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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 11 Oct 1998 22:45:01 +0200
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>I've noticed this with all permutations of the psychoanalytic approach.
>always begin with the idea that one should not take the artist seriously,
>one should not take previous critics seriously.
In general there is nothing wrong with a psychoanalytic approach. Or should
I say, in theory there is nothing wrong with a psychoanalytic approach.
Many scholars and critics with no qualification whatsoever attempt serious
discussions of a creative process that involve biology, psychology,
culture, communication, sociology, history, phonology, linguistics, and so
on. Usually however these scholars and critics only have any qualifications
of note in perhaps one or two of these fields.
Yet the nature of literary research, if we intend to discuss a work in
anything more than a very specific framework, requires a proper handling of
all these fields in many different contexts and qualifications. Usually we
will see a scholar attempt a proper handling of one aspect of a work, say
history, or aspects of a specific cultural movement, or the emergence of a
particular style or technique, and take in other areas to reflect on this
field, or venture the occasional reflection outside the field of
It is my belief that in current literary criticism the two major problem
areas are improper delineations of the area of specialisation with regards
to training and/or qualifications, and the use of old-fashioned theories.
To begin with the latter, we will hardly accept a heart-surgeon to proceed
on his patient using late 19th century developments and equipment, and yet
that is exactly what most psychoanalytic literary criticism is doing today.
That this is a very topical issue is evidenced by a similar discussion
about the differences in qualification between "amateur" and "professional"
psychotherapists and psychiatrists on the Pound-list (where only real
difference should be that a psychiatrist is qualified to prescribe
medicine, basically being a doctor, and a psychotherapist limits himself to
alteration of thinking and behavioural patterns).
In my view, the creative process is, in theory, simple and the areas of
research clearly definable: at the centre of the research is the text; on
the left is the writer, on the right is the reader. The text is a form of
communication between the writer and the reader. Communication involves
several processes, the most important of which is the encoding and decoding
of information in language. This information is gathered from the world of
the writer, a world which resembles in varying degrees the world of the
reader. The gathering of information by the writer involves a number of
processes, among which sensory perception, memory, abstraction,
organisation and personality factors. Personality factors are themselves
the result of neurochemistry, which in turn is influenced by memory,
inheritance, life events and so on. In summary, the text is the result of
bits of the world seeping through the human system into a text, thereby
passing through several boundaries of varying classifications and
influence, all of which can be studied.
This text can then be presented to the reader, and a reverse process takes
place. The information in the text transports to the mind of the reader,
again crossing several boundaries, of decoding, perspective,
interpretation, association, memory, and (in nearly all cases) from there
on back into the world. Each of the processes mentioned above can again be
studied, but now in most cases in reverse, from a slightly different
As linguists we are trained to study the areas of encoding/decoding
information in language, and as scholars of literature we may add cultural
history to our specialist repertoire, so that these areas will generally be
our preferred field of research. Other fields should, in the current
academic climate, at least be supervised by specialists who have proper and
up-to-date qualifications in neurochemistry, psychology, sociology, history
and so forth. I herewith stress 'up-to-date' because even outside the field
of literary criticism there are active psychoanalysts with a training based
on severely outdated concepts and training. Instead, however, of wishing to
point a finger to the limitations of other fields, I think we would do
better by taking a closer look at our own field, where a lot is left to be
desired. Where are the works which study, not endless particular instances
and details of literary history, but attempt to ask fundamental questions
on the meta-level? And once that has been done (an easy task, because all
the knowledge is there as well as endless particular instances to build
meta-scholarship on), a solid scientific method ought to be developed. In
science we need to be able to build on each other's work, and we need
method for that to be effective.
That is not to say I believe that nobody can approach all aspects of a text
alone. Ultimately, the process, once written down properly and once the
dust surrounding all recent breakthroughs in brain research has settled
down, it will become apparent that the creative process is simple enough to
be approached onthologically by one individual. Before all that has seeped
into education, however, and if we want to do this now, by ourselves, and
without training which at this moment is not available anyway, we will need
to read up-to-date material from fields beyond those of our own. Luckily
enough, many of the other fields have written clear and instructive
up-to-date methodological works (Gleitman's Psychology is a good example,
as is, more specialised, work by Dr Joel Robertson). The opportunities are
there for the takers.
Surely, once some of this more serious work has been done, we can start
taking ourselves seriously.