind, both for good and for ill, that I eventually became a psychoanalyst" (219).
Literary scholars who wish to engage in self-analysis can profit from the literature on diaries. Tristine Rainer offers some valuable practical advice, such as her seven "special techniques" (72-114):
1. Make numbered lists of things on your mind, in any order, such as things to do, things you are afraid of, chronology of the ten most important events in your life, etc. 2. Write a detailed, descriptive portrait of someone intriguing, and consider to what extent it might really be a self-portrait (projection). 3. Doodle freely, without worrying about the artistic quality of the results. 4. Do "guided imagery," i.e., while in a meditative state conjure up carefully chosen self-nurturing images, such as a pleasant landscape, a fantasy journey assisted by animal helpers, etc. Use this process to change the negative outcomes of past events such as nightmares to positive outcomes. Record the images in a diary. 5. Alter the point of view of narrated events, e.g., use the pronoun "he" or "she" instead of "I," change the tenses of verbs. 6. Write first drafts of letters or unsent letters in the diary. 7. Write down imaginary dialogues between conflicting parts of the self, or between oneself and another person of emotional significance.The reader will no doubt recognize in Rainer's suggestions some of the very techniques employed by poets and fiction writers in their craft. That such techniques should also be useful for self-analysis is perhaps one reason why self-analysis has not been popular among literary scholars--many of whom regard themselves as failed writers. In any case, it is obvious that Rainer's chapter on overcoming writing blocks (215-28) would be as valuable to the literary scholar as to the creative writer.
My own early experience with self-writing took the form of "field notes" about plants and animals. In adolescence I was an avid birdwatcher and amateur botanist. The notebooks I have from that period contain entries such as the following for Sunday, October 18th, 1959:
After Mass this morning I went down to the Island, and from the Island I heard a flock of this year's first Pine Siskins. Also I saw a group of Mergansers and a lone Gull there. Then I went down to the Mink Swamp and saw the following: group of three Great Blue Herons, Hooded Mergansers (males now in winter plumage), Wood Ducks, several small flocks of American Mergansers, several Herring Gulls.In time I began spouting the Latin names of the flora and fauna of my native northern Vermont, as in this excerpt under Friday, September 2nd 1960:
Having flushed a few grouse in the woods, and on my way home down over Harris II, I found Spiranthes cernua var. ochroleuca [an orchid] in an old road. I took notes on this one plant, which I had never seen before.Occasionally these notebooks make references to literature, as on March 6th, 1961:
7:30 Mass. Read from Scientific American at lib. Work as usual. Studied Latin. Practiced Echo [harmonica]. Religion class. Read Dostoevskii.This phrase "Read Dostoevskii" is repeated again and again over the course of a month, yet I registered no opinion whatsoever of what I was reading (I recall now that it was The Gambler). The plants and animals I encountered on my "field trips," on the other hand, provoked a real response:
At the very same spot as mentioned in the last notes I saw another flock (probably the same) of Pine Grosbeaks. From the top of a medium-sized Hemlock nearby I took notes on their feeding (A2) [another notebook]. When they left I noticed an odd voice remaining.These notes may seem dull and poorly written, but as I read them now I can remember the excitement of climbing trees and watching birds up close. I had definitely decided to become an ornithologist. Dostoevsky was far from my mind.
It was much like a Black-Capped Chickadee, but more drawn out with a drawl, and less lively. As I approached very closely I found it to be a Parus hudsonicus--Brown-Capped Chickadee. It was definitely of a brownish hue, rather than the slate-gray of atricapillus. The brown cap and black bib quickly identified it.
Twice also a Sitta canadensis [nuthatch] flew in very close as I took notes.
Despite the occasional pleasant memories, looking over these earliest of my notebooks has been a sad experience. I hadn't laid eyes on the notebooks for years. After spending some hours with them I began to feel slightly depressed. I realized I was a great nature-lover in those days in part because I was trying to escape from a bad family situation, and that there is now no way to change that situation in retrospect.
In those days the more hours I could spend in the woods (or alone in the dark cellar of our house writing in the notebooks), the less time I had to deal with a too-large, too-noisy, and much too violent family. Toward the end, just before I escaped to college (where I majored in biology), there was a grand total of two fighting parents and eleven fighting children, all living under one roof.
The relationship my parents had might be termed morally sadomasochistic. I am not going to go into the gruesome details, but there is a relevant theoretical point to be made. It seems to me that my father idealized my beautiful mother, even as he abused her. Most of the abuse was psychological, indeed it involved a considerable amount of psychological insight about my mother. My father's attitude seemed to be:
Here is a beautiful object. Now let's tear it apart.In retrospect this seems rather similar to what many psychoanalytic scholars of literature do to literature. Certainly it is what this scholar does. I am never inclined to psychoanalyze a text unless first it attracts me aesthetically. It must be beautiful. Then I tear it apart.
By definition a successful literary work is supposed to be "beautiful." A mother's beauty and the aesthetic beauty of literature are akin to one another. I think I am not alone in this sentiment, although perhaps not all psychoanalytic critics identify specifically with an offensive father when approaching an aesthetic object.
