Why we read
Briefly, psychoanalysis attempts to understand the workings and source of unconscious desires, needs, anxieties, and behavior of the writers, readers and the specific cultural phenomena. Psychoanalysts want to understand human behavioral patterns and also cultural behavior patterns (some focus on the psyche of a single author while other see “culture” as a kind of body with symptoms to diagnose, etc.). more specifically, psychoanalytic readers want to identify the concepts operating in a text in such away to “cure” the patient.
Psychoanalysis is willing to use any type of text in order to understand the larger patterns of behavior, from representations like single sentences, logos, literary texts, films, public space, etc. to behaviors like repetitive gestures, physical violence, habits and rituals, etc. in short, any representation or behavior is fair game.
How we read
The approach relies heavily on several key concepts used to explain the workings of a text:
The unconscious or latent content is the part of our “psyche” or human mind which can be compared to the part of and iceberg that is below water. Only a part of our mind is visible or manifest while a large part is submerge below the surface. This submerged part includes the impulses, desires, and feeling we are unaware of, but which nevertheless influences our emotions and behavior. “I am where I think not.”
The pleasure principle
For psychoanalysts, human behavior is motivated by “pleasure principle” or the “id.” That is, inside us all is this incredible energy which desires and demands satisfaction. This energy is the source of our aggressions and desires. Its function is to gratify our instincts for pleasure without for social conventions, legal ethics, or moral restraint. Unchecked, these desires would lead us to any lengths, even self destruction, to satisfy its impulses for pleasure. You could compare this energy to unrestricted flood waters.
There are powerful social taboos, restrictions, or laws which constrain our desires, instincts, aggressions, etc. (the “super ego”). These restrictions – which function as a kind of sluice gate that channels and guides the water- may come in the form of a legal code, religious commandments, or a parents rule. However, our desire doesn’t just go away or die. Instead, we repress, hold back, censor, or restrain our desires and aggressions. While some desires get transformed into a more socially acceptable form (.i.e. aggressive games) many desires and impulses get shoved back into the unconscious.
Dream work is the process by which our desires and aggressions get translated into an acceptable form. In other words, our desires and impulses are often expressed, but never in their raw form. Totally repressed desires produce psychological malfunctions.
Defense strategies refer to the way in which or a culture simultaneously hides and reveals unconscious desires, etc.
Condensation… “is brought about (1) by the total omission of certain latent dream elements, (2) by only a fragment of some complexes in the latent dreams passing over into the manifest one and (3) by latent elements which have something in common being combined and fused into a single unity in the manifest dream” ( Scholes et. al. text book). Therefore, look for uses of synecdoche where one thing represents another by having a part stand in for the whole, as in “I own fifty head of cattle.” And metonymy where one thing is replaced by something closely associated with. it, as in “the Whitehouse provided a press release today.” A part of the whole, a cow’s head, stands in for the whole of the cow. The “Whitehouse” is not a part of the presidency, but something associated with it.
Displacement… “manifests itself in two ways: in the first , a latent element is replaced not by a component of itself but by something more remote-that is, by an allusion, and in the second, the psychical accent is shifted from an important element into another which is unimportant, so that the dream appears differently centered and staged” (Scholes et. al. . text book). Therefore, look for uses of allusion and metaphor.
Imagery… transforms thoughts into visual images, imagery should be familiar territory to readers, but pay particular attention to imagery having to do with sexuality, authority, and repression.
Psychoanalysts assume that the unconscious exists and that texts contain and reveal (indirectly) the unconscious feelings, desires, aggressions of a writer or speaker or culture. A reader’s interpretation can also be studied to reveal a reader’s unconscious desires, anxieties, etc. for example, asking you to tell me which fairy tale character you identify with may reveal some kind of psychological concern of preoccupation. In other words, we want to satisfy our desires, but we can’t because they are socially unacceptable. As a result, we repress those unacceptable desires and impulses. However, we can never fully repress pour cravings, and they are expressed when we interact with people, talk, or write.
To read through a psychoanalyst’s lens, you need to make visible and explain the author‘s (or a culture’s) “symptoms”. That is, unconscious, desires, impulses, anxieties, fears, and pleasures. You also need to explain the source of those initial anxieties, and you need to explain which concepts are operating in a text. Texts give symbolic expression to these inner experiences. Your task is to turn the details of a text into symbols that reflect the working of the unconscious. In this way psychoanalysis resembles s structuralism in that you need to link the manifest content or “parole” with the latent content or the psychological “langue.” Put another way, use theory of psychoanalysis as a kind of “master discourse” to explain the literary text (this means that psychoanalysis is stands above or beyond the literary, not along side with it). You need to locate examples of defense mechanisms and how they function in a text. So, psychoanalytical vocabulary and concept of important.