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Cooper, A. (1995). Dreaming the other: ideology and character in John Le Carré's novels. Free Associations, 5(3):303-325.

(1995). Free Associations, 5(3):303-325

Dreaming the other: ideology and character in John Le Carré's novels

Andrew Cooper

Serious study of John le Carré's work has always courted controversy. More than any other contemporary writer his novels have consistently defied easy categorisation and critics have been clearly and sometimes fiercely divided on the question of their literary merit. Towards the end of this paper I offer some thoughts on the possible contribution which a psychoanalytically informed reading of his novels might make to a literary evaluation of them. However the primary focus of the paper is different and more straightforward. Its source lies in my own reaction to le Carré's characters and his famously intricate plots, which I find both psychologically interesting and instructive for any project which seeks to make sense of the relationship between psychological and political states of affairs.

Le Carré is often, and justifiably, seen as a writer who grapples with ‘big’ themes—the relationship of the individual to the state, the possibilities for freedom in complex and highly bureaucratised societies—less frequently as a creator of complex characters who wrestle with these themes. In fact le Carré's texts are fully engaged with the relationship between inner and outer worlds, although as I argue, part of the interest of his work lies in the way both political and personal possibility emerges as delimited in particular ways.

It was after finishing an earlier version of this paper that I read the work of Slavoj Žižek (1989), and found that he articulates the connection between the ‘structure’ of the symptom and the structure of ideological processes in a way which makes sense of some of le Carré's central narrative processes. Interestingly, Žižek is himself fond of illustrating his ideas by reference to ‘popular’ culture.

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