• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Dedication
 Preface
 Table of Contents
 The model developed
 Literature as transformation
 A dictionary of fantasy
 The "willing suspension of...
 Form as defense
 The displacement to language
 Meaning as defense
 The model applied
 Evaluation
 Style and the man
 Myth
 Character and identification
 Affect
 The model moralized
 Notes
 Glossary
 Index














Group Title: dynamics of literary response
Title: The Dynamics of literary response
CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00003033/00001
 Material Information
Title: The Dynamics of literary response
Physical Description: xviii, 378 p. : illus. ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Holland, Norman Norwood, 1927-
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1968
Copyright Date: 1968
 Subjects
Subject: Literature -- Psychology   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Notes
Statement of Responsibility: Norman N. Holland.
Bibliography: Bibliographical references included in "Notes" (p. 343-359)
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00003033
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltqf - AAA3591
notis - AEA4109
oclc - 00321081
alephbibnum - 000809445
lccn - 68017614

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Dedication
        Page vi
    Preface
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
        Page xv
        Page xvi
        Page xvii
        Page xviii
    Table of Contents
        Page xix
        Page xx
    The model developed
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Literature as transformation
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
    A dictionary of fantasy
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
    The "willing suspension of disbelief"
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
    Form as defense
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
    The displacement to language
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
    Meaning as defense
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
    The model applied
        Page 191
        Page 192
    Evaluation
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
        Page 199
        Page 200
        Page 201
        Page 202
        Page 203
        Page 204
        Page 205
        Page 206
        Page 207
        Page 208
        Page 209
        Page 210
        Page 211
        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
        Page 215
        Page 216
        Page 217
        Page 218
        Page 219
        Page 220
        Page 221
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
    Style and the man
        Page 225
        Page 226
        Page 227
        Page 228
        Page 229
        Page 230
        Page 231
        Page 232
        Page 233
        Page 234
        Page 235
        Page 236
        Page 237
        Page 238
        Page 239
        Page 240
        Page 241
        Page 242
    Myth
        Page 243
        Page 244
        Page 245
        Page 246
        Page 247
        Page 248
        Page 249
        Page 250
        Page 251
        Page 252
        Page 253
        Page 254
        Page 255
        Page 256
        Page 257
        Page 258
        Page 259
        Page 260
        Page 261
    Character and identification
        Page 262
        Page 263
        Page 264
        Page 265
        Page 266
        Page 267
        Page 268
        Page 269
        Page 270
        Page 271
        Page 272
        Page 273
        Page 274
        Page 275
        Page 276
        Page 277
        Page 278
        Page 279
        Page 280
    Affect
        Page 281
        Page 282
        Page 283
        Page 284
        Page 285
        Page 286
        Page 287
        Page 288
        Page 289
        Page 290
        Page 291
        Page 292
        Page 293
        Page 294
        Page 295
        Page 296
        Page 297
        Page 298
        Page 299
        Page 300
        Page 301
        Page 302
        Page 303
        Page 304
        Page 305
        Page 306
        Page 307
    The model moralized
        Page 308
        Page 309
        Page 310
        Page 311
        Page 312
        Page 313
        Page 314
        Page 315
        Page 316
        Page 317
        Page 318
        Page 319
        Page 320
        Page 321
        Page 322
        Page 323
        Page 324
        Page 325
        Page 326
        Page 327
        Page 328
        Page 329
        Page 330
        Page 331
        Page 332
        Page 333
        Page 334
        Page 335
        Page 336
        Page 337
        Page 338
        Page 339
        Page 340
        Page 341
        Page 342
    Notes
        Page 343
        Page 344
        Page 345
        Page 346
        Page 347
        Page 348
        Page 349
        Page 350
        Page 351
        Page 352
        Page 353
        Page 354
        Page 355
        Page 356
        Page 357
        Page 358
        Page 359
        Page 360
    Glossary
        Page 361
        Page 362
        Page 363
        Page 364
        Page 365
        Page 366
    Index
        Page 367
        Page 368
        Page 369
        Page 370
        Page 371
        Page 372
        Page 373
        Page 374
        Page 375
        Page 376
        Page 377
        Page 378
Full Text


The Dynamics
of Literary Response




NORMAN N. HOLLAND


New York OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 1968



















































Copyright @ 1968 by Norman N. Holland
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 68-17614
Printed in the United States of America



















For my mothers and fathers








Preface


This is not a book of literary criticism. One might call it meta-
criticism or even infracriticism, but I suspect actual instances will
do more to explain this book than fashionable prefixes. Here are
some statements by critics, both past and present:

As in a city when the evil are permitted to have authority and
the good are put out of the way, so in the soul of man, as we
maintain, the imitative poet implants an evil constitution, for
he indulges the irrational nature which has no discernment of
greater and less, but thinks the same thing at one time great
and at another small-he is a manufacturer of images and is
very far removed from the truth.

A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious
and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language
with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in
the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form;
with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish
its catharsis of such emotions.

From this account of [the metaphysical poets'] compositions it
will be readily inferred that they were not successful in repre-
senting or moving the affections. As they were wholly employed
on something unexpected and surprising they had no regard to






PREFACE


that uniformity of sentiment, which enables us to conceive and
to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds.
The Poet thinks and feels in the sprit of the passions of men.
How, then, can his language differ in any material degree from
that of all other men who feel vividly and see 'clearly? It might
be proved that it is impossible. But supposing that this were not
the case, the Poet might then be allowed to use a peculiar lan-
guage, when expressing his feelings for his own gratification, or
that of men like himself. But Poets do not write for Poets
alone, but for men. Unless therefore we are advocates for that
admiration which depends upon ignorance, and that pleasure
which arises from hearing what we do not understand, the
Poet must descend from this supposed height, and, in order
to excite rational sympathy, he must express himself as other
men express themselves.
My endeavours should be directed to persons and characters
supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from
our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth
sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that will-
ing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes
poetic faith.

Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied
is relevant; what is irrelevant has been excluded, like lumps from
pudding and "bugs" from machinery. In this respect poetry
differs from practical messages, which are successful if and only
if we correctly infer the intention. They are more abstract than
poetry.

In the process of composition, as every poet knows, the rela-
tion between experience and language is always dialectical, but
in the finished product it must always appear to the reader to
be a one-way relationship. In serious poetry thought, emotion,
event must always appear to dictate the diction, metre, and
rhyme in which they are embodied; vice versa, in comic poetry
it is the words, metre, rhyme which must appear to create the
thoughts, emotions, events they require. . Again, while in
serious poetry detectable padding of lines is fatal, the comic
poet should appear openly and unashamedly to pad.






PREFACE


In the last passage, W. H. Auden argues that the comic poet must
"pad"-and, being a fine comic poet himself, he speaks with con-
siderable authority. Yet he flatly contradicts Cleanth Brooks and
W. K. Wimsatt in the passage immediately preceding. They point
rather to the traditional notion that poetry must have organic unity.
One might ask, though, whether they really mean that poetry
succeeds "because" everything in it is relevant. Would they say,
If everything in a poem is relevant, it is successful? And if so,
why? Their statement rests, as does Auden's, on some unspoken
assumption about the relationship of poetry to the mind of man.
Plato, at least, is far more explicit in the first passage quoted, his
well-known objection to poetry as an imitation of imitations which
stimulates the passions in an unhealthy way. Yet, aside from a
sort of behaviorist description of the way people laugh and cry
at fictions, Plato offers no explanation of the way poetry achieves
these remarkable effects, so sharply different from the self-re-
straint he asks of us in everyday life. The last phrase of Aristotle's
definition of tragedy is at least in part an answer to Plato: tragic
poetry arouses pity and fear in order to purge them, and the medi-
cal metaphor of catharsis implies that this is healthy. Yet here, too,
and in the passages from the Politics which gloss the key term,
catharsis, there is no clear statement as to how poetry arouses emo-
tions or what it does with them once they are aroused.
In the next three statements, Dr. Johnson criticizes the meta-
physical poets for not heeding "that uniformity of sentiment which
enables us . to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleas-
ure of other minds." In the same vein, Wordsworth argues against
poetic diction on the grounds that a poet "in order to excite
rational sympathy . must express himself as other men express
themselves." Both writers are assuming that a poet, to affect other
men, must not choose either exotic images or exotic words, for
they will somehow grate upon a sort of common human nature.
Coleridge, however, implies just the opposite in his famous sen-
tence dealing with the "willing suspension of disbelief"-the super-





PREFACE


natural and romantic can be treated in such a way as to transfer
human interest and procure poetic faith.
All these passages, in short, and, of course, a great many others,
ranging from famous statements of principle to casual comments
on particular writings, proceed from certain psychological assump-
tions about the impact of poetry and fiction on men's minds.
Sometimes these assumptions are explicit, but more often they are
not; and almost never does the critic make any attempt to validate
them-they are simply held forth as commonsensical, intuitively
valid, obvious on their face. Inevitably, the critical conclusions that
rest on them are the weaker for this deep-rooted uncertainty.
It is the aim of this book to explore these psychological assump-
tions and to develop model for the interaction of literary works
with the human mind. How do we willingly suspend disbelief?
What is the role of plain statement as against poetic diction? How
do we "identify" with literary characters? What part does "or-
ganic unity" play in our response? How does literature "mean"?
Can literature teach? Is the moral effect of literature good or bad
-indeed, is there a moral effect at all? These are some of the
questions this book tries to answer.
Ambitious though such a book may be, it is by no means the
first to try to understand the literary experience psychoanalytically.
There are at least two excellent books to which my indebtedness
is far too great to be conveyed by mere footnotes: the late Ernst
Kris's Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art and Simon O. Lesser's
Fiction and the Unconscious. Kris's is a rigorous, technical study,
written for the psychoanalytically informed, offering exact psycho-
analytic formulations of many of the issues here presented in a
literary way. Addressed more to a humanistic than a psychoanalytic
audience, Lesser's pioneering work provides a full and many-sided
study of the problems raised here. Flexible and humane, his book
is indispensable to any study of our experience of literature. I
should also mention another book: Marion Milner's On Not Being
Able To Paint. From the quite different viewpoint of the visual
artist it deals with many of the questions this book raises. Never-






PREFACE


theless, I was encouraged to find in Mrs. Milner's book confirma-
tion for many ideas I had already had, as well as stimulus to new
ones.
Kris's and Lesser's books are fine work, subtle, comprehensive,
and correct. To venture into a field already so well explored would
be presumptuous indeed, had I not something to add. First, I have
broadened the scope of the inquiry to deal more extensively with
poetry, theater, and film than they do. Second, I have structured
the problem of literary response around such familiar entities as
character, meaning, form, and the like rather more than they did;
my aim is to coalesce the many, many components of response in
the mind to a relatively few observable elements in the literary
text. The result has been, I hope, to produce a more sharply focused
and manageable model of our response. Finally, instead of start-
ing out with psychological generalizations, I have tried, whenever
possible, to derive general principles from the close analysis of
particular literary texts. As an aid to the general reader, a glossary
of some of the psychoanalytical terms used appears at the end of
the book.
To say why I regard working with particular texts as so necessary
and why, therefore, I regard psychoanalytic psychology as the only
psychology useful for studying literary response involves me in a
brief apologia. Like most critics my age, I was enormously influ-
enced and pleased by the so-called "New Criticism" (already not so
new by the time we came to it). I and, I am sure, many of my
contemporaries felt we were seeing literature in ways that had
never been possible before. We were less concerned with the termi-
nological furors that engaged the first New Critics than with the
close examination of particular texts for plot parallels, repeated
images, figures of speech, structure, myths, points of view, and so
on. We sought them out with enthusiasm and diligence and some-
thing of the excitement that the generation of biologists must have
felt who were first able to use the microscope.
Often our intense and minute examinations seemed too precisely
drawn-certainly many older scholars complained of them. And






PREFACE


yet, if my own experience holds true for other critics, we all dis-
covered in our different ways that literary works, even of a very
crude kind, had an almost unbelievable fineness of form and struc-
ture. In even a Saturday Evening Post story, each episode can be
shown to fit the idea that informs and shapes the story as a whole,
while in a Shakespearean play a skilled critic can easily show the
relevance of each individual line to the informing principle.
Just what these discoveries amounted to, however, was not always
clear. In some way, the act of discovery itself seemed to enhance
our experience of literature and that of the audience we wrote for
or taught, though just exactly how this enhancing took place was
by no means clear. Similarly, the things discovered must have had
something to do with response, but just what?
This question of response affected me more than it evidently did
others, because of another concern of mine-comedy or, more
specifically, "the comic sense of life" which I once thought was a
useful antidote to what then seemed to me the pomposity of
Unamuno's phrase, "the tragic sense of life." Accordingly, I
devised a course called "The Cosmic Sensibility"-promptly
dubbed by my students "The Cosmic Sensitivity"-perhaps be-
cause I was particularly interested in that special lightening of the
spirit that comedy evokes as its characteristic response. Over a dec-
ade or so, after looking at that comic transcendence mythically,
religiously, thematically, I began to think about it psychologically.
I had already considered the various theories of laughter and
come to the conclusion that Freud's was the only one that made
any sense to me as a literary critic-that is, which led me back
to that close analysis of a text which seemed to me then (and
now) the sine qua non of literary understanding. Other theories
were deductive rather than inductive. Bergson, for example, argues
that we laugh when we suddenly find something mechanical en-
crusted upon that which is organic, pliable, and living. It is not
difficult to look for and find this trope (and others) in many comic
works, but once you have looked at the work and plugged it into
the formula, "mechanical encrusted upon living," that is all you






PREFACE


can do. With Freud's much more complicated theory, I found I
was constantly driven back to the joke itself to see the coaction
of its particular features and details. I came to wonder if psycho-
analytic psychology could offer a theory for literature in general,
not just jokes. Thus the book began.
This is a book that tries to answer the basic question confront-
ing the textual critic: What is the relation between the patterns
he finds objectively in the text and a reader's subjective experi-
ence of the text? As the above quotations show, this is a question
that confronts all critics all the time. Everyone who thinks about
literature faces the task of establishing a conceptual bridge between
objective and subjective views of literature. I have suggested some
of my subjective concerns; in fairness, I should now set out some
of the objective assumptions that inform this book.
First, I propose to talk about literature primarily as an experience.
I realize that one could talk about literature as a form of com-
munication, as expression, or as artifact. For the special purposes
of this book, however, literature is an experience and, further, an
experience not discontinuous with other experiences. For example,
Erving Goffman's well-known study The Presentation of Self in
Everyday Life shows, from the point of view of the sociologist,
how social mannerisms look very like drama. Such a sense of litera-
ture as continuous with other human experiences suits the social
scientist well, for he is steadily faced with the problem of recon-
ciling objective observation with subjective experience. It is an
attitude rather less prevalent among students of literature than it
should be.
Second, I do not use "literature" as a value term, a medal to be
awarded to those works that please meFor whatever my definition
is worth, I call something literature to the extent it responds to
being looked at literarily, that is, by the kind of close verbal analysis
the last thirty years of criticism have taught us. Thus, advertising,
Pepys's diary, cinema, doggerel, and pulp all fall within the term
to the degree they respond to a search for plot parallels, repeated
images, and the rest. Often, these things on the periphery of litera-






PREFACE


ture proper will raise literary issues in a more direct way than works
within the academic canon do. For example, a joke is a literary
text that evokes a highly specific psychological and physiological
effect; jokes evidently tap the sources of affect more immediately
than lyrics do. Advertising and propaganda pose the question, How
does literature teach? more directly than any respectable literature
can.
__ Third, my method. I propose to describe works of literature
objectively, as so many words on a piece of paper or spoken aloud.
Then,I_ shall describe psychologically my own response to that
objective stimulus and look for points of correspondence between
the text objectively understood and my subjective experience of the
text. My conclusions will always involve, then, two kinds of
proposition: one the kind of thing a textual critic says; the other
the kind of thing a psychoanalyst might say; and, always, an as-
sumption that the two propositions are relatedJ(an assumption
that I hope the first and third chapters will justify).
Inevitably this book must mingle subjectivity and objectivity, for
that is its task: to build a conceptual bridge from literary texts
objectively understood to our subjective experience of them. One
can analyze literature objectively, but how or why the repeated
images and structures shape one's subjective response-that is the
question this book tries to answer. I shall have to rely rather heavily
on my own responses, but I do not mean to imply that they are
"correct" or canonical for others. I simply hope that if I can show
how my responses are evoked, then others may be able to see how
theirs are. As with most psychoanalytic research, we must work
from a case history, and in this situation, the case is me.
Sometimes, I am sure, my experience will coincide with yours.
There is, after all, generality even in the high subjectivity of
literary responses. We would all agree, I suppose, that Hamlet is
a better play than Titus Andronicus or that Crime and Punish-
ment is darker than Bleak House. If I can discover why they are
so for me, then perhaps I will have discovered why they are so
for you-the stimuli, after all, are the same. At other times, you






PREFACE


may feel that my response is idiosyncratic-so be it. The important
thing is that we be as candid as we can, I in my assertions, you in
your disagreements. To that end, I have tried throughout to use
"I" and "you" and "we" with some care, to keep these three levels
of discourse clear: subjective, objective, and "commonly experi-
enced."
Implicit in all these other assumptions is my belief in close
study of the text and in psychoanalysis. I think we can-and should
-talk, at least initially, about literary works as purely formal en-
tities, as they exist on the page or in the theater without refer-
ence to author's intention, value, historical background, or any-
thing except the text itself and some dictionary knowledge. Cer-
tainly, much discussion of literature in the last decade has pro-
ceeded this way and with considerable success. To go from the
text as an object to our experience of it calls for a psychology of
some kind-I have chosen psychoanalytic psychology, because it
takes as its data subjective states. It is the only general psychology
I know that can talk about an inner experience with as much de-
tail and precision as a New Critic can talk about a text. Since
our task demands that we map objective texts into subjective re-
sponses, this approach is absolutely necessary. I am well aware
of the many objections that are made to psychoanalysis-they seem
to me, however, to rest on an extraordinary variety of misconcep-
tions. Looked at intellectually or experienced subjectively, either
way, it seems to me, psychoanalytic psychology offers a more valid
and comprehensive theory of inner states than any other.
Validation is a highly troublesome issue in this as in any other
psychoanalytic study because of the subjectivity of the data. I
would like to think this book presents the Truth (with a capital
T) about literary response, but, in the nature of the case, that
is not possible. What this book creates is an hypothesis, but it is
at least a testable hypothesis, unlike most literary theories. A psy-
chologist skilled in designing experiments could confirm or deny
the conclusions reached here, and I have suggested at the end
of the book some possible ways of testing the model.






