1 EDGAR ALLAN POE: A DESCENT INTO THE UNCONSCIOUS THESIS SUMMARY PhD Candidate: Lorelei Caraman Supervisor: Prof. univ. dr. Codrin Liviu Cuțitaru
2 Edgar Allan Poe: A Descent into the Unconscious endeavors to descend, not into Poe s unconscious, nor into the unconscious of his narrators, nor into the unconscious of Poe s reader, but rather into what may be envisaged as the unconscious of the critical reading of Poe. In other words, what the following thesis seeks to achieve is to offer a new perspective on the relation between Poe and psychoanalysis by shifting the object of analysis, from any one of the critical instances (author/text/reader), to the unconscious processes involved in the psychoanalytic reading itself. The aim, therefore, is to place Poe s works and their psychoanalytic interpretations into the larger context of the dynamics of the relationship between literature and the unconscious. At the same time, we look to reverse the typical literature as object - psychoanalysis as subject point of view by examining, not necessarily how psychoanalysis enriches the reading of Poe s texts, but also how Poe s texts enrich our reading of psychoanalysis. Why do we read Poe? Why do we read Poe critically? What in his texts invites our reading and what resists it? When we approach Poe psychoanalytically, whose unconscious are we actually analyzing? How much of our own unconscious is there in the reading of Poe s unconscious? What does a psychoanalytic approach presuppose? Does it have to exclude the literariness of the text? Are literariness and the unconscious mutually exclusive concepts in the analysis of a text? What is the relation between literature and the unconscious? How did this relation change over time and how did it change in the case of Poe? In a critical reading of Poe, who is the analyst and who is the analysand?
3 Who analyzes whom? Does psychoanalysis enrich our reading of Poe or does Poe enrich our reading of psychoanalysis? In any given field of research, progress often occurs through major paradigm shifts. Yet paradigmatic changes are not necessarily provoked by providing new answers, but rather by raising new questions. It is, therefore, rather the question than the answer which sets off a new search, a re-search, for fresh perspectives required in the advancement of the field. Consequently, these are some of the questions which the following thesis, centered on the relationship between Edgar Allan Poe and the study of the unconscious, will seek to address. The critical association between Poe and psychoanalysis, however, does not constitute a novelty. On the contrary: Poe, it may be said, has been and continues to be steadily courted by Freudians, pre- Freudians, Jungians, Lacanians, object-relationists, feminist-lacanians, deconstructive-post-freudians and other psychoanalytic critics for almost a century. The interest in the unconscious in relation to his works dates back to the advent of psychoanalysis itself. In fact, if one considers the impressive amount of psychoanalytic criticism already surrounding Poe, undertaking to develop a thesis on this subject may even seem like a self-defeating purpose. Why choose a topic which has already amassed such an impressive amount of literature? What could one add, or what elements of newness could one bring to one of the most written on literary figures in criticism, whose unconscious has already been probed into countless times? From the outset, this constituted one of the challenges of the present research. Yet, despite
4 the well-established popularity of the psychoanalytic approach in the case of Poe, this matter, we felt, still left room for a set of questions which earlier approaches had somehow ignored. For instance, if one looks at the greater part of previous psychoanalytic approaches to Poe, it will soon become apparent that these generally fall under three categories: in the first category are the ones which are oriented towards Poe s personal unconscious, a second category of approaches examines the unconscious of his texts, while the third type of psychoanalytic readings of Poe is directed towards the unconscious of the reader. As an element of novelty, in the following the thesis, we endeavor to turn, not towards Poe s unconscious, nor to the unconscious of his text, nor to that of the reader, but to what may be termed the unconscious of the reading of Poe. In other words, instead of exploring what critical readings have to say about Poe s unconscious, we seek to look at what Poe has to say about the unconscious of the critical readings. What may also be observed about previous psychoanalytic criticism of Poe, regardless of whether it is oriented towards Poe s unconscious, towards the unconscious of his texts or towards the reader s unconscious, is that it preponderantly falls under the category of what Pierre Bayard terms hermeneutic interpretation. A hermeneutic interpretation, in Bayard s view, posits that the text is inscribed with a hidden meaning which the critical reading should strive to uncover. In other words, what these critics look for is to uncover a secret, whether it belongs to Poe s unconscious, to the text s unconscious or to the unconscious of the reader. This implies that there
5 is a key, a solution, a definitive answer to be discovered in Poe. By contrast, by reframing the questions vis á vis the relation between Poe and the unconscious, the following thesis endeavors to articulate, not how Poe may be explained by the critical reading, but how the critical reading may emphasize precisely what is inexplicable, what is ultimately unknowable, in his texts. The question is thus re-centered from merely what we may know about Poe to what we may realize, or what we may know, that we cannot know about Poe; on how his texts not only invite, but also elude interpretation. The present thesis, Edgar Allan Poe: A Descent into the Unconscious, is structured into three main parts. The initial part sets out to articulate the theoretical angle and to introduce the reader to some of the concepts and critical models employed in the readings of Poe s tales; the second part constitutes an overview of the evolution of psychoanalytic approaches to Edgar Allan Poe, while the third part moves towards the reading of Poe s texts, bringing together the theoretical stances discussed in the first part to the realm of Poe s tales. The first chapter, The Unconscious: from Psychoanalysis to Literature and from Literature to Psychoanalysis, functions as a general introduction into the relationship between literature and the unconscious. It considers the validity of the psychoanalytic method in literary criticism by providing both an overview of previous criticalpsychoanalytic models, as well as a discussion of their respective shortcomings. However, its main role of is to offer an introduction to some of the more recent directions in psychoanalytic criticism.
