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EN914: Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma, Sexuality and the Death Drive

Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma / Oedipus / Death Drive

The course is designed as an introduction to some of the fundamental theories and concepts of psychoanalysis for literary students with no previous knowledge of the work of Freud or the post-Freudians. Unlike most academic psychology courses, it will take a text-based and historical approach, tracing the development of Freud’s thought through close readings of key essays, clinical case studies, and associated literary works. Concepts will be traced through their evolution, abandonment, retrieval, revision in texts from the 1890s to the 1920s and beyond. The course will start with the origins of psychoanalysis in trauma theories of hysteria, their apparent replacement by developmental models of sexuality and the Oedipus complex and the return of trauma in Freud’s final theory of the repetition-compulsion and the death drive and his associated analysis of the aesthetics of the Uncanny. It will also address the critical and revisionary work of Jean Laplanche with its return to trauma and the theory of seduction. Though the main focus of the course is theoretical, it will look at four literary works that narrate or stage these concerns: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Shakespeare's Hamlet and two novellas by the early 19th century German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Sandman.

The course is a required foundation course for students taking the Literature and Psychoanalysis pathway, however, it is also available to other MA students and can count towards meeting the Critical Theory requirement of the MA in English Literature. The course starts on Wednesday of week 1, Term 1, so prospective students should prepare by reading the texts set for the first few weeks of term over the summer. Students considering taking the course should also read Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, which is an exellent introduction to Freud's ideas and their developments and is available in an early out-of-copyright translation as a free download from

The first of these lectures covers the question of trauma with which the course begins.

An excellent, reader-friendly introduction for beginners is Josh Cohen's How to read Freud, Granta Books, cheaply available on the internet.

The course Moodle

The course will be delivered through a Moodle format which brings together in one place and on a week-by-week basis a podcast lecture on the texts set for each week, links to the relevant Freud texts accessible on the PEP database (Psychoanalytic Electronic Publilshing), a weekly email outlining the themes and topics for the seminar discussion, the brief introductions to each set text uploaded to the moodle by the student assigned to each introduction. There will also be an online forum where discussion of some of the specialist theoretical terminology and related issues can take place outside the seminars.

I can only enrol you for the course Moodle once you have registered officially with the university on your arrival and received your Warwick email address. The sooner you do this the better, ideally in week 0.

Texts and Recommended Purchases

Although all of Freud's psychoanalytic writings are now available on the PEP database via the Warwick library website, it is recommended that you purchase some of the key tests to be studied.

The Freud selections are taken from:

SE - The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey, vols. 1-24, London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-74. This is now available in Vintage Paperback.

PFL - The Pelican Freud Library, vols. 1-15, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975-86. This is a paperback selected version of the Standard Edition of the James Strachey translation listed above. Its great advantage was that it grouped material thematically (i.e. all the sexuality or literature material in the same volume) rather than chronologically as the SE does. This makes it cheaper and more convenient.

Unfortunately the PFL is now out of print, replaced by new individual translations commissioned by Penguin. These do not have an editorial or explanatory apparatus (no notes or index) and the different translators have not agreed a common translation for the same terms! So stick to the Strachey translation in SE or PFL where you can find them (try or Abebooks, and similar websites). Copies of all set Freud texts both SE and PFL editions are available in the library in Short Loan Collection and the 24 hour Grid. Also the Warwick Library has acquired the psychoanalytic database PEP (Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing) which can be accessed via the library website.

However printing off library copies or online texts can be expensive, especially if you do it on campus. It often proves cheaper to buy some of the SE or PFL volumes, especially where this is a longer set text or a number of set essays from the same volume. You also end up with other related Freud essays and material in the same volume, rather than just a set of gradually deteriorating photocopies.

NB You are required to bring copies of the set texts to the seminar discussion, whether in book form or photocopy.

Texts recommended for purchase:

SE vol. 2 (PFL vol. 3), Breuer and Freud, Studies on Hysteria (1895) for week 1

SE volume 10 (Vintage Paperback) – Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-old Boy (the case of “Little Hans”), also in PFL volume 8 (Case Studies I: Little Hans and Dora) for week 3

SE vol 19 for The Ego and the Id and essays (the advantage of buying them is that you also get a number of other important Freud essays along with them that are not set texts but relevant to the course) for week 4.

Sophocles, Oedipus the King, trans. Thomas Gould, Prentice Hall. This edition is crucial for both its translation and commentary by one of the few Classical scholars who is knowledgeable about psychoanalysis. Unfortunately it’s in and out of print, but can be got second hand as a paperback at a reasonable price (websites, usually US so allow time for it to arrive).

E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tales of Hoffmann, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin Books, 1982, which contains the two novellas by Hoffmann we will be studying: Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Sandman.