My father's action, transformed by my identification with him as well as sublimation of the representations of his grosser offenses, became:
Here is a beautiful object. Now let's psycho-ana-lyze it.I hyphenate the key word to emphasize its violent etymology: Greek ana-luein means 'to break down,' 'to dissolve.' The destructive impulse is unmistakable. My mother was periodically 'breaking down,' 'dissolving' into tears as a result of my father's behavior. Time after time I have attempted to deal with this horror in my later diaries (the adolescent diaries demonstrate blissful ignorance of the problem).
The psychoanalysis of literature of course also springs from an epistemophilic impulse, that is, an intense desire to know and to understand. But this impulse itself, if the Kleinians are to be believed, is originally inseparable from sadistic attitudes--not the father's, but the child's--toward the mother. The little child is curious (especially about sexuality), but its curiosity is typically frustrated, so it lashes out in fantasy at the most important person in the world. In an early work (1928) Melanie Klein states:
The early connection between the epistemophilic impulse and sadism is very important for the whole mental development. This instinct, activated by the rise of the Oedipus tendencies, at first mainly concerns itself with the mother's body, which is assumed to be the scene of all sexual processes and developments. (188)Even pre-Oedipally, according to Klein, ". . . the subject's dominant aim is to possess himself of the contents of the mother's body and to destroy her by means of every weapon which sadism can command" (219). Apparently, then, one's (e.g., my) psychoanalytic sado-curiosity can derive from something even earlier than identification with an abusive father. Although no diary entries or personal associations come to mind in support of this idea, I sense intuitively that Klein is right.
The element of aggression in psychoanalysis may also be directed at the addressee of the analysis, not only at the object being psychoanalyzed. Strong psychoanalytic work is said to be "striking," it "hits" the reader with its insights. It can also function sadistically within a context of political confrontation. American Slavist Hugh McLean describes how, in 1958, he publically challenged the orthodox Soviet Marxist interpretation of Gogol's works with a psychoanalytic interpretation: "I . . . took some pleasure, not without an admixture of malice, in writing and delivering in Moscow an aggressively Freudian interpretation of Gogol" (McLean 118, italics added).
All of this is above and beyond whatever inherent offensiveness psychoanalysis possesses. As Freud realized from the start, psychoanalytic truths of all kinds can be narcissistically injurious. In his Goethe Prize essay he says that psychoanalytic study of great writers tends toward their "degradation" (SE XXI,212) A particular psychoanalytic discovery, by its very nature, is not quite the same as, say, finding a new species of beetle in the Brazilian rain forest, or unearthing a new draft of The Queen of Spades in some musty archive. A psychoanalytic discovery is more like finding a precancerous condition in an unsuspecting patient. The new information has the potential to provoke great anxiety. A possibility therefore exists that this information might be used sadistically.
In the case of self-analysis, on the other hand, there is the possibility that the information might be used masochistically. Even if the anxiety of learning something about oneself is overcome, there is still a danger that someone else might use the information against you. As with sadism, however, an ulterior, theoretical motive might make a potentially masochistic enterprise worthwhile.
Psychoanalytic critics practice applied psychoanalysis. Clinical psychoanalysis is somewhat different. The analyst behind the couch deals with a dysfunctional human being, not a text or some other cultural object:
Here is a sick object. Now let's fix it.This attitude, if some of the studies on countertransference are to be believed (see below), really means:
Here is a sick object. It fulfills my wish to see others suffer.Some few clinical analysts apparently do abuse their patients in order to keep the mental suffering going, although most are governed by a healthy reaction formation which drives them to try to cure patients instead (see Brenner; Sussman 73-77). In addition, some patients are extremely fragile, psychically, and feel "mind-fucked" by any analyst who attempts to make even a slight intervention (e.g., Giovacchini 33-37).
Psychoanalysts of literature deal with sadistic impulses by sublimation rather than reaction formation. To "tear apart" the text," offering "penetrating" psychoanalytic insight is to sublimate aggression. Psychoanalytic scholars sublimate their aggression as they strive to impart understanding to an audience they have no particular interest in "curing." A text cannot be literally abused in the same way a real human being can (although the author of a text, if still alive, might take offense, or certain readers might take offense if they are being subjected to reader-response psychoanalysis; even some among the professional readership may be put off). There are of course non-sadistic ways of relating to a text as well, but I believe the sadistic approach has been neglected in the past.
The psychoanalytic scholar can deal with sadistic impulses not only by directing them against the text, but also by finding texts which themselves deal with sadistic matters. To use an old Jakobsonian dichotomy, the scholar can establish not only a certain special contiguity to the text, but seek out similarity in a text as well. One can operate at the metaphoric as well as at the metonymic pole of psychoanalysis.
For example, one can study Dostoevsky. His works are riddled with sadistic and masochistic fantasy material. Even the conventional, nonpsychoanalytic Slavists agree on this.
I have been studying Dostoevsky for years. To some extent I can even link this interest to my early interest in birds. One of the pleasures of birdwatching was actually sadistic. I especially liked birds of prey. During my high school years I worked in a live museum caring for hawks and owls. According to the notebooks, I once spent an afternoon in the field intently watching a family of sparrowhawks haggle over the corpse of a freshly-killed chipmunk. Nowadays of course I think more about Dostoevsky's characters than about hawks.
The general principle here might be paraphrased as: It takes one to know one. Literary scholars do their best work on writers and characters they resemble. The sadistically-inclined gravitate toward a Dostoevsky, or a Heine, or a Capote.