PREFACE


Finally, beneath and beyond these objective assumptions, I must
confess to a bias or trait that colors them all. You may have no-
ticed it already, and you may want to discount it at various points
in the text. For me, the need to see and understand is very strong.
To put the matter as exactly and with as much ambiguity as pos-
sible, I need to be sure that I am understanding all that I am see-
ing. And I can only hope you will be able to share this trait with
me for the duration of this book, for, as we shall see, that is the
way we inwardly experience books.
My indebtednesses in this book are many and far-reaching. I
have mentioned above three writers of psychoanalytic aesthetics
whose influence permeates this book. Three other writers, non-
psychoanalytic, have influenced me more than my footnotes can
indicate. Robert E. Lane in his The Liberties of Wit: Humanism,
Criticism, and the Civic Mind takes literary critics to task for
what sometimes seems an almost willful refusal to use ordinary
systematic procedures of classification, theory, testing, or meth-
odology. Morse Peckham's astringent Man's Rage for Chaos: Bi-
ology, Behavior, and the Arts applies behaviorist and perceptual
psychology to a wide range of aesthetic problems; I am indebted
to him not only for his attitude of open inquiry but for a num-
ber of specific insights. Similarly, Northrop Frye in all his writings
has cleared the air of a great deal of obscurantist smog. If even a
part of these writers' clarity and honesty has carried over into this
book, I shall be most pleased.
I am heavily indebted to my fellow members of the Group for
Applied Psychoanalysis and the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and
Institute for the opportunity to present and discuss some of the
ideas that follow. Dr. Elizabeth Zetzel and the late Dr. Joseph
J. Michaels were of particular help. A number of friends and col-
leagues have read all or part of the manuscript and been kind
enough to provide me with comments and critique: C. L. Barber,
Albert S. Cook, Frederick C. Crews, Gordon Globus, A. R. Gurney,
Jr., Louis Kampf, Simon O. Lesser, Bruce Mazlish, Morse Peck-






PREFACE


ham, R. Robert Rogers, Andrew Silver, Irving Singer, Taylor
Stoehr, Ruth Sullivan, William I. Thompson, Abraham Zaleznik.
They have done much that the crooked shall be made straight, and
the rough places plain. Over the years, my students, at M.I.T. and
also at Stanford, Fisk University, and the State University of New
York at Buffalo, have provided a great many helpful comments
and corrections for which this is an all too abbreviated notice. I
am particularly grateful to the Rockefeller Foundation for the
chance to air my views as a Visiting Scholar at Fisk.
A number of the chapters that follow I have published separately
in earlier versions or in parts. To the editors of the journals and
books in which they appeared, I am doubly grateful: for having
published them in the first place; for letting me use them now.
Their appearance in earlier versions engendered editorial com-
ment and, sometimes, scholarly controversy that led me to useful
revisions and rethinking. I am indebted to the National Council
of Teachers of English and Richard Ohmann, editor of College
English, where part of Chapter i originally appeared; to Herbert
Weisinger of the Centennial Review in which an earlier version
of Chapter 3 was published; to Michael Wolff, editor of Victorian
Studies, and to George Levine and William Madden, editors of
Victorian Prose as Art, for segments of Chapter 4 and 5; to Fred-
erick Morgan of the Hudson Review for segments of Chapters 6
and 7; to Richard Dyer MacCann, editor of Cinema Journal (for-
merly Journal of the Society of Cinematologists), where the nucleus
of Chapter 8 first appeared; to Leonard Manheim of Literature
and Psychology where segments of Chapters 4, 5, and 7 were pub-
lished; to Maurice Beebe, editor of Modern Fiction Studies, for
an earlier version of Chapter 8; to Sheridan Baker of the Michigan
Quarterly where the prototype of Chapter to first saw the light of
day.
I am grateful as I have been before to Mr. Sterling Lord of
the Sterling Lord Agency. Whitney Blake of the Oxford University
Press proved the kind of editor authors pray for. Mr. Clive O'Con-






xviii PREFACE
nor, Miss Susan Maycock, Miss Anita Sansone, Mrs. Susan Brooks,
Mrs. Hilda Ludwig, Mrs. Miriam Scott, and Mrs. Virginia White
helped ably and amiably in the final production of the manuscript.
To my wife, I owe far more in editorial, moral, and imperturbable
support than any dedication can indicate.

Amherst, New York N. N. H.
September 1967








Contents


I THE MODEL DEVELOPED

1. Literature as Transformation, 3
2. A Dictionary of Fantasy, 31
3. The "Willing Suspension of Disbelief", 63
4. Form as Defense, 104
5. The Displacement to Language, 134
6. Meaning as Defense, 162

II THE MODEL APPLIED

7. Evaluation, 193
8. Style and the Man, 225
9. Myth, 243
io. Character and Identification, 262
11. Affect, 281
12. The Model Moralized, 308

Notes, 343
Glossary, 361
Index, 367






I The Model Developed








1 Literature as Transformation


The Muse is an enigmatic lady. Ever since Aristotle we have tried
to penetrate her mysteries, yet still she eludes us. Still we ask as
Aristotle did: What is our emotional response to a literary work?
What arouses it? What dampens it? Why do men enjoy seeing
mimeses of the real world? How is it that literature can make pain-
ful things give pleasure? How does literature affect morality?
Later critics have added to the questions. Coleridge, in particu-
lar, raised the most puzzling issue of all: the "willing suspension of
disbelief." Somehow, when we are engrossed in a literary work, we
lapse into the same state of mind as the embezzler in the joke:
The young executive had taken $1oo,ooo from his company's
safe, lost it playing the stock market, and now he was certain to
be caught, and his career ruined. In despair, down to the river
he went.
He was just clambering over the bridge railing when a
gnarled hand fell upon his arm. He turned and saw an ancient
crone in a black cloak, with wrinkled face and stringy gray hair.
"Don't jump," she rasped. "I'm a witch, and I'll grant you
three wishes for a slight consideration."
"I'm beyond help," he replied, but he told her his troubles,
anyway.
"Nothing to it," she said, cackling, and she passed her hand
before his eyes, "You now have a personal bank account of
$200,000!" She passed her hand again. "The money is back in






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


the company vault!" She covered his eyes for the third time.
"And you have just been elected first vice-president."
The young man, stunned speechless, was finally able to ask,
"What-what is the consideration I owe you?"
"You must spend the night making love to me," she smiled
toothlessly.
The thought of making love to the old crone revolted him,
but it was certainly worth it, he thought, and together they
retired to a nearby motel. In the morning, the distasteful ordeal
over, he was dressing to go home when the old crone in the bed
rolled over and asked, "Say, sonny, how old are you?"
"I'm forty-two years old," he said. "Why?"
"Ain't you a little old to believe in witches?" 1
The Muse always tricks us that way. Whether she has inspired a
joke or a great tragedy, she tricks us as the witch tricked the young
executive. In Coleridge's terms, we willingly suspend our disbelief.
We agree, as it were, not to doubt that a witch could magically
create a bank account-or at least not to doubt that a worldly ex-
ecutive would so believe.
Why do we suspend disbelief? Presumably, for the same reason
we do most things in this world, to gain pleasure. Then, behind
the question Coleridge raised, How does the Muse induce us not
to disbelieve, stands the deeper Aristotelian puzzle, What is the
pleasure literature gives us? Curiously, that question takes us to
what might seem the least pleasurable part of literature-its moral
significance or, more generally, meaning.

Literature means, we would all agree. But how? We might all
disagree. A great many critics and philosophers have wrestled with
"the meaning of meaning" in ordinary discourse. We can, how-
ever, make our question somewhat simpler if we narrow it and ask
only what we mean by literary meaning above and beyond the
meanings of everyday speaking and writing. Further, a psychoana-
lytic approach to literary works has, I think, something special to
contribute to this gnarled question, because it can describe quite
exactly the special pleasure of literature.
"A theme," Frank O'Connor has said, "is something that is






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


worth something to everybody." By "theme," here, I think O'Con-
nor means, roughly, "plot plus meaning of the plot," for he goes
on:
The moment you grab somebody by the lapels and you've got
something to tell, that's a real story. It means you want to tell
him and think the story is interesting in itself. If you start de-
scribing your own personal experiences, something that's only of
interest to yourself, then you can't express yourself, you cannot
say, ultimately, what you think about human beings.2
Freud noticed this same limitation on the writer and concluded,
"The writer softens the egotistic character of [his] daydream."
How? That, said Freud, is the writer's "innermost secret, . the
essential ars poetica." 3
Freud's answer is at least as mysterious as the Muse herself, but
Freud knew no New Critics. He had not been exposed, as, for ex-
ample, modern college students have, to thirty years' accumulation
of academic explications. If he had, he would have been all too
aware that literature means, and it means in a general, not a per-
sonal way. O'Connor's phrasing leads to a definition: literary mean-
ing is a statement of what in the literary work is of sufficient gen-
erality to be "worth something to everybody."
Usually, meaning in this sense takes the form of statements like
"School for Scandal is a play about the tension between appear-
ance and reality," or "The theme of 'Pied Beauty' is the relation-
ship between the permanent, universal, and ideal and the particu-
lar, various, and transitory." Meaning thus becomes a reader's at-
tempt to state a universal proposition derived from the text, not so
much a "moral" as an idea or quality that informs and permeates
the whole. Northrop Frye, for example, contrasts narrative move-
ment within a poem to "The meaning of a poem, its structure of
imagery, [which] is a static pattern." 4 In my own teaching and
writing, I have found 'it helpful to think of literary meaning spa-
tially-as an idea that all the particular details of a work are
"about," a "point" to which all the individual words or events in a
literary work are relevant, not unlike the "point" of a joke. In a






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


standard handbook for students, Frye suggests a similar procedure
as basic to all critical analysis:
The primary understanding of any work of literature has to be
based on an assumption of its unity. However mistaken such an
assumption may eventually prove to be, nothing can be done
unless we start with it as a heuristic principle. Further, every
effort should be directed toward understanding the whole of
what we read, as though it were all on the same level of
achievement.
The critic may meet something that puzzles him, like, say,
Mercutio's speech on Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet, and feel
that it does not fit. This means either that Shakespeare was a
slapdash dramatist or that the critic's conception of the play is
inadequate. The odds in favor of the latter conclusion are over.
whelming: consequently he would do well to try to arrive at
some understanding of the relevance of the puzzling episode.
Even if the best he can do for the time being is a far-fetched or
obviously rationalized explanation, that is still his sanest and
soundest procedure.
The process of academic criticism begins, then, with reading a
poem through to the end, suspending value-judgments while do-
ing so. Once the end is reached, we can see the whole design of
the work as a unity. It is now a simultaneous pattern radiating
out from a center, not a narrative moving in time. The struc-
ture is what we call the theme, and the identifying of the theme
is the next step . .the theme is not something in the
poem, much less a moral precept suggested by it, but the struc-
tural principle in the poem.5

Meaning in literature-Frye's "poem" is representative of all litera-
ture-goes beyond meaning in ordinary discourse to the extent the
literary work is shaped and structured by such a central idea.
As a practical matter, it seems to me, most of what we think of
as literary analysis is a process of successive abstraction. The skilled
Reader organizes the details of the text into recurring images and
themes. Essentially, he abstracts repeated or contrasted words,
images, events, or characters into categories. Some special critics
may think in Marxist or psychoanalytic or Swedenborgian terms,






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


but most use categories from everyday discourse. In Hamlet, for ex-
ample, critics will speak of images of disease, incidents of broken
rituals, or characters who do as against characters who talk.
If a critic wishes to go as far as he possibly can in this process
-many critics, of course, don't-he further re-classifies this first
level of abstractions (usually called themes) into a final level con-
sisting of a very few basic terms which the work as a whole is
"about." One might, for example, see Hamlet as "about" the im-
perfection that comes between idea and fact. If such a set of terms
states the universal intellectual content of the work, if this is its
"meaning," then a reader should be able to move from these three
very general terms to less general themes like disease, ritual, word-
and-deed, and from them back to the text itself. He should be able
to see particular manifestations of one or another of the general
terms (imperfections, idea, fact) at any point in the text-or else
his generalizations from the text left something out.
The technique is a powerful one, as thirty years of "new critical"
explications testify. Yet, as anyone knows who has practiced "close
reading" or "explication" with students, it often seems overly intel-
lectual, even sterile, certainly far removed from the roots of our
pleasure in literature.
By contrast, psychoanalysis seeks out those roots by looking in
literary works not so much for a central "point," as for a central
fantasy or daydream, familiar from couch or clinic, particular mani-
festations of which occur all through the text. Hamlet, Freud told
us sixty-seven years ago, expresses an oedipal fantasy, and all its in-
cidents, imagery, and characters come together around this one
issue.
Thus, both a "new critical" reading and a psychoanalytic reading
will arrive at something central to a work, some general entity rep-
resented at any given point in the text by particular language.
What, then, is the relation between these two central entities, one
a statement, the other a fantasy? Most critics, I think, would say
they are simply two different ways of looking at the text, each valid
in its own way, as would be the Marxist or Swedenborgian inter-






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


pretations. I would like to suggest that, on the contrary, the psy-
choanalytic reading has a very special relation to any other read-
ing.

Consider, for example, our joke. A modern critic, looking at the
joke simply as a literary production, would notice the repeated ref-
erences to numbers and money. The joke's "incidental imagery"
consists of "$1oo,ooo," "playing the stock market," "In addition,"
"slight consideration," "personal bank account of $200,000," the
"money," the "company vault." Key phrases are: "What is the
consideration I owe you?" "You must spend . ." "worth it." All
these quantifications culminate in the numbering of the young
man's years, and one would abstract them as comparing values, dis-
tinguishing something from nothing.
The basic metaphor is the bargain. The old woman who can give
everything, herself lacks youth and sex. The young man has these
two things though he has lost everything else-and they bargain
with each other and seem to exchange. As against the motif of ex-
change stand the un-bargains: the young executive's having "taken
$1oo,ooo" and lost it "playing"; the witch's not delivering what she
promised. Looked at only from the point of view of conscious, in-
tellectual content, the point of the joke seems to be that the young
man who thought he would get away with something for nothing
or "for a slight consideration," "certainly worth it," finds instead
that he has been had for nothing, or for a few magic gestures.
More exactly, the joke contrasts what the young executive expected
with what he got. He expected to get something (money) for
nothing (sex), but he finds he has given something (sex) for noth-
ing (promises of money).
If this analysis of the "point" is correct, if we have found those
few terms to which everything else in the joke is related, we should
be able to understand the young executive's "character" through
this "meaning." Looking at the story realistically, we could say that
the young executive's character-to the limited extent we see it in
this joke-is that of a man who tries to get what he can of this






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


world's comforts, paying nothing or as little as possible. He is a
man who wishes to take into himself what he can. It is fitting,
then, that his "punishment" is to be taken in by someone else, for
it is a truth well known to confidence men (and artists) that the
easiest man to gull is one trying to get something for nothing.
Again, looked at realistically, he is quite sensible to believe and
make love to the witch. Having lost everything, he has nothing left
to lose. Like a Kierkegaardian knight of faith, he is perfectly right
to make the leap into acceptance and trust. His character, in other
words, is one particular manifestation of the informing idea of the
whole, expecting something for nothing. The joke, in short, is
quite moralistic-it punishes the young executive for trying to get
something for nothing. And in playing a rather cruel trick on him,
it plays a trick on us.
That formulation, however, raises a question more fundamental
than meaning. If the joke tricks and fools us, how, then, does it
give pleasure? It must give pleasure, or else we would not willingly
suspend our disbelief.-
I can remember quite vividly, the first time I heard the joke, a
fleeting but highly gratifying thought that flashed through my
mind when the old lady appeared, did her magic, and made every-
thing right: Oh, if only it were so, if only there were magical peo-
ple to solve all problems! The punch line quite abruptly deprived
me of that fantasy-and yet I laughed and felt pleasure.
What had happened was the feeling from the last line, "I was
fooled," had become a reassurance, somehow, not a disappoint-
ment. Midway in the joke my feelings toward the old woman
changed. At first, she was a powerful parent-figure who would
make all well. But then she became quite repulsively seductive. As
a result, the feeling "I was fooled" became reassuring: there really
are no all-powerful parent-figures who are also frighteningly grabby
and seductive and sexual.
It is not hard to recognize a nurturing mother-figure in the crone
who magically offers "sonny" all the sustenance he needs at the
moment he needs it most. Her repulsiveness in the joke evokes the






10 THE MODEL DEVELOPED
right feeling, namely, that she is sexually inappropriate, an "old
crone on the bed." It is all right to take wish-fulfillment from her,
but "distasteful" to make love. The image of taste and her own
toothless mouth suggest a fearful fantasy about a mother taking
into herself (into her mouth-like genitals) instead of giving into
the mouth of her child. The mother-word "sonny" appears at the
safe moment-when she lets us know that she is not going to be-
have like a mother.
In short, the joke gave me pleasure by the way it handled an
oedipal fantasy (and I assume that, with appropriate variations,
the same mechanism gave pleasure and reassurance to others).
This parental reading of the joke gets confirmation from a variant
that also went the rounds. Instead of a witch, a devil appears and
the "slight consideration" is a night of homosexual love. The vari-
ant develops the same conflict between our succoring and our sex-
ual ideas of a parent, but this time it is the father (seen in terms of
the negative oedipus complex).
The primary level of the joke's fantasy is oedipal, but under-
neath that fantasy there is an oral motif. The joke works with a
feeling of trusting and expectation that most of us have experi-
enced consciously, but all of us have experienced before we were
conscious of ourselves as such. Like Freud and other analysts, Erik
Erikson locates its origins in infancy in the period when a child is
dependent on its mother for its oral needs, and he shows how that
trust leads to "identity." "Basic trust in mutuality is that original
'optimism,' that assumption that 'somebody is there,' without
which we cannot live." Identity begins with that nurturing other
because the child does not conceive of himself as a separate being
! until he can trust and await his mother as a separate being.6 When
he accepts her as separate, he has realized he is separate.
In this joke about expectancies and bargains and living or not
living up to them, it is surely not difficult to see "mutuality" and
"basic trust." We could think of the young executive as suffering
oral frustration-his world no longer supports him. When the
deprivation the young man suffers makes him feel he can no longer







LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


trust his world, he resolves to give up his identity by destroying
himself in the engulfing waters of the river. His sense of trust in
the old lady leads him instead to an engulfing world of magic, and
he becomes a trusting child again. He is "taken in." Figuratively,
he is duped; sexually, he is taken into the "toothless" mouth of the
crone's genitals. We could even say the hero has a kind of death-
and-rebirth through magic: a submerging of his self (from a
"bridge") into an underworld of matriarchal magic, then a disillu-
sioning re-emergence into rationality and the real world at the end.
He acts out again oral fusion followed by an infant's discovery of
his own identity. That is the infantile fantasy the joke works with.
On a more realistic level, the young man accepts the witch as real
the same way a brainwashed prisoner believes in his keeper; this
parent-figure evokes in him the sense of basic trust one associates
with a mother at the very moment he most needs that trust to re-
gain his hold on life and his own identity.
At first, the joke reassures us by means of a series of displace-
ments, not unexpectedly, for an exchange or bargain resembles a
displacement: both shift attention or concern or, here, valuation
from one thing to another. The first words of the joke, for ex-
ample, shift our attention from the executive's wrongdoing onto
his suffering. We pity him rather than condemn him, and we enlist
the witch as our aide. At least at first, she, too, seems to pity rather
that punish him (just as the story as a whole concerns the seduc-
tion of a superego). The "big" concerns of the joke should be the
vanished career and the lost money, but these are rendered vaguely
and abstractly. The first visual images the joke gives us are the
bridge railing and the gnarled hand. In effect, the joke has dis-
placed our attention from the theft and loss to the exchange with
the witch. The taboo he broke by stealing becomes quite masked
over by the witch's breaking the oedipal taboo.
More exactly, the story displaces the executive's wrongdoing
(getting something for nothing) onto the parental witch. Similarly,
it displaces our credulity in believing the story at all onto the
young executive who believes the witch's story. Then, trust be-






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


comes dangerous when the witch becomes sexual. So the punchline
undoes both these displacements-we are reassured, we disbelieve
again, and we laugh.
To sum up, the story worked with an oral-oedipal fantasy that at
first gave pleasure, then anxiety, then pleasure again. The plot and
form of the joke served as the defensive ways of handling this fan-
tasy, and the meaning or "point" of the joke turned out to be its
intellectual or conceptual transformation. That is, being deprived
for expecting something for nothing is simply an intellectual ver-
sion of the original fantasy: the loss involved in getting mother
sexually as against orally. We can call the joke's meaning a trans-
formation analogous to a sublimation, for it makes the unconscious
fantasy intellectually, morally, and socially acceptable and even
pleasurable; more technically, it makes the fantasy ego-syntonic.
Meaning, then, in one of its aspects, is analogous to the sublima-
tion of an infantile fantasy. Other aspects we shall see in other
chapters, but the thesis here is: the meaning of the joke, its point
or informing idea, has two levels. The first, conventional literary
meaning, states the way the elements of the story are all relevant to
an intellectual idea: "getting something for nothing." The second,
a psychoanalytic statement, shows how the elements of the story,
understood as having unconscious meanings ("toothless mouth" as
genitals), are all relevant to a particular unconscious fantasy: being
nurtured by a mother as against making love to her. The joke's
meaning, then, is not simply a "point" which a static configuration
of elements is "about." Rather, its meaning is a dynamic process:
the joke transforms the unconscious fantasy at its heart into intel-
lectual terms.

