Ashton’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of Black Swan

For my applied theory post concerning the “Psychoanalytic Criticism,” many different Pop-Culture works came to mind. After a debate of my own, I chose to look at the film Black Swan. Certain aspects of the movie were disturbing and others showed the internal struggle of the main character, Nina. Reading Lois Tyson’s chapter about Psychoanalytic criticism really put this whole movie into perspective for me; Origins of the unconscious, core issues, the issue of sexuality, dream symbols, and some Lacanian psychoanalysis play a role in Black Swan.

Within the first five minutes of starting the film, origins of the unconscious are noticeable. Nina is having a dream that she is the white swan in the new production of Swan Lake. Her unconscious mind is telling the viewers of the film that she has an aspiration to become the supreme ballerina that she has always dreamt of being. This is also an example of feminine imagery because she is performing in a room. Nina also displays Desire of the Mother. At most all points in the movie Nina relies heavily on her mother (by calling her, living with her, pleasing her) and her mother relies on her too (by having Nina live there, by helping Nina succeed, knowing all things about Nina’s life).

Nina also has a fear of abandonment. It isn’t quite as evident in the movie until towards the end of the movie. When she messes up on stage and gets dropped, Nina chooses not to say that it is her fault that it has happened; rather she blames it on the male dancer that accompanied her. Once this has happened, Nina rushes to her dressing room to see that Lily is already getting ready to take her place as black swan because Lily feels as though Nina will mess up the ballet even more; Nina then stabs Lily, drags her into a closet and lets her die alone. At this point Nina’s fear of abandonment is the question “what did I do wrong?” because she’s choosing to repress what happened earlier. This foreshadows the conclusion of the movie when Nina realizes that the part has gotten to her so much that she stabs herself and dies on stage after finishing her Swan Queen role.

A few times throughout the movie Nina struggles with her sexuality. The premiere time is when she goes with Thomas back to his house after the party that announced Nina as the Swan Queen. Thomas asks Nina if she has engaged in sexual intercourse, when he realizes that she lied, he tells her to touch herself. The second time, her libido is channeled into Lily when they have intercourse in Nina’s room. This turns out to be a dream and poses the question that Tyson suggests as “What conscious and unconscious meanings and purposes do I express or enact in my sexuality?”(24).

Tyson describes condensation as “a dream image or event to represent more than one unconscious wound or conflict” (18). This is presented as the rash that is appearing on Nina’s back. Throughout the whole movie this never goes away, in fact, it becomes more obvious. There is one point in the film when Nina’s eyes turn red and she plucks a black twig like object from her back; It is then that she realizes the rash that has been forming is not just a plain rash, but it is the feathers for her wings when she performs the black swan. Although the viewer of the movie can see that she has wings, they are just a figment of her imagination. One of the last symbols in the movie is when she is rehearsing late one night and the lights shut off, what Nina sees is important because the role of being Swan Queen is dominating her life, and she cannot come back from losing herself.

Another aspect presented in Black Swan was Nina’s insecure/ unstable sense of self. A few times throughout the movie, Nina would be moving destinations and see herself in a different location and her reflection would be doing a different action. This happens on the subway, in a tunnel and one night when she’s rehearsing her reflection in the mirror does not do what she does, but acts on its own.

I think that the director of the film did mean to incorporate these aspects into the movie to show how serious people take their jobs and to show what happens to some. Any thoughts?

Meagan’s Bridge to the Blog (AKA Some People Can Find a Phallic Symbol Anywhere)

Today (9/10) the topic of focus was psychoanalytic criticism, which is used to analyze symbols, the reader’s interpretation of a text, and how we understand character and theme. Essential concepts include repression, displacement, denial, phallic and yonic symbols, Eros and Thanatos, and the id, ego, and superego. We were reminded that Freudian theory involves two stages of development, which are the pre-Oedipal phase and the Oedipal phase. Meanwhile, Lacan theory asserts that there are three stages of development: the imaginary, mirror, and symbolic stage. The inaccessibility of the Real was described as Lacan’s belief that, no matter how hard we try to find the Real, we will never reach it. Lastly, we acknowledged that Freud has a debatably unhealthy obsession with phalluses, while Lacan interprets Penis Envy to mean Power Envy.