Of course there is more than one way for any particular scholar to resemble a literary person. When I was writing a psychoanalytic study of Nikolai Gogol's famous short story "The Overcoat" I was more concerned with anality than with sadism (the subject of my 1982 book Out From Under Gogol's Overcoat is a hero named Akaky Akakievich, who I thought of as 'Akaky the kaka'). One of the reviewers even said that "Gogol has found a kindred spirit in Rancour-Laferriere . . . "(Charney 664). On the other hand, when later psychoanalyzing Lev Tolstoy's narcissistic Pierre Bezukhov (Tolstoy's Pierre Bezukhov, 1993), I became quite preoccupied with my own narcissism, as is clear from the diary entries of that period. I felt--and I hope readers will find--that Pierre and I are kindred souls too.
The identification I have experienced with the personae I have psychoanalyzed has always come undone, eventually. At the beginning of a project there is usually an intense, almost blissful feeling of oneness with my subject, almost a Kohutian merging. I think Kohut's notion of "selfobject" would apply here. I and that beautiful maternal persona are one even when the persona in question is male. But the delusive identity of self and object cannot last, cannot survive the gathering of objective facts, cannot withstand the passage of time which is inherent in any serious scholarly endeavor. I hack away at the selfobject, gradually separating self from object, isolating object in a text that reads with neutral precision. I think this process must be a derivative of the epistemophilic sadism directed against the mother which Melanie Klein described.
It is possible for a healthy psychoanalytic scholar, at the characterological level, to be sadistic, anal, narcissistic, and perhaps many other things as well. What is essential is to be what one studies, at least temporarily.
Or, it might suffice to be some natural complement of what one studies. For example, it takes a masochist to know a masochist, but a sadist might well do.
I think this general notion applies in other regions of human knowledge, not only psychoanalysis. In biography, for example, it is important that the biographer share core traits with the person whose life is being studied. Historians, journalists, and political analysts gravitate for good reason toward figures who are like themselves.
Let's return to sadomasochism as an example. Janet Malcolm, in her interesting recent essay on the aftermath of poet Sylvia Plath's suicide, argues that all biography is tendentious: "The writer, like the murderer, needs a motive."
Like the murderer? This sounds sufficiently sadistic. For example, the motive behind Jacqueline Rose's 1991 book The Haunting of Sylvia Plath is characterized by Malcolm as follows: "Rose's book is fuelled by a bracing hostility toward Ted and Olwyn Hughes" (Ted Hughes was being unfaithful to his wife Sylvia Plath at the time she committed suicide, and both he and his sister Olwyn have been instrumental in blocking public access to some of Plath's papers). Rose thinks it is impossible to take sides in writing about Plath. One must be evenhanded, after all, in dealing with a family tragedy. Malcolm thinks otherwise:
[Rose's book] derives its verve and forward thrust from the cool certainty with which (in the name of "uncertainty" and "anxiety") she presents her case against the Hugheses. In the "Archive" chapter, her accusations against Hughes for his "editing, controlling, and censoring" reach an apogee of harshness. If it had truly been impossible for Rose to take a side, her book would not have been written; it would not have been worth taking the trouble to write. Writing cannot be done in a state of desirelessness. The pose of fair-mindedness, the charade of evenhandedness, the striking of an attitude of detachment can never be more than rhetorical ruses; if they were genuine, if the writer actually didn't care one way or the other how things came out, he would not bestir himself to represent them. (148)With expressions like "verve," "bracing hostility," and "harshness" Malcolm is clearly suggesting that Rose is directing sadistic impulses toward the Hugheses. On the other hand, she is not implying there is anything wrong about this. There has to be a desire, even if a sadistic one, for good writing to occur.
Later in her essay Malcolm introduces imagery of garbage removal to characterize what the biographer does:
Each person who sits down to write faces not a blank page but his own vastly overfilled mind. The problem is to clear out most of what is in it, to fill huge plastic garbage bags with the confused jumble of things that have accreted there over the days, months, years of being alive and taking things in through the eyes and ears and heart. (158)Narrating biography is thus a kind of "housecleaning" in which a considerable amount of garbage must be removed. To extend Malcolm's metaphor, the Rose book on Plath still contains some bits and pieces of garbage which betray Rose's hostile attitude toward the Hugheses. And this is good. One must not clean too thoroughly, for then there is the danger of "being left with too bare a house" (158).
Janet Malcolm herself is a psychoanalytically-informed writer who is quite aware of the garbage in her own mind. Again, it takes one to know one. In psychoanalytic terms, it was easy for her to spot the sadistic tendentiousness toward the Hugheses in Rose's book, if only because she has felt the same way about Sylvia Plath. Plath's depressive moral masochism, culminating in suicide, attracts sadistically inclined biographers quite as much as it appeals to outraged feminists.
But again, this is good, at least for scholarly purposes. For how can we expose another's garbage without knowing our own? The psychoanalytic scholar cannot really move forward without a load of internal garbage, however neatly bagged in plastic. Other-analysis always presumes self-analysis, however covert, even unconscious.
Anyone who is willing to free-associate for a few minutes (aloud, subvocally, in a diary) will quickly be convinced of what a load of garbage there is in the human mind. It is the task of self-analysis to organize normally unconscious mental garbage, to categorize it by its smells. In this process it is important not only to throw out the irrelevant garbage, but also to retain the relevant garbage, i.e., those unpleasant details of the mind which permit one to be what one studies.
