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Withim, P. (1969-1970). The Psychodynamics of Literature. Psychoanal. Rev., 56D(4):556-585.

(1969-1970). Psychoanalytic Review, 56D(4):556-585

The Psychodynamics of Literature

Philip Withim, Ph.D.

Literary criticism and psychoanalysis are two confusing fields, each having many theories and little certainty. For example, we do not know exactly what a literary work is: is it an imitation? If so, of what? Reality? If reality, then is it possible to have a literary work which is an escape from reality, or which is a distortion of reality? Is there any circumstance in which the kind or degree of distortion would be a condition of excellence? Perhaps, however, the art work is not an imitation of reality.

Perhaps it is simply a satisfyingly patterned object which, when pursued, grants a satisfyingly ordered experience. But whence the satisfaction? Does the pattern have no relationship to reality, either directly or indirectly? If the literary work is not a thing, but an experiencing, then whose experience? Is the author ordering the flux of his experience? If so, does he imitate an order, does he reveal an order, does he impose an order? Perhaps art exists only in a reader's experiencing. If so, are there right and wrong experiencings? Better or worse readings?

But we are unsure not only how to define the art work, but also how it affects us. Presumably before we can experience art, we must perceive it; in what ways does the nature of our perception—qualified as it is physically and psychologically—determine the way in which the work affects us? Does the work manipulate our feelings or our emotions? Does it manipulate our sensations, or our intelligence, or some mysterious response we label aesthetic? Maybe the work manipulates all of these put together in particular combinations.

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