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Skura, M. (1980). The Whispered Meanings. Selected Essays of Simon O. Lesser: Edited by Robert Sprich and Richard W. Noland. Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1977. 250 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 49:330-333.
  

(1980). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 49:330-333

The Whispered Meanings. Selected Essays of Simon O. Lesser: Edited by Robert Sprich and Richard W. Noland. Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1977. 250 pp.

Review by:
Meredith Skura

In The Whispered Meanings Robert Sprich and Richard Noland have collected fourteen of Simon Lesser's essays on "fiction," ranging in genre and period from Greek epic and drama (the Odyssey and Oedipus the King), to Shakespearean drama (Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth), to eighteenth and nineteenth century novels and short stories (by Fielding, Hawthorne, Flaubert, and Dostoevsky), to Yeats's lyrics ("Sailing to Byzantium"), to contemporary drama (Pinter's Birthday Party) and film (Antonioni's L'Avventura). The essays are based on and frequently recapitulate assumptions which Lesser had outlined in his Fiction and the Unconscious. That by now classic theoretical work had brought the insights of ego psychology to bear on Freud's earlier discoveries about fantasy and wish fulfillment and had served also as a practical guide both sane and provocative, applying psychoanalytic insights with Lesser's rare sensitivity to the actual details of texts. The book has served as the starting point for psychoanalytic literary criticism ever since.

The essays in Whispered Meanings re-emphasize Lesser's earlier theory as they provide new applications. As always, Lesser reminds us of the multiplicity of meanings in a work, concerning himself in particular with those meanings which, he always felt, have been ignored by general readers and literary critics—the unconsciously perceived or "whispered" meanings. These are the ones, as Lesser defines them, which deal with and work out psychic conflicts. ("Fiction ventilates our conflicts … brings all the claims out into the open … [and] seeks actively to reconcile them" [p. 33]. Lesser makes this point explicitly in the one theoretical essay in the collection, "The Attitude of Fiction," but it is implicit in all the essays.)

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