Is this notion of transformation true only for jokes? Or is it true
for literature in general? We can test this concept of meaning-as-
transformation against a work of literature that bears a striking
resemblance to our joke: the Arthurian tale of Chaucer's Wife
of Bath.
Mastery ("maistrie") is the point about which the three phases
of the story come together, specifically, "maistrie" between man






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


and woman-who shall be boss? The Tale begins when a knight
blithely rapes a girl (thus depriving her of her right to say no-her
"maistrie"). Haled before King Arthur, he is condemned to be be-
headed (no "maistrie" in that), but then the queen and the other
ladies wear out the king's resistance and get him a reprieve (their
"maistrie"). The queen offers the knight his life if he will return
in a year and a day to tell her "What thyng is it that women
most desiren," 7 and the knight duly sets off on the second phase
of the story, his quest for an answer.
Until the very last day, he has no success, but on that day he
comes upon a fairy ring in the woods, which disappears and leaves
there a particularly revolting and horrible old woman: "A fouler
wight their may no man devyse." He tells her his troubles, and she
agrees to tell him the secret provided he will grant her the next
boon she asks. The knight agrees, she tells him the secret, and the
knight and the crone return to the court, where the knight makes
his answer to the queen.
"My lige lady, generally," quod he,
"Wommen desiren have sovereynetee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie hym above.
This is you're mooste desir, though ye me kille.
Dooth as yow list; I am heer at you're wille"
In short, women want "maistrie," and, though he has saved his
head, the knight's passive position suggests the amount of maistrie
he himself has already lost. He loses still more when the crone
holds him to his bargain. She asks him to marry her, thus begin-
ning the third phase of the Tale.
Downcast by his predicament, the knight does marry the old
woman, but,
Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght;
He walweth and he turneth to and fro.
His grizzled bride twits him with impotency, and he replies that
she is loathly, old, ill-born, and poor. The nuptial couple then em-
bark on one of Chaucer's famous digressions, this time on the na-






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


ture of true nobility or "gentilesse." She points out that poverty is
a Christian virtue, that true nobility comes from Christ, that the
old deserve respect and finally, that since she is old and ugly, she
will never cuckold him. But as though her arguments were not
enough, she offers him a choice; either she will be foul and old, but
true, or she will be young and fair, and unfaithful-choose.
The knight, no doubt somewhat worn down by all the things
that have happened to him, gives up:
"My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
I put me in you're wise governance . .
I do no fors the whether of the two;
For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me."
"Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie," quod she,
"Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?"
"Ye, certes, wyf," quod he, "I holde it best."
And the ladies have won "maistrie" for the third and final time.
Gleefully, the crone announces she will be both young and true.
The wedding night proceeds with Chaucerian pace and vigor:
She obeyed hym in every thyng
That myghte doon hym plesance or likying,
and they lived happily ever after.
If my own feelings of disgust at the relationship between the
young knight and the old crone are any clue, the Wife of Bath's
Tale builds on the same sense of taboos broken as does the joke.
Raping the girl breaks one taboo (as the young executive's embez-
zling did). But we are not as repelled by those violations as we are
at the knight's being asked to perform sexually for the old crone.
This stronger revulsion has its roots in another, much deeper
taboo, that against sexual relations with a member of one's parents'
generation, a taboo ultimately derived from oedipal fears. And, lest
this seem too schematically Freudian, it is well to remember that
the first words the knight addresses to the old crone are, "My leeve
mooder," my mother dear (1. 1005).
It should be no surprise, then, that breaking these sexual taboos
produces a variety of threats of bodily injury leading to bodily de-







LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


ficiency, helplessness, or loss-that is, threats analogous to castra-
tion. The knight's head is threatened first. Then, when the crone
demands marriage, he feels his whole body lost: take all my goods,
he begs her, "and lat my body go." Finally, his body trapped in
marriage, it tosses and turns while he is unable to perform sexually.
She asks,
"Why fare ye thus with me this first nyght?
Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit."
The loathly lady refers to the medieval tradition that lunatics were
impotent-in doing so, she makes clear the sexual nature of the
threats to the knight: bodily or mental loss, leading both to loss of
sexual power and to impotency in the sense of general helplessness.
Cutting off the head, loss of self-determination, loss of sanity-all
symbolize the basic threat of loss: castration.
The phallic significance of the threat that the knight will be be-
headed shows in the Wife's phrasing, too. The knight was con-
demned "and sholde han lost his heed," his head. Just five lines
before, he had attacked the maid, and, said the Wife,
maugree hir heed,
By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhe[e]d;
that is, despite her resistance, by very force, he ravished her
maidenhood or maidenhead (the word does double service in Mid-
dle English). The rhyme points to the pun: the knight's head cor-
responds to the maid's "heed," her power to resist, as well as to the
"he[e]d" or "hood" in maidenhoodd," her state in the world. In
effect, the phallus means the power not to have others force their
will on a helpless you which in turn means the intactness of your
position in the world-a very irritating idea to the wife, who, as
her Tale and Prologue amply show, resents the domination of the
male and would rather have the phallus at her own beck and call.
What then does woman have instead? She has a secret, a hidden
place. A man tries to poke into things; the knight, as inquisitive as
Aristotle, "seketh every house and every place." He comes upon a
secret dance and hopes to learn some wisdom from it, but it dis.







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


appears, and the old crone tells him, "Sire knight, heer forth ne
lith no wey," you cannot penetrate here. You can only get at
woman's secret if woman will bestow it on you-as the crone does.
Even then, she performs her magical transformation behind the
bed-curtain, and only after she has become young and beautiful
does she invite the knight, "Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it
is." And at that moment the knight is finally given her secret:
"Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest." Woman's secret
place indeed contains the secret of life-and death (in her feared
aspect), and the knight is taught he can only get to that secret
place if it is freely opened to him-he cannot force his way by
rape.

To state rather bluntly the fantasy at the heart of the story, it
begins with phallic sexuality, conceived of as a kind of rape in
which both woman and man lose something. He may be castrated,
she, rendered passive and helpless. The Wife's Tale converts this
phallic relationship to a regressive, oral one in which the man
yields sovereignty (and his phallus) to the woman as a son might
yield to his nurturing, all-powerful mother. Then, from this oral
passivity, the last few lines of the Tale carry the couple to genital
mutuality, albeit orally tinged by language as appropriate to an in-
fant as to a bridegroom: "a bath of blisse."
In brief, then, the Tale starts with phallic, aggressive sexuality,
regresses to a more primitive relation between taboo mother and
passive son, and finally progresses to genital mutuality (though
dominated by the woman-if you will obey me, I will give you
pleasure). From the point of view of the Wife's own psychology,
we could say she is compensating for her own missing phallus by
setting herself up as a trap, threatening her successive husbands, in
order to coerce them into giving up their phallic power to her. For
us, the story builds on a fear of sexuality as phallic aggression lead-
ing to helplessness or loss, and the Tale deals with that fear by re-
gression to oral passivity. But this jargon simply states the psycho-
logical underpinnings to what the story is very explicitly about:






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


abandoning "maistrie" in favor of mutual submission. In a rela-
tionship between a man and a woman, which shall have "maistrie,"
that is, which shall dominate the relationship? "Maistrie" itself? Or
passivity leading to mutual giving?
As this tangled syntax suggests, though, perhaps "maistrie" is not
as accurate a term as we might wish. Clearly, it is the theme that
binds together the three phases of the tale, but will it also bring
into a meaningful totality the Wife's digressions? There are four in
all, if we let the term include anything in the tale that is too long
for its narrative function: the Wife's introduction, setting the Tale
"In th'olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour," when there were elves in-
stead of (as in the Wife's day) friars; the telling of the tale of
Midas' ears; the very long "pillow talk" about "gentilesse"; and, fi-
nally, the Wife's seven-line prayer that ends the Tale.
The Wife's introduction sets the Tale in an ancient, pagan time
when the land was full of "fayerye," and

The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.

Now, says the Wife, the omnipresent friars have replaced these
pagan powers. Thus, the Wife has set up some of the basic themes
that run through her Tale: the contrast between man and woman,
elf-queen and Christian God; the contrast between old and new,
the two generations that will be represented in the knight and the
loathly lady; the issue of masculine or feminine control, the elf-
queen, powerful with respect to "Kyng Arthour," as against the
friar who begs, but also, the Wife suggests, is given to assaulting
lonely ladies he meets (thus costing them "maistrie").
The Wife's second digression tells the story of King Midas' ears.
He had, under his long hair, asses' ears, which he hid from every-
one's sight except his wife's. There is something wrong with his
body, something under the hair, something only his wife knows,
and that something wrong shows he is an ass. Again, I think, we
get implications of male helplessness and impotence. The asses'
ears are erect and hornlike. They may suggest Midas is cuckolded






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


(unmanned, castrated); at the same time, they may also be defen-
sive against fears of castration-not only am I not missing any-
thing, I have two extra.
Either way, however, it is the woman who wins. Midas asked
and she swore that she would never tell what she had seen, but she
couldn't stand not telling it-this is the reason the Wife gives for
telling the story: some woman was bound to give the knight the
secret he needed to save his head. So, Midas' wife went down to
the water's edge and whispered, "Myn housbonde hath long asses
erys two!" And ever after, the reeds whisper the same-so Ovid
says, but not the Wife, for that is not the relevance of her digres-
sion.
In Ovid, the story is told of the king's barber, but, for the Wife,
the story shows woman's ability to humiliate and dominate man by
means of her power over his vulnerable body. The story also sug-
gests the maternal quality of this power, for it demonstrates not
only woman's power over man, but also the giving, outpouring
quality of woman-she is unable to keep her secret to herself. That
quality contrasts with Midas' efforts to hide and withhold the se-
cret. (Later, the Wife will complain of men niggardrd] of dis-
pence.") Moreover, this quality of giving is an irresistible compul-
sion, not unlike the source of life itself, that outruns and escapes
masculine efforts to master it by authority. (There may be the
faintest hint of a mythic ancestry through Ovid for her dichotomy
-Dionysus was the ass-headed god, ever-dying, and the wife is not
unlike Venus in her giving out and animating the forces of nature,
the reeds.)
The Wife gives Ovid as her authority, saying he tells King
Midas' story "amonges other thynges smale." She thus links Ovid
with verbal and rather trivial knowledge (why reeds sound the way
they do), while her own telling links it to everyone's experience
(that women cannot keep a secret), to the immediate context of
the Tale (the knight will surely learn the secret), and, indeed, to
her own lengthy and hardly discreet Prologue. Similarly, Midas'
wife speaks from experience-she has actually seen the ears. In






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


short, the Wife's second digression further builds the antithesis be-
tween man and woman on which her Tale depends: woman as giv-
ing, man as withholding; woman linked to sight and experience,
man, either Midas or Ovid, to verbal authority.
The "pillow talk" and the final prayer, the Wife's third and
fourth digressions, make a pair. The third begins when the knight
complains on his wedding night that his bride is not only low-born
but "so loothly and so oold also." She replies that true nobility
("gentilesse") comes not from high birth or riches but "cometh
fro God alonee" citing Dante, Seneca, and Boethius for her au-
thorities. She turns to poverty: it is godlike, for Christ himself was
poor, and she gives another battery of authorities, Seneca, Juvenal,
"and other clerkes." As for old age, even if there were "noon auc-
toritee . in no book," one would know that men should be
courteous to an old man "And clepe hym fader," call him father.
(If I may be psychoanalytic, since one should call an old man fa-
ther, what should one call an old woman?) Finally, as for her ugli-
ness, that guarantees her chastity and fidelity. Again, in psychoana-
lytic terms, the loathly lady is identifying, quite explicitly, the re-
vulsion at her ugliness with a sexual taboo. Since her remarks im-
mediately before tended to identify her with a mother, we can see
a relation between two kinds of revulsion: revulsion at sexual rela-
tions with a member of an older generation; revulsion at sexual re-
lations with one's mother-and the revulsion guarantees chastity.
Be that as it may, one thing is clear: the loathly lady goes
through 112 lines of more or less ecclesiastical argument, before she
offers the knight his choice. She makes the knight hear about "gen-
tilesse." In the same way, the second two phases of her Tale, the
Quest and the Wedding Night, give the knight first the verbal
knowledge of "maistrie," then the actual experience of giving it up.
And the whole form of Prologue and Tale contrast Dame Alice of
Bath's lengthy and authoritative disquisition upon marriage and
"maistrie" with stories that transform those two verbal abstractions
into the fullness of experience.
In other words, the Wife's Tale sets up another contest, parallel






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


to the contest between male and female: the contest between, in
the first words of her Prologue, "experience" and "auctoritee." By
and large, we are to identify men with "auctoritee," the tyrannical
husbands, the raping knight, the punishing Arthur, and the various
clerkly authorities, Solomon, Ptolemy, Boethius, or Ovid. Women
-the queen, the loathly lady, the Wife herself-express experi-
ence, fertility, and life, as in the Wife's lovely, if pagan, reminis-
cence: "I have had my world as in my tyme."
The Wife's closing prayer, her last digression, follows directly
upon the knight's experience of "gentilesse" as an alternative to
"maistrie." The Wife prays, first, for husbands meek, young, and
freshh abedde"-in other words, "giving" husbands. She asks, sec-
ond, that women have "grace" to outlive them. While the Wife's
penchant for variety is sufficient, no doubt, to explain such a wish,
it would also be well to remember that the loathly lady is old and
somewhat supernatural and also a somewhat murderous mother:
she is wishing the son-husband's death. At a still less conscious
level, the Wife's prayer makes explicit the knight's child-like feel-
ing toward the benevolent mother the Wife and the loathly lady
become, namely, that while his own existence is precarious, she will
go on forever; she is the tower of security; she will be "there." The
Wife prays, third, that Jesus will shorten the lives of those that
will not be governed by their wives (with, again, the unconscious
murder-wish that those who do not obey their powerful mothers
may die). Finally, she rounds out her symmetrical prayer by asking
for a plague on "olde and angry nygardes of dispence," husbands
who are stingy and will not give.
In short, the Wife of Bath's Tale sets up a fundamental con-
trast: between masculine, verbal, limiting authority or "maistrie"
and feminine submission to the plenitude of experience. In so
doing, she sets also the keynote for the three themes of the "Mar-
riage Group" identified by Kittredge: rhetoric, "gentilesse," and, of
course, marriage. Rhetoric she identifies with masculine verbalism
and "auctoritee," true gentilesse with "experience" and the femi-
nine giving up of "maistrie." And our analysis of the digressions in





LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


the Wife of Bath's Tale suggests that a better way than "maistrie"
of stating the idea that informs the story is: Which shall have
"maistrie"-the imposition of "auctoritee" or submission to "expe-
rience"?
This statement of the idea that informs the Tale (and much of
the Prologue) gives still another digression relevance: "the words
bitwene the Somonour and the Frere." Those two worthies repre-
sent Mother Church in precisely these two aspects: the Summoner
imposes ecclesiastical authority; the Friar begs and is at least sup-
posed to be passive and submissive.

