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Pacella, B.L. (1970). The Dynamics of Literary Response: By Norman N. Holland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. 378 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 39:323-326.

(1970). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 39:323-326

The Dynamics of Literary Response: By Norman N. Holland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. 378 pp.

Review by:
Bernard L. Pacella

Professor Holland, who is Chairman of the Department of English at the State University of Buffalo and an affiliate member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, has written an extremely well-organized and informative book on the 'literary experience'. In attempting to explore the dynamics of the literary experience, the author displays a brilliant understanding of psychoanalytic insights and demonstrates an unusual versatility in applying this understanding to the varieties of literature, such as poetry, fiction, humor, pornography, and myth, in addition to theater and film.

His approach to the subject is multipolar with an examination of the literary production itself (content, language, and form), the exploration of the experience of the reader, and speculations concerning the creativity of the writer. In the first instance, he describes content as being oral, anal, urethral, phallic, or Oedipal and draws from the literature to illustrate representations of these libidinal aims. Concerning orality, he comments: 'The kinds of images in a literary work that would make you expect you are dealing with an oral situation, are, naturally enough, almost anything to do with the mouth or with "taking in": biting, sucking, smoking, inhaling, talking and the like; or their correlatives, food, liquor, tobacco, and especially words, particularly curses, threats and vows, words which "bite" constituting a kind of action in themselves. A common defense against oral fusion and merger is putting something out of the mouth instead of taking something in; the something is usually speech, as in a great deal of Shakespeare's or Lawrence's writing, though it may be almost anything—in the Keats poem, it is the nightingale's "pouring forth thy soul abroad" that signifies the bird is "not born for death". Still another development of the oral phase has to do with seeing—"feasting one's eyes". We "take in" through our eyes, and, unconsciously, to look at is to eat, as when we "devour" books. Often this looking can become aggressive, as in various fantasies of the evil eye. Conversely, seeing secret things can bring down dread punishments, death, or castration, as in so many horror or gangster movies: "He's seen too much. Get rid of him."

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