For example, when psychoanalyzing Tolstoy's Pierre Bezukhov I had to discard my strong feelings about head injury, for they had nothing to do with Pierre even though there was a brief moment in the narration when a slight head injury occurred (as in my essay, "Why Natasha Bumps Her Head"). As it turned out, my diary was a convenient receptacle for any garbage about this topic. On the other hand, my narcissistic problems, also abundantly documented in the diary, were relevant to Pierre. I do not think that anyone who does not carry around this particular load of garbage can really understand Pierre.
Perhaps I have extended Janet Malcolm's garbage bag metaphor far enough. Some previous readers believe not only that I have extended it too far, but that the very term "mental garbage" is off-putting and offensive. Perhaps this is true. Garbage is by definition something that is evaluated negatively. It is something bad, something that should be gotten rid of. But that is precisely how I want scholars normally to feel about the personal concerns that they bring to literary study. These concerns are useful up to a point. They are not garbage while they are being used, but they should be disposed of as garbage is disposed of after use. They should be out of sight when the job is done, and indeed if they are still in sight in the published work, then we should wonder whether the job has actually been finished, and whether the analyst has unconsciously intended to exhibit private garbage. In any case I think that what Malcolm says about a writer's tendentiousness is as true of literary scholarship as of biography and journalism. The literary scholar--including the psychoanalytic scholar--always has a hidden personal agenda. A little self-analysis should reveal just what that agenda is. When this is done, however, the experience can be quite surprising, perhaps unpleasant. Why am I doing a study of father-imagery in Kafka? What am I getting out of an analysis of androgyny in Virginia Woolf? What is there about studying Shakespeare's breast-imagery that gratifies me?
The self-analyst asking such questions is momentarily very self-centered, perhaps disgustingly so from the viewpoint of an outside observer. But the results can be quite enlightening to both self and other.
Normally this sort of thing is just "not done" in a public forum. That would be exhibitionism. Yet the exhibitionism can be put to uses which are of general theoretical interest. Such is normally the case when self-analytic material is presented in clinical psychoanalytic studies. It is high time self-analytic exhibits became more widespread in applied psychoanalysis as well.
Some schools of psychoanalysis are more open to self-analysis than others, and some psychoanalysts are more willing to reveal (exhibit) self-analytic materials than others. The original Freudian movement, for example, was very much self-analytic in orientation. Anyone who has read The Interpretation of Dreams(1900) already knows some of the dark corners of Freud's soul (e.g., the analysis of the Irma dream; see Gorkin 37-52 on the countertransferential aspects of this famous dream). As Christopher Bollas says, Freud ". . . dared to be where we must be to experience news of the self, and his writing of the experience was an integral part of the receptive capacity he facilitated by the creation of psychoanalysis" (238).
Jung, on the other hand, was an intensely private person who did not care to exhibit the inner workings of his psyche. Even in the late, autobiographical book Memories, Dreams, Reflections(1961) Jung is rather reticent, often lapsing into theoretical passages about the "personal myth" of himself rather than simply telling the reader about himself. When he does tell us about himself he can be quite entertaining, but Jungian "self-knowledge" (330) is not really self-analysis, and Jung's insistent occultism effectively blocks self-analysis. Here is just one example:
I had another experience in the evolution of the soul after death when--about a year after my wife's death--I suddenly awoke one night and knew that I had been with her in the south of France, in Provence, and had spent an entire day with her. She was engaged on studies of the Grail there. That seemed significant to me, for she had died before completing her work on this subject. Interpretation on the subjective level--that my anima had not yet finished with the work she had to do--yielded nothing of interest; I know quite well that I am not yet finished with that. But the thought that my wife was continuing after death to work on her further spiritual development--however that may be conceived--struck me as meaningful and held a measure of reassurance for me. (309)Jung resists interpreting this dream in several ways. He attributes to its "subjective level" an "anima" which seems to be doing the dreaming for him. Then he admits that he himself has some unfinished work to do in connection with his wife's death, but that this is "nothing of interest." Then he states the dream's obvious wish that his wife continue her work even though she is dead--in a form that implies his wife is not dead. In other words, Jung literally believes his dead wife is still alive, and that he really did meet her in the south of France. He has succumbed to the dream's underlying wish rather than interpreting it, that is, rather than doing self-analysis. All this occurs, by the way, in the context of a chapter (299-326) where Jung repeatedly assents to theories of reincarnation and life after death.
To some extent Jung acknowledges his refusal to do self-analysis. In the prologue to his autobiography he admits: ". . . I do not know what I really am like" (4). Perhaps this is because, as he says, ". . . I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem" (3).
Self-analysis is a "scientific problem" in the sense that one at least tries to view oneself objectively, as an "other" who, momentarily at least, is "out there."
When the situation is psychoanalytic therapy, both the analyst and the analysand may be called upon to do self-analysis. Ideally, the analyst should be primarily engaged in other-analysis, however, while it is the patient who pursues self-analysis. The analyst, after all, has already been through a personal training analysis, and should theoretically be capable of remaining relatively neutral in the face of any emotional onslaughts from the patient. The patient, on the other hand, is the one in need of analysis. Also, the patient consciously or unconsciously knows more about himself or herself than does anyone else, and should be prodded by the analyst's other-analysis to engage in self-analysis.
