Humpty’s Psychoanalysis

Sorry guys… I had to.  Humpty Dumpty was begging for it.

So in Carroll’s version of the Humpty story, we’ve got an egg who’s convinced that he’s just not an egg, a young girl prone to misspeaking and interrupting, and a battle for conversational dominance.  The whole dialogue starts off with Alice calling Humpty an egg, and Humpty vehemently arguing that comment.  Humpty Dumpty probably developed some serious self-perception issues when he was a young egg.  From a psychoanalytic perspective, Humpty spends much of his time patronizing Alice for misspeaking, even in very small instances (i.e., she “saw” him singing instead of “heard”), as a self-defense.  His inability to accept his own eggness, and subsequent sensitivity upon being called an egg, causes him to hone in on the small dialogical errors of others.  It is a way to avoid his own unacceptable characteristics by ascribing them to others–in this case, Alice.

I also noticed that Humpty wishes that Alice’s face was rearranged so he could recognize her better.  It is interesting that Humpty does indeed fall and shatter at the end of the chapter, implying that he is in many separate pieces.  When the king’s men come to piece him back together, they won’t be able to–does that mean that Humpty himself might have “two eyes on the same side,” just like he wishes Alice had?  Just an afterthought.

Ian’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of “Hospice” by The Antlers

–Listen here

–Lyrics here

Hospice is a ten song, 52-minute story of a hospice worker who falls in love with his patient, a victim of terminal bone cancer.  Musically and lyrically, it is a work of art.  The album, although an allegory for the author Peter Silberman’s abusive relationship, is still ripe with potential for psychoanalysis in the story itself.

In my criticism, I will focus on the character Sylvia rather than a specific song, since the album tells her story.  I will not be analyzing the characters in the text, and not their metaphoric purpose, because the characters of the text are more fruitful for this exercise.

We have two main characters in this tragic story: the Hospice Worker–a male nurse who I will call the Singer–and the patient he falls in love with, Sylvia.  Sylvia has had cancer since she was a little girl, and the following image (from the album’s digital booklet) is the best preface for her story that I could offer.

PrefaceHer psychological issues transcend that of a typical cancer patient.  Just from this small preface, we can see that she suffers from nightmares and delusions, and an ambiguous darkness that follows her like a shadow.  When she “fell crossing that street,” her sense of reality became intertwined with the demons she faced in her head.  She saw ghosts, like the bald boy who died in the ward, and for a better part of her life couldn’t escape them.  Furthermore, we can conclude that Sylvia’s parents were abusive in one way or another.  From track 7, “Two”:

“Daddy was an asshole, and he fucked you up; built the gears inside your head and now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating.”

Sylvia is physically self-deprecating; in track 3, “Sylvia,” we see that she has tried to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven (certainly an allusion to Sylvia Plath).  The Singer stops her, and then implores that she go back to “screaming and cursing,” that she “remind [him] again how everyone betrayed [her].”  He would rather take that than her death.

We are not given background information on the Singer, but rather become aware of his character through his narration.  He is in love, if you can call it that, for it is no doubt a corrupted form of love.  Love implies some sort of reciprocity.  Maybe more of a vacuous adoration, one which leaves him wanting more after every wound.  The Singer’s professional job, which is to care for Sylvia, becomes his personal job.  However, what he does for Sylvia is never enough to satisfy her; she is always left bitter.  The two marry, and the rings become a symbol of bondage.  From track 4, “Atrophy”:

“With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer.”

Psychoanalytically, what does this mean?  Let’s start with Sylvia.  The first thing to note is that Sylvia’s childhood development stages were severely impaired.  Her father, who she tried to love during the Oedipal stage, was abusive.  This could mean that she generally displaces her anger and hate onto other people who attempt to love her, i.e., the Singer.  Sylvia also suffers from terrible nightmares, which, according to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, are in some way the results of repressed memories.  Track 7, “Two,” indicates where those repressed memories might come from:

“You had another dream, it was more like a nightmare.  You were just a little kid and they cut your hair.  They stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.  They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.”

In this particular dream, it seems that the latent content and the manifest content are one in the same.  She has nightmares that harken back to the days when she was plunged into grand and frightening machines as a young girl.  Sylvia’s nightmares are so prevalent that I would say she has trouble disassociating them from reality, and becomes unable to control her repression of these memories.  This is what Freud calls the “crisis.”

Finally, Sylvia was also exposed to the concept of death at a young age.  A child who becomes aware of their own mortality before the teen years certainly is liable to develop a very potent thanatos, or “death drive.”  From sticking her head in the over to other forms of self-deprecation and injury, Sylvia does her fair share of death work.  However, this could be a vehicle of repression, which would explain the nightmares full of demons and visions of ghosts that possibly represent her repressed fear of death, which is more imminent and real for her than we can imagine.

