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Tuttleton, J.W. (1963). Aiken's “Mr. Arcularis”: Psychic Regression and the Death Instinct. Am. Imago, 20(4):295-314.

(1963). American Imago, 20(4):295-314

Aiken's “Mr. Arcularis”: Psychic Regression and the Death Instinct

James W. Tuttleton

Once asked about his credo, Conrad Aiken replied: “How extraordinarily little I know about myself.”1 His answer implies curiosity not only about the complexities of his own being but also about the mystery of life as a whole. This curiosity is responsible for Aiken's extraordinary interest in Freudian psychology as an instrument capable of revealing the deeply hidden, mysterious, secret self. “Almost alone in his generation,” the psychiatrist Henry A. Murray has written, “Aiken proved equal to the peril. He allowed the Freudian dragon to swallow him, and then, after a sufficient sojourn in its maw, cut his way out to a new freedom. When he emerged he was stocked with the lore of psychoanalysis but neither subjugated nor impeded by it. Aiken and Freud were, in a profound sense, fellow-spirits.…”2

One of Freud's principal theories — that the creation of a work of art is a revelation of the artist's hidden self, a daydream release of hidden desires and repressed erotic complexes — has had its obvious effect on Aiken's poetry and prose. Aiken has also extrapolated from the work of Freud a theory of literary criticism. Because historical, biographical, and aesthetic criticism cannot explain the cause of art, the critic may need to employ the techniques of the psychologist, the anthropologist, or the biologist.

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