6 The first section of this chapter, From the Text-as-Symptom to the Critic-as-Analysand or Whose Unconscious is it Anyway? provides an overview of the changing relations between literature and the unconscious as they evolved along the course of time. This overview concerns three key themes and these are: the perspective on the unconscious in literary study, the roles of the instances involved in the analytical/critical praxis and the relation between literature and psychoanalysis. The purpose of this retrospective outline is to identify the shifts in view revolving around these three main areas of inquiry, as well as to provide a discussion of the major problems which the previous models devised by psychoanalytic criticism faced. After providing an overview of these three phases of the relationship between literature and the unconscious and after introducing some of the factors which contributed the advent of a fourth paradigmatic change in psychoanalytic criticism, the next section of this chapter focuses on some of the more recent models of psychoanalytic readings. New Perspectives in Psychoanalytic Criticism: Applied Literature, Transference and the Unconscious of Reading discusses several theoretical contributions to the field of psychoanalytic criticism such as those of Peter Brooks, Shoshana Felman, Pierre Bayard, Jean Bellemin-Noel, John Forrester or James Mellard. The concepts brought into the foreground by these new critics will serve as a basis for the readings of Poe in the last chapter of the thesis. Peter Brooks, Shoshana Felman, Jean Bellemin-Noel and John Forrester turn to the psychoanalytic notion of transference to devise dynamic models both of
7 the literary text and of the interaction between the critic-as-reader and the text. Brooks, for instance, focuses on the structure of narratives, whose dynamics, he postulates, can be envisaged as the equivalent of psychical dynamics. Departing from previous narratological models which he finds too static, Brooks introduces the concept of textual energetics. Through this concept, the literary text is seen as being inhabited by a system of internal energies, much like the human psyche, whose role is to initiate and propel narrative plots further. This same system is also what characterizes the interaction taking place between the narrative and its reader. The concept of the desire of the narrative speaks, in Brooks, of both the narrative of desire, the desire animating the text, and the reader s desire for the narrative. In the context of narrative texts, desire fulfills three functions: it initiates plot, it provides the motor force driving the narrative forward and it also constitutes something which is expressed in the text. The notion of the dead desire, which Lacan dwells upon in his approach to transference, is something which, for Brooks, also constitutes a manifestation of the literary text, as well as in the reader. The paradox of the dead desire is that it continues to live on under different representations. This, in Brooks, is reflected in metaphor: metaphor advances a dead desire which perpetually lives on in language, under different forms. Superimposing Freud s theory of Eros and Thanatos upon the structure of the literary text, Brooks also speaks of the desire for the end which manifests itself as a need to consume the plot. The end of the narrative is associated with the experience of a sort of imaginative death.
