Gateway to ideas; 5; Freud and 20th Century Literature
Gateway to ideas. Gateway to ideas. A new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program. Freud and 20th century literature is moderated by Virginia Petersen noted author and critic. Our guest today Professor Benjamin Nelson who is chairman of the Sociology Department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Dr. Nelson has written and edited numerous works in the fields of the social sciences cultural history and psychoanalysis among which he has been editor of the book called Freud and the twentieth century. Dr. Phillip Weisman a consulting analyst on the
staff of The New York Psychoanalytic Treatment Center author of many articles on clinical subjects and on the theatre. Dr. Weissman has a forthcoming book on psychoanalysis and the theatre. The fairest definition I know gentleman of a classic is that nothing can ever be written after it without taking it into consideration. That certainly makes Freud's work a classic doesn't it. You would agree that it is impossible to write anything today about human beings and their relations without being at least aware of how Freud viewed them. Wouldn't you Dr Nelson. I think that's very well taken and it instantly suggests to me at least the need to distinguish between works of literature done before Freud. So through the 19th century and works done since 1900 the date of Freud's first major classic The Interpretation of
Dreams. There are any number of writings of the 19th century which illustrate the battle of the sexes or describe the rigors of childhood. But there are very few which have the distinctive Freudian character. When a modern writer looks around at the world or experiences himself in any set of actions he cannot be but be affected by the sense that Freud has so profoundly expressed. That is the immense awareness of the importance of the unconscious the power of unconscious conflict. The modeled character of motivation. What would you say would you say gentlemen the main influence of Freud apparent in post Freud and literature is the
subjectivity of literature or the in a man rather than the out a man who was more characteristic of the 19th century. Or am I wrong Dr. Weissmann. Right influence is right of classic proportions has introduced a new element and made Freud's knowledge part of our universal language of communication to the degree that a certain amount of acceptability has taken place about the word of unconscious and conscious in a way that was never used as frequently as before and becomes a stamp of Freud's contribution so that it is almost unconsciously accepted into our language. I am not so sure that the literature of. The real that or a before and after Freud is so different when it is real but
only with this distinction that some people make too much of a fuss about. You mean the critics the critics bring out symbols and point out for ID and things and haps when I use pseudo analytic fashion. To some degree. But you would say wouldn't you. Dr Nelson that there is a tendency all the same on the part of the modern novelist Let's say I did treat his hero more as a patient. I don't think I'm a modern writer. I can't think of a character without feeling that he was once a child who underwent critical and searing experiences that emphasis for example is one of the hallmarks of Freud's influence. I should say one never thinks any longer that a man of fifty is literally 50. We always know now that he is five or even two or three. Paul I got onto that phrase by saying the child is father of the man.
I do think that Wordsworth did see that and understand it but I don't think he understood it in all its reach or in any thorough sense. He was not aware as Freud was of the obstacles run by the child in the course of his growth to maturity. The cost to the child and the growing man of the mishaps that occurred in that initial experience the immense importance of the repetition of. Occasions and even feelings and so forth. I doubt that there has been any very notable writer or philosopher who hasn't grasped the awareness that a child was the father of the man but I know of no one prior to Freud who documented that and actually spread before us an understanding of the chart of development.
