What is the relationship between Freud and literature according to Trilling?

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In 1940 Lionel Trilling in his "Freud and Literature" remarked that "of all mental systems the Freudian psychology is the one which makes poetry indigenous to the very constitution of the mind." This quote clearly proves that Trilling had a very high regard for Freud. Trilling believed that Freud's pioneering method of psychoanalysis combines the preciseness of the scientific method with the imaginative insights of the romantic notion of the mystery that is the human mind to understand and appreciate literary works. Trilling asserted that Freud revealed through psychoanalysis that a creative writer  was not a neurotic but a disciplined literary artist who was capable of creating memorable fantasies.

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damaru | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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The Psychoanalytical theory of Freud has had a great effect upon literature. Yet the relationship is reciprocal, and the effect of Freud upon literature has been no greater than the effect of literature upon Freud. When on the occasion of the celebration of his seventieth birthday, Freud was greeted as the ‘discoverer of the unconscious’, he corrected the speaker and disclaimed the title. ‘The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious’, he said. ‘What I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied.’

There are some philosophers before Freud who clearly anticipate many of Freud’s ideas. These are Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In fact, the particular literary influence on Freud is not the question here. The question here is to get the Spirit of the time [Zeitgeist]. And the time is the Romanticist literature of earlier 19th century. The literature of this period is full of Psychological insights and passionately devoted to a research into the self.

While showing the connection between Freud and this Romanticist tradition, it is difficult to decide where to begin with. But it might be apt to start, as far back as 1762, with Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew. Many literary critics and philosophers praised this brilliant little work for its peculiar importance. Goethe, Marx, Hegel, Shaw, and Freud himself read it with great pleasure and full agreement.

There are two characters in Rameau’s Nephew ― Diderot himself and a nephew of the famous composer Rameau. The junior Rameau is a despised, outcast, shameless fellow who breaks down all the normal social values. He is a protagonist of the piece. As for Diderot, he is reasonable, decent, and dull. He is the deuteragonist of the piece. However, it is quite clear that author doesn’t dislike his Rameau and does not mean us to dislike him. Rameau is presented as lustful and greedy, arrogant and wrong, like a child. And Diderot seems to be giving the fellow a kind of superiority over himself. Rameau represents the elements which lie beneath the reasonable decorum of social life. These elements are dangerous but wholly necessary. Here Rameau represents Freud’s id and Diderot Freud’s ego.

Nevertheless it is of course true that Freud’s influence on literature has been very great. If we look for a writer who shows the maximum Freudian influence, Proust would come to mind as readily as anyone else. The very title of his novel in French suggests an enterprise of psychoanalysis – the investigation of sleep, of sexual deviation, the ways of free association. The other writer who was influenced by Freud is T.S. Eliot who in his The Waste Land presents the psychoanalytic interpretation of a dream. The names of the creative writers who have been more or less Freudian in tone or assumption would of course be large in number. Only a relatively small number, however, have made serious use of Freudian ideas. Kafka has explored the Freudian conception of guilt and punishment, of the dreams, and of the fear of the father. Thomas Mann has been influenced by Freudian anthropology finding a special charm in the theories of myths and magical practices. James Joyce has his interest in the numerous states of receding consciousness.