Reality does not match this ideal picture, however. Analysands can be resistant to the most tactfully proffered other-analysis, and analysts themselves are sometimes so preoccupied with their own agenda or so provoked by their patients that they need to analyze their own feelings in order to get the therapy moving. When the patient does perceive that the analyst is doing self-analysis as well as other-analysis, things may indeed get moving, for the patient gains a strong feeling of being supported in a difficult struggle (Bollas 255).
Technically speaking, analysts have to deal with a special type of transference, called countertransference. Transference generally is a psychical state in which ideas and feelings about personally archaic relationships (e.g., with parents or siblings) are "transferred" into the present interaction. For example, a patient may sincerely believe that the analyst has a limp, even though such is not the case, simply because the patient's father had a limp. Transference, as Freud originally observed, can contribute powerfully to the patient's resistance to treatment (SE, XII 99-108). As Otto Fenichel put it, "the patient misunderstands the present in terms of the past. . . " (29).
Over the years the terms transference and countertransference have been extended considerably. Clinicians are not in agreement about what gets "transferred," when the "transferred" materials arose in development, and what psychological mechanisms cause the "transfer" (Ehrenreich). Some clinicians, such as Robert and Simone Marshall, believe that the terms transference and countertransference by themselves now have "virtually no meaning" (42). In any case, the two terms now do mean much more than just a "misunderstanding" due to an anachronism. For the most part they now refer to the entire array of feelings--conscious or unconscious, appropriate or inappropriate--experienced with respect to the other party in psychoanalytic therapy. Gill and Hoffman, for example, equate transference with "the patient's experience of the relationship [with the therapist]" (4). A definition of countertransference offered by Maroda runs as follows: ". . . the conscious and unconscious responses of the therapist to the patient" (66).
A growing interest in countertransference in particular is apparent in the recent psychoanalytic literature (see, for example: Feiner; Gorkin; Giovacchini; Sussman; Bollas 173-274; Marshall and Marshall; Waldron; Slakter; Messner et al.; Tansey and Burke; Maroda; Brandell; Schwaber; see Tansey and Burke 9-37 and Slakter 7-39 for valuable historical overviews of countertransference). Analysts now recognize that serious problems may arise not only from inadequate awareness of countertransference, but also from a failure to actually parlay the countertransference into the healing process. Sherwood Waldron, Jr. finds, for example, that slips of the tongue made by the analyst, when properly attended to, can make the analysis take off in a whole new, productive direction (Waldron 575). Christopher Bollas believes that the frustration and anger he experienced in being lied to by a pathological liar helped him understand the frustration his patient must have felt in relating to an unreliable mother in early childhood (183). Bollas argues for "expressive uses of the countertransference," that is, ". . . the clinician should find a way to make his subjective states of mind available to the patient and to himself as objects of the analysis even when he does not yet know what these states mean" (200-201). Karen J. Maroda concludes that ". . . failure to actively use and express the countertransference can lead to negative outcomes such as stalemates, premature or forced terminations, and even sexual acting-out" (4).
Analysts should dispense with the aloof neutrality and silence they have traditionally tried to maintain with respect to the patient, according to most of these analysts. Oftentimes the neutrality is false anyway, just a mask behind which the analyst hides when the patient is being particularly provocative. There is no such thing as a perfectly analyzed analyst. No amount of training analysis can (nor should it) preclude intense emotional reaction on the part of the analyst in certain circumstances. Maroda believes that sometimes the patient needs a responsive (not just empathic) analyst, one who is willing to undergo "mutual regression" with the patient, one who is willing to be "healed" along with the patient (Bollas refers to a "going mad together" with the patient, followed by a "mutual curing"). In one case a depressive patient improved when Maroda allowed herself to experience her own feelings of despair in the presence of the patient (47). In another case Maroda admitted to a chronically angry patient that she was feeling defeated by him, and this brought relief to both analyst and patient (55). A severely masochistic borderline patient, after several years of treatment with no apparent improvement, made a complete turnaround after Maroda threatened to terminate treatment ("refer out") while at the same time admitting to the patient that she was feeling extremely frustrated, helpless, and angry (75-80).
Analysts have to recognize that they have their own problems, and that patients are often quite capable of discerning them. Analysts may feel sexually attracted to some of their patients, they may hate others with great intensity. They may fall asleep on their patients (as Freud sometimes did). They are not necessarily healthier than their patients, says Maroda (69); indeed there is a massive body of statistical evidence that workers in the various mental health professions, including psychoanalysis, "typically manifest significant psychopathology of their own" (Sussman 34). Psychoanalysts may also have an interest in keeping their patients sick. For example they may be therapists out of a wish to see others suffer (Maroda 44; cf. Brenner 46ff.; Sussman 71-83 provides a comprehensive survey of the literature about aggressive strivings toward the patient). The therapist may also envy the recovering patient (Maroda 159). I would add that there is often a financial incentive to keep the patient in therapy for as long as possible.