This somber tale of impossible love is, although depressing, beautifully written and unbearably cathartic.  Sylvia is a tragic character, and a productive case study for psychoanalysis.  The Singer could be as well–but that will have to wait for another day.

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?

“Clamorous” Creativity

The BG entry on psychoanalytic criticism provided a somewhat startling comment of Freud’s.  According to the article, “[Freud] defined the artist as ‘one urged on by instinctive needs that are too clamorous'” (412-13).  Later, it reads that he characterized the “creative mind as ‘clamorous’ if not ill” (413).  Whoa!  How do you feel about that description?  Is the creative mind clamorous?  Is it ill?

Mary’s Psychoanalysis of a Song: Suspender Man by Steam Powered Giraffe

Time for a longer than expected post that’s not about Gatsby!

Some background: The most basic description of Steam Powered Giraffe is this: they’re a musical group trained in pantomime, and half of them are professionally costumed as steampunk-ish robots. (Check out their youtube videos if you want to see them in action!)

“Suspender Man” was written by one of the group’s main performers: Bunny Bennett, who plays the male robot character of Rabbit. She is openly MTF trans, and has explicitly stated in an interview that she has planted a lot of symbolism and supposedly blatant references to her female identity in this song. I’ll analyze what those might be and how they relate to the recent things she’s told blog readers about herself. Due to copyright reasons, I cannot post the song’s mp3 here, but here’s a link to the lyrics. I will gladly play it for us in class sometime if anybody’s interested.

The song starts off with the Suspendered Man appearing out of nowhere in the bayou. It’s apparently a very strange night since “the gators were all drinking tea in a dreamy pantsless glee” when Bunny’s robot character, Rabbit, discovers the Suspendered Man. The gators defy the concept of gender by being naked during their tea party and show right away that Bunny isn’t comfortable with society’s expectations. This idea of freedom is portrayed as feminine due to the tea party the ‘gators are participating in; tea parties are considered a female activity.

The Suspendered Man himself is dripping with male imagery: “the biggest red suspenders I ever did see” and a banjo “holstered” in his hand. Banjos are an obvious phallic image, and suspenders prove to be a symbol of conformity throughout. The Suspendered Man is the epitome of maleness and initially draws Rabbit in with saying how his “banjo has shown [him] the promised land”, implying that maleness is “Right”. To get him to start playing, Rabbit flips a coin into the Suspendered Man’s tip pot, which in itself is a yonic symbol in need of other analysis. This indicates how Rabbit currently subscribes to inherent male symbolism and how Bunny used to for years. The Suspendered Man then starts the music in a masculine, wild manner: “He plucked those strings and belched a giggle/He tapped his foot, howled like a hound/Igniting up the unholy sound.” 

The chorus verses start with how Rabbit has “never never…ever heard anything so great” as the masculine symbol of the Suspendered Man playing his phallic banjo. (That was not a sentence I expected to write…) The chorus insists that everyone wants suspenders and a banjo because of how awesome this mysterious bog-man is. An entire crowd “swarmed the swamp and was tossing in coin after coin” when they heard him play. The crowd is subscribing to the idea of standard heteronormativity; not only are they all abusing the poor tip jar, they all want more suspenders to keep their own identities literally suspended and hidden from others (symbolized here by pants), and a Freudian analysis would say that everyone wants a banjo due to an improper development during the phallic stage, leading to penis envy.

Near the end, the Suspendered Man disappears, leaving behind just his suspenders and banjo. The band says “that’s what he gets for selling his soul to the bog”, where the bog is a metaphor for the  mire of mixed genders/identities in the real world. He died for the social ideas of normativity to appeal to others, but it changed who he was until he faded completely away. The same concept could apply for Bunny: she has since stated that she made herself completely miserable by trying to convince herself to identify as male for years because it was “easier”.

The last few lines end up meaning that trying to change one’s true identity is like trying to do gypsy magic: it just won’t work. One of the very last lines is also a sign that Bunny has made a decision about herself: “You could wear a dress, and have no need [for identity suspension]!” She has concluded that being comfortable is just as important as fitting in, but sometimes you cannot do both. The background vocals even state that “the alligators had it right/wearing pants, it sure does bite,” going back to the idea of freedom and nonconformity being a release, but not ideal for every day use.
Freud would have a field day with Bunny herself, but I’m not going to do that here since I don’t know enough about her life to be able to say “x is probably because of y during stage z” in his style of analysis.



