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Anderson, W.E. (1983). The Rape of the Eye: A Psychoanalytic Reading of The Aspern Papers. Psychoanal. Rev., 70(1):101-119.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(1):101-119

The Rape of the Eye: A Psychoanalytic Reading of The Aspern Papers

Walter E. Anderson, Ph.D.

That was what the old woman represented—esoteric knowledge; and that was the idea with which my editorial heart used to thrill. The Aspern Papers, Section IV (James, 1888).

Perhaps the most recurrent kind of significant event in The Aspern Papers is the nameless narrator's concern over seeing or being seen as he indiscreetly looks, intensely stares, or grotesquely gapes at Miss Bordereau, her house, her furniture, or the doors and shutters which secrete her. His fixed gaze becomes so exaggerated a feature in the story that it betrays a voyeuristic instinct. Consequently, much may be gained by viewing the narrator's actions and thoughts as motivated not simply by the editorial passion he expresses. Yet even his scholarly interest in Aspern's life and letters fits with clinical observations on voyeurism, for, as Otto Fenichel (1945) explains, “Knowing sexual facts' may … become displaced and give rise to … continual asking of questions. … It may also become sublimated into a real interest in research” (p. 72). In addition, investigation into the lives of famous men gives a kind of scoptophilic permission, David W. Allen (1974) claims, permission to look, to see, to understand the previously forbidden, unknown, or concealed. The narrator's compulsive curiosity, his propensity for brooding over the problematical, and his unfruitful inquisitiveness in general indicate the voyeur's helplessness when confronting sexually provocative ideas or situations (Abraham, 1913).1


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