8 Shoshana Felman postulates that we may enter reading only through transference. What constitutes a novelty, in Felman, is her focus on the critical reading of a text as an object for psychoanalytic inquiry. The literary history surrounding a text or an author becomes, for the first time, a symptom of the unconscious effects of the text on its critic or reader. At the same time, the advantage of her model lies in the fact that it permits a reciprocal view of the process of reading as a complex relationship between the work and its analyzer. Therefore, it is not only the critic who influences the text, but it is also the text that influences the critic. Felman notes how the literary text is often unconsciously re-duplicated or re-dramatized in the language of the critics. This is a manifestation of what she terms the reading-effect. The reading-effect also speaks of the text s incorporation of its own interpretation, of how it may contain its own reading. Anticipating its reading, it is thus the text which comprehends the critic and not only the critic who comprehends the text. Pierre Bayard reverses the usual perspective of psychoanalytic criticism by coining the method of what he calls applied literature. The challenge that applied literature brings forth is, not only a departure from hermeneutic interpretations, but the possibility of envisaging how literature enriches psychoanalysis, instead of the other way round. In their approaches, both Felman and Bayard add something which psychoanalytic criticism had completely ignored: namely, the fundamental ambivalent nature of the literary text. Following their line of thought, what a critical-psychoanalytic reading should show is not only how the text submits to theory and to a
9 multiplicity of meanings, but also how it eludes theory. Together with other critical developments advanced by Bellemin-Noel or Forrester, Brooks, Felman s and Bayard s formulations will form the conceptual framework which will be positioned in relation to Poe s tales. The second chapter, Edgar Allan Poe: A Descent into Whose Unconscious? Poe and Psychoanalytic Criticism, traces the evolution of psychoanalytic approaches to Poe, showing how it follows the general directions we previously discuss in the first chapter. After an introductory section on Poe criticism in general and the popularity of the biographical approach in the context of the first psychoanalytic interpretations of his works, this chapter proceeds to draw an overview of how the use of psychoanalysis evolved in the case of Poe, from pathological models of reading based on his biography to readeroriented ones oriented towards the unconscious of his reader. Poe as Patient: Biographical and Pathological Approaches centers on the transitional period between nineteenth century biographical approaches and the early psychoanalytic phase of Poe criticism. In these prepsychoanalytic interpretations, it may be observed that Poe s texts are regarded as symptoms, symptoms either of his constitutional abnormality or of a psychical aberrance. This particular mode of treating the literary text as symptom continues throughout the early phase of psychoanalytic criticism of Poe. In the next section, Between Analyst and Analysand: Poe and Psychoanalytic Criticism, we turn towards the evolution of these readings from the early models of psychoanalytic interpretation of Poe
10 to more recent ones. The purpose of this outline, as previously mentioned, is to illustrate how the perspective on the relationship between literature and the unconscious evolves in the case of Poe and how the paradigmatic changes discussed in the previous chapter influence the orientation of his readings. Lorine Pruette, Albert Mordell and Marie Bonaparte constitute examples of critic-as-analyst, text-assymptom approaches to Poe in which the critical reading functions as a tool of diagnosis oriented towards the personal unconscious of the author. Like Robertson or Krutch, these critics seek to explain Poe through a particular diagnosis. In the subsection called Marie Bonaparte and Poe: A Case for Transference we examine the similitude between Poe and Bonaparte s biographies as well as the effect his works had on her as a marker of this transferential relationship. The purpose of this subsection is to show how her seemingly impersonal and objective study of Poe, while theoretically oriented towards his unconscious, actually manages to reflect back on her own unconscious complexes. This will constitute a thesis which will also be re-taken in the third chapter of the thesis. After having reviewed some of the characteristics of this early, authororiented phase of psychoanalytic criticism of Poe, the section then moves towards a discussion of the two other subsequent phases in the Poe-psychoanalysis relationship. The second phase of psychoanalytic readings of Poe reflects the shift of orientation from the unconscious of the author as object of analysis, to what Jean Bellemin Noel designates as the unconscious of the text. Presenting some illustrations of text-
11 oriented readings of Poe s tales, we show how in this phase, while the critic-as-analyst identification still remains in effect, Poe s texts, however, move from a position of symptom to one of analysand. While the interpretation still functions as a tool of diagnosis, it is no longer directed towards Poe s personal unconscious, but to certain textual elements. This is the period of character pathology and symbolanalysis. Yet what may also be remarked about the changes brought on in this second phase of approaches is the increasing diversity in what concerns the type of psychoanalytic insight used. If the early psychoanalytic readings of Poe relied mainly on a reductive view of the unconscious drawn from Freud s initial works, in this subsequent phase one may encounter interpretations which are based on different understandings of the unconscious as they were formulated by Jungians, Lacanians or object-relationists. If, in the first two phases, the change takes place at the level of the analysand and the text, in the third phase a more interesting development becomes apparent in the reversal of perspective from the critic-as-analyst to the critic-as-analysand. Discussing some of the later psychoanalytic approaches to Poe such as that of Norman Holland or Daniel Hoffman, we illustrate how the function of interpretation changes as well, from a tool of diagnosis to a tool of self-diagnosis of self-examination. In these readings, which turn towards the unconscious of the reader in relation to Poe s text, what may additionally be noted is a transfer of critical interest from the production or the motivation behind Poe s works, as was the case with early interpretations, or from
