Philip Hermogenes Calderon, The Young Lord Hamlet

Literature and Psychoanalysis

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Literature has been fertile ground for psychoanalysis ever since Freud’s first musings. Psychoanalysis borrows rampantly from literary texts, be it Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Goethe’s Faust, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Simultaneously, literary critics have deployed psychoanalytic concepts and insights—about trauma, desire, ambivalence, and the unconscious—to interpret how anxiety, loss, hate, sex, love, race, and truth operate in literature, from the classical to the contemporary. Why has literature, among the arts, proved so adaptable for investigating and representing psychoanalytic phenomena? And why, likewise, is psychoanalysis so useful for the exploration of literary form, meaning, and aesthetics? How can we understand the deep linkages between literature and psychoanalysis?

In this course, we will consider how psychoanalytic theory has adapted literary ideas, as well as how the language of psychoanalysis provides an entry point into the study of literary forms and themes. Bringing literature by Sophocles, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe, and Marguerite Duras into contact with psychoanalytic theory by Freud, Lacan, Hortense Spillers, Gwen Bergner, Jane Gallup, and Cathy Caruth, we will ask: What are the possibilities and limitations engendered by positing the Oedipus myth as a foundation for understanding subjectivity? How is the supposed universality of the Oedipus Complex troubled by Harriet Jacobs’ and Frederick Douglass’ accounts of kinship under slavery? What tools does psychoanalysis provide for working through and representing traumatic histories? What new interpretations about literary form and desire are opened via psychoanalytic methods and concepts? And, what can a study of literature and psychoanalysis teach us about the blurry boundaries between art and the human sciences?

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 08 — June 29, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open