Psychoanalysis is one of those topics of evergreen interest, and seeing as I recently took a course on the subject, I thought I would share my thoughts with you. So here is an excerpt from my learning diary written in regard to our lesson on another of those perennial favourites – Freud.
Jeremy Tambling’s excerpt from Literature and Psychoanalysis and Freud’s essay Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming put a lot of focus on fantasy –or ‘phantasy’ as they spell it, a word which is described by Tambling as “where the concept of fantasy is used in a strictly psychoanalytic, technical sense”. Freud’s piece, while fairly easily followed, gave very little attention to creative writing and was almost entirely focused on various forms of day-dreaming.
An interesting point came up in regards to the similarities between child’s play and an adult’s phantasising. Children play in order to discover their world and work through new things they are learning. It is fun to play as a child because you are never quite sure what is going to happen. A child might for instance, after watching Beetlejuice, draw a small chalk door on a brick surface, part of them expecting it to open when they knock three times. While part of the child’s mind is aware that nothing will happen, a small part is still unsure and suspects that perhaps a door into the underworld will open after all.
An adult is much more close-minded. Having life experience makes an adult believe they are already aware of all possible outcomes, thus making the game rather less intriguing. Freud points out that although we abandon child’s play, we are unable to give up the pleasure gained from playing and thus we simply shift it to something else – phantasising. Although an adult may not get out the dollies and the tea set, adult phantasising is not that far removed from child’s play, often consisting of running through different possible scenarios of a situation for which they are not sure what the outcome will be, possibly focusing on outcomes that are highly unlikely to ever take place.
Freud comments on the fact that children are open, as they have no need to conceal their desire to become adults and to explore the world through play. Adults on the other hand are expected to know things, or at least act as if they do and thus have reason to conceal their phantasies, which Freud broke down as falling into two groups – erotic and ambitious.
Freud’s distinction between the uncanny of reality and of literature is made by the claim that the occurrence of something uncanny in real life is formed by much more simplistic circumstances and happens much less frequently. The class this week seemed to be in somewhat unanimous agreement of this, pointing out that in literature we are much more open to and even expectant of the uncanny. There is a broad range of literature that requires very much a full ‘suspension of disbelief’, as stories take place in entirely different worlds.
It is true that it doesn’t really require a complexly woven situation for a real life event to become uncanny. People that behave in a manner outside the accepted social norms, for whatever reason, instantly awaken a kind of sinister discomfort, such as when one day somebody close to you suddenly no longer recognises you. It is unsettling and perhaps even frightening, causing you to question yourself to be sure that this is really happening.
Freud also explains the experience of the uncanny as related to repetition-compulsion, the reliving of some traumatic event through seeking out situations in which it is likely to be repeated, a Groundhog Day existence of sorts.
The collision of the literary uncanny and ‘real’ uncanny is also a possibility. Hailing from the town that briefly yet officially took the name ‘The Middle of Middle-earth’, the author of this diary has noticed that the line is easily blurred. Community spirit is a wonderful thing. When a small and relatively isolated place is keen to make its mark on the world, they become highly suggestive. When a city is physically transformed to resemble something else, the eager community is quick to absorb the new identity, clouding the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘pretend’. When a whole community is heavily involved and invested in ‘pretending’, the effect can only be described as uncanny. On occasion one might wonder whether these people have truly come to believe that they now live in Middle-earth. There is certainly a lot of tangible evidence to support their belief.