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Bleich, D. (1971). Artistic form as Defensive Adaptation: Henry James and “The Golden Bowl”. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(2):223-244.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(2):223-244

Artistic form as Defensive Adaptation: Henry James and “The Golden Bowl”

David Bleich, Ph.D.

The psychoanalytic treatment of artistic form has a relatively short history, compared with its treatment of content. While, in some important sense, even the origins of psychoanalysis are closely connected with Freud's observation of the fantasy-content, or fantasy-function of literature, Freud claimed little understanding of how the author converts his wish-fantasy into socially and culturally relevant “art.” More particularly, what was not understood was the intra-psychic meaning of that aspect of art that most serious critics are primarily concerned with—the logic of a work's ostensible harmony, which, in literature, comprises such things as word choice and frequency, syntax, sequence of chapters or acts, rhyme, meter, and other more or less “objective” elements of the work. The problem for the psychoanalytic study of literature after Freud, therefore, was to find a theoretical formulation for artistic form as intellectually compelling as Freud's was for artistic content.

A significant contribution to the solution of this problem has been recently offered by Norman N. Holland,7a who suggests that form is to be viewed as a defense. Holland's argument generalizes Freud's discussion of the joke-work acting as an incentive bonus, that, in its delaying function, helps to multiply the pleasure in the final enjoyment of the fantasy-content. The orientation of this argument is around the respondent, or the audience of the joke, the individual who introjects it, and who himself, in a sense, makes what is objectively called “form” function intra-psychically as a system of defensive management which controls, disguises, delays, or rationalizes the “gut” pleasure of the joke-experience.

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