In the interests of therapy it is sometimes good, sometimes bad for the therapist to openly acknowledge his or her emotions, to express countertransference feelings. It is particularly important to know when not to disclose countertransference feelings, and to be able to detect when such disclosure fails. Maroda provides some useful guidelines in the area, e.g., it is best not to disclose early in the therapeutic relationship, one should not disclose sexual feelings except in very rare cases, one should disclose only when the patient explicitly requests disclosure, etc. Analysts are just as obliged to develop tact in disclosing countertransference as in deciding when to venture an interpretation of some segment of the patient's transference. In any case it is obvious that ongoing self-analysis makes it easier to deal with the countertransference feelings which invariably arise in treatment.
How can the psychoanalytic studies of transference and countertransference in the clinical situation illuminate literature? In particular, what light can these studies shed on the psychoanalytic study of literature? The literary work per se is not very much like a patient in need of a cure. Yet the psychoanalytic scholar resembles a psychoanalytic therapist insofar as both are in a position to interpret utterances. In the case of therapy the speaker is present and real, lying right there on the couch, free-associating, acting out, etc. In the case of (written) literature the speaker is virtual, is represented as present in the form of an author, narrator, fragments of a narrator, persona of a lyric poem, characters in a novel, etc. 2) It is clear that the psychoanalyst in both situations--clinical and literary--is capable of having subjective feelings about the object in question. How should these feelings be handled? Do the clinical studies have anything to teach the literary psychoanalyst?
I believe they do and do not. They do not in the sense that literary personae (or fragments of personae) are incapable of truly interacting with the analyst the way a patient (or fragments of the patient) interacts with the analyst. There is no two-way "transference-countertransference matrix," as the clinicians say. There is only the one-directional transference of the analyst provoked by the literary material, and there is no point in even calling this transference a "countertransference," for it "counters" nothing real (cf. Schepeler 114 who makes an analogous point regarding psychoanalytic biography). For example, Emma Bovary has no discernible feelings about me personally as I read Flaubert's novel. I would be deluded (in the manner of some deconstructionists) if I thought she did. However real literary personae may seem, they do not actually interact with literary analysts (unless they happen to be real authors who are still alive and provide actual feedback to the analyst--a rare situation fraught with all kinds of dangers, including legal).
However the clinical studies of transference generally (including certain aspects of countertransference specifically) do have relevance to the psychoanalytic study of literature. Indeed, they must for purely commonsensical reasons. All people have "transferable" thoughts and feelings, not just patients and therapists. Psychoanalysis has undergone such extensive medicalization--"pure" psychoanalysis has become so hypertrophied--that "applied" psychoanalysis has been cast into shadow. Just as one does not have to be a prostitute in order to have sex, one does not have to be a clinical psychoanalyst to do psychoanalysis. Robert and Simone Marshall quote someone who dropped out of psychiatry and became productive in a related field as saying: "Therapists are emotional prostitutes and I just can't sit there and listen to these needy people all day long" (78).
From the viewpoint of transferential phenomena generally, it should not matter whether one psychoanalyzes "needy" patients, literary works, characters in works, political figures, famous historical personalities, whole cultures, or whatever. To become seriously involved with anyone or anything is to introduce the possibility of transference. This includes the applied psychoanalyst's personal involvement with any object psychoanalyzed.
In the therapeutic situation the issues for the analyst are: 1) how to be open to one's own (counter)transference feelings and how to manipulate them internally, and 2) when and to what extent such feelings should be disclosed in the presence of the patient. In literary scholarship the second of these issues is irrelevant, since there is no one being "cured," to whom disclosure might be made therapeutically. However there is oneself (or one's diary), which is to say that the first issue is relevant. There are also friends, colleagues, a spouse, etc. with whom discussion is possible (more so than in clinical analysis, where confidentiality of the patient's revelations ordinarily must be maintained). There is also the reader of literary scholarship itself. There is actually quite a variety of objects to which transferential material about literature might be expressed.
There are also various degrees of disclosure of the transferential material. These might be classified as follows:
1. Not consciously thinking about transference. 2. Consciously thinking about it. 3. Discussing it with a) someone other than the object of the transference, b) with the object of the transference. 4. Writing it down (diary). 5. Publishing (some or all) of it.Traditional clinical psychoanalysis has always advocated getting at least as far as step 2. The more radical clinical analysts today believe the therapist should at least sometimes arrive at step 3b. Literary psychoanalysts, in my opinion, ought to arrive at step 4 at least when a dead end or blockage of some kind develops in the analytic work. Finally, psychoanalytic scholarship which introduces self-analytic material, like much of the recent clinical literature on countertransference, arrives at the exhibitionistic ultimate, step 5.
In the last decade or so there has arisen a genre of criticism (I would not call it scholarship) which mingles critical commentary and theory with assorted personal anecdotes. Writers in this mode tend to be feminists. Little of this fascinating writing could be called properly self-analytic, although much of it is psychoanalytically informed. Some of it is revealing at the level of professional gossip in academe, and all of it is personally revealing.
In her Thinking Through the Body Jane Gallop, for example, confesses not only that Rousseau's Julie made her cry, but that works by Sade moved her to masturbate (18). Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in the context of a delightfully detailed commentary on her own poetry, tells us of her childhood association of poetic rhythm with the experience of being spanked ("A Poem is Being Written," 114). Somewhat more reserved is the "personal criticism" proffered by Mary Ann Caws in her Women of Bloomsbury, for in this unconventional book the sexual habits of the author herself are not displayed.
