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Spencer, J.H. (1991). Jorge Luis Borges and the Rhetoric of Fetishism. Am. Imago, 48(3):381-393.

(1991). American Imago, 48(3):381-393

Jorge Luis Borges and the Rhetoric of Fetishism

James H. Spencer

Psychoanalysis can never do more than observe manifest content and draw inferences about unseen mental processes. In the clinical situation manifest content is produced by an analysand under unique circumstances, and inferences can be tested by the analytic process. The manifest content in a literary work is produced by an author in quite a different way, but literature has its own unique characteristics and should be a fruitful source of inference about the mental processes, structure and content from which it derives or which it represents. As the critic Peter Brooks (1986) has put it: “the structure of literature is in some sense the structure of mind—not a specific mind, but what the translators of The Standard Edition call ‘the mental apparatus,’ … aesthetic structure and form, including literary tropes, must somehow coincide with the psychic structures and operations they both evoke and appeal to” (4).

Brooks goes on to argue that a psychoanalytic literary criticism should pay greater attention to the formal aspects of literature in the process of effecting “the crossover between rhetoric and reference,” between structures of literary discourse and structures of the mind. Kaplan (1988) has suggested that this crossover is best made at points where we find something in a given work of literature that seems analogous to something found in psychoanalysis. In the following my focus will be narrow, on a few brief texts and on a particular formal element in these texts that is interesting to a psychoanalyst because it seems to evoke a response in the reader that is analogous to something seen or inferred in the clinical situation.

In

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