I suppose that Dickens was the only outstanding great writer of the 19th century whose protagonists never grew up who wrote whole books about childhood. But we certainly have a flock of them now and most of them based on the story of the loss of innocence are they not. There are nearly as many losses of innocence in literature now as there are writers to write it. Yes that brings up a very interesting point because if we would think of the possibility of Dickens writing and confining himself. To the life of a child are never going to be our No one could almost bet his last dollar that a modern man would think of Dickens writing about infancy as the thing that preceded childhood. In other words it is built in our thinking that there is a hierarchy of development and it is a naive to take a to make the. Subdivision of childhood and adult. We have become
so tune to the idea of. Longitudinal development of the individual that a dickens of today if we were writing would have to deal with the cultural phenomenon that was part of his education that the child was a baby. It's all done across my mind that if one could reverse time and present the 19th century readers of Dickens with The Catcher In The Rye behind J.D. Salinger they might not understand what all the troubles were about after all that the troubles the percent the children of Dickens were concrete actual outside circumstances whereas the troubles of the Catcher In The Rye are all in tune all circumstances due to his own nature and his parental influence and it's a completely different set out about the 19th century people would have thought Why is he so unhappy. You know my feeling is somewhat different about that. I'm not quite sure that it could be solved on the level that it wouldn't be understood. I think it would be and
immediately understood on one level. But objected to as in comprehensible from the point of view of its newness. And it would repeat the error of Freud's discoveries in which there was a dichotomy in the world. Those who accepted and those who yell but even those who yelled knew there was an ultimate truth in what was being said and it would be hard to believe that a real truth would be met by. I don't understand. I would believe that would be met by. This is not true with more of a denial than and ability to respond to what was being said. In the meantime would you. Consider that Kaffir government instance who certainly wrote about the alienation of man from his whole society who his men were all completely confined within themselves and terrorized by the enmity of the world around them. Do you think he was influenced by fraud. I don't know Dr Nelson because
I've never read anything about Kafka That said whether fraud influenced him or not he could have been chronologically. Yes I think we do know for a fact. God knew of Freud's work and was aware of what Freud was saying as it were to our century. I think Kafka illustrates something else. The surprising thing is that when you look at Kafka has led up to his father you would guess that he was saturated with Roy but Kafka to my way of thinking anyway illustrates something altogether different. I consider Kafka one of the first post Freudian thinkers and Post writers and I would like to suggest that nowadays in our own time our we are confronted by some writers who are profoundly perhaps excessively influenced by Freud who go about documenting him in their novels and in their plays I think you have that on Broadway
to a great extent whereas I think that the vanguard of these days is post Freud and not Freud in what post writing that is they know of his existence aware of his meaning. And quite deliberately go beyond him and if I may I would like to say in response to your question about Kafka. What it means to be posed for ideas. Well. Freud is the culmination of 19th century developments. The great playwrights Ibsen's and others novelists of course dusty Esky who bring to the fore the tyranny of the so called super ego for the ego. And over the ID an effort to assist in the liberation impulse and reason as against convention and so on. And
conventional morality. I think Freud summed that up. And in fact gave a kind of code he codified it so that other writers. Not of the same stamp as those I just mentioned could documented in great numbers of plays and books and on Broadway we have any number of plays which do document Freud's insights. Now when tin came from literature as yeah I'm sorry rank he admitted. Well I said that Floyd represents the culmination of that literary development. But I would if I may like to emphasize the fact that although there were any number of anticipations of Royd among literary people philosophers and psychologists. Freud remains the giant in the sense that he scientifically charted the unconscious and scientifically set down notions and doctrines which did organize as it were the whole area. None of the others did.