Most recently Duke University Press has brought out a collection of essays titled The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, edited by Dianne P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar. This work was immediately lampooned by the Times Literary Supplement (30 April 1993), and it does have to be admitted that a few of the contributions are framed in the most wretched college compositionese. But the volume also contains some insightful and moving papers on the role of the self in creative criticism.
For example, Brenda Daly demonstrates that she was able to gain a deeper understanding of the the thematics of child abuse in Joyce Carol Oates by drawing on her own experience of living in a family where the father was sexually abusing some of the daughters as the mother stood by, denying what was happening ("My Friend, Joyce Carol Oates").
Also included in the volume is the now-classic feminist piece "Me and My Shadow," originally published in 1988, by Jane Tompkins. Tompkins says she is fed up with having to avoid personal matters in her professional discourse: "I think people are scared to talk about themselves, that they haven't got the guts to do it" (25). Tompkins has the guts, however. For example, she feels free to mention
. . . the birds outside my window, my grief over Janice [a friend who committed suicide], just myself as a person sitting here in stockinged feet, a little bit chilly because the windows are open, and thinking about going to the bathroom. But not going yet. (28).This is the "other" voice, the "personal" element that Tompkins wishes could find its way more often into her professional utterances. In particular she wishes she could express her personal anger at men: "I hate men for the way they treat women, and pretending that women aren't there is one of the ways I hate most" (37). In fact she does express this anger at some length in the essay, gratifying herself and her readers--not only feminist readers, but any readers with sensitivity to the importance of psychological issues: "The disdain for popular psychology and for words like 'love' and 'giving' is part of the police action that academic intellectuals wage ceaselessly against feeling, against women, against what is personal" (39).
Another feminist who doesn't mind emerging from the straitjacket of formal academic discourse is Nancy K. Miller. She has published a rambling collection titled Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts (1991). Reading this book we learn, among other things, that Professor Miller is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, that she makes mistakes in her spoken French, that she did not get tenure at Columbia, that she used to shop with her mother at Loehmann's in the Bronx, that she would drink coffee with her mother at a Greek-owned restaurant after shopping, etc. In a chapter titled "My Father's Penis" (143-47) she really "gets personal," describing, for example, how her father used to walk around the house in pajamas with a partially open fly:
The pajamas, made of a thin cotton fabric, usually a shade of washed-out blue, but sometimes also striped, were a droopy affair; they tended to bag at the knees and shift position at the waist with every movement. The string, meant to hold the pajamas up, was also meant to keep the fly just a slit opening in the front closed. But the fly, we might say modernly, resisted closure and defined itself instead by the meaningful hint of a gap. (143)The object, the "it" in the gap was a mystery to the child, and was "somehow connected to the constant tension in our family, especially to my mother's bad moods." Why this should have been so is never made clear. But Miller does tell us that she eventually got to see, even to feel her father's penis many years later, after he was stricken with Parkinson's disease and developed urinary problems: ". . . I fished his penis out from behind the fly of his shorts and stuck it in the urinal; it felt soft and a little clammy" (144).
In a theoretical context of French feminism all this leads, naturally, to the Lacanian Phallus/Penis dichotomy. The Father's Phallus was constituted by his authoritarianism, in particular by his acts of violence against the daughter: he physically abused her, she reports, throwing her across a room on one occasion, knocking her down in an elevator on another. The penis, on the other hand, was merely the soft, clammy organ. Rebelling against the father meant having a "chance at the phallus," even if she could not have the literal penis (146).
Yet, although a theoretical point has been illustrated by a personal anecdote, one senses that the anecdote is overly bizarre. That is, it is psychoanalytically unmotivated, much analytic material seems to have been deleted or left unsaid. And besides, the theoretical dichotomy of Phallus/Penis is not all that clear to Miller (cf. Gallop 131), nor does it seem to interest her very much. What Miller really wants to tell us, it seems, is some dark secret about herself (and her mother?). But she cannot bring herself to, for such a self-analytic act would be too painful, and the secret revealed would be quite beside the theoretical point. Miller seems to be inviting some supplementary other-analysis from her reader. I venture to accept the invitation, but caution that what I am going to say is only an interpretation.
The cumulative effect of the essay is to belittle the father's penis. Here, I think, lies a part of the secret. The penis is soft and clammy, it turns blue, its uncontrolled action raises the stink of urine in the apartment, etc. One is tempted to laugh at the old man's urinary problems, and it is obvious that Miller intends this. The phrase "soft and a little clammy" means: not erect, small, cold--not hot, the way the mother likes her coffee.
But behind the castratory wish there appears to be an even darker secret. The final words of the chapter--and the book--are spoken by a physician in an intensive-care unit where Miller's father is being treated: " 'What do you want me to do,' she hissed at me across the network of tubes mapping his body, 'kill your father?'" (147). The answer can only be yes. The culmination of the essay appears to express a death-wish against a manifestly abusive father. Had this feeling (along with the castratory wish) been (self-) analyzed, the essay would have been much different, the trivial Phallus/Penis distinction would have evaporated, and probably the true origins of Miller's feminism would have come to the surface.
