Freud: Still Messin’ With Us After All These Years

May 9th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Did Freud destroy the art of creating characters? If so, you’ve got to hand it to the guy. Very few of us have the power to change the course of a single profession. Freud managed to re-engineer at least two. It seems character development was arrested by the introduction of ids and ego and superegos. No great characters have been written since.

Much as we were fascinated by this theory, we couldn’t buy into the argument. Maybe because it implies that the entire postwar writing profession fell lockstep into Freudian analysis. We were lost when this statement struck us as false:

Thus the postwar rise of the nouveau roman, with its absence of character, and of the postmodern and experimental novels, with their many strategies — self-annulling irony, deliberate cartoonishness, montage-like ”cutting” — for releasing fiction from its dependence on character. For all the rich work published after the war, there’s barely a fictional figure that has the memorableness of a Gatsby, a Nick Adams, a Baron Charlus, a Leopold Bloom, a Settembrini. And that’s leaving aside the magnificent 19th century, when authors plumbed the depths of the human mind with something on the order of clairvoyance. Of course, before that, there was Shakespeare. And Cervantes. And Dante. And . . . It seems that the further back you go in time, away from Freud, the deeper the psychological portraits you encounter in literary art. Nowadays, often even the most accomplished novels offer characters that are little more than flat, ghostly reflections of characters. The author’s voice, or self-consciousness about voice, substitutes mere eccentricity for an imaginative surrender to another life.

See, we’ve been thinking about this very subject lately. And we’ve come to the conclusion that the rate of truly outstanding novels isn’t much less today than at any other point in time. It’s possible the number of Gatsbys remain in the same proportion to the number of titles released today as they did in 1925. The problem, of course, is that time defines truly great works of art, not sales. Don Quixote has had plenty of time to settle into a groove, while today’s literature is still finding its audience.

Of course, that being said, we would humbly suggest that more reading lists revisit the concept of “classic” in an effort to cull the stultifying from the classrooms. Just a thought.

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