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Sinason, V. (1986). Literary criticism and psychoanalysis: partners or millstones?. Free Associations, 1(4):51-63.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(4):51-63

Literary criticism and psychoanalysis: partners or millstones?

Valerie Sinason

The Literary Use of the Psychoanalytic Process, by Meredith Anne Skura, Yale University Press, 1981, Pp.280,£7.95.

Women: The Longest Revolution, by Juliet Mitchell, Virago, Pp.334, £5.95.

In The White Hotel D.M. Thomas allows his fictional Freud to quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream: ‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact’. That felt a particularly inspired combination as poetry, dreams and madness come from the same home, the unconscious, making the partnership of literature and literary criticism with psychoanalysis so potentially fruitful. For where, as Freud comments, the artist might delve deepest to represent depths of the mind to which even sharpened clinical observation does not penetrate, the psychoanalyst is the one who provides the explanation, the meaning.

However, although this partnership should prove a fruitful one, there are different dangers on both sides. The brilliant psychic detection work of the psychoanalyst John Padel in creating a correct order for Shakespeare's sonnets, led to a shocked silence from some parts of the literary establishment, as well as to an equally shocked admiration. For a scholar from one discipline to apply his thinking to another, especially to Shakespeare, was indeed felt to be a heresy. At the same time, psychoanalytical groups were equally torn between respect for D.M. Thomas's re-evocation of Freud in The White Hotel and shock that a plausible case history and persona could be created as literature.

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