In addition, we discussed how we would psychoanalytically analyze the Cat in the Hat. The fish undoubtedly represents the superego, and the cat the id. Regrettably, we didn’t cover the role of Thing 1 and Thing 2. Do you think that they are an extension of the Cat as a representation of the Id, that they are a statement of the chaos that can occur via the Id, that they represent repressed memories (they are, after all, released from a box and are quite destructive), or that they represent something else?

I wish we had talked a bit more about Lacan’s difficult concept of the Real. The best way that I can think to describe it is through Lowry’s The Giver. For anyone who is unfamiliar, the novel is based on the idea that there exists a world beyond what we are capable of experiencing, due to the limits of society. The government in the novel rendered it’s citizens incapable of seeing color, experiencing weather, and even exercising free will. The main character learns to reject society and mistrust his senses, and in doing so he discovers a world rich in color and emotion. Do you think that The Giver adequately describes Lacan’s Real and how to achieve it? Does anyone have an alternate way to explain the Real? Do you think that the concept of the Real is viable, or that it is “made up?” How else might you analyze The Giver using psychoanalytic criticism?

Also, regarding the popular notion that psychoanalytic theories are “based on nothing” or “perverted,” do you think the widely accepted concepts presented in Freud’s theories (such as fear of intimacy and low self-esteem) redeem him? Do you think Tyson is true when she says on page 37 that, “Freud named and explained principles of human behavior that were present long before he found them and that would be present even if he didn’t describe them?”

Amanda’s Bridge to the Blog

For our class today on 9/10, we discussed the psychoanalytic criticism of literature. This form of criticism is often highly debated because of its opinions and stances regarding human development, specifically development in childhood. The two psychoanalytic theorists discussed in the chapter, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, focus mainly on distinct and separate stages of childhood development and how our process through these stages shaped our current selves. Freud states that there are two stages, the pre-Oedipal and the Oedipal, while Lacan believes a child goes through three stages, Imaginary, Mirror, and Symbolic. Although dissimilar, they share a similar core belief of the mother-child connection and how a child then creates their sense of self once that connection is lost.

The most interesting topic discussed in the chapter that I feel can be found in nearly all pieces of literature, aside from the developmental theories, is the idea of the unconscious and repression. All characters have a past, though not always directly revealed in the story, and this past contains both good and bad memories that are being repressed from the conscious mind of that character. With this in mind, I began analyzing characters in other novels that I have read. I immediately thought of Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Dorian represses his past which ultimately leads him to a “return of the repressed” memories in a violent and life-changing way.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray tells of a young man, Dorian Gray, who desires only the pleasurable things in life. The thought of growing weak and older frightens Dorian and he wishes to never grow older consequently causing a painting done of him by his friend Basil to age instead. Each time Dorian does something sinister or corrupted in his physical life, his expression in the painting is altered. Upon breaking his relationship with an actress named Sibyl Vane for selfish, self-centered reasons, Dorian notices that his face in the painting is sneering. After this point, Dorian hides the painting in his attic because each time he looks at it he is reminded of his corrupted past and actions. This is an example of repression according to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Dorian’s attempt to rid himself of the painting is a form a denial because he refuses to accept what he has done to himself and others. Dorian keeps this lifestyle up for nearly 20 years before his repressed memories return. Rumors spread and Dorian is confronted by friends of his actions. He is so haunted by his past that Dorian finally kills himself at the end of the novel. Dorian tried to repress his past memories and deny how truly evil and corrupted of a man he had become, but it eventually overcame him through his own suicide.

Are there any other examples in literature that you can think of where a character is affected by “the return of the repressed”? The Great Gatsby is a great example and I also thought of Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.