FREUD VERSUS TROTSKY IN THE MODERN BRACKET

 

FREUD:

It is never possible to be sure that a dream has been completely interpreted.

Dreams reproduce logical connection by simultaneity in time. Here they are acting like the painter who, in a picture of the School of Athens or of Parnassus, represents in one group all the philosophers or all the poets. It is true that they never were in fact assembled in a single hall or on a single mountain-top; but they certainly form a group in the conceptual sense.

Every attempt that has hitherto been made to solve the problem of dreams has dealt directly with their manifest content. We are alone in taking something else into account: their latent content.

Oedipus Rex is what is known as a tragedy of  destiny. Its tragic effect is said to lie in the contrast between the supreme will of the gods and the vain attempts of mankind to escape the evil that threatens them. The lesson which, it is said, the deeply moved spectator should learn from the tragedy is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence.

It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first murderous wish against our father.

There is an unmistakable indication in the text of Sophocles’ tragedy itself that the legend of Oedipus sprang from some primeval dream-material which had as its content the distressing disturbance of a child’s relation to his parents owing to the first stirrings of sexuality.

Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized. Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish. Here I have translated into conscious terms what was bound to remain unconscious in Hamlet’s mind; and if anyone is inclined to call him a hysteric, I can only accept the fact as one that is implied by my interpretation. The distaste for sexuality expressed by Hamlet in his conversation with Ophelia fits in very well with this: the same distaste which was destined to take possession of the poet’s mind more and more during the years that followed, and which reached its extreme expression in Timon of Athens. For it can of course only be the poet’s own mind which confronts us in Hamlet.

 

TROTSKY:

The poet can find material for his art only in his social environment and transmits the new impulses of life through his own artistic consciousness. Language, changed and complicated by urban conditions, gives the poet a new verbal material, and suggests or facilitates new word combinations for the poetic formulation of new thoughts or of new feelings, which strive to break through the dark shell of the subconscious. If there were no changes in psychology produced by changes in the social environment, there would be no movement in art; people would continue from generation to generation to be content with the poetry of the Bible, or of the old Greeks.

The only theory which has opposed Marxism in Soviet Russia these years is the Formalist theory of Art. The paradox consists in the fact that Russian Formalism connected itself closely with Russian Futurism, and that while the latter was capitulating politically before Communism, Formalism opposed Marxism with all its might theoretically.

The Formalists are not content to ascribe to their methods a merely subsidiary, serviceable and technical significance—similar to that which statistics has for social science, or the microscope for the biological sciences. No, they go much further. To them verbal art ends finally and fully with the word, and depictive art with color.

The quarrels about “pure art” do not become us. Materialistic dialectics are above this; from the point of view of an objective historical process, art is always a social servant and historically utilitarian, and quite independently of whether it appears in a given case under the flag of a “pure” or of a frankly tendentious art.

 

Freudian psychology used to be everywhere—it became a religion for 20th century intellectuals, and it still reverberates.  Freud conquered Christianity, manners, sex, art, pillow talk, literary criticism, and although the bomb went off several generations ago and the sound of its explosion has passed, its effects are still here; the ideas no longer need to be argued, they are in us.  But are they true?  Are they good?

Psychology occupies a privileged position between philosophy and poetry—with the withering away of both, Psychology has grown into a colossus.  Undergraduates study it, corporations manage people with it, and millions of people try and figure out themselves and others with it. Freud starts fires; Freudian psychology is a Dionysian force against religion, art, statesmanship and work, which orders and pacifies people.

Just look at what Freud does to not only Hamlet, the play, but to Shakespeare himself, just from the brief excerpt above:

Freud is certain that Hamlet, Shakespeare’s character, delays killing his uncle because Hamlet naturally feels he is a sinner in the same way: Hamlet, like all of us, wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother; not only this, Hamlet’s “distaste for sexuality” is quickly held aloft by Freud as a pathology, and then just as quickly ascribed to Shakespeare, the author.

Was the New Criticism, and other sorts of complex literary commentary, merely a fire wall against this sort of fiery Freudian Criticism?  We sometimes forget how very influential Freud was. One thinks of Princess Marie Bonaparte, a member of Freud’s inner circle, and her 700 page ‘psycho-biography’ of Poe (1933), which helped to cloud, mitigate, distort, and even destroy, the literary reputation of that famous author.

Trotsky reminds us that Futurism fit in with Soviet art, but “purist” Formalism did not, even though the two went hand in hand in the Modernist upsurge. Trotsky, writing for “the state,” can’t abide “purist” art, which is not a big surprise.

 

WINNER: FREUD

 

 

 

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