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EN959 Modernism and Psychoanalysis


Professor Daniel Katz


This module will look at the relationship between psychoanalysis and modernist literature in the context of the elaboration of new discourses of subjectivity, culture, and community in the twentieth century. While examining certain clear instances of explicit “influence” between analytic and literary texts (notably Surrealism), we will also look at modernist literature and psychoanalysis as parallel and at times competing discourses intent on examining similar problems and texts. Recurring questions will include
1. The aesthetic productivity of unconscious processes.
2. The relationship between subjectivity, sexuality, and language.
3. The mobilisation of the concept of the “primitive” in discussions concerning sexuality, aggression, and communal structures.
4. The viability of the symptom as interpretative matrix for both individual subjects and group structures.
5. The emergence of “culture” and ethnicity as central ordering concepts for organising discussion of artistic production in the early twentieth century.
This last element leads to an additional concern: the investigation of forms of modernist complicity in totalitarian political projects, and the possibilities and limitations of psychoanalysis as a critical political discourse. Throughout, students will be encouraged to learn to use psychoanalysis as a powerful metalanguage for discussing literary texts, but also to contextualize this metalanguage within the intellectual history of the twentieth century, and to develop a clear sense of its limits, fault-lines, and decisive problems.
Note: Invisible Man, Kangaroo and The Interpretation of Dreams are all long texts, and students might wish to try to read some of them in advance. Prospective students are welcome to contact me by email with any further questions!

Syllabus 2021-22 

Week 1: Introduction: Hysteria and The Talking Cure; the individual and society; questions of translation: S. Freud, An Autobiographical StudyLink opens in a new window; Laplanche and Pontalis, "Instinct"Link opens in a new window (from The Language of Psychoanalysis).

Week 2: The Royal Road: Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams. Secondary Reading: Sam Weber, "The Meaning of the Thallus," from The Legend of Freud, University of Minnesota Press, 1982 (handout).

Week 3: Dreams of Surrealism. Selected Surrealist texts and images: André Breton, "First Manifesto of Surrealism"Link opens in a new window; Georges Bataille, "The Solar Anus," "Materialism," "The Big Toe" (handout); Salvador Dalí, "The Moral Position of Surrealism," "The Rotting Donkey" (handout); selections from Simone Kahn (17-18), Claude Cahun (51-61) and Meret Oppenheim (74-76) in Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, Penelope Rosement, editor (available as e-text through library portal); collective statement "Légitime Défense: Declaration" (handout); Bob Kaufman "Second April" (handout). Secondary Reading: Klem James, "Psychoanalysis and Surrealism" in Surrealism, Natalya Lusty, editor, Cambridge UP (2021; available as e-text through library portal).


René Magritte (just browse)Link opens in a new window

Salvador Dalí (browse)Link opens in a new window

Meret Oppenheim: Fur-Covered Cup and SaucerLink opens in a new window

Claude Cahun

Man Ray (I haven't found a good site, but try google images for some of his most famous photographs)

Week 4: Psychonalysis as a Theory of Culture: S. Freud, Totem and Taboo. Secondary Reading: Rubén Gallo, "Freud's Mexican Antiquities: Psychoanalysis and Human Sacrifice" (October, Winter, 2011).

Week 5: From Ethnographic Symptom to Subject of the Signifier: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. Secondary Reading: Caffilene Allen, "The World as Possibility: The Significance of Freud's Totem and Taboo in Ellison's Invisible Man," Literature and Psychoanalysis 41, 1995: 1-17 (handout).

Week 6: Sexuality and Fantasy: Sigmund Freud: "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality" (SE 7; available in PEP); Melanie Klein, "Some Notes on Schizoid Mechanisms" (available on PEP). Additional: (not required, but could be of interest): Anna Freud, “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams” (1922), in The Writings of Anna Freud, vol.1, 1922-35,London: The Hogarth Press, 1974 (handout).

Week 7: What of the Night? Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Secondary Reading: Teresa de Lauretis, "Nightwood and 'The Terror of Uncertain Signs.'" Critical Inquiry, vol. 34, no. S2, 2008.

Week 8: Politics, Violence, Group Psychology: Sigmund Freud, "Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego" (PEP); Theodor Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda" (in The Culture Industry; available as e-book through library portal); Judith Butler, from "The Force of Nonviolence": Political Philosophy in Freud: War, Destruction, Mania, and the Critical Faculty" (handout).

Week 9: Transference, Politics, Eros: D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo. Secondary Reading: J. Spitzer, "On Not Reading Freud: Amateurism, Expertise, and the 'Pristine Unconscious' in D. H. Lawrence," Modernism/Modernity, vol. 21, no. 1, January, 2014.

1922-2022: The Waste Land and its Problems: T. S.Eliot, The Waste Land, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth.” (online). Secondary reading: M. Manganaro: "Making Up for Lost Ground" (online).

Set Texts to Buy: 2021-22

NOTE: with the exception of The Interpretation of Dreams, all required texts by S. Freud are available on PEP (see below) and can be accessed this way. I personally prefer hard copies for longer works, but leave this to your discretion.

1. S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams "1900 Edition" (Oxford UP, 2008, Joyce Crick, translator). NOTE: Use ONLY this edition. For all other Freud texts we will use the "Standard Edition" translations, which are also available on PeP, but this is an exception).

2. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, W. W. Norton, 1962 (other editions are acceptable, provided they contain the "Standard Edition" translation. You may also use PeP (see link below).

3. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics, 2001; other editions acceptable).

4. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (Faber, or any other edition).

5. D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (any edition fine, but the Cambridge UP edition, edited by Bruce Steele, is the best).

7. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (any edition, but the Norton Critical Edition, edited by Michael North, 2001, contains a great deal of useful material).

Highly Recommended (but not required to purchase): J. Laplanche and B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, Karnac Books, 1998 (also available through PEP; see below).

Essential Resource: Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing (PEP), available through our library portal