Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on Lionel Trilling's Essay Freud and Literature as Appears in The Liberal Imagination

Me to a friend:

Okay, I just finished Trilling's essay. And I had a roller coaster of responses to it.

I've already said what I thought as to the beginning of its Part 1.

Trilling then he descends into intellectual history to try to paint the canvas of the times' ideas to give the intellectual context Freud operated within. I don't think that takes him very far and I don't find his foray particularly illuminating, mostly a lot of academic jibber jabber.

I liked his Part 11. He makes clarifying remarks in rescuing Freud from those who see him as a champion of the dark side. He helpfully stresses Freud's rationalism and his humane commitments. He is helpful in his discussion on Freud's views of art and is rightly critical of them and notes how his views of art, as part of his theory, serve to limit their serviceability to literature.

He also is good on showing how his psychoanalytic practice, with its own broad and clinically specific division between reality and illusion, is an important source for Freud's wrong-headed notions about art. And Trilling is good under this head stating the obvious contrast between (a) dreams and neuroses and (b) literary texts, an obvious contrast that Freud more or less conflates in his erroneous views on art.

I also liked Part 111. Trilling demolishes, using the example of Hamlet, the delusion shared by Freud and Jones that by events they believed to be true in Shakespeare's life they have penetrated its and his deepest meanings, which is to say, the deepest meaning of the play and Shakespeare's psyche. (Freud's absurdity here is also evident in case study monograph of da Vinci's life and his art.)

So far so good, more or less: but then we get to Part 1V where Trilling tries to make his case for the valuable applicability of Freud to literature. And in my judgment, given how he argues his case, he fails for the very reason, I'd argue, originally stated by me. The shoring of Trilling’s case depends on the acceptance of the malarkey of Freud's "systematic account of the human mind." I say Trilling's case is as weak as the charge that Freud's account is malarkey is strong.

That's my position and I'm sticking to it till I'm persuaded otherwise by my betters.

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