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Kazin, A. (1958). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Literary Culture. Psychoanal. Rev., 45A(1/2):41-51.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45A(1/2):41-51

Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Literary Culture

Alfred Kazin


There is a young Englishman on Broadway who shouts every night that he is angry, very angry. Yet when we open John Osborne's play, Look Back In Anger, and try to find out just what he is angry about, we make a curious discovery: he is not angry on specific grounds, as people often are; he is angry at his inability to feel anger, angry that he lacks a cause to be angry about. At one moment, after complaining that “nobody can be bothered. No one can raise themselves out of their delicious sloth,” he says, very wistfully indeed for an angry man-“Was I really wrong to believe that there's a-kind of-burning virility of mind and spirit that looks for something as powerful as itself? The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest. Like the old bear, following his own breath in the dark forest. There's no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. That voice that cries out doesn't have to be a weakling's, does it?”

This is the truest note in a play which emotionally and artistically seems rather contrived. It is not intensity of feeling but the longing for this intensity that is behind Mr. Osborne's confused and rather forced emotions. And equally, this same pseudo-violence, expressing the dearth rather than the excess of feeling, has struck me in several contemporary literary works that parade an air of militancy and rebelliousness-Norman Mailer's The Deer Park, Jack Kerouac's On The Road, Tennessee Williams's Camino Réal and other plays, the books of essays that Henry Miller has published from California, Allen Ginsberg's Howl.

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