Thursday, February 2, 2012


Like Marxist readings, psychoanalytic, or Freudian, readings are focused on interpreting and understanding the content of a story.  There are a number of different approaches to a psychoanalytic reading of a text, and I'm just going to begin one, but I'll also suggest a possible approach to some others.

We should begin by noting that in psychoanalytic readings we differentiate between the manifest content and the latent content.  In Freud's own terms, the mind is like an iceberg.  What we see is the manifest 10% -- the tip of the iceberg.  Everything that lies beneath the surface -- the 90% -- is latent.  So a psychoanalytic reading of literature takes for granted that the apparent meaning of a text is only the tip of the iceberg, and that literature contains much more content beneath the surface.

Nope. No latent psychological meaning here.
This approach, by the way, is one that frustrates students, because it implies that there is a "secret meaning" hidden in the text.  We shouldn't let that impression persist.  Even within psychoanalytic readings, the latent meaning is not a "coded" or "secret" meaning that the author and the critic both understand but have hidden from the reader.  Rather, it is subtext that comes from how the mind is understood to function.  The author is likely no more aware of it than the reader is, and the critic is not assumed to be correctly deciphering the real meaning of the text, but to be suggesting one possible interpretation.

The three clear ways to approach a psychoanalytic reading of a text are to 1) read to psychoanalyze the characters, 2) read to psychoanalyze the author, or 3) read to discover the latent meaning of the text and describe it in the language of psychoanalysis.

Forcing the Governor to Act Morally
In the case of Superman there are, as I said, a few good approaches.  Freud suggested that the mind was divided into the id, which operates on the pleasure principle, is basically pure desire, and seeks to achieve pleasure and avoid pain; the ego which is operates on the reality principle, is basically pure reason, and seeks to rationalize action; and the superego, which is basically the seat of morals, and seeks to make the person socially acceptable and therefore "good".  According to this model we can see that Superman is virtually always a manifestation of the superego, acting as a moral authority to impose good.  Superman's villains, who are usually criminals against property, are manifestations of the id's desire.  The Superman-superego stops the criminal-ids from acting on their desire because acting on that desire would be detrimental to society.

I'll put my cards on the table here and say that I usually don't put much stock in psychoanalytic theory myself, but plenty of people do and it's worth knowing what it is and how people approach it.

No comments:

Post a Comment