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Askew, M. (1964). Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism. Psychoanal. Rev., 51B(2):43-50.

(1964). Psychoanalytic Review, 51B(2):43-50

Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism

Melvin Askew, Ph.D.


It is no easy matter these days to distinguish precisely who is and who is not a psychoanalytic critic of literature. Ordinary and professional language, alike, readily illustrate this situation. The technical terminology of psychoanalysis has now been thoroughly absorbed into everyday speech. Even though such words as repression, suppression, unconscious, sublimation, and compensation, existed long before psychoanalytic theory, they will never again mean precisely what they meant before Freud used them. In learned usage, they are inevitably colored with psychoanalytic overtones.

All this notwithstanding, there are now two familiar types of psychoanalytic critics who are largely responsible for the lack of sympathy with which psychoanalytic criticism is still met in some scholarly quarters. The one is the psychoanalyst, like Edmund Bergler,1 who without having troubled to acquire artistic sensibility or sensitivity to literary aesthetic, wandered through the body of world literature, pinning labels on the most renowned works of art and the most creative artists. The other is the literary man, like F. L. Lucas,4 who is lured into the role of psychoanalytic bibliographer by the exciting promise of dramatic revelations about the secret lives of the poets and who reduces some of the finest poetry to a diagnosis and some of the finest prose works to biography—seamy biography at that. The representatives of the approaches here illustrated by Bergler and Lucas are too numerous to mention. Against them one must charge the two main negative contributions of psychoanalysis to the understanding of literature.

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