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Cobley, P. (1996). Self-analysis: some difficulties in psychoanalytic approaches to popular culture. Free Associations, 6(2):297-309.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(2):297-309

Self-analysis: some difficulties in psychoanalytic approaches to popular culture

Paul Cobley

From the outset psychoanalysts have been very wary of the way popular culture presents therapy: from Freud's reluctance to become involved in the project which eventually became G. W. Pabst's film Secrets of a Soul, to the recent statements on the musical Freudiana.1 However, it would appear that popular culture has itself often had a cause for grievance in the way it has been treated by psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts have relentlessly demonstrated a penchant for analysing popular texts in order to emphasize the tenability of one or another subdivision of clinical theory. In most cases, such work represents a sincere attempt to engage with arguments regarding the way in which texts function. However, the key problem of psychoanalytic approaches to texts—even when utilized by clinicians with a professed love of popular culture—is that they underestimate the material that they scrutinize. Paradoxically, those clinicians most guilty of these charges clearly wish to illustrate the ‘surprising complexity’ of popular texts, often in the tradition of ‘classic’ psychoanalytic studies. As we will see, it is the continuity of psychoanalytic approaches to ‘high’ and ‘popular culture’ which constitutes the crucial stumbling block in their attempt to apprehend the nature of textuality. We will argue that there are often questionable aims involved in the application of psychoanalytic principles to texts and that many psychoanalytic approaches utilize a range of theoretically souped-up propositions that have been thoroughly discredited within the discipline of nonpsychoanalytic textual analysis.

One initial observation that must be made is that psychoanalytic textual analyses seem to be self-perpetuating.

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