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Read, H. (1951). Psycho-Analysis and the Problem of Aesthetic Value. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:73-82.

(1951). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32:73-82

Psycho-Analysis and the Problem of Aesthetic Value

Herbert Read

Twenty-five years ago, with more enthusiasm than discretion, I published an essay on 'Psycho-analysis and Criticism'. I find that I already made there the distinction which is to be the starting-point of my present discourse—it will perhaps save time if I repeat my own words. After some remarks on the scope of literary criticism, which I claimed as a separate science, I referred to another consideration which, I said, might put the whole utility of the discussion in doubt, 'the very obvious difference in the subject matter of our two sciences: psychology is concerned with the processes of mental activity, literary criticism with the product. The psychologist analyses the product only to arrive at the process: art is, from this point of view, as significant as any other expression of mentality. But of no more significance: its significance does not correspond to its value as literature. The psychologist is indifferent to literary values (too often, alas, even in his own work), and may even definitely deplore them, especially when they represent the trimming of subjective phantasies under the influence of some objective standard or tradition. But in any case the psychologist has found and will always find a large body of material in the imaginative literature of all epochs. … But whether in the nature of things it is possible for such psychology to add anything positive to the principles of literary criticism is more in doubt. Analysis involves the reduction of the symbol to its origins, and once the symbol is in this way dissolved, it is of no æsthetic significance: art is art as symbol, not as sign.

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