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Stern, H.R. (1973). Psychoanalysis and Literary Process. Frederick Crews (Ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Winthrop Publishers, 1970. 296 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 60(2):304-305.
(1973). Psychoanalytic Review, 60(2):304-305
Psychoanalysis and Literary Process. Frederick Crews (Ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Winthrop Publishers, 1970. 296 pp.
Review by: Harold R. Stern
Crews, a professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, is known for his book The Pooh Perplex, a parody of various schools of literary criticism based upon Winnie the Pooh. As well as editing Psychoanalysis and Literary Process, Crews also wrote the introductory chapter, entitled “Anaesthetic Criticism,” mainly an attack upon the prevailing school of academic literary criticism as represented by Northrop Frye. Frye's school, according to Crews, has as its cardinal features
suppression of affect and a displacement of attention from artistic process into motifs, genres, literary history (conceived not as the study of how books are influenced by objective conditions, but as chronology, borrowings, gossip, and a disembodied “history of ideas”), and the busywork of acquiring the skills and attitudes needed for circumspect research, (p. 10)
In a well-thought-out exposition, Crews shows that this approach is timid and repetitive. It involves the dull tracing of themes and sources, a listing of genres and styles. Crews states,
A criticism that explicitly or implicitly reduces art to some combination of moral content and abstract form and genre conventions is literally an anaesthetic criticism. It insulates the critic and his readers from a threat of affective disturbance—a threat that is perfectly real, for there is no reason to suppose that a reader's ego will prove more flexible and capricious than the artist's was. All literary criticism aims to make the reading experience more possible for us, but anaesthetic criticism assumes that this requires keeping caged the anxieties that the artist set free, then recaptured, (p.
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