The Wife's Tale purports to prove that if life is to be a contest
of authorities, woman will very likely win and man will very likely
be unmanned. If, however, man submits to the dominance of a
motherly woman, both will gain. The boy-gets-girl ending seems to
me a little hard on masculinity, but, all things considered, a happy
ending. I am pleased that an old crone becomes a Playmate. And
mutual submission and giving seem to me a good thing, even, per-
haps, a Christian thing, as hinted by Sir Walter Scott's comment:
"What was a mere legendary tale of wonder . in the verse of
Chaucer reminds us of the resurrection of a skeleton, reinvested by
a miracle with flesh, complexion, and powers of life and motion." 8
As the loathly lady says when the knight complains of her skeletal
qualities,
I koude amende al this,
If that me liste, er it were dayes there,
So wel ye myghte bere you unto me.
I could amend all this-my poverty, ugliness, low birth, and age
-if it pleased me to do so, within three days, provided you bear
yourself properly to me. "Dayes there" suggests to me some doubt-
ful, but perhaps not totally irrelevant associations.
The loathly lady explicitly compares herself to Christ when she
claims her "gentilesse" from Christ, not men. She is poor, she says,
just like Christ. The analogue that comes most readily to my mind
is Flaubert's "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller." There,






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


the saint welcomes a loathsome leper to his hut. When he can love
and bed with and embrace this most repulsive of human beings, he
finds he is embracing Christ. The leper is, of course, not the radi-
ant, triumphant Christ of the Transfiguration (not until the end of
the story); he is the "man of sorrows" of Isaiah 52 and 53: "His
visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than
the sons of men." "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we
shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." "We
did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted," even as
the knight regards his bride. "A fouler wight their may no man
devyse." Her phrase, "dayes there would mark the difference be-
tween the Christ of the Cross, despised and rejected of men, and
the Christ triumphant of the Resurrection. Man's submission to
Christ transfigures him, even as the knight's submission transfigures
the loathly lady.
If "dayes there" would have triggered the same associations in the
Wife's hearers that it does in me, then her Tale achieved complex-
ities indeed. But it wouldn't have. Professor D. W. Robertson, Jr.,
has been kind enough to show me how the Tale uses a heroine
well known in medieval stories. The loathly lady, he writes,
belongs . to a common medieval type (also represented by
the Wife herself) that can conveniently be described as "The
Old Whore," related to Ovid's Dipsas, to La Vieille in the
Roman de la Rose, and to a number of other figures of the
same kind. Specifically, she promises her victim, "I shal fulfill
you're worldly appetite" [1. 1218]. . The fulfillment she
offers, moreover, blatantly disregards the lessons of her pre-
ceding discourse, which emphasizes the advantages of (1) vir-
tue, (2) voluntary poverty, and (3) wisdom (the quality hon-
ored in old age). The young man is obviously interested in the
pleasures of the flesh instead. As soon as the lady has obtained
the "maistrie," her victim considers her to be young and fair
and true.
To understand this "miracle," it is necessary to know some-
thing of medieval moral philosophy. The Old Woman, like the
Wife herself, represents the "feminine" element in man (i.e.,
the senses as distinct from the reason, the flesh as distinct from
the spirit, etc.). When this element ir given the "maistrie," the







LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


victim becomes blinded by his own desires so that he cannot
discern even the most obvious truths. Thus, for example, a me-
dieval proverb runs, "He who loves a frog thinks the frog to be
Diana." The "miraculous" elements in the story generally
should be translated into events that can and do ordinarily take
place. We do not, that is, ordinarily encounter foure and
twenty" ladies in a dance who suddenly become a disappointing
old hag. We do, however, sometimes discover that the parade of
luscious wenches we pursue either in fact or imagination turns
out not to be very attractive. To make the "luscious wench" at-
tractive again, all that is really necessary is that we submit to
her. That is, whether the "luscious wench" seems to be fair and
true or simply another manifestation of fallen Eve, old and
ugly, depends entirely on ourselves. The "oldness" of the old
whore, incidentally, is not altogether a matter of history, but is
related to the "oldness" that Christians are supposed to cast off
at baptism (e.g., see Rom. 6: 4-6) and periodically thereafter
in penance.9
In short, to her first audience, the devious Wife has managed to
represent as a good thing (and perhaps even as caritas itself) a
quite un-christian submission to old Eve. If "dayes there" tipped
off a medieval hearer to anything, it was simply that submission to
the loathly lady acts as a mocking alternative to and parody of
man's proper submission to Christ. The parody, if parody it be, is
all the more delicious in that so rigorous a feminist as Dame Alice
has quite naturally cast God as a woman.
If the Tale embodies this parody, it becomes one more instance
of Chaucer's reinterpreting pagan joys into at least the possibility
of Christian values, as in the cruiselike pilgrimage itself or that
"Aprille" with its amorous birds but restless pilgrims. The Tale as a
parody illustrates not only Alisoun's perverse ability to turn con-
ventional churchly views topsy-turvy; o0 it also shows in a larger
and less parodic sense a basic pattern of medieval literature. That
is, medieval narrative moves not in a pattern of conflict and resolu-
tion but in a hierarchy of values: l the low-submission to
"worldly appetit"-has at least the potential of becoming the high
-submission to Christ. After all, lechery was the least of the seven
deadly sins.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


There is, however, still another dimension of "meaning" in the
Wife of Bath's Tale. Chaucer's sources for it are of two types. In
the English group, evidently derivative, loving the loathly lady
leads to sovereignty in marriage. In the earlier, Irish group, loving
the loathly lady leads to a tanist's sovereignty in the kingdom. In
either case, the loathly lady would seem to derive from some Perse-
phonic figure deep in the Celtic twilight, some combination of
crone and virgin, spring goddess and destroyer, who gives to the
year-king who wins her the power to rule.
In the Irish sources, notes Professor Sigmund Eisner, "Her
loathly form represents winter." "The original meaning of the mar-
riage. . was a seasonal myth-the worldwide belief in marriage
between the sun and the earth. The sun, by cohabiting with the
earth, insured the earth's customary bounty." In the English
sources, the choice is between the lady's being loathly by day or
loathly by night, but the implications of day or night match those
of spring or winter, and, Eisner concludes, "The prototype of the
Wife of Bath's heroine traveled even more widely than Alice her-
self. Originally, she was the earth goddess who annually married
the solar deity." 12
At a less primitive level, if man submits to the life-and-death
power of woman, both gain. If not, both lose. And the Persephonic
level fits not only Professor Robertson's reading (submission to the
old Eve) and the Wife's concern with phallic loss as against a son's
giving in, but also her contrast between imposition of authority
and submission to experience-the fertile, giving power of women,
be they earth goddesses or just worthy ladies of Bath.

But, as the Friar would surely say at this point, "This is a long
preamble of a tale!" Our theme is literary meaning, of which we
have seen several different kinds in the Wife of Bath's Tale. From
a purely analytic, "new critical" point of view, the story contrasts
dominance by verbal or other masculine authority to submission to
feminine or other experience. For a modem reader-this modern
reader, anyway-that submission seems good: it makes an old






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


crone into a lovely maiden. But as so often for modern readers of
medieval literature, what the story means to us ironically reveals
our moral and spiritual distance from our forebears. In terms of
the traditional allegory pointed out by Professor Robertson, the
story contrasts proper Christian values with submission to the Old
Whore of "worldly appetite beautiful (or transfigured) only be-
cause man is foolish enough to believe in her. Still more mythi-
cally, submission to the Persephonic life-and-death power of
woman leads to mutual strength rather than mutual loss (as in the
sources studied by Professor Eisner). Psychoanalytically, the reader
replaces the danger of phallic wounding, rape, beheading, wear-
ing asses' ears, helplessness, mental impotency or sexual-by sub-
mission to a mother's nurturing but also murderously powerful
love.
Clearly, meaning is not simply "there" in the text; rather it is
something we construct for the text within the limits of the text.
And even inconsistent readings may be appropriate: my "modem
reader's meaning" may be just as right for some readers as Pro-
fessor Robertson's interpretation is for Chaucer's first audience.
If you are a critical relativist (as I am on Mondays, Wednesdays,
and Fridays), you will simply accept each of these different read-
ings as valid to the extent it brings all the elements of the story to-
gether to a single "point." If you are a critical monist (as I am on
Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays), you will carry one step fur-
ther the process of successive abstraction that led us to these sev-
eral meanings. You will abstract these various kinds of meaning,
the modern reader's meaning, the medieval allegory, the Perse-
phonic myth, and any other interpretations that may turn up sub-
sequently, all together into one abstraction that covers all these
possible meanings: perhaps, "Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale is a
study in authority and submission." *

* It is not difficult to demonstrate that any verbal text, taken as a series of
discrete words or events, can be recursively classified into a final, single "mean-
ing." Any two things can be logically related: an elephant is like a Rembrandt
in that neither is a wastebasket; they are both in the class of non-wastebaskets.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


The point is, all these meanings are similar, as we can see if we
set them down in a chart:


AUTHORITY


SUBMISSION


Masculine, verbal
restraint
Imposition of "auctoritee"

Secular "gentilesse"
(restricted to the
nobility)
Rejected "man of
sorrows"


"Worldly appetite"
Medieval rejected
meaning Authority of reason and
spirit


{Repulsive woman and
powerless man


Psychoanalytic JPhallic wounding
meaning (


Feminine giving and
receiving
Submission to
"experience"
Christian virtues
(possible for all)

Christ believed in


The Old Whore adored

Submission to senses and
flesh

Persephone and the ruler


Oral submission


The story asks, Which will it be? Which of these two modes shall
have "maistrie" over the other? And the story comes out trium-
phantly for the right-hand side-submission (though that may be
good or evil depending on the reader's values). Either way, though,
the question and the answer shape and inform the story's incidents

One could go on to relate all the elements of a literary text into such classes,
and one could classify classes until one arrived at a very small number of
classes to one or another of which all elements in the text would be related.
This is, of course, a trivial demonstration. As a practical matter, the elements
in a literary text tend to group in classes that represent familiar literary themes:
art and nature, appearance and reality, mind and matter, time and eternity,
male and female, and so on. As a purely logical matter, however, any number
of these traditional themes can be grouped into a unitary "meaning." It is
possible. Whether it is desirable is another matter. Most professional critics
feel more comfortable with separate themes, not pushing for a final, central
statement of meaning to which each and every element of the text is relevant.
Either way, however, implicit in any literary text is some grouping, be it full
or partial, into meaningful themes. Either way, then, a literary text implies a
transformation toward meaningfulness.


Modern
reader's
meaning


Mythic
meaning






LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


and its language. Either way, the story has a theme or themes that
are "of sufficient generality to be 'worth something to every-
body.' "
Our process of successive abstraction seems sound enough, but it
does not explain why Chaucer might have grabbed somebody by
his medieval lapels to tell him the story nor why the story has en-
grossed five centuries of readers (even some modern readers who
quite misinterpret it). I claimed at the outset that the psycho-
analytic meaning had a special relation to all other meanings. It
does so, because the fantasy psychoanalysis discovers at the core of
a literary work has a special status in our mental life that moral,
medieval, or Marxist ideas do not. These are conscious and adult
and intellectual. Fantasies are unconscious, infantile, and fraught
with emotion. Fantasies are what make us grab somebody by the
lapels. Ideas do so only if they are the later representatives of fan-
tasy. The crucial point, then, in this analysis and in the chart of
meanings is: the psychoanalytic meaning underlies all the others.
At the heart of this story we experience a child's fantasy: if I am
phallicly aggressive and do not submit to my mother, she will cas-
trate me. Fantasies such as this were once all too real to us and a
mass of evidence from couch and clinic shows they still provide
much of the steam and pattern in our adult lives. If so, then the
recognition of the fantasy level in this story points to a very general
concept of literary meaning. That is, meaning is not a statement,
but a process. The fear, if I do not submit to mother, she will cas-
trate me, becomes in our conscious reading of the story the plea-
sure of submitting instead of coercing (whether as individual read-
ers we value that pleasure in modem, medieval, or mythic ways).*
The story "means" in that it transforms its unconscious fantasy
I think, for example, we tend to value experience over Scriptural authority,
equal partnership as against authority in marriage, and (some of us anyway)
the pleasures of the here-and-now to the traditional values of religion. To a
medieval audience, however, Professor Robertson says, "He who allows his
wife to dominate him will be served as the Wife of Bath seeks to serve her
husbands; he who allows the flesh to dominate the spirit will find it a tyrant
like the wife; and, finally, he who disregards the spirit of the Scriptures in favor
of experience will find himself enslaved to the Old Law, unredeemed by the
'freedom wherewith Christ hath made us free.' 13







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


into social, moral, intellectual, and even mythic terms. Meaning is
not a static set of relevancies, but a dynamic process of trans-
forming one kind of relevancy, unconscious, to another, conscious.
Sometimes, as in the Wife's Tale, the transformation reverses the
unconscious fantasy, making what is fearful desirable. Other sto-
ries, like the Playboy joke, are more like a sublimation, making il-
licit wishes conform to moral demands. But all stories-and all lit-
erature-have this basic way of meaning: they transform the un-
conscious fantasy discoverable through psychoanalysis into the con-
scious meanings discovered by conventional interpretation.
We can represent this transformation, this special status of psy-
choanalytic "meaning," graphically. We begin with a text which is,
ultimately, a discrete collection of words:
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
The text has a direction; it begins, progresses, and ends. But a
skilled reader also gives the text meaning by making connections
between all the parts of the text, regardless of direction or position.
He makes it, in Frye's phrasing, "a simultaneous pattern radiating
out from a center, not a narrative moving in time." As I see it, the
skilled reader abstracts recurring images, incidents, characters,
forms, and all the rest into certain themes. In the Wife's Tale, for
example, he finds themes of male-female, withholding-giving, words-
experience, old-young, and so on. We can represent this abstraction
into themes as a kind of "stretching" of the text:
Central meaning


Particular
themes



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Text
Some readers might then take the final step of abstracting all these
several themes into a single, central, nuclear "meaning" such as
"authority and submission."







LITERATURE AS TRANSFORMATION


If psychoanalytic themes and meaning were like the rest, they
would fit simply as one particular grouping into this general pic-
ture. But the fantasies the psychoanalytic reading discovers have a
special status: infantile, primitive, bodily, charged with fear and
desire, we know from clinical evidence they involve the deepest
roots of our cumulating lives. Nor can they be abstracted as other
meanings can, by the commonsensical, "square" categories of or-
dinary experience or logic. Rather, they come together by the curi-
ous, abrupt groupings known as primary-process thinking: conden-
sations, displacements, symbolizations, projections, splitting, klang
associations, and the like. We need therefore to represent the psy-
choanalytic reading and the primary-process connections among its
themes in a special, pre-logical way:

Central meaning


Particular
themes



XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Text
Particular
themes



Central fantasy
Consciously, we arrive at the psychoanalytic reading by a process
not unlike our approach to other kinds of meaning. We abstract
images, incidents, characters, forms, and the rest into certain psy-
chological themes: man-woman, mother-child, castration-gratifica-
tion, coercion-submission, and so on. It is more necessary than in
ordinary reading to pull these together into the central fantasy
known from clinical evidence: if I am phallicly coercive, mother
will castrate me; if I submit, she will gratify me. It is more neces-
sary to think the psychoanalytic reading through to its ultimate
form, because it is this ultimate form of the fantasy that generates






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


our response. It is from such deep and fearful roots of our most
personal experience that literature gets its power and drive.
We shall return to this picture again and again, for it represents
in at least a concise and, I hope, a helpful way "the dynamics of
literary response." We shall, however, have to develop it further,
for a number of things are missing. Most important, we have been
able so far to represent only the text, not the reader. If he appears
at all, he is only the invisible agent of this "stretching" of a dis-
crete collection of words. We have talked about meaning, but not
form (which will appear in Ch. 4). Especially lacking is an account
of the role of language (Ch. 5).
But we have made a beginning. We have been able to see at
least a major force in the pleasure we get from literature. Literature
transforms our primitive wishes and fears into significance and co-
herence, and this transformation gives us pleasure. It is this trans-
formation of deep personal feelings that Freud called, "the inner-
most secret," "the essential ars poetica" in which the writer "soft-
ens the egotistical character of the daydream." It is this act of
meaning that transmutes in laymen's terms, "something that's only
of interest to yourself" into "something that is worth something to
everybody."
What is worth something to everybody, though, is not the gen-
eral statement that informs the literary work, the "moral" of the
story, but our pleasure in the act of transformation which reaches
that moral (or social, intellectual, religious, or philosophical)
theme. Fantasy gives force to conscious meaning, but conscious
meaning mollifies and manages our deepest fears and drives. If we
wish to see literature in its fullness, then, we must deal not with
conscious meaning alone or unconscious alone, but the transforma-
tion of each into the other. As so often in literary matters, either-or
must give way to both-and, the point not only the loathly lady
makes, but even the ferociously charitable Wife of Bath herself.








2 A Dictionary of Fantasy













People have fantasies. That quite commonplace, extraliterary fact is
one of two postulates on which this book rests. The other is also an
empirical observation: whatever their sect, literary critics find cen-
tral or core ideas that permeate and inform the literary work-this
is what we mean when we say literary works have "organic unity."
Psychoanalytic critics find a core of fantasy; other kinds of critics
find cores of social, biographical, political, philosophical, moral, or
religious meaning.
Given these two postulates, we can begin to build. People have
dreams and daydreams in which they gratify wishes and impulses,
experience or allay fears. People have had and will have such fan-
tasies all their lives. They must, in order to act, for one must imag-
ine an action to perform it. Fantasies, moreover, occupy a special
prior and primitive place in our mental life, and, therefore, a psy-
choanalytic reading of a literary work in terms of fantasy also has a
special status. It is not simply a reading parallel to other readings
from ideologies, Marxist, Swedenborgian, Christian humanist, or
whatever; it is the material from which other such readings are
made.
Psychoanalysis is not an ideology. Rather, it is clinical and expe-
riential, and the fantasy it discovers in a literary work provides a
base for our experience of that work just as fantasies-projections,






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


imaginings, anticipations-provide a base for our experience of life
itself. They are the stuff of childhood from which adult thinking
grows. Even in adult life, as dreams clearly show, unconscious in-
fantile fantasies provide the force behind mature, conscious wishes.
That, then, is the special and wonderful thing about literature: it
does for us in an intense, encapsulated form what we must do for
ourselves as we mature in life-it transforms primitive, childish
fantasies into adult, civilized meanings.
The vast literature on the kinds of fantasies people are likely to
have (either as wish fulfillment or anxiety mastery) enables us to
set up a kind of dictionary of the fantasies we can expect to find
literature transforming. And here we come upon the strange and
astonishing farrago of wishes, impulses, complexes, and fears that
people so often dismiss as "psychoanalysis." We should remember,
though, that when we speak of particular impulses and particular
defenses against them, we are very close to the immediate data of
couch and clinic. These are not "constructs" or "hypotheses" or
"intervening variables" but things that many people have directly
observed in dreams, in children's play, and in the psychoanalyses of
both children and adults.
A child develops, according to psychoanalytic observations, in a
series of phases, customarily distinguished by the part of his body
or family which gives the child most pleasure-or conflict-at the
time. For our purposes, we can enlarge the customary f pbases
and list seven: oral, anal, urethral, phallic, oedipal, latent (or
latency, during which the child renounces his oedipal wishes), and
genital (the period of puberty and after). Of course, children do
not behave so neatly as adults with schemes might wish. Phases
overlap, and no one phase excludes the others from importance.
Indeed, in normal development, these phases cumulate, so that
successful mastery of conflict in one is a precondition for develop-
ment in the next. Unresolved conflicts will persist, finding expres-
sion in the new idiom of the next stage. It is common, in clinical
psychoanalysis, to trace the influence of early issues even to the end
of life. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


Because these phases cumulate, we begin to develop a life style
quite early. One can see recognizable personality types in any kin-
dergarten class, and by the time we reach latency or puberty, we
have become quite individual. As a result, we cannot say very much
about the role the fantasies of latency and puberty play in our re-
sponse to literature. They do play an important part, but fantasies
at this level of maturity, and, a fortiori, in the adulthood beyond,
are far too various to be generalized about. Our dictionary must be
confined to oral, anal, urethral, phallic, and oedipal fantasies-
beyond them, no dictionary is possible.1
Psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, and psychologists, however, when
they discuss the fantasies embodied in literary works, like to use
terms like narcissism, masochism, homosexuality-clinical entities
for adults which are more familiar to the practicing therapist. The
therapist, except in psychoanalysis proper, is less likely to be con-
cerned with the childhood roots of adult personality. As a literary
critic, though, I much prefer to look at the fantasies in literary
works through what we know of the fantasies typical of the various
(libidinal hes associated with child development. Needless to say,
both types of description are close to clinical observation (though
of different kinds). And neither contradicts the other: the libidinal
phases of childhood have in them the seeds of the adult clinical
entities.
Admittedly, it sounds odd to describe so-and-so as "an anal
writer" or a given work as "an oral story" or a "phallic poem."
Nevertheless, I prefer the phasic descriptions, for the reference of
literature to the child suggests the universality of its appeal better
than does referring to the more individualized adult. Also, develop-
mental notions reveal the organic continuity of literary works. Plays
and stories usually reach from the most primitive oral fantasies to
complicated oedipal ones, just as, clinically, a man's earliest experi-
ences of loss or anxiety provide a style for their later equivalents.
Because an approach to literature through libidinal phases suggests
such a continuing style, one can often see strikingly direct and per-
vasive connections between the writer and his work, between his







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


literary style and his life style. A writer may never live out the
adult masochistic fantasies embodied in his works, but the libidinal
level of childhood conflict at the root of those literary fantasies will
necessarily show in his life. Erikson, for example, has repeatedly
shown this kind of continuity in his biographical studies.
Most important, though, and as we shall now see in some detail,
notions like orality and anality lead us directly to images, which
are, for the literary critic, probably his richest source of insight. In
general, I think, an approach to literature in terms of adult syn-
dromes reveals things about plot and character, but an approach
through the libidinal phases opens up the additional possibility of
talking about language, a topic all too often missing in psycho-
logical studies of literature.

