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Souter, K.T. (2000). The Products of the Imagination: Psychoanalytic Theory and Postmodern Literary Criticism. Am. J. Psychoanal., 60(4):341-359.

(2000). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60(4):341-359

The Products of the Imagination: Psychoanalytic Theory and Postmodern Literary Criticism

Kay Torney Souter, Ph.D.

This article considers some of the affinities between postmodern literary theory and the psychoanalytic theories concerned with intersubjective phenomena. Postmodern literary theory is described briefly, and it is argued that one of its major concerns is the nature of, and the political and cultural influences on, subjectivity and identity. Despite that, postmodernism generally, and literary postmodernism in particular, can be said to lack a theory of the psychological and interpersonal dimensions of the experience of self. This article contends that the more relational schools of psychoanalytic theory can provide an example of the construction of selfhood that is of importance to contemporary and postmodern literary criticism. The academy has, to a considerable extent identified ‘psychoanalysis’ with the work of Jacques Lacan, but since the 1980s the work of such theorists as Jane Flax and Jessica Benjamin, building on the work of Nancy Chodorow, have increasingly opened up the possibilities of relational and object relations theory for literary studies. The relational psychoanalytic theories operate in the same epistemological universe as postmodern literary criticism, congruent with the postmodern idea of ‘truth’ as constructed and relational, and selfhood as shifting, contingent, and always-in-process. Particular attention is paid to the work of Wilfred Bion, whose understanding of self provides an account both of the failure of meaning, and of the development of mind. Some examples of a relational approach to literary analysis are provided.

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