12 their structure, in the case of second-phase approaches, to, in this case, their effect. The third chapter of the thesis descends into the realm of Poe s texts and offers several examples of how these may be analyzed from what we define, in the first chapter, as the unconscious of reading. The main emphasis in these approaches falls both on the textual elements, as well as the unconscious processes involved in the interaction between the critic and the text. Drawing loosely from the theoretical contributions of Brooks, Felman, Bayard and others, the chapter reunites a series of readings of Poe s tales which examine the simultaneous position of the critic as analyst and analysand, the function of reading both within the text and outside the text, the unconscious dynamics involved in the interpretation of Poe, the fundamentally ambivalent nature of his text, as well as the relation between the scene of a text s reading and its own scene of reading. The first stop in these series of readings is Poe s The Purloined Letter, a tale which may be viewed as the mecca of psychoanalytic criticism of Poe. This story, surprisingly enough, drew the highest number of psychoanalytic approaches. Following a theoretical angle provided by Pierre Bayard and Shoshana Felman, this section seeks to perform a plural reading of Edgar Allan Poe s The Purloined Letter in the context of its psychoanalytical readings. Through the analysis of the text, its readings and the readings of its reading, it looks to show how The Purloined Letter can be viewed not as possessing one meaning, but as provoking a multiplicity of meanings. At the same time the
13 emphasis is laid on the ways in which the text may both invite and resist interpretation. The preoccupation with reading is seen as a presence both inside the text and outside of it. The text s relationship with psychoanalysis or rather, the psychoanalytic interest in the text is explored by bringing into focus several models of psychoanalytic reading. These include Marie Bonaparte s interpretation of The Purloined Letter from The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1933), Jacques Lacan s Seminar of the Purloined Letter (1956) or Norman Holland s model of transactive criticism in Re-covering the Purloined Letter: Reading as Personal Transaction (1980). The responses of Jacques Derrida and Barbara Johnson in The Purveyor of Truth and The Frame of Narrative: Poe, Lacan, Derrida are featured alongside other readings of Lacan s seminar such as that of Shoshana Felman, James Muller and William Richardson, Shawn Rosenheim or Stephen Bretzius. Furthermore, the multiplicity of meanings of The Purloined Letter is reflected through a series of critical readings of the text that reflect upon the thematic diversity that it inspires: from sexuality, violence to cryptography and ecology. These also attest to the text s double effect of drawing out meanings, without necessarily submitting to them. The second section of this chapter Poe s Strategies of Seduction: Manifestations of Narrative Desire moves from what happens on the border, on the meeting ground between the critic and the text to what happens in the text itself, to what constitutes the elements of what we term Poe s seductiveness. After a brief theoretical
14 introduction into the concept of literary seduction and its relation to the psychoanalytic concept of transference, the next subsection brings into focus the issue of the pleasure of the text by performing a comparative reading of Poe s Philosophy of Composition and Roland Barthes The Pleasure of the Text. What this section aims to illustrate is how Poe s writings may be examined through what Susan Sontag calls an erotics of art. In The Seductiveness of Undecidability : Saneness, Madness and Contradiction in The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and The Imp of the Perverse, we look to analyze how what Bayard calls the undecidabilty of meaning is reflected in these three tales permanently suspended nature between saneness and madness. Additionally, we focus on how the contradiction between what the narrators say and what they show in these tales which creates this undecidability, ultimately becomes a factor of literary seduction which lures the reader into the texts and provokes his/her critical reading. In The Seductiveness of the Subject Supposed to Know : Poe s Rewriting of Psychoanalysis in The Imp of the Perverse the main emphasis lies on reversal of perspective from how psychoanalysis enriches Poe s text to how, in The Imp of the Perverse, Poe enriches and expands upon psychoanalytic concepts. The Imp of the Perverse is therefore envisaged as a re-writing of psychoanalysis. In The Urge to Tell and the Desire of the Narrative: Confession in The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and The Imp of the Perverse, we concentrate on the role and function of confession in The Black Cat, The Tell- Tale Heart and The Imp of the Perverse, how it reflects on the three
15 basic modes of manifestation of desire in the literary text and the way in which they speak of the ambivalence of the text between the need to tell and the need to conceal. The final section Scenes of the Unconscious, Scenes of Reading traces a parallel between the scene of the texts reading and their own scene of reading; it brings into question the role of Poe s intertextuality and it examines the merging of what we term the scenes of the unconscious with the scene of reading, a merging which takes place both as textual and extra-textual presence. Furthermore, in subsections such as Reading-effects as Determinants of Plot: The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall and The Angel of the Odd or Unlocking the Text within the Text: Functions of the Act of Reading in The Sphinx and The Oval Portrait we focus on the role of the act of reading and the reading-effect as either initiatory of plot or as revelatory moment within the tales. The Gold-Bug : from the Reading of Madness to the Madness of the Reading illustrates other parallels between the texts scene of reading and its own scenes of reading. In this case, it concentrates on the function of interpretation within the tale and its relation to the early psychoanalytic approaches to Poe. Essentially, in this subsection, we argue that Poe s The Gold- Bug anticipates and even invites its own misreading, only to deconstruct it in the final part of the tale. The narrator s reading of madness within the text becomes the madness of reading of the firstphase psychoanalytic interpretations of the tale. The ultimate aim of this section, it may be said, is to show how, in Poe, the unconscious
16 becomes a space of reading, while reading becomes a space of the unconscious.