The earliest phase is that period in infancy when our life re-
volves around what goes in and what comes out of the mouth, the
oral phase. The key transaction in this developmental phase is "self-
bjectdufrentiatn." As Freud describes it,

An infant at the breast does not as yet distinguish his ego from
the external world as the source of the sensations flowing in
upon him. He gradually learns to do so, in response to various
promptings. He must be very strongly impressed by the fact
that some sources of excitation, which he will later recognize as
his own bodily organs, can provide him with sensations at any
moment, whereas other sources evade him from time to time-
among them what he desires most of all, his mother's breast
-and only reappear as a result of his screaming for help. In
this way there is for the first time set over against the ego an
"object," in the form of something which exists "outside" and
which is only forced to appear by a special action.

In this way, then, the ego detaches itself from the external
world. Or, to put it more correctly, originally thtjegqincludes
eveything,Jater it separates off an external world from itseff
Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of
a much more inclusive-indeed, an all-embracing-feeling
which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego
and the world about it.2






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


To reword Freud, the very young child does not distinguish "out
there" from "in here." Only by being able to wait for, expect, trust
in, the reappearance of a nurturing other, does he begin to sense
that there is a world which is not a part of himself. Only by recog-
nizing that other as a being separate from himself does he recognize
himself as a bounded entity.
In literature, this earliest phase appears as fantasies of losing the
boundaries of self, of being engulfed, overwhelmed, drowned, or
devoured, as in Poe's stories of being buried alive. But these fan-
tasies can also be of a benevolent merger or fusion, as when Chau-
cer's bridegroom gets a "bath of blisse." Both the Playboy joke and
the Wife of Bath's Tale reveal their oral basis by the presence of
an all-powerful, maternal woman.
Often, when literary works ask us to enter an environment ex-
plicitly labeled as fantastic, we are being asked to mige-oraUll into_
that new world, be it of romance, fairytale, utopia, or science-
fiction. We must "trust" this new world as we would a nurturing
mother, take it in and be taken into it. Sometimes, the eat-or-be-
eaten quality of the fantasy becomes quite explicit as in "Hansel
and Gretel" or Golding's Pincher Martin where the hero finds
himself shipwrecked and starving on a mid-Atlantic rock which
turns out to be his own tooth.
Freud notes adult experiences that stem from this earliest oral
fusion and merger. "Normally," as adults, "there is nothing of
which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, of our own
ego. This ego appears to us as something autonomous and unitary,
marked off distinctly from everything else."
There is only one state-admittedly an unusual state, but not
one that can be stigmatized as pathological-in which it does
not do this. At the height of being in love the boundary be-
tween ego and object threatens to melt away. Against all the
evidence of his senses, a man who is in love declares that "I"
and "you" are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a
fact.3
Not unnaturally, the child comes to link (as so many metaphors
do) love with food: "Honey, you're sweet," or, as Shakespeare calls






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


it, "eating love." "There is no love," says Shaw's Jack Tanner,
sincerer than the love of food."
There is another state in which the adult feels fusion, Freud ad-
mits (though evidently "one that can be stigmatized as patholog-
ical"), the "oceanic feeling" of the mystic. We would expect, then,
to find poems and stories about love or about religious mysticism
based on fantasies of oral merger. But such fantasies can appear in
almost any context:
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.
Not only the final line but the very ambiguity of the word
"mouth" (the beaker's or Keats's?) carries out a typical fantasy
and mood of fusion with an environment, devoured and devour-
ing.
Because the oral phase occupies the earliest period when self and
object are still not clearly differentiated, this first phase is impor-
tant for establishing our ability to trust external realities, especially
other people. It is important, too, for establishing what we might
call our abilities to do nothing, to be passive, to wait. These traits
can become too overdone in the adult personality: typically, the
S mingerer, the addict, the alcoholic, have been disturbed in this
first phase of orality, and stories about them tend to show its
traces. Erikson describes the basic issues of the oral stage as getting
and giving in return; these personalities are disturbed in this mo-
dality. In West's Miss Lonelyhearts, for example, the hero perceives
the demands of others upon him as though they were devouring
him; for him, as for Christ his mentor, to give unto others is to be
devoured oneself. "Body of Miss L, nourish me."
In the first half of the oral stage, the child is passive and depen-
dent. At about the age of six months, he becomes able to put
things in his own mouth or spit them out-the child also learns to






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


bite. The first half of the oral phase is therefore known as the pas-
sive part; the second half as the sadistic part, because one of the
characteristic oral wishes is the desire to incorporate into oneself
both the wished-for and the feared contents of the mother's body,
an aggressive return to the original at-oneness. The child's putting
things in his mouth really means making them a part of himself
(incorporation, a precursor of introjection and identification). By
making them a part of himself, he ensures that they will always be
with him, that they will be unable to do him harm, that they will
never be there-outside. The wish to incorporate is a fusion of lov-
ing and destructive impulses, wishes to destroy and wishes to unite
with,4 as in the Keats passage.
The kinds of images in a literary work that would make you ex-
pect you are dealing with an oral situation are, naturally enough,
almost anything to do with the mouth or with "taking in": biting,
sucking, smoking, inhaling, talking, and the like; or their correla-
tives, food, liquor, tobacco, and especially words, particularly
curses, threats, and vows, words which "bite," constituting a kind
of action in themselves. A common defense against oral fusion and
merger is putting something out of the mouth instead of taking
something in; the something is usually speech, as in a great deal of
Shakespeare's or Lawrence's writing, though it may be almost any-
thing-in the Keats poem, it is the nightingale's "pouring forth thy
soul abroad" that signifies the bird is "not born for death."
Still another development of the oral phase has to do with e
ing-"feasting one's eyes." We "take in" through our eyes, and
unconsciously, to look at is to eat, as when we "devour" books. Of-
ten this looking can became aggressive, as in various fantasies of
the evil eye. Conversely, seeing secret things can bring down dread
punishments, death, or castration,5 as in so many horror or gang-
ster movies: "He's seen too much. Get rid of him." Characteristic
of oral fantasies is either-or thinking; thus, absolute words often go
with oral fantasies: every, all, never, no, and the like, as in Mar-
lowe. Such words create issues of fusion and merger as they both
create and blur distinctions.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


In the early oral phase, the child associates his mouth chiefly
With a sense of dependency, of receiving things through the mouth.
One of his principal fears is a fear of betrayal, that a source of
comfort or power (his mother) will be taken away by a rival (a
parent or sibling). Similarly, the child, when he is older, may imag-
ine that the conception of children somehow takes place through
eating (as in certain Melanesian myths), or that birth takes place
through the child's emerging from the mouth (as in some creation
myths).
In the second (sadistic) oral stage, the child thinks of mouths as
a threat. He may imagine himself devouring or being devoured, be-
ing sucked dry, or getting rid of things by eating them (a great deal
of science fiction seems to embody these fantasies). The child may
imagine that he empties the mother's body by devouring out of it
various threatening objects (maybe his forthcoming sibling rivals).
The child may think of himself as incorporating threatening ob-
jects into himself by eating them. In adult life, this defensive eat-
ing could become the attempt to create a cushioning, defensive
wall of fat between oneself and the rest of the world (as perhaps
Falstaff does).
Of all the different levels of fantasy in literature, the oral is the
most common (at least in my range of reading). Apparently, just
as in life the sense of trust and of self that we obtain in this first
phase underlies all our subsequent development, so literature seems
to build on orality. No matter what other issues from later stages
appear in a literary work, one almost always finds at the core some
fantasy of oral fusion and merger. Dr. Edmund Bergler has sug-
gested that all writers are involved in this deepest of human wishes;
that\Triters emit words as a way of defending against the fearful
desire to obliterate oneself in a total at-oneness with some primal
mother.6 It may be so-at least, fantasies of and defenses against
primitive wishes for fusion appears in almost all literature.

At the age of about a year, the child enters on the second phase
(which, of course, cumulates upon the first): the anal phase.7 The






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


child feels pleasure in its acts of excreting, but there are two con-
flicting sources of pleasure, elimination and retention. Further,
these pleasures conflict with the child's growing wish to control
and master its own impulses. Still further, at this time, the first
moral (if I may call them that) demands are made upon the child.
He begins to be told not to do things; he begins to be trained to
obey rules and laws. At the same time, he becomes aware of what
words mean and begins to make them himself, and all these things
get mixed up. His first moral imperative comes in the field of toilet
training: some psychoanalyst with a happy gift for phrase has
called it "sphincter morality."
The question of 1oolding onto or giving up this part of his body
becomes of paramount importance, both to himself and to his par-
ents. A good deal of his language and theirs is devoted to com-
mands and decisions on this matter, and therefore, it is, oddly
enough, as much in this anal stage as in the oral that attitudes to-
ward language are formed. The earlier polarity, activity-passivity,
now~ak -n the form defiance-submission, and it is in this phase
that lifelong habits about rage, giving up, or giving in are formed.
The child is likely to feel that he is being forced to give up a trea-
sured part of himself, perhaps even a living being like himself. He
may confuse the process of defecation with that of giving birth,
both taking place in about the same covered and tabooed part of
the anatomy. The child's confusion as to whether his excrement is
a living thing or not may grow into a confusion between people
and objects and a tendency to treatpeoplelike objets or objects
like people. "My daughter! Oh, my ducats!"
In this same phase, the child learns for the first time disgust, and
he learns to distinguish objects which are precious and valuable
from those to which we are indifferent. He forms attitudes toward
Messiness or neatness and towards retaining and possessing things.
One of the most important results of this phase for the adult is the
gradual metamorphosis of the child's wish to keep within himself
his precious productions. He learns to transfer his desire to keep
and collect things onto objects less disgusting to others, although






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


to his housecleaning mother, the dirt, insects, frogs, or other small
animals or vermin that he is likely to shift his interests to, do not
seem much of an improvement. Later on, by reversal, he will begin
to collect such things as shells or stones, which others regard as at-
tractive. Finally, his interest in holding onto things can develop
into adult pastimes likevcollecting such beautiful and precious ob-
jects as postage stamps, coins, or (if he is prosperous) Yoney, gold
or jewels. "The art of our necessities is strange," Shakespeare says,
"that can make vile things precious." A writer, often, will collect
vjargons-take them into himself, then excrete them in his works-
in the manner of Ben Jonson or Thomas Wolfe.
"Anal writing" is very striking, easy to recognize once one has
met the type. Images of IdirLare the essential clue. The oral fan-
tasies of being engulfed or devoured become, in anal writing, fears
of being enveloped by what is foul, dirty, or sordid. Realists (such
as Jonson) tend to be anal writers. Often, though, the anal writer
will escape the grimy reality that threatens to engulf him into
idealism, frequently seen as a foggy, misty, or impossibly pure
other, as, for example, the sky or air or star Gerard Manley Hop-
kins so often refers to or, in Gogol's Dead Souls, Chichikov's
wishes for the governor's daughter, pure and bland "as a small
newly laid egg."
As for imagery, one finds in anal writings a preoccupation with
dirt, with smells, particularly those which evoke disgust, and then
with their transformations: fog, mist, sweet smells, pure air, light,
even, ultimately, logos, the word of God. By this mechanism of
"displacement upwards," the ear may come to stand for the anus
-sounds are common anal images. The child-in-us may uncon-
sciously fantasy that insemination takes place by fluids or air or
words entering the ear (as in various paintings of the Annunciation
analyzed by Ernest Jones). Anal fantasies tend to stress laws and
rules, particularly meticulous, precise, petty behavior, which deals
especially with collecting or excessive cleanliness or rituals. Control,
either by oneself or by another, is an important theme.
Another theme of anality is doing things in time: thus, impa-







A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


tience, procrastination, or things running by fits and starts would
suggest that we are dealing with an anal fantasy, as would a con-
cern with precise timing. Often, an intricately "musical" develop-
ment of themes and images, as in Mann's Death in Venice or
Mailer's An American Dream, will accompany, as in those two nov-
els, anal themes like dirt, corruption, the devil, and intercourse a
tergo.
An important anal theme in literature is dehumanization: What
is dead and what is living? More exactly, what is autonomous and
what is controlled by another as a thing would be? The child or
the child-in-us (the adult unconscious) tends to regard his excre-
ment as a precious object, perhaps even a living part of himself.
Thus the child may fantasy that the column of feces within him is
either a phallus or a baby, and many anal fantasies are concerned
with puzzles about whether things are living or not, animate or in-
animate. A common anal survival involves thinking of people as
things (like Dickens's mechanical types) or as possessions or in
terms of the amount of money that-can--be gotten out of them, as
in Jonson's plays. In general, a preoccupation with getting things
out of other people or thinking of oneself as being forced to deliver
things-these are common anal fantasies.
Closely linked to the anal phase is the so-called urethral phase.8
Somewhat later in time, this period is nevertheless also marked by
an interest in retaining or releasing, but the objects retained or re-
leased are not solids but Au!D The child will have fantasies about
wetting, drowning, or their opposites, such as fire. The anal aspect
of the child's development seems to relate to the ability to follow
rules and laws; the urethral aspect seems to determine his ability to
wait or, put in adult terms, to think conceptually in terms of con-
sequences rather than act on whim or impulse-the psychopath or
the beatnik are typical urethral types. The restless early novels of
Jack Kerouac instance quite fully the urethral in literature, for ex-
ample, the final image of On the Road: urinating off the back of
a speeding truck. The urethral stage is not markedly separate from
the anal, but there are some images which have specifically urethral







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


connotations, particularly those of re an_ -streqms, flowing and
wetting of all kinds. Abstractions seem to be associated with iire-
thral processes, as does constant movement or a sense of restless-
ness, urgency, or discomfort, as, for example, "burning ambition."

After the urethral stage, the child enters upon the most complex
phase of infantile development, the phallic.* The child discovers
that his genitals give especial pleasure and, moreover, that adults
have very special attitudes towards those particular parts. The phal-
lus with its power to stand erect becomes identified with the boy's
own recently acquired power to stand up and his other skills such
as talking.
That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman,
so Valentine in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Seeing, learning, or
otherwise prying into things lend significance to the phallus. Con-
versely, to be without a phallus is to be feminized, helpless, liable
to be overwhelmed. Thus, the fear of castration or other body
damage represents a later form of earlier fears-of being over-
whelmed and engulfed (oral) or of being robbed of part of your
body (anal).9 Now, the fear is of loss of autonomy and capability,
a basis for our fantastically complicated adult attitudes toward the
genitals. We cover them, surround them with secrecy and elaborate
restrictions, yet often genital rituals such as circumcision or cutting
off hair play a part in the most sacrificial gestures of human life.
The child's discovery of the pleasure associated with his genitals
and the fact that they are somewhat taboo and secret give rise to
terrible pressures in his relations with the big people around him
on whom he is absolutely dependent. These parts of his body be-
come a source of trouble and anxiety, yet at the same time they are
all he has with which to compete with his father; in fact, they
seem to be his only key to becoming an adult. Life itself seems
bound up in these parts of him-one could call the feeling a body-
* Though many psychoanalytic writers do not draw a distinction between a
phallic and an oedipal phase, for our purposes, it is useful.






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


phallus equation. The most terrible tortures adults dream up, am-
putations, mutilations, blindings, and the like, symbolize this earli-
est feared punishment. Similarly, because the child's interest in his
genitals is involved with his sexual knowledge and discoveries, his
mind itself can sometimes serve as a symbol for these parts of his
body. Thus, it is a widely held but medically very naive belief that
sexual over-indulgence will be followed by insanity (another castra-
tion symbol, namely, removing "mental potency").
At this stage of development, the phallus becomes the visible
and narcissistic embodiment of one's own autonomy, a precious
possession, equivalent almost to the self, loss of which would be
equal to or worse than, death itself, just as adults (soldiers, for ex-
ample) tend to fear amputation or blinding more than death.
Eyes, hands, legs, head, or mind can all symbolize the phallus in
castration fantasies. In Apuleius' The Golden Ass, for example,
hair symbolizes the phallic self and is torn out or cut off accord-
ingly. Phallic fantasies often symbolize the phallus by the whole
body; then phallic fantasies can become stories of poking or prying
into things, particularly in a fearful or helpless way, as in The
Golden Ass or Through the Looking-Glass; thus, almost any
strongly aggressive or assertive plot is likely to be phallic. Medieval
tales of quest, ordeal, or trial (as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
or the Wife of Bath's Tale) typically build on fantasies of the
body as a phallus entering fearful places. So do their modern
equivalents, Hemingway's stories endlessly measuring manhood.
Stories that sharply distinguish the sexes (as most of Chaucer's or
Boccaccio's do) are usually dealing with phallic issues, as, con-
versely, are stories that bring in homosexuality. A Restoration com-
edy, for example, often builds on the contrasts among an effemi-
nate, foppish man, a ridiculous anal character who withholds
money and sex, and a dashing cavalier who readily risks himself in
all kinds of phallic ways. This hovering between phallic and anal
levels occurs very often in literature, but, from my own experience,
I would say that the single most common fantasy-structure in liter-
ature is phallic assertiveness balanced against oral engulfment:






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


Marlowe, Conrad, Lawrence, Shakespeare provide a few of many
possible examples-as are the Playboy joke and the Wife of Bath's
Tale.
The child's fear of castration in the phallic phase is complicated
by his habit of magical thinking, which affects all the develop-
mental phases. That is, for the child, as for the adult unconscious
and all such seething brains and shaping fantasies, the thought be-
comes the deed, the word the thing, as though a mere word could
murder or a name harm. The child therefore fears that he can be
punished just as much for his thoughts as for what he does.
A large group of fantasies for literature stems from this childish
or primitive habit of mind known as animism, or the omnipotence
of thought. Images in such fantasies can be supernatural powers of
all kinds (either benevolent or threatening, both usually associated
with parent-figures): magic, the occult, transformation, verbal
formulas, and rituals (though these may also be related to anal fan-
tasies). Another group of images has to do with thinking things
into being, as in fears of the dark, telepathy or telekinesis, in gen-
eral, inanimate objects becoming animate. Often the root of such a
fantasy is the childish substitution of a mental power to create for
an adult genital power to procreate. In general, animistic fantasies
seem to deal with the child's sense of helplessness in the face of
some other nameless power (adult or supernatural), and a vast
number of ghost stories and tales of supernatural horrors build on
these fantasies. (Freud analyzed their method in "The 'Un-
canny.' ")
Closely linked to omnipotence-of-thought fantasies are those of
repetition. In some of his later essays, Freud pointed to the ten-
dency human beings have to get themselves into the same situa-
tions over and over; he termed this phenomenon the "repetition
compulsion" and regarded it as characteristic of all basic drives.
Obvious images for such a compulsion are cycles and circles of all
kinds. Hitchcock's film Vertigo, for example, brilliantly develops
this cluster of fantasies and symbols. Often, the repetition compul-
sion manifests itself in a sense of "I've been here before" (partic-






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


ularly useful in ghost stories); such a sense symbolizes a wish to re-
turn to one's warm, hungerless paradise before birth, or in the
somewhat misleading layman's phrase, "return to the womb." We
can see this fantasy in the equation of womb and tomb, the love-
deaths of Romeo and Juliet, for example, or Antony and Cleo-
patra. We seem to associate this cyclical sense of reality with
women in general, the mother in particular, or with the three rela-
tions a man has to woman: mother, mate, and "mother earth,"
that Ingmar Bergman so often uses. Also, this cyclical sense of do-
ing things in time and a corresponding interest in birth and death
(the animate becoming inanimate) finds a natural form of expres-
sion in anal fantasies as well as in animistic.
A particularly rich and complex set of fantasies stems from the
child's thoughts about what adults do when they are alone, partic-
ularly what they do with the organ which has become so important
to him, and by his own curiosity about where he came from. He
has what the psychoanalysts call "primal scene fantasies," which
form the basis for a later interest in watcing drama and other
performances.10
The child imagines that he watches or hears his parents in the
act of love. He brings to his fantasies the confused impressions he
may have from such a sight in actuality, from having watched ani-
mals, or simply from having seen his parents in their nightclothes
come in to see him after he has gone to bed or when he gets up in
the morning. He may think of sex in terms of the strange noises he
would hear at night in even the most discreet of households.
The child apparently imagines the sexual act as a struggle fol-
lowed by a death-like sleep." He may regard his father's phallus as
a weapon with which he wounds the mother. "He cares not what
mischief he does, if his weapon be out," Mrs. Quickly says of Fal-
staff, "He will spare neither man, woman nor child." The child may
regard his mother's body as a trap, a Hell or darkness or sulphurous
pit which engulfs that precious organ. Excited and frightened, the
child may imagine the scene with himself watching it, and he may
also imagine the scene with himself playing his father's role. Yet,






46 THE MODEL DEVELOPED
knowing that this downright way of creation is a matter his parents
surround with the greatest secrecy and taboo, feeling that his
thoughts are a kind of deed, the child fears that his father will re-
taliate with the most terrible mutilating punishments imaginable.
One hnds several clusters of images in such fantasies: first, dark-
ness, a sense of vagueness and the unknown, mysterious noises in
night and darkness; second, vague movements, shapes shifting and
changing, nakedness, things appearing and disappearing; third,
images of fighting and struggling, blood, the phallus as weapon-
Macbeth is virtually a thesaurus of primal scene imagery. Con-
versely, the fantasy may be defended against in images of quiet-
ness, motionlessness, or death, as with so many of Donne's pairs of
lovers, enraptured, entombed, separating, or getting out of bed.
Explicit images for such primal scene fantasies are those of watch-
ing, peeping, and spying, as in Hitchcock's Rear Window, which is
a theme and variations on a primal scene fantasy. Other common
symbols are watching performances such as a stage play or a movie
or television. The question, What's happening? may lead back to
another set of fantasies and wonderings, Where did I come from?