But still, even when she does not plunge to the psychoanalytic depths Miller can be interesting. By revealing oftentimes excruciatingly painful details from her personal life Miller succeeds in attracting the reader's sympathy. Certainly she attracted this reader's sympathy, and not only with regard to abusive fathers. For example, Miller's account of the anxieties she experienced about her imperfect French reminded me of my own anxieties about my imperfect spoken Russian: on more than one occasion I have felt humiliated by making a grammatical error in the presence of American fellow-Slavists (especially in front of those language robots who mimic Russian so well and who usually turn out to be mediocre scholars). Reading Miller I also remembered how chauvinistic the French can be about their language. In Paris I was scoffed at for my French, while in Moscow I have always found the Russians grateful for my even attempting to speak Russian.
Another association that came to mind while reading Miller was the way Roman Jakobson, my teacher many years ago, used to speak English, i.e., with a thick Russian accent. If he could get away with that, I used to think, then it was ok for me to go into Slavic studies and try to be as brilliant a scholar as he was. The joke used to go around among Slavists that Jakobson could speak "thirty-two languages fluently--all of them in Russian." I used to find this joke irritating. Now I realize I was identifying with Jakobson more than I knew at the time.
But here I find myself doing what Miller and some of the other autobiographical critics do, running on and on with personal observations and reminiscences, without making any relevant scholarly point. That is the potential problem with all writing which--to quote the jacket of Miller's book--"interleaves the personal and the theoretical, anecdote and text."
In the interests of getting literary critics and scholars to pay more heed to the possibilities of self-analysis as an aid to other-analysis, I pose the following questions (drawn up with the assistance of Professor Jeffrey Berman):
What is the role of the critic's (counter-)transference fantasies in literary criticism?Not all of the answers are in for this new interdisciplinary research field, by any means. Hopefully this list of questions will serve as a stimulus to further study.
Have literary critics who have been "self-analyzed" become better critics? Different critics? Do they understand better the relationship between their personal and professional lives? Would they recommend self-analysis for other literary critics?
Is self-analysis an ongoing process--analysis terminable and interminable?--or does its practical value end at a certain point?
Is self-analysis equally valuable for self-understanding and self-healing? Have the literary critics who have gone into self-analysis done so primarily for intellectual or therapeutic reasons?
To what extent are the critic's identifications and counteridentifications with fictional characters based on personal experiences, values, upbringing, etc.?
Can students practice self-analysis in the context of a literature course?
Is the training that literary scholars typically receive conducive to/not conducive to what psychoanalysts mean by self-analysis?
What are the difficulties (resistances?) inherent in admitting that one has been "other-psychoanalyzed," and is it possible to overcome these difficulties?
What are the difficulties (resistances?) inherent in admitting that one has not been "other-psychoanalyzed?"
What are the dangers of self-analysis? Are there contexts in which self-analysis is little more than a symptom of narcissistic disturbance? Might a scholar's public self-analysis ever be used against the scholar? How important are the exhibitionistic and masochistic components of self-analysis? How can the self-destructive aspects of self-analysis be mitigated?
Can the narcissistic, exhibitionistic, and masochistic functions of self-analysis be isolated in such a way as to prevent interference with objectivity? Can they be coopted in such a way as to facilitate empathy either with literary creativity or literary response?
If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from this essay, it is, I hope, this: self-analysis can be a boon to other-analysis, including the psychoanalysis of literature. Literary analysis informed by self-analysis is in principle superior to literary analysis not so informed.
To be sure, analyzing oneself has a powerful narcissistic appeal. Self-analysis may indeed be the unacknowledged main goal in life for many psychoanalysts, clinical and applied. Nevertheless, even so narcissistic an enterprise can, paradoxically, enhance other-analysis as well. One cannot observe one's self without somehow objectifying that self, 'othering' it--but this is already the structural equivalent of other-analysis. Such 'othering,' moreover, can be provoked specifically by something which is itself 'other.' For example, it can be provoked by some objectively existing element of a literary work. Indeed, to modify Aristotle, nothing exists in the 'othering' mind without being perceived in the 'other' first. In the case of literature, it is as if some literary persona--author, narrator, character, fragment of a character, or whatever--whispers a bribe into the ear of the reader: "If thou wouldst know thyself, know me."
Marion Milner quotes Lao Tse: "I observe myself and so I come to know others" (122). I think that even the most narcissistic of self-analysts come to know others, including literary others--in spite of themselves. 3
1 Others who have written on Freud's homosexuality (but not in connection with Schreber), include: Jones, vol I, 317; Anzieu 165, 259, 292, 312, 393, 543, 552. My colleague Alan Elms (letter of 7 February 1990) has pointed out to me that Freud also worked through some of his homosexual feelings while writing his book on Leonardo da Vinci in 1910. What Freud says of Schreber ("I am all Schreber") is very much like what he had said of Leonardo earlier that same year ("Otherwise I am all Leonardo").
2 It is important to recognize that literary personae are represented by the writer and perceived as such by the reader. Those who neglect this form of personification--from the Russian Formalists down to today's Bakhtinians and Deconstructionists--tend to mistakenly personify the text or the literary discourse itself (see my study "Why the Russian Formalists Had No Theory of the Literary Person").
3 I wish to thank Barbara Milman, Jeff Berman, Alan Elms, Brett Cooke, Norman Holland, Kathryn Jaeger, and two anonymous PSYART readers for their constructive comments.
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Received: October 12, 1998, Published: January 8, 1999. Copyright © 1999 Daniel Rancour-Laferriere