T.S. Eliot and Psychoanalysis
Eliot scholars might look askance at the idea that his poetic vision was at any point influenced by psychoanalysis. Just two months before The Waste Land was published, after all, he ridiculed psychoanalysis as “a dubious and contentious branch of science” and predicted an imminent demise for what he dubbed the “psychoanalytic type” of novel. Still, there is plenty to suggest his appreciation for the literary critical and poetic powers enabled by psychoanalysis. The Waste Land was first published in the Criterion’s inaugural issue, and as editor of the journal Eliot also included a review by Hesse identifying Freud as a major influence on German poetry and declaring his “psychology of the unconscious” a good foundation for artistic development. Further still, Eliot procured for a later number in that first volume Jacques Rivière’s essay advocating the concept of sublimation as a tool for literary criticism. As for his own remarks, he declares in “A Brief Treatise on the Criticism of Poetry” that poetry is indeed a valid object of study for psychoanalysis and, in “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” that “Psychology (such as it is, and whether our reaction to it be comic or serious), ethnology, and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method.” This remark shows grudging respect for Freud’s project but presents it nevertheless as an exegetical key to myths which are themselves integral to understanding contemporary history and culture.
This panel will seek to establish the ways Freudian psychoanalysis informs Eliot’s literary criticism and poetry. Papers detailing the ways that Eliot’s work foreshadows psychoanalytic developments later in the century – Lacanian theory for example – are also welcome.
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