A very special and important set of unconscious fantasies are
those arising from the oedipus complex. According to psycho-
analytic observation, even as adults we tend to respond to others as
we responded in our first relations with other people, in other
words, as we responded to our family. Every woman in our lives is
partly a mother, every man partly a father. Almost any interper-
sonal relationship has oedipal elements, and, by the same token,
any work of art dealing in depth with relations of love and hate
between people is likely to contain some oedipal fantasies.
Thus, when we move from pregenital-oral, anal, phallic-
fantasies to the oedipal level, we make an important transition
both in life and letters: from solitary or one-to-one relations with_
others toAbecomplicated triangles and quadriaterals of adult rela-
tionships. "Preoedipally," notes Dr. Maxwell Gitelson, "the people
around a child are either good or bad, gratifying or nongratifying,







A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


positive or negative. Only in the oedipal situation do they become
clearly differentiated into male and female with positives and neg-
atives attached to both." 12 It is safe to say, as a general rule, that
a work of literature builds on an oedipal fantasy whenever it deals
with relat shi volyvingmore than two 'persons or whenever it
makes us feel fairly realistic versions of adult love or hate, not, for
example, the simple primitivity of

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove . .

Lyrics almost always tend to be highly stylized and the poet is usu-
ally a solitary singer. Lyrics, thus, are almost inevitably pre-oedipal,
while oedipal fantasies are confined to drama, cinema, and narra-
tive (though these may be pre-oedipal, too). Mdrchen and fairy
stories are often oedipal, but oedipal fantasies mostly express them-
selves in fairly realistic plots and characters, accompanied by pre-
oedipal versions of the core fantasy in images and symbols and epi-
sodes (as in the Wife of Bath's Tale). The typical oedipall story"
contains in it earlier forms of the later developmental issues; it has
a built-in range of psychic levels. Thus, most of the greatest litera-
ture-Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, The Brothers Karamazov, and the
like-builds from an oedipal fantasy. Nevertheless, it is a curious
but, I think, accurate estimate that far more good literature builds
on pre-oedipal materials than on oedipal, despite the built-in range
of oedipal fantasies. Paradoxically, the great bulk of cheap fiction
and drama is oedipal-nominally, therefore, more mature.
The oedipus complex itself is an outgrowth of earlier phases.
Even in early infancy, the child has longed for the exclusive pos-
session of his mother; he has wished there were no competing de-
mands on her time, that the father and any siblings were out of
the way, that he had to keep no corner in the thing he loved for
others' uses. By the phallic phase, however, these oedipal wishes
are complicated by his own greater powers of thought and deed
and by his confused awareness of what sex is like between adults.
In the lurid imagery of childhood imaginings, he wishes to kill or







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


castrate his father and then possess his mother absolutely, that is,
in the aggressive, violent struggle he understands as sex.
His fears of mutilation are suddenly augmented by the horrified
realization that half the world's population have, as it were, already
been castrated, that "as well a woman with a eunuch played / As
with a woman." He reinterprets the earlier polarity, active-passive,
in terms of his phallic concerns: to be active is to be masculine; to
be passive is to be feminine, that is, castrated.13 And he fears this
will really happen, because, after all, does he not wish to do the
same to his father?
Under the pressure of these intense wishes and fears, the little
boy accepts a compromise solution. He gives up, to a large extent,
his desire to replace his father in the father's relationship with the
mother (the positive oedipus complex), and he surrenders himself
to the father (the negative oedipus complex). He may even wish
to become a love object to the father in much the same role as his
mother. Ultimately, he decides (in normal development) that the
solution to his problem is to identify, to become one with the
father or as much like him as possible. He longs to know the se-
crets his father knows and to do the grown-up things his father
does.
The little girl's development is somewhat different because she
feels, as it were, that the damage has already been done. In her
case, the threat of castration is no longer meaningful. She, how-
ever, may give up the mother for a different reason, namely, that
the mother is contemptible in that she too has lost the precious or-
gan. The little girl may become as we say, a tomboy, trying to be as
like her father as possible. Even so, the pressure to identify with
the father is less. The little boy incorporates into himself his fears
of his father, and in this surrender develops his superego or con-
science, the basis for his later social behavior, in which his father's
commandment lives in his brain unmixed with baser matter. Freud
was fond of saying that in women the conscience was less devel-
oped.






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


In literature, then, the basic oedipus fantasy is the boy's longing
to become his father and make a child in his mother; or the girl's
to take her mother's place and have a child by her father. Similar is
the wish to be one's own father which tends to express itself in res-
cue fantasies; the child by rescuing his father proves his innocence
of any wish to kill him and at the same time by paying a life back,
as it were, he owns his own life free and clear of any father, as in
any number of Horatio Alger stories. A related group of fantasies
are those of poor or obscure birth: "My father is so insignificant
he is non-existent."
Other fantasies concern the mother. The child thinks of her in
the two Victorian extremes: she is either absolutely untouchable,
unattainable, pure, taboo, a virgin-mother, or she is a slut, common,
fickle, available to anyone (notably the father). So we see her in
Dickens, Thackeray, and many other English novelists. Freud iden-
tified another group of fantasies as the "family romance":"These
are not my parents, only my foster parents; my real parents are rich
and powerful and famous people who wish to remain anonymous
but are guiding my destiny from afar" (as in the Greek romances).
The anonymity symbolizes the taboo that surrounds the parents in
the child's oedipal thinking.
Similarly, the original incest fantasy can translate itself into al-
most any other incestuous relation: brother-sister, uncle-niece, or
into racial taboos. The child may translate the taboo into a sense of
secrecy, feeling that a parent or sibling has secretly betrayed or
tricked him in his deadly rivalry. In general, the forbidden love ob-
jects can be symbolized by any dark, unknown, obscure, banished,
or debased persons. Thoughts about visitors may project a wish
that the father were not here to stay or a fear that the mother may
go away. Naturally, such fantasies give rise to a good deal of guilt.
This guilt may be expressed abstractly, as in such concepts as orig-
inal sin or it may be imaged as, say, a money debt (which in turn
can regress to anal fantasies or rescue fantasies of paying one's par-
ents back, as Kafka's Metamorphosis). But behind the guilt, the






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


basic punishment the child fears is castration. The mutilation of
Rochester in Jane Eyre marks the achievement of oedipal wishes
-though of Jane's as much as his.
Once an author breaks through from pre-oedipal to oedipal
materials, his imagination seems to proliferate. Often, as in The
Brothers Karamazov, a variety of images of the basic triangle will
interact. Oedipal fantasies are especially various and hard to gener-
alize about, but they are easily identified by looking at the fictional
women as mothers and the fictional men as fathers and sons.

Beyond these oedipal fantasies, though, it becomes quite difficult
to generalize about our responses to literature, they become so
varied and individual. At the risk of being personal, let me give an
instance. One day I found myself quite entranced by the following
line from a Shakespearean sonnet in which time does various
things:
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow.
If we look at the line in terms of the deep fantasies we have listed,
it is not too difficult to see that it has to do with the anatomy of
older women. But that day I realized that the line was affecting me
especially because I had been thinking about two L-shaped rooms
important to me-and associated in my mind with older women.
How could one anticipate such a response? One can easily see that
the line plays with -el sounds, but it is impossible to say how they
might or might not affect any particular person at any particular
time. Paradoxically, then, a psychoanalytic reading can reveal
"deep" fantasies that many people are likely to experience in a lit-
erary work, but it cannot generalize about certain very intense
sources of pleasure at a relatively conscious level. They come from
one's own highly individual experience.
It is possible to get a rough idea of the relative roles of these two
kinds of appeal by considering the most basic division that marks
off individual from individual: gender. By and large, most of what
the child reads up to and during the oedipal phase appeals to both






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


boys and girls: the Pooh books, Wind in the Willows, fairytales,
adventure stories, and so on. During latency, much reading be-
comes sex-differentiated: Heidi, The Little Mermaid, or other
heroines for girls; Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and the boy-heroes
for boys.14 In cheap literature for adults, these differences persist
-the magazines of romance for women or adventure for men.
More sophisticated readers, though, do not differ by sex: men
enjoy Jane Austen, women, Hemingway. Probably, then, the
"deep" appeal of serious literature stems in large part from the fan-
tasies of the developmental phases prior to latency, before fantasies
and reading choice become markedly different for boys and girls.
In general, I think it is safe to say that the closer a piece of adult
literature is to raw fantasy, the later in development that fantasy
will be and the more individual our response to it. Think, for ex-
ample, of the James Bond or Mike Hammer novels built on violent
oedipal and post-oedipal fantasies. Conversely, the more the literary
work manages and disguises a fantasy, the deeper the level of the
fantasy will be and the less different will be our individual re-
sponses. The typical lyric, for instance, strongly manages a pre-
oedipal fantasy, and sophisticated readers, I think, tend to respond
more alike than unlike to a given lyric. Pornography, least modified
of literary fantasies, is written for men almost entirely, hardly at all
for women, and even so there are very different kinds of pornog-
raphy to appeal to each different taste.
To an adult, pornography seems at least a possible mode of real-
istic experience, while the deeper, childish fantasies we have con-
sidered seem far more absurd and ridiculous, if not downright dis-
gusting. Naturally. We become adults by adopting just that atti-
tude. Yet, if in a disinterested, scientific frame of mind we look for
these fantasies in the world of human behavior around us, the evi-
dence for them becomes quite overwhelming. In looking for the
unconscious content in human behavior, such a dictionary of recur-
ring fantasies as this (and it is by no means exhaustive) can only
serve as a clue or hint. Nevertheless, we can find these and other
fantasies and defenses recurring constantly in dreams, slips of the






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


tongue, cliches, jokes, advertising, myths, folklore, proverbs, and,
of course, in works of art of all kinds (even philosophies and scien-
tific disciplines). Phrases like "filthy lucre," "making a pile," or
Shakespeare's "vile gold," tying money to dirt, are typical anal sur-
vivals. Men often sow wild oats before they screw their courage to
the sticking point and put all their eggs in one basket. You would
hardly get married, though, to cut off your nose to spite your face
-and so on.

The psychoanalytic theory of literature holds that the writer ex-
presses and disguises childhood fantasies. The reader unconsciously
elaborates the fantasy content of the literary work with his own
versions of these fantasies (my L-shaped rooms, for example). And
it is the management of these fantasies, both his own and the
work's, that permits their partial gratification and gives literary
pleasure. Psychoanalytic studies by the hundreds demonstrate the
presence of these fantasies in literature.
Equally clearly, though, except for pornography, literature is not
just these fantasies-something happens to them. To see what that
something is, it is useful to know what happens to these fantasies
in life. To put the matter very briefly, they get defended against.
In life, a defense mechanism is an unconscious strategy of the ego,
put into effect automatically at a signal of danger from reality,
superego, or id. We learn defenses as part of growing up.
In the first months of life, we are not aware of ourselves as such;
we do not conceive of a self separate from the world around us,
and our drives operate in a mysterious manner, both chaotic and
inchoate. Sometime around the eighth month of life, we become
aware both of a self and of objects separate from the self, though
for the time being our drives take the self as an object rather than
something external. Gradually, the world external to the infant be-
comes clearer: his own body, the parts of his body, his mother, his
father, their bodies; and gradually, we can see the infant begin to
take the several parts of this world as the objects of his drives. But
the child cannot unite his self with the object he loves, his mother.






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


say. Reality denies him the direct and full satisfaction of his drive.
She disappoints him in this, he resents her, his love turns to hate
and he wishes to destroy her. But that, too, reality denies him. In-
deed, it would be a fearful thing were he to destroy the very source
of his well-being or even to wish such a thing.
There are, in short, dangers from without and dangers from
within, and out of them come the fears that condition the child to
modify his original, raw drives. From the differentiation of self and
object come defenses and adaptations. Double-edged, they are what
make maturity and character and also sickness and unhappiness.
Art and life, symptom and syllogism, joke and jeremiad, loves and
hates, virtually all that we know as living is a compromise between
the mighty opposites of drive and defense.
The most basic of defenses is repression which we can define as
keeping an idea or feeling from consciousness, as, for example, you
(and I) were thinking a few sentences ago, No, I never wished to
destroy my mother (though which of us did not at some time hit a
parent as hard as our tiny fists could). Repression defends against
the danger from within; for the danger from without, we use the
defense termed denial, not seeing something in reality we don't
want to see. Dickens's Mr. Podsnap has it down pat: "I don't want
to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't admit itl" De-
nial acts against perceptions of the outer world, repression against
perceptions of the inner.
Repression, in effect, buries alive an impulse or fear or feeling or
fantasy, buries "alive," because the drive does not lose its force,
and we constantly expend energy to hold down tabooed material.
We can see the energy in those jokes based (in Freud's phrase) on
"inhibitions we have already established." Further, the repressed
can return. Like the Lady of "The House of Usher," they rise up
from the tomb to trouble the living, either in their own form, or,
more typically, in some other.
The original drives to love and to hate, to unite with another or
to destroy another, turn up in all the variety of life itself. They are,
to use the technical term, displaced. That is, the value attributed






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


to one thing (the cathexis of aim or object) is taken from it and
put on another thing. For our limited purpose, the analysis of liter-
ature, we can somewhat oversimplify the various defenses as differ-
ent kinds of displacement corresponding to different qualities in
the thing displaced onto (with repression being the zero case of
displacing onto nothing else). Freud showed how pervasive dis-
placements are in jokes as in dreams. By seeing defenses as dis-
placements, we can extend his linking of dreams and jokes into a
model for literature in general.
For example, if the important attribute of the aim or object dis-
placed onto is that it is the opposite of the thing displaced from,
we would speak of reversal (if the object takes the opposite form)
or reaction-formation (if the aim takes the opposite form). Con-
sider, for example, how a censor's mind might be working. On the
surface, our hypothetical censor seems a man whose greatest wish
and preoccupation is to prevent others from seeing pornography;
we might guess, though, that this is a reversal of a repressed wish
to peer at pornography himself (and we might also note the "re-
turn of the repressed" in that his job as censor entitles him to do
just that). The Player Queen in Hamlet avows at great length her
love for her husband; the real Queen drily says, "The lady doth
protest too much, methinks," the classic phrasing of the mecha-
nism of reaction-formation. The Chorus comes to Oedipus as "the
man surest in mortal ways and wisest in the ways of God," and yet
he does not even know how or where he was born. In general,
irony, either as figure of speech or plot, saying or doing one thing
but meaning the opposite, corresponds to a defense of reversal.
The defense of undoing is akin to reversal or reaction-formation;
some types of neurotic try to wipe out an event or impulse by some
ritual action. For example, the childish ritual, "Don't step on the
crack or you'll break your grandmother's back," wipes out the hos-
tile impulse by a little magical trick of warding-off. Often, point-
ing a moral at the end of a story, as in Aesop or Ovid, is a way of
wrapping it up, tying it down, and cancelling it out.
Where the essential thing about the displacement is that it runs






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


from the self to the outside world, one would speak of projection.
In projection, says Freud, "An internal perception is supressed,
and, instead, its content, after undergoing a certain degree of dis-
tortion, enters consciousness in the form of an external percep-
tion." In Oedipus Rex, for example, the hero has no desire to kill
his father and possess his mother-the gods and oracles make him
do it. It is Aphrodite, not Phaedra, who makes Phaedra love Hip-
polytus. Our hypothetical censor is saying, "I don't want to look at
dirty pictures-they do." John Donne, no voyeur he, often speaks
of others watching him and his love.
The opposite of projection is introjection, where an impulse ini-
tially perceived as outside the self ("He hates me") is felt as un-
bearable there and brought inside where it cap be better (?)
handled-"I hate me." Introjection is one of the means by which
we internalize, put into ourselves, the superego whose "still, small
voice" reminds us of the values of our parents and society. Ham-
let's inscribing his father's command "Within the book and vol-
ume of my brain" is a classic instance of introjection. Thus, intro-
jection lies very close to the defense known as identification with
the aggressor: "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." Uriah Heep's hu-
mility masks this kind of identification which so clearly shows in
his subsequent tyranny. A closely related defense is turning against
the self: an impulse unacceptable if directed toward some object in
the outer world is turned inward against the self, as a child in a
rage at someone else will suddenly start striking himself, tearing his
own hair, or throwing a tantrum. "Young Goodman Brown" pun-
ishes himself for others' sins, because he cannot tolerate the idea of
their guilt. The Frankenstein story is one of impulses projected
outward, then returned upon the self; so also "Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde." Projection, introjection, identification with the aggressor,
turning against the self-all can be viewed as displacements of aim
or object from outer to inner world or vice versa.
Where the important feature of the displacement is the shifting
of aim or object from a dangerous present to an earlier, safer time,
one can call it regression-for example, when we speak of the