A statue represenging “yoni”

In class today, we were talking about the origins of the phrase “yonic symbol.” Dr. Scanlon mentioned the roots of the word were to be found in  Hinduism. I did some research and discovered that “yoni” isn’t a goddess; It is literally the Hindi word for “vagina.” It’s connotations are a little more complex, however, and in line with the type of symbolism we look for when we label objects in books as yonic symbols. It can mean “source,” “spring,” “home,” “lair,” “nest,” “fountain,” “origin,” “birth place,” or “place of rest.” The yoni is the origin of life, and is therefore fundamentally connected to birth and rebirth, as well as the creative forces of Hinduism, Shakti and Devi. It is  linked to fertility of agriculture, and is used commonly to describe yoga poses, art, and architecture, as well. I thought these correlations in the language and religion were interesting and rich enough to be shared, as they provide another layer of meaning to yonic symbols we might find in the texts we read.


Sabrina’s Psychoanalytical Analysis of Inception


While reading Tyson’s chapter on Psychoanalytic Criticism, there were a bunch of sections that stuck out to me; the unconscious, defenses, and dreams and dream symbols. When I read these sections I couldn’t help but think of the movie Inception. For those who haven’t seen this movie, it is about a man named Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who’s a different kind of thief. Him and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are able to obtain valuable information from inside their target’s subconscious during the dream state. This job has cost Cobb much and now he is offered a chance to fix it all. With a help of a team, he is asked to accomplish inception. Which is to plant an idea in someone’s mind without that said person realizing it. A lot of terms that came up in the reading reminded me of moments and ideas in this movie.

For example Tyson says, “The unconscious is the storehouse of those painful experiences and emotions, those wounds, fears, guilty desires, and unresolved conflicts we do not want to know about because we will be overwhelmed by them.” (12). In the movie, you learn that Cobb’s wife, Mal, had died. This broke Cobb and it has defined who he is and who he has become. However, through out the movie she makes many appearances in the dreams they enter. This is because she has become part of his unconscious state of mind. She has become everything that Tyson said about the unconscious for Cobb. She brings out his painful experiences and emotion. He is hurt and upset. His guilty desire is the idea that he doesn’t want to accept that she is really gone. In his dreams, she isn’t gone. Mal appears over and over again. Tempting him to not leave his dream but to stay there with her. The unresolved conflict is the fact that Cobb blames himself for her death. He is overwhelmed with guilt that he is the reason she died. All of these things has put Mal into is unconscious. He cannot control this. So every time Cobb goes on a mission with his team, she is there ready to ruin it. He doesn’t mean to bring in her in. It just happens. He is too overwhelmed. By him to being able to let her go and forgive himself for what has happened in the past, he endangers his team and the mission.

Another thing Tyson talks about with Freud’s theory is defenses of the mind. “Defenses are the processes by which the contents of our unconscious are kept in the unconscious. In other words, they are the processes by which we keep the repressed repressed in order to avoid knowing what we feel we can’t handle knowing,” (15). This is another big concept in Inception. They portray the defenses of the mind with safes and people fighting to protect the subconscious. In the beginning of the movie, Cobb is seen trying to break into a safe, because the person’s mind he entered has his secrets literally locked away in it. However, when they go on their big mission to create inception the person’s mind they are penetrating has had his subconscious trained. His, Fischer’s, mind as been put through tests in the past to strengthen it in order to protect itself from people like Cobb. So when Cobb and his team enter their target’s dream, men with guns immediately ambush them. These men were created from Fischer’s mind as a defense mechanism.

Also Tyson says, “When we sleep, it is believed that our defenses do not operate in the same manner they do when we are awake. During sleep, the unconscious is free to express itself, and it does so in our dreams,” (18). This idea is shown in Inception as well. Cobb explains this to his teammate Ariadne. She is the architect of the team. She designs dreams and creates virtual mazes for the dreamer’s subconscious to inhabit while Cobb and the rest of the team can work. However he explains to her that the unconscious mind will fill in the gaps, that her job doesn’t require detail. It expresses itself freely and in its own way.

I think the director and writers of this movie really incorporated Freud’s ideas into this movie accurately. Do you agree? Or are there any other movies that you can think of that have used the ideas about Dreams and the unconscious mind?

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.

Is Myrtle a foil for Gatsby?

There is a section of the Tyson chapter on Psychoanalytic Criticism that sparked my curiosity on this matter.  According to Tyson, “Daisy doesn’t realize it, but Gatsby and Myrtle function in much the same capacity for the Buchanans:  as psychological pawns in their relationship with each other” (46).  Both Gatsby and Myrtle serve as extramarital lovers to characters who demonstrate a “fear of intimacy” (39).  In that sense, they have similar romantic roles.  However, Myrtle differs from Gatsby in numerous key ways, which serve to accentuate Gatsby’s, well, better character.  Myrtle is the sensuous mistress, while Gatsby is the hopelessly devoted romantic.  Myrtle is low-class but trying to climb the social ladder, while Gatsby is wealthy to attract Daisy.  What are some other parallel differences?  Is this enough to say that Myrtle is a foil for Gatsby?  I know foils are usually of the same sex, but the parallel contrasts are interesting to me.  Maybe that’s all it is – a complex use of contrast?  I’m not sure.  Any thoughts?