I mean one may say that Shakespeare was aware of the Oedipus complex Well the answer is he was not. He wrote Hamlet but he was not aware of the upas complex and Freud did he didn't need to be. I would have to take issue with you on that if I may and say that it is of the utmost importance not for Shakespeare that he be aware but that for all of us that we become aware of this matter. But I will return to Kafka if you will right. All right. And say that in the case of coffee guy and writer subsequent to him who write in his manner. You see the efforts to depict and somehow to suggest away from it is out of what might be called the. Tyranny of conscience less reason. The assumption of the 19th century had been that if reason could supplant the conventional morality and could give guidance to an emotion an impulse that there would be genuine
liberation for mankind that was the faith of the absent. And it was I believe even the face of Freud. But since the time of Kafka something else has come into the consciousness and that is that our everyday world is a very reasonable world thoroughly rationalized in a million ways. We use the word rationalization today for it. And what we look for is not to be liberated from emotion through reason but to be liberated from the fruits of conscience less reason. That is the lesson I think of Beckett and of Jenae and various other writers. They are intensely aware of Freud but they frankly think he's somewhat old hat. If I read them correctly. Well it has a new morality come up Dr. Weissmann and you called by which to live. Well before I answer that question directly to Dr. Nelson who said so many interesting things. That I both
agree with and feel should be somewhat modified about the post Friday and right at documenting Freud. I think this is an extremely complex problem right as who had lived before Freud up. Also documented Freud in a given sense that might sound absurd but the documentation is merely at that they've been proven before and after it is true that the documentation occurs and that there are many conscious right is who in a sense mentally would have limited talent to the degree of only consciously documenting Freud Freud has been documented by many right as who are antagonistic to as I did then and then equally as beautiful a job I don't waste my money working for. Yes
yes one might say yes and also one of the best examples and others. Someone who has made statements of his and tagging as him to fry would be Eugene O'Neill who claimed that he didn't like Freud's ideas too much snow had been too familiar with them and showed even more of an affinity towards the young. However a study of some of those great plays find that he makes a tremendous contribution to analytic knowledge for example of the process of mourning. In spite of his own untag and as and which many make the point that the problem of documentation is extremely complicated. The authors document in spite of his intent. And sometimes cannot document when he intends to if he is not. They are asleep even technically own used methods which
might be called fraud and first place the situations were sickie hattrick situations and in the second place you remember how you used was it in the great god around the mask who says what he thinks of yourself and then says what he really thinks in that big gap between the two that was the first time the rack had run. But I was shown. I think O'Neill did not feel a contradiction in his untag Unism to Freud and his use of these things which would seem as if the man was split and which direction is he going. But truth of the matter is that I think O'Neill saw himself as a current man and that. Unconscious thinking unspoken thoughts are really part of humanity wherever it came from and that it was our clothing of today. And this is the way to dress a play of today. I was wondering if either of you would see any difference for instance that could
be attributed to Freud between say Crime and Punishment the study of Raskolnikov guilt in the middle and calmly the fall which was also a study of the latent conscience. You don't either of you want to pick that up John. Yeah you. You have presented us with a theme for a large and comprehensive essay which reaches into almost every corner of the nineteenth and twentieth century I hesitate to make any statement about this. Join in the hesitation because I don't even think we have as yet add our ideas as to what the current writer represents in terms of the protean position and to take these two plays in an undiscussed way without these preliminaries would be. Rather wild treatment Well Dr Weizmann I don't want to be wild above all things
in this company. Will you then please say what you and your self what you do think the for idea an effect on contemporary literature has been if you think we haven't said anything about it. Well I would twist that around and kind of remove my hesitation at this point and say something about what I can do and very ochre aren't writers who seem to be so far away from Freud. My impression is that the changes in our current world a so great that there must be a direction for their imprint. And my feeling is that it is not. Against fraud but in this sense it is beyond Freud and the world that we are all having a great deal of difficulty in contending with. Perhaps in an external way of living where this forward represented a solution to our internal way
of living and that it should appear in the letters to and should exist is quite comprehensible and is really one of man's most urgent new problems. I should like to speak to that a file I mean I think maybe the best way of approaching that question would be by taking an example. The play the balcony by John and I is set in a brothel. And the opening scenes depict. The girls in the brothel with men who come for varied reasons and purposes and who for needs that are not understood. Ask to perform the roles of Bishop and General Dick and so forth. When one watches this play unfold I did