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


"good old days" (why are they always "good"?). In a novel or
movie, a flashback from a particular tense, climactic movement to
the background or cause would be a kind of regression. The
knight's giving up phallic drives to be mothered in the Wife of
Bath's Tale is regression, as is Silas Marner's initial movement from
mature heterosexual love to anal miserliness.
If the essential factor in the displacement is the breaking up of
one thing into several, the term is "splitting" or "decomposing."
For example, in Through the Looking-Glass, two different attitudes
toward the mother are split into the Red Queen and the White
Queen. For literary purposes, splitting is an extremely important
way of expanding an unconscious fantasy, because (I suppose)
nothing will quite so quickly elaborate a simple residue of child-
hood into a complex, multi-faceted work of art as the doubling or
splitting of characters. Consider, for example, the multitude of fa-
ther figures in Hamlet or Henry IV, Part I. Conrad's The Secret
Sharer (and many other of his novels), Dostoevsky's The Idiot and
The Brothers Karamazov, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, Euripides'
The Bacchae-these are only a few of the myriad works which split
off different psychological positions into different characters, their
common ancestry symbolized by kinship or juxtaposition.
The only form of defense which is more important to literature
than splitting is symbolization, which, for the purposes of this
somewhat oversimple classification, we can consider a displacement
from one thing to another based on a physical or psychic similarity
between the two. In this day and age, few of us have not heard of
phallic and feminine symbols-they have even penetrated the
nursery rhymes:

Jack be quick, Jack be nimble,
Jack jump over the phallic symbol.
We should note, however, that there are many other kinds of sym-
bols besides phallic and feminine ones. An archaeological past,
Freud shows in his analysis of Gradiva, can symbolize childhood.
In Through the Looking-Glass, snow symbolizes the mother (the
snow suggesting emotional coldness, but the context is reversal: "It






A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt"). Psycho-
analytic theory suggests that anything can acquire a symbolic value
to the unconscious, just as in figures of speech, anything can serve
in a simile, the trope that corresponds to the psychological process
of symbolization.
Symbolization lends itself to sublimation, the changing of a for-
bidden impulse or idea into something socially or morally accep-
table, or even more important, acceptable and pleasurable to the
individual's ego. Sublimation might be called "the normal defense"
in that it can be the basis for positive and healthy human adapta-
tions. So Silas Marner, by accepting a golden-haired child to love in
lieu of gold, progresses toward fatherhood. Closely akin to sublima-
tion is rationalization, finding intellectual reasons for something
patently illogical (as persons doing absurd acts under post-hypnotic
suggestions will do). Raskolnikov justifies what is essentially
mother-murder by a theory of Napoleonism. Such rationalizations,
though, can be the basis for valid intellectual endeavors, as when a
fear of being devoured drives so many of Shaw's radicals to sophis-
icated political and social positions. Often, the intellectual posi-
tion will symbolize its unconscious roots: the absurdism of Camus's
The Stranger intellectualizes the failure of mother-love.
Whenever we talk about symbols, however, it is most important
to remember that symbols are flexible and dynamic: they vary with
the context. They do not represent a code of one-to-one corre-
spondences that can be looked up in some "Freudian" dreambook.
The only one who can really tell what unconscious meaning a sym-
bol has is the one who is using or responding to it.

Repression, denial, reversal, reaction-formation, undoing, projec-
tion, introjection, identification with the aggressor, turning against
the self, regression, splitting, symbolization, sublimation, rational-
ization-these are the major defenses, themselves (usually) uncon-
scious against unconscious impulses. In order to extend Freud's
early model for jokes to literature in general, we have treated them
as different forms of displacement.15 To be exact, a defense is an
unconscious process of the ego which the ego puts into action






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


automatically at a signal of danger from the external world, the id,
or the superego. Such a thing, of course, happens in a mind rather
than a literary text.
What we have found, though, is that, just as literary works em-
body fantasies familiar from psychoanalytic experience, so they
handle these fantasies by techniques that resemble familiar defen-
sive or adaptive strategies. Irony looks like reversal or reaction-
formation; omission looks like repression or denial; improbable
causality in a story resembles projection; pointing a moral seems
like rationalization, and so on. While a few of these defenses (or
displacements) lend themselves to purely linguistic form (irony,
for example), most seem to shape plot. What, then, about the lan-
guage of literature? Does it correspond to any psychic techniques?
In Freud's essay on jokes,16 he distinguishes jokes based on dis-
placement, that is, conceptual jokes, jokes that could be translated
out of one language into another, from jokes based on condensa-
tion, that is, jokes which depend on a particular linguistic form,
such as a pun or cliche.* He is, in effect, implying that condensation
lies at the root of all particular linguistic effects in literature. Freud's
example is a joke of Heine's, about the poor lottery agent, Hirsch-
Hyacinth, who boasts of his relations with the wealthy Baron Roths-
child: "And, as true as God shall grant me all good things, . I
sat beside Solomon Rothschild, and he treated me quite as his equal
-quite famillionairely." The joke involves the compression into one
word of the words familiar, and Milliondr; the thought behind the
joke is, Rothchild treated me quite familiar, that is, so far as a Mil-
lionar can, and this Freud calls condensation: two or more lines of
thought combine in a single representative.
Such a process obviously has a great deal to do with the element
of brevity in wit. Less obviously, the process of making a joke this
way is very like the process of working up a dream; condensation
combines several hidden thoughts (the "latent content"). Thus

* By and large, students of translation have not followed up this extremely in-
teresting suggestion: that which can be translated looks like displacement, that
which cannot, like condensation, and both those second terms can be ex-
plicated empirically from clinical evidence.







A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


Freud notes, a merely laconic remark does not (usually) constitute
a joke-it lacks this quality of combining two or more hidden
thoughts. More importantly, he notes in passing that condensation
involves an economy, a point to which he will return and which
will turn out to be the central point of his study of jokes. Conden-
sation, then, would seem also to provide the basis for such purely
formal economies as rhyme, alliteration, stanza-form, and the like.
Further, condensation corresponds to what literary critics would call
ambiguity or, if the condensation is sharp and sudden, wit. In fact,
Ernst Kris and Abraham Kaplan have shown how Empson's fa-
mous "seven types of ambiguity" constitute different ways in which
unconscious symbols are overdetermined.7 Overdetermination in
turn (Freud's work had shown) corresponds to condensation in
jokes.
Condensation thus plays a role much more than simply lin-
guistic. In dreams, any particular element in the manifest dream
generally expresses several elements in the underlying dream
thoughts; and a single element in the dream thoughts will express
itself in several elements of the manifest dream. The dream
thoughts undergo a process of condensation into one expressive
element. And so in literature. For example, even a simple phallic
symbol can be many things depending on its unconscious "con-
text," the fantasy of which it is a part; and, moreover, it can mean
all these things at the same time. One group of fantasies might be
the aggressive and sadistic ones, those treating the phallus as a
weapon, as, for example, in the various Renaissance jokes about "dy-
ing" as a synonym for the sexual act or the Restoration metaphors
about "the wound of love." Then there are those jokes about Fal-
staff's "weapon" in Henry IV, Part II. The fantasy may be that the
phallus emits hot, poisonous, or corrosive fluids or, alternatively,
objects that give rise to children, eggs, seeds, and the like. Still an-
other group of phallic fantasies is associated with fears of amputa-
tion, mutilation, or blinding, which symbolize castration, in gen-
eral, tearing something off. The entire body may be an adventuring
and risked phallus. Such fantasies, however, may also be onanistic,
as in Freud's analysis of the recurring fantasy that "a child is being







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


beaten." In the context of onanism, the hands may be thought of
as dirty or stained or (by displacement) as phallic symbols them-
selves. Anything that keeps the hands busy, playing-cards, for ex-
ample, or a camera or tools can be defensive substitutes for a phal-
lus.
Alternatively, phallic symbols can be associated with the so-called
"phallic mother," a sort of single parent-figure prior to the child's
distinguishing his parents by sex, or a mother thought of as pun-
ishing like a father, or, in still another context, the phallic symbol
can represent the child's horrified realization of the difference be-
tween man and woman. In such "phallic mother" fantasies, the
breast can be thought of as a phallic symbol-or vice versa. The
mind itself, in contexts of "mental potency," can be a phallic sym-
bol. In short, the apparently simple notion of a phallus can be ex-
pressed in an astonishingly wide range of symbols. And sometimes,
Freud is supposed to have said, "A cigar is just a cigar." (Freud
was particularly fond of cigars.)
Usually, symbols do double duty, and fantasies overlap and inter-
lock in amazingly complicated ways. In Macbeth alone, the single
image of birds sometimes stands for a baby; sometimes it is a ve-
hicle for omnipotent thoughts (as in an omen or augury); some-
times it is a phallic symbol (with particular reference to the bird's
power to rise in the air); sometimes birds stand for parents-nest
builders-sometimes as scaly, beaky, threatening things or as a wish-
fulfilling reversal: parents are small and delicate. In even a short ly-
ric poem, you may find a half-dozen fantasies and symbols. Obvi-
ously, then, to go further in any quest for a psychology of audience
response, we need to look at particular works of literature, and so
we shall.

What this chapter, even though general, has gained for us is a
dictionary of fantasies-some guidelines as to what we are likely to
find in literary works if we look at them psychoanalytically. Obvi-
ously, any such list can give no more than guidelines, for the fan-
tasies children and adults have and re-experience in literature are







A DICTIONARY OF FANTASY


legion. We have also gained a very brief dictionary of psychological
defenses although they are even more numerous, variable, and idio-
syncratic than the fantasies. Nevertheless, even so brief a list offers
clues to their literary equivalents, those purely literary ways of han-
dling fantasies that, if they happened in a mind instead of on a
page, would look like psychological defenses-or adaptations or dis-
placements or condensations. We shall find labels like displace-
ment or reaction-formation are rarely specific enough to describe
literary techniques. Even these two inadequate dictionaries,
though, will serve to cue our expectations. Images of dirt signal
anal themes, patterns of irony are likely to be defensive reversals,
and so on.
Incidentally, in making up these dictionaries, our first notion-
literature as transformation-has been refined somewhat. Such a
model stems, ultimately, from Freud's study of jokes. He found
that dreams often have a joking quality-as John Updike once put
it, "Dreams are a series of ingenious puns." Freud therefore
studied jokes to show how the verbal techniques of the joke match
the verbal and visual processes of the dream. Our method has gone
further, to match the techniques of literature in general to mental
processes of a very general kind.
When we do, we find a model for the literary text that involves
the reader in different ways at different levels:
Central meaning
(supplied by reader and text)

Thematic
organization
(supplied by
reader and text)
Textas ( XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
perceived
perceid Formal handling,
analogous to
defenses
Reader's (supplied by text)
associations
Central fantasy Reader's
(supplied by text) associations






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


That is, a literary work presents itself as a text, written or spoken
or seen. You or I use our conscious knowledge of the language,
written, spoken, or visual (as, for example, our knowledge of what
close-up or flashback mean) to perceive the text as things we know
in life: people, events, objects, durations, and so on. Consciously,
we supply intellectual or other meaning to the text by the process
of successive abstraction described in Chapter 1.
Unconsciously, however, we bring quite other things to '7,: text,
for example, my association of L-shaped rooms to the -ci hands in
a line from Shakespeare. In our associations to small details of the
text, we are probably very personal and idiosyncratic. But the text
also presents us with a central core of fantasy that is evidently
much more universal, for we find the fantasies listed in our dic-
tionary very generally in literature and in both men and women.
Similarly, in dreams, our associations to a dream will have to do
with our immediate life situation, but the "deep" wish of the
dream will reach to a widely shared childhood experience. Also, as
in dreams, that nucleus of fantasy may be visible in several devel-
opmental forms at once, oral, anal, phallic, and oedipal.
The text, however, does not present us with the fantasy raw but
rather modified and shaped by manipulations that in literature are
usually called "form" but which resemble defenses in people. Ulti-
mately, it is the writer's act of imagining and writing that puts the
fantasy and its defensive handling in the text. What fantasies he
chooses and what defenses, how he manipulates them in the Ir des
of his art, these are, of course, "ons about the nature of the
creative process-rather more answerable, I think, than they once
seemed, but only indirectly related through the text to our concern,
the reader's response.
He seems to have two different relations to the text. On the con-
scious level, he is actively engaged in perceiving it and thinking his
perceptions into meaning. Unconsciously, the text presents him
with fantasies and defenses like those in his own mind. Our next
question, then, must be, What is the link between his unconscious
mind and, so to speak, the unconscious mind of the literary work?








3 The "Willing Suspension of Disbelief"


Quite possibly the most puzzling part of our entire response to lit-
erature is what Coleridge called the "willing suspension of disbe-
lief." 1 Somehow, even before the curtain rises, even before our
eyes have run over the screen credits or the first line of a poem or
story, we have made a special gesture of "as if." We adopt some
odd mental stance or "set" in which we are willing to accept all
kinds of unrealities and improbabilities-for example, that a witch
can solve a young executive's problems or that he will believe she
can. The joke tricked us as the witch-mother tricked the young
executive-but how? How were we solid, rational, and alienated
twentieth-century folk persuaded to accept the idea that a worldly
young executive would believe a witch could take care of embezzle-
ment? Somehow, what we would not believe in reality, we will be-
lieve, even in a work of sub-literature. A mere joke can make us ig-
nore (or, in psychological terms, deny) the unreality of what we
know is unreal.
"Think of yourself as a spectator in the theater, watching an en-
grossing drama," writes Professor Irving Singer.

The hero dies, and you begin to weep. Now for whom are you
crying? Surely not for the actor: you know that as soon as the
curtain falls, he will scramble to his feet and prepare for a great
ovation. Is it then the character in the play? But there is no






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


such person. You are fully aware that Hamlet (at least Shake-
speare's Hamlet) never existed. How can his death, which is
purely fictional, sadden you? Yet it does, more so perhaps than
the death of real people you may have known. What happens, I
think, is that you respond as if the actor were really Hamlet and
as if Hamlet really existed. The "as if" signifies that although
you know the actor is only acting and Hamlet only fictitious,
your imaginative involvement causes you to express feelings ap-
propriate to real people. At no point are you deluded. The "illu-
sion" of the theater is not an illusion at all. It is an act of imag-
ination.2

That is the key, is it not? "Imaginative involvement." But what
precisely is the nature of this involvement in which we invest or
bestow life upon the fictitious characters of stage, page, or screen?
It is evidently not clear, for many critics still write of our suspen-
sion of disbelief as though it were really a belief; they still speak of
a theatrical "illusion" in which we fancy that we see real people
walking and talking before us. But director Tyrone Guthrie is
probably right when he says, "I do not believe that audiences past
the mental age of eight are apt to accept this." A director, he says,
should not try to create "illusion" but rather,

to interest the members of an audience so intensely that they
are rapt, taken "out" of themselves. You may say that if they
are taken "out" of themselves, then they must be taken "into"
something else, and, logically, that "something else" is the
imaginary world of the play. Agreed. But is this absorption the
same thing as illusion? I do not believe so. You can be absorbed
listening to music, quite without illusion; you can be absorbed
by a great painting without supposing that what it depicts is
real; you can be absorbed by a novel without the illusion that
you are yourself David Copperfield or Huck Finn; you can even
be absorbed in a philosophical argument without any illusion
that you are someone, or somewhere else. How, in the theater,
is the absorption of the audience induced? What takes an audi-
ence "out" of itself and "into" the fiction? 3

That, aptly stated by Mr. Guthrie, is precisely the problem this
chapter attempts to deal with. Equally apt are the metaphors he






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


uses to describe the state of an audience involved with a play:
"taken 'out' of themselves," "taken 'into' something else," "ab-
sorbed," "rapt," with its older meaning of being seized up.
Bernard Berenson uses similar language to describe "the aesthet-
ic moment" in the visual arts:

In visual art the aesthetic moment is that flitting instant, so
brief as to be almost timeless, when the spectator is at one with
the work of art he is looking at, or with actuality of any kind
that the spectator himself sees in terms of art, as form and col-
our. He ceases to be his ordinary self, and the picture or build-/
ing, statue, landscape, or aesthetic actuality is no longer outside
himself. The two become one entity; time and space are abol-
ished and the spectator is possessed by one awareness.4

The phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard says of poetry, "It is as
though the poet's being were our being. . Or, to put it more
simply, . the poem possesses us entirely." 5 Again, the imagery
is of being absorbed or rapt into the work of art.*
Nor is this experience of merger confined to professionals with
the sensitivity of Guthrie, Berenson, or Bachelard. My daughter,
aged eight, told me, "When I read a book, I sort of feel like I'm
invisible and walking around unseen with the things or people in
the book (a Hobbit is just a thing). When I read it, just word by
word, then it's just like reading a book. But when I get into a stage
of reading, sort of, then it feels like a dream." A movie fan told
Siegfried Kracauer, "In the theater I am always I, but in the cin-
ema I dissolve into all things and beings," 7 a curious echo of Kaf-
ka's comment on movies: "Sight does not master the pictures, it is
the pictures which master one's sight. They flood the conscious-

* Something of the same sort seems to happen in the creative process: "When-
ever I was able to break free from the urge to make a mechanical copy and a
new entity had appeared on my paper," writes Marion Milner, "then some-
thing else also had happened. The process always seemed to be accompanied by
a feeling that the ordinary sense of self had temporarily disappeared, there had
been a kind of blanking out of ordinary consciousness; even the awareness of
the blanking out had gone, so that it was only afterwards, when I returned
to ordinary self-consciousness, that I remembered that there had been this
phase of complete lack of self-consciousness." 6






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


ness." 8 I have asked a number of subjects to describe their feelings
when they are engrossed in an "entertainment," a detective story, a
murder mystery, science fiction, television, or a simple old-
fashioned fun movie. They speak of "escapism, a feeling of joyful
unreality, lack of any worry" or "involvement-at its best a motion
with the work." "I am gathered up, carried along, and unaware of
being a reader, viewer, etc." "I lose track of time." "I am attentive
and absorbed, unaware of surroundings except those in the book or
show; for example, when I am watching good T.V., I don't see the
knobs or floor or anything else."
They, of course, are describing entertainments rather than great
works of art. But, to judge from the statistics for best-sellers,
moviegoing, and television watching, this experience of total ab-
sorption is far more typical of entertainments than of masterpieces.
And this reaction to entertainments is not confined to naive sub-
jects. A group of university professors of English report as their re-
action: "Total anesthesia," "Absorption," "A sort of drugged or
fascinated absorption in the events as they unfold." "The contin-
uum goes from totally absorbed (cinema) to fairly distanced, self-
conscious hunting for something (non-fiction). Fiction can go ei-
ther way (rarely a blend though)." "Varies but usually I'm com-
pletely absorbed-even by crude stuff-in fact, apt to be more crit-
ical, aware and less absorbed by 'high art.' Since, then, the "will-
ing suspension of disbelief" seems to take place more with "enter-
tainments" than with "high art," let us, for the time being, confine
our attention to entertainments rather than significant literary
works.
If we do, we can say that people get involved with entertain-
ments in three closely related ways: they cease to pay attention to
what is outside the work of art; they concentrate their attention
wholly on it; then-and this is the special and important thing-
they begin to lose track of the boundaries between themselves and
the work of art. People get "gathered up, carried along," "ab-
sorbed," "taken 'out' of themselves."
We have already seen (in Chapter 1) that literature embodies






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


fantasies; also that it manages and transforms those fantasies to-
ward significance by devices analogous to the defenses one would
find in a man's mind. In other words, the work of art acts like the
embodiment of a mental process. Then, our professional and ama-
teur aestheticians speak of being "at one with the work of art." For
the engrossed viewer, "aesthetic actuality is no longer outside him-
self." The mental process embodied in the literary work somehow
becomes a process inside its audience. What is "out there" in the
literary : ork feels as though it is "in here," in your mind or mine.
To say that, however, is simply to describe the phenomenon
without explaining it. How does this fusion or merger of self and
book take place? To what degree? If it breaks down, how does it
break down? Most important, why does this fusion or merger take
place at all?

