Psychologists and Literature

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are the two psychologists who have influenced literary criticism the most. Freud’s followers practice the psychological approach and Jung’s followers, the archetypal/mythological approach to literary criticism. While they both seem to proclaim different ideas, their basic notions are the same. With a brief summary of first Freud’s article, “Creative writers and day-dreaming,” and then Jung’s, “Psychology and literature,” one may be able to see the similarities and differences between the two’s theories.

Freud is one of the most significant psychologists that has ever studied the human mind. Everyone knows of him and his expansion of “psychoanalysis” (35). He’s created the ideas of the Id, Ego, and the Super-ego, libido, and dream analysis.

It is to this point that we get to his essay “Creative writers and day-dreaming.” Freud pulls together a lot of his theories to explain the creative writer and the reasons they can create emotional responses in strangers. At first, he explains that the creative writer is like a “child at play...[h]e creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously” (36). The difference between a child and an adult, however, is that children do not hide their fantasies and adults feel ashamed or foolish because of them. Adult fantasies are called “day-dreams” or wishes (37). Freud believes that the nature of fantasies are different in young men and women. For “young women the erotic wishes predominate almost exclusively” while in “men egoistic and ambitious wishes come to the fore clearly enough alongside of erotic ones” (38). The last characteristic of adult day-dreams that Freud points out is it’s timelessness. Day-dreams “makes uses of an occasion in the present to construct, on the pattern of the past, a picture of the future” (39).

Using all these different characteristics of fantasies or day-dreams to explain the creative writer’s motivation and creative source. With popular novels, it can be see that “each of them has a hero” who is protected by “a special Providence,” the women of the novel “invariably fall in love with the hero,” and all the “other characters in the story are sharply divided into good and bad” with respects to the hero (40). This is the general building blocks of a novel. The idea for the novel comes from a fantasy of an experience. Freud explains it as such: “A strong experience in the present awakens in the creative writer a memory of an earlier experience...from which there now proceeds a wish which finds its fulfillment in the creative work. The work itself exhibits elements of the recent provoking occasion as well as of the old memory” (41). The result of the creative writer’s ability to communicate these fantasies, the reader “experience a great pleasure,” (42) which would not have occurred if he would have communicated them directly, giving “us no pleasure by his disclosures” (41).

Jung’s approach to the creative force behind the writer is much more detailed and lengthy than Freud’s. Though a few details are different, the basic nature of his argument is the same as Freud’s. Instead of day-dreams controlling the work of art, it is controlled by “primordial experiences,” those experiences in which we inherit from the beginning of man. These experiences can be divided into two types of artistic creation, “psychological, and the other visionary” (177). The psychological deals with experiences that remain within the conscious mind. “Everything that it embraces...belongs to the realm of the understandable” (178). The visionary embraces the “primordial experiences,” brings out experiences from the deepest parts of our minds and have no boundaries or care for what may be acceptable. The psychological work is always clear-cut and obvious, it is the visionary work that demands “commentaries and explanations” and gives the critic something to talk and theorize about, never to come up with a definite answer (179). The forms that the “primordial experiences” take are “all monstrous, demonic, grotesque, and perverse” (180) to which the author may mask in “mythology” to give “his experience its most fitting expression” (183).

Jung believes that an artist is two sided, on one side is the human being, and on the other side is “an impersonal, creative process” (185). The creative process, when triggered, takes a hold of the artist and makes him its “instrument” (186). The artist must learn to control the creative process, so that it doesn’t take complete control, for if it does he could create qualities such as “ruthlessness, selfishness, and vanity,” and if the creative process “drain[s] the human impulses” completely, a neurosis could develop (186). On the other hand, the reader must let the creative process take a hold of him, to allow it to “shape” him as it did the artist in order to understand the “primordial experiences”--the true meaning of the work (187).

As a writer myself, I would like to believe in both of these psychological explanations on where the creative drive comes from, but I lean more towards Freud’s theories than Jung’s. Though when I write, I find myself oblivious to all of my surroundings and I feel that the story is coming from within me, I do not feel like some monster is rearing its head to take advantage of me, to disguise itself in mythology or demonic monsters. Like Freud explains, an occurrence in life triggers a memory on the past, that projects on a postulation on the future, which turns to a day-dream of some other occurrence that encompasses all three memories or thoughts. It is then that the day-dream takes hold and demands to be expressed in the written word. That is the only connection I have personally to Jung’s theory.

However, I think that it is all based upon the subject matter of the artist, and the favorite genre of the reader that would sway the belief from Jung to Freud and vice versa. If I was Stephen King or Dean Koontz, I would believe whole heartedly in Jung’s theory, that the product of their creative drive is something from their “primordial experiences,” that when they write they have no control over themselves, they are an instrument to tell a story and nothing else. On the other hand, the people who like romance fantasy novels would believe Freud’s point of view, that it is all a dream, a child within them at play, a wish upon the first star of night. For those of us with fairy-tale fantasies and Space Oddesy dreams, happily ever afters and Star Wars adventures, Freud is the genius who ties it all together. It cannot be denied, however, that our inner demons, our “primordial experiences” need to rear their heads every now and then, in tragedy and horror, to fulfill their hunger. 1