once first senses that I was undertaking to provide a drama as a sheen of scenarios previously written maybe by the song or else he was taking pages out of craft a being but the feeling is that this will be a very extraordinary play and one anticipates that there will be a good bit of Royd here. Well the fact is that if you watch the play you discover. It really isn't about the sods and it really isn't about or it doesn't illustrate car to me and has awfully little to do with roid and for that matter it really isn't about a brothel. It's only said in a brothel or dramatists reasons. It's about something altogether different and I know that when I saw the play I needed to get to about the seventh scene before I fully realized what the author was doing. This ply more than any I know illustrates what I've
called the post Freudian stress of contemporary drama in literature the entire theatre of the absurd is so called so called there is a post for writing in the same way for what is the theme of the balcony. It is the dilemma the terrible kind of paradox that life presents and that is that each of us is only himself when he is closest to his feeling. But then feeling has no way ever of assuming shape or form or conveying meaning or significance or crystallizing any kind of identity until it becomes form. So that it's all the paradox of existence and role within a world composed as is ours which is the very center of this play. It isn't even a documentation of the notions of existentialism as somehow the set of the plight. It's
post existentialist and I say the same thing exactly. For Beckett and for Nasco and so on take a plenty and ask Oh it is the most deliberately Dall documentation of the frightful tyranny of the every day in everyone's life which is very different from for and I think Dr Wiseman has made a great contribution by implying that this way of looking at the world. Connects with the immense changes that have occurred and are occurring in our own day. The accelerated pace changes of our existence and that the playwright's are of course responding to the challenge of these changes. But Dr. Weissmann wouldn't you agree at least so far as to say that Freud's influence is still very apparent his hand lies heavy on contemporary literature in the sense that
nearly all contemporary literature of serious nature is about the self referring to the self. There is a an in men's consciousness of of the ego in all of it and the self looms up as the main frame of reference rather than something larger outside or beyond the self. Is that not an influence of Freud. I am very grateful to you Mr Peterson for asking me this question because this is exactly what I entertain. Trying to answer in some way I do believe though I made the statement that posed for ID and literature is embarking upon the external catastrophic and monumental changes that are going on there well I think the literature could not be existence without the fact that Freud an ism and not just fraud even as I'm in Rome but modern psychology was its
precursor. It would seem to me without an orientation to man's psyche as Freud has described it that any play by Jenette a or an Esco would would not be tolerated on the basis of the fact that it would have been assumed to be psychotic. It is only the universal understanding of man's inner life that permits the conditions for this type of play to be written. And while the play moves away from the problems that Freud was solving it moves away with the sanction. Of Freud that things can be expressed this way and other things that can be self Dr Nelson's excellent example of the balcony is much to the point. A milkman who wants to be a bishop. Imagined in the 18th or 19th century would have been considered absolutely
psychotic I guess it had some extraordinary logical elaboration. But there's almost an assumption made that the man who is writing this is not crazy and he is talking at least again in a new closing of the Freudian era. That man has fantasies. And while the fact is he do not say everything about man and that one can to begin to approach. What it's all about what the new world is about. From the basis of this self understanding and I agree very much with you that in a very large overall sense this is a great. Occupation or preoccupation with self. Which Freud has permitted and may well I say pride I mean the Freudian era has made. Legitimate. Dr Nelson we haven't said anything about most outstanding promising young writers Malamud Roth and Saul
Bellow. Have you anything to say briefly about them. Yes I should say that would constitute a wonderful subject for another meeting such as this but briefly they are thoroughly aware of Freud and seek in their own fashion to go beyond him through the use of his insights. I should say that they don't go nearly as far as the Europeans. Thank you Dr Nelson. It would seem from this discussion that Dr Weissman and Dr Nelson feel that the unconscious the knowledge of the unconscious that came from Freud goes on and has become part of the thinking of all of us. And I want to thank them for throwing their shafts of light on what is after all rather an obscure subject thank you very much Dr Nelson and Dr Wiseman. You have been listening to gateway to ideas for a new series of conversations in which ideas are discussed in relation to reading. Today's program
Freud and twentieth century literature has presented Dr. Benjamin Nelson chairman of the sociology department at New York State University at Stony Brook Long Island who is the author of Freud in the 20th century and Dr. Phillip Weisman a member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and author of a forthcoming book on psychoanalysis and the theatre. The moderator was by Julia Peterson a noted author and critic to extend the dimensions of today's program for you a list of the books mentioned in the discussion as well as others relevant to the subject has been prepared. You can obtain a copy from your local library or by writing to a gateway to ideas post office box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York. Please enclose a stamp self-addressed envelope right to box 6 for 1 Time Square Station New York gateway to ideas is produced for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation.
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