We can begin to answer these questions by considering the way
we react to non-fiction, to something where we don't willingly sus-
pend our disbelief, a history, for example, or biography or autobi-
ography. Here is a passage from a somewhat whimsical history of
the Middle Ages:

The high and puissant Prince, Philip "the Good"-Duke of
Burgundy, Luxemburg, and Brabant-was versatile.
He could fight as well as any king going; and he could lie as
well as any, except the King of France. He was a mighty hun-
ter, and could read and write. His tastes were wide and ardent.
He loved jewels like a woman, and gorgeous apparel. He dearly
loved maids of honor, and indeed paintings generally . He
had also a rage for giants, dwarfs, and Turks.

Now what is going on in your mind as you read that little historical
sketch? I suspect that you are wondering as you read it, "Did the
King of France actually lie?" "Did the Duke of Burgundy in fact
carry on with his maids of honor?" "Did he really collect giants,
dwarfs, and Turks?" "Is all this really so, really an accurate pic-
ture?" These, at least, are questions students have asked when they
thought it was from a history book.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


It is not from a history book, though, but from a novel, specifi-
cally, Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth. My deception
was to permit an experiment. How do you feel when you read the
passage over, knowing that this is not history but fiction? Please do
reread it.
As for myself, I feel the earlier questions drop out of mind. I no
longer seem to care whether Philip the Good really was as Reade
describes him. Instead, I have an almost palpable feeling of relax-
ation. I can feel myself accepting the passage in a far more passive
way than when I imagine it is historical.
Usually, one cannot tell from an isolated paragraph whether a
work is fiction or non-fiction. Yet our responses to the two genres
differ sharply. Therefore, it must not be the paragraph alone that
shapes our response. Rather-or so the experiment was designed to
show-it is the expectation we bring to the paragraph that deter-
mines the degree to which we will test it against our everyday expe-
rience. If we think the paragraph speaks truth, we will check it for
truth. If we think it speaks fiction, we will not.
Experiment aside, I suspect most of us have felt in everyday life
that special relaxation into the mental set appropriate to fiction.
Sometimes one picks up a short story that is not so labeled. The
moment some incident cues us to realize it is a fiction, we relax
and accept it as such. Sometimes, it is a wildly unlikely statement
such as the old woman's "I am a witch," that cues us into accep-
tance. Think, for example, of an American tall tale like "The Cele-
brated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." It begins as an appar-
ently factual account of a story told to Mark Twain, but as
improbability piles on improbability, we finally realize that he-
and therefore we-are being told fiction, not fact, and we relax to
the point of laughing. The joke is on us, as it was in the tale of the
young executive. Both stories build on a paradox: it is precisely our
conscious knowledge that we are dealing with unreality that makes
it possible for us to relax, to suspend our disbelief, and in a way to
respond to the unreality as though it were real. Conversely, during
the time we think the fiction is real, we are tense, sometimes even
to the point of displeasure.







THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


In effect, I am simply trying to state from the point of view of
reader response what many critics, especially in the Renaissance,
have pointed out from the writer's point of view. As Sir Philip Sid-
ney put it, "For the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore
never lieth."

What child is there that, coming to a play and seeing Thebes
written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is
Thebes? If then a man can arrive to the child's age, to know
that the poet's persons and doing are but pictures what should
be, and not stories what have been, they will never give the lie
to things not affirmatively but allegorically and figuratively writ-
ten. And therefore, as in history, looking for truth, they may go
away full fraught with falsehood, so in poesy, looking but for
fiction, they shall use the narration but as an imaginative
groundplat of a profitable invention.9

It is, in other words. precisely our knowledge that we are dealing
with a fiction that enables us to experience it fully-in Sidney's
conception, to use it as a basis for a profitable imagination; in a
psychological sense, to experience within ourselves the transforma-
tion of fantasy toward meaning. Guthrie is quite right: it is not be-
lief in an illusion that draws us into a play or story-just the oppo-
site. It is a conscious disbelief that becomes suspension of disbelief.
But why should this be?
Some critics confuse this "undisbelief" with belief (in an illu-
sion), and we can see why by another appeal to experience. I was
privileged to see one of the early performances of a play by A. R.
Gurney, Jr., The Rape of Bunny Stuntz. Mr. Gurney gave his play
the format of an occasion like a P-T.A. meeting, though part of his
point was that the subject of the meeting never became explicit. It
was just another meeting of the kind middle-aged suburbanites
seem to get drawn into. When you walk into the theater the
houselights are half on and the stage contains simply a speaker's
table, a cashbox (evidently for receipts or something), a few
papers, a chair. The heroine, Bunny, comes to the table and
addresses the audience exactly as though it were the P-T.A. (or
whatever) that had come to one of its regular business meetings.







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


As soon as this situation became clear, one sensed all through
the audience a tightening and edginess. Gradually, this wore off,
but at the outset the atmosphere of tension was almost palpable.
On asking members of the audience after the play, I found that
others had felt as I did: they were afraid they would be called on
to do something, to speak or second a motion or vote in re-
sponse to the events on the stage. And the tension relaxed only
when it became clear that, because of Bunny's distractions, the
meeting was not going to be a meeting, but a play. We were not
going to have to do anything ourselves.
Mr. Gurney was artfully toying with perhaps the most basic of
artistic conventions. Literary or artistic experience comes to us
marked off from the rest of our experiences in reality. We frame
the picture, house it in a museum, surround it with "Do Not
Touch" signs. Poems and cartoons are printed in such a way that
we immediately recognize them as different and separate. Plays
happen in special places-I remember one theater where you had
to cross water (a moat) to enter that half-magic world. Short
stories and novels are usually labeled as such-certainly a sentence
or two tells us we are dealing with fiction, not truth.*
Behind the "frame," then, there is a still more basic convention:
we do not expect to act as a result of literary or artistic experience.
On the contrary, the work of art, indeed the whole artistic situa-
tion, presents itself as divorced from usefulness, calling for no ac-
tion on our part. The altarpiece becomes art when it hangs in a
museum rather than a church. The rain dance becomes art when it
no longer serves to bring rain, only tourists. Sometimes the work of
art presents itself so divorced from utility; sometimes we do the di-

* It is a curious episode in the history of fiction that the earliest fictionists in
the modern tradition (I am thinking of writers like Boccaccio, Cinthio, Belle-
forest, Painter, even Defoe) typically said they were telling a true story. In
part, of course, they were trying to ward off Puritan or Platonic objections to
untruth. But might we also understand such a device as a pervasive distrust by
critics, the reading public, even writers themselves during an age unaccustomed
to realistic prose fiction, of emotions not restrained and corrected by a knowl-
edge they were directed against real things?






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF" 71

forcing ourselves, as when we put aside whatever religious feelings
we might have to look at an altarpiece still in its church in a sec-
ular, aesthetic way or at a teakettle as a masterpiece of design.
"Thus," notes Professor Northrop Frye,
the question of whether a thing "is" a work of art or not is one
which cannot be settled by appealing to something in the na-
ture of the thing itself. It is convention, social acceptance, and
the work of criticism in the broadest sense that determines
where it belongs. It may have been originally made for use
rather than pleasure, and so fall outside the general Aristotelian
conception of art, but if it now exists for our pleasure it is what
we call art.10
In other words, it is our suspension of disbelief and the pleasure
which results therefrom that makes literature, not the literariness
of a given writing that makes us suspend disbelief.
Professor Morse Peckham has put forward a trenchant defini-
tion: "A work of art is any perceptual field which an individual
uses as an occasion for performing the role of art perceiver." Then,
"The distinguishing character or attribute of the perceiver's role is
search-behavior focused on awareness of [formal] discontinuities,"
that is, a purely aesthetic attention to form. Hence,
Any object (or perceptual field) from any culture may, then, be
properly categorized as having been the occasion for artistic per-
ception if a chronologically arranged sequence of such objects
[Bauhaus teakettles, for instance] shows both functional iden-
tity and non-functional stylistic dynamism.11
In other words, it is precisely the non-functional of art, its unrelat-
edness to conduct, that lets it be art. "It is a realm," writes Beren-
son, "where reactions of physical pleasure or pain cannot take
place, as neither can cross its frontiers without leaving behind every
active principle." 12 Some arts, of course, cannot be wholly di-
vorced from a call for judgmental action-advertising, for example,
or propaganda-and I suppose this is why we can experience adver-
tising and propaganda as arts only by a radical effort of imagination
or after the product or cause has passed into history.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


In the literary situation, we are almost always put into an inac-
tive position. We sit in a theater seat or an armchair. We may
laugh, squirm, bite our nails, cry-but we do not act or expect to
act on the world external to ourselves. And a mere expectation that
we might have to act on the external world, even an innocuous ac-
tion, like seconding a motion, creates a considerable amount of
anxiety, as in Mr. Gurney's P-T.A. format for a play. "The ego will
not stand idly by," notes Professor Simon O. Lesser, "while de-
cisions affecting conduct are being reached. The dangerous fan-
tasies embodied in fiction or poetry or plays are tolerated only on
condition that, and only so long as, they are taken as fantasies." 13
Otherwise, the ego will respond with anxiety to the fantasies litera-
ture mobilizes; we will defend against the literary experience and
"snap out of" our absorption in it.
It is, I suppose, not difficult to see that a divorce between a liter-
ary experience and our actions affecting the external world greatly
facilitates the literary experience. What is harder to see, I think, is
how deeply this conventional separation of action from literature
reaches into our mental life. One would not expect so much from
mere convention, but the inactivity involved in our willing suspen-
sion of disbelief returns us to our very earliest modes of thought.
Motor inactivity permits (at least when we are engrossed in "enter-
tainments") a sort of total immersion in fantasy. Why?
I am not sure anyone knows the answer, but we can provisionally
adopt a suggestion of Freud's in the metapsychological conclusion
to The Interpretation of Dreams. In earliest infancy, he suggests,
we took the shortest path to the gratification of our wishes and
needs-we simply hallucinated satisfaction. Indeed, we had to
learn to imagine the gratification of needs and wishes as the first
step to achieving gratification in actuality through motor actions.
Thus, the second time a need arises,

a psychical impulse will at once emerge which will seek to . .
re-establish the situation of the original satisfaction. An impulse
of this kind is what we call a wish; the reappearance of the per-
ception is the fulfillment of the wish; and the shortest path to







THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


the fulfillment of the wish is a path leading direct from the ex-
citation produced by the need to a complete cathexis of the
perception. Nothing prevents us from assuming that there was a
primitive state of the psychical apparatus in which this path was
actually traversed, that is, in which wishing ended in halluci-
nating. Thus the aim of this first psychical activity was to pro- I
duce a "perceptual identity"-a repetition of the perception
which was linked with the satisfaction of the need.
The bitter experience of life must have changed this primitive
thought-activity into a more expedient secondary one. The
establishment of a perceptual identity along the short path of
regression within the apparatus does not have the same result
elsewhere in the mind as does the cathexis of the aim percep-
tion from without. Satisfaction does not follow; the need per-
sists.14

In other words, we learn to resort to complicated actions in the real
world in order to achieve satisfaction. We develop motor skills. We
learn to use tools. We learn also to use other people to re-establish
perceptual memories of satisfaction. But at night, when we sleep,
we no longer act.

Dreams, which fulfil their wishes along the short path of re-
gression, have merely preserved for us in that respect a sample
of the psychical apparatus's primary method of working, a
method which was abandoned as being inefficient. What once
dominated waking life, while the mind was still young and in-
competent, seems now to have been banished into the night
. 15

Or into our experiences of art, where also we do not act.
Freud's brilliant guess more than half a century ago at the inti-
mate connection between motor inhibition and regression into fan-
tasy has received some recent experimental confirmation. For ex-
ample, experimenters have shown that muscle tone, already low
during sleep, drops to a kind of absolute zero when we dream; our
muscles relax more during dreaming than in the deepest phases of
sleep.16 Another line of experimentation has shown that sugges-
tions about motor activity have far more effect on dreams than







THE MODEL DEVELOPED


fantasy materials.* Psychologists of perception have performed
dozens of experiments (I am thinking of the work of Richard Held
and his associates) which tend to confirm the converse of Freud's
hypothesis: that perception of reality depends heavily on checks
through motor activity; that when subjects are inhibited from ac-
tion, the most rudimentary perceptions through eye and ear be-
come distorted. Observations of children by this group also show
the crucial importance of motor activity in the development of
perceptual skills.
In short, our ability or inability to act on the external world
seems deeply involved with our ability or inability to regress into
fantasy. Activity in the inner world and activity in the outer seem
mutually exclusive. To be active in the inner world, we must be pas-
sive toward the outer, for action outward binds us to reality; inac-
tion lets us lapse into our most primitive method of gratification.

Gratification-if it is motor inhibition that licenses our lapse
into literary fantasies, it is the promise of gratification that lures us
into it. We must approach literature as we approach just about
everything else in life, with a wish for pleasure. By convention, by
our own past experience, by someone's telling us-somehow we
come to works of literature and art expecting them to give us plea-
sure. No doubt we expect other things as well: information, sophis-
tication, status, pity and fear, satisfaction of curiosity, but, for our
purposes, understanding the most primitive level of response to
fairly primitive artistic experiences, "entertainments," we need
posit only a wish for pleasurable experience.
We have already seen the nature of that pleasure: literature as
The experiment was an intriguing one. Before going to sleep, subjects were
given one of three stimuli: (1) a film of mild, neutral content; (2) suggestions,
while extraneous sights and sounds were muffled, that the subject's right hand
was heavier than his left or that he would have difficulty unclasping his hands;
(3) some fairly grisly films, of the birth of a baby, a subincision rite, or a
mother monkey eating her dead baby. Surprisingly, it was the suggestions re-
lating to motor activity that had great impact on dream content, producing
anxiety dreams for as many as two or three nights. The other stimuli seemed to
have little effect.17






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


transformation. In effect, the literary work dreams a dream for us.
It embodies and evokes in us a central fantasy; then it manages
and controls that fantasy by devices that, were they in a mind, we
would call defenses, but, being on a page, we call "form." And the
having of the fantasy and feeling it managed give us pleasure. We
bring, then, to works of art two expectations that permit a "willing
suspension of disbelief": we do not expect to act on the external
world; we expect pleasure. Even if the work makes us feel pain or
guilt or anxiety, we expect it to manage those feelings so as to
transform them into satisfying experiences.
As adults, we come to works of art having experienced a long se-
quence of developmental stages. We bring, therefore, to works of
art memories of similar pleasures we have had. At an adult level
we bring memories of recent aesthetic pleasures. At a somewhat
earlier level, we bring the memory of the intense fantasies and
reading of latency. Still earlier, we may recall being read to by our
parents, perhaps being held on their laps and cuddled at the same
time. Still earlier, at a time prior to conscious memory, we had our
first experience of pleasure, being held by a nurturing mother and
being fed. All these experiences make up a kind of matrix in us
ready to receive a literary or artistic work.
In particular, that earliest experience of gratification has a num-
ber of properties that bear on the literary situation, that make
"matrix" precisely the word for the expectation of pleasure we
bring. It was an oral pleasure we first felt. Specifically, we took
something into ourselves that quieted our hunger. Curiously, or
perhaps not so curiously, even as adults we associate reading with
eating, as when we call a man who "devours books" a "voracious"
reader. We "take in" a movie. A certain novel may be a "treat." A
parody may be "delicious." "Some books are to be tasted," said Ba-
con, "others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and di-
gested." Even the Book of Common Prayer enjoins us, "Read,
mark, learn, and inwardly digest."
This "hunger for knowledge" has an important adaptive side,
too. Susan Isaacs has written of th infant:






70 THE MODEL DEVELOPED
The instinctual drive towards taking things into his mind
through eyes and fingers (and ears, too), towards looking and
touching and exploring, satisfies some of the oral wishes frus-
trated by his original object. Perception and intelligence draw
upon this source of libido for their life and growth. Hand and
eye retain an oral significance throughout life, in unconscious
phantasy and often, as [above], in conscious metaphor.18

With works of art, of course, looking usually takes the place of
touching. In a literary situation, we are almost always looking, ei-
ther at a person or a printed page or a screen. Many years ago,
Otto Fenichel pointed out, "In the unconscious, to look at an object
may mean various things, the most noteworthy of which are as fol-
lows: to devour the object looked at, to grow like it (be forced to
imitate it), or, conversely, to force it to grow like oneself." 19
Thus, if the literary process is succeeding, we are not only devour-
ing the object; we are making our minds like it or it like our
minds.
Orality explains the open-mouthed wonder with which we "ab-
sorb" a theatrical performance through our eyes and ears. Suspense,
too, has an oral quality: a writer like Dickens or Scott or Hitchcock
creates a problem in us and what amounts to a hunger for its reso-
lution so great we can scarcely wait for the next episode. Nor is it
surprising we feel a peculiarly sharp frustration, even a sense of
rage and betrayal, when "Network Trouble" flashes on the screen
or when the movie film breaks or when we find the last pages of a
novel torn out. Our sense of frustration and anger becomes particu-
larly sharp if what disrupts our visual feast is a person; we go
through a miniature and adult version of the overwhelming rage of
a child whose feeding is interrupted. Thus, too, we can guess the
reason virtually all cultures mix eating with drama and literature:
the symbolic eating of the slain hero in Attic drama, the beer and
oranges of the seventeenth-century playhouses-even the popcorn
in the movie theater of today, or the chocolate-nibbling of a mod-
em novel-reader. Literature creates a hunger in us and then grati-
fies us.






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


There are, though, still other features of that earliest oral gratifi-
cation in the literary transaction. That time was long before we
had any clear sense of reality as such. Even at the age of five, chil-
dren have trouble telling whether a story is really true or not or
whether their dreams really happened, and we are talking about a
much earlier period, a time prior to the eighth month of life. Life
then was simply a quest for pleasure; in the jargon, we were totally
under the domination of the pleasure principle. Nor were we in a
position to do much reality-testing through motor actions. Further,
we could find considerable satisfaction in the mere hallucination of
gratification-as we take pleasure now in the fantasies of a work of
literature.
More technically, we are speaking of the period prior to "self-
object differentiation." We have considered it before-in Chapter
2-as it bore upon fantasies of fusion and merger in literature.
Here, though, it seems to be the foundation of all literary experi-
ence, our basic relationship with the literary work. "Originally,"
writes Freud, "the ego includes everything, later it separates off an
external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore,
only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive-indeed, an all-
embracing-feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond
between the ego and the world around it." Originally, we did not
distinguish ourselves from the nurturing external world. "An infant
at the breast does not as yet distinguish his ego from the external
world as the source of the sensations flowing in upon him." 20 He
learns to do so because he learns to expect satisfaction from an-
other. He learns to wait for his mother to come and gratify his
(primarily oral) needs. Erikson has called this ability to wