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Polatinsky, S. Hook, D. (2008). On the Ghostly Father: Lacan on Hamlet. Psychoanal. Rev., 95(3):359-385.

(2008). Psychoanalytic Review, 95(3):359-385

On the Ghostly Father: Lacan on Hamlet

Stefan Polatinsky and Derek Hook

The work of Jacques Lacan has opened up a creative space for reconsidering the psychoanalytic-literary nexus. Historically speaking, the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature was best described, according to Van Zyl (1990), as a productive exchange primarily on the level of contents. There have even been attempts to trace the trajectory of the psychoanalytic-literary exchange, whereby two identifiable stages were determined by whether psychoanalysis or literature was prioritized. The first stage looked to literature for material in which psychoanalytic concepts could be vividly demonstrated. Freud's (1919) analysis of Hoffmann's The Sandman and Marie Bonaparte's study of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe (see Wright, 1997, pp. 145-148) are classic examples of such an approach. However, with the advent of New Criticism, literary theorists argued that the interests of what is literary in the text could not be appropriated by so external and reductionist an approach. Thereafter, traditional literary criticism utilized psychoanalysis as an aid to character or thematic study, and only where issues essential to the text were concerned. This approach was seen to redress earlier positions and to return the balance of emphasis to literature itself. Van Zyl suggests that while neither of these positions need be superseded, a third position has been inaugurated and facilitated by Lacan's emphasis on the role of language in psychoanalysis. This development has ended a period in which the relationship between psychoanalysis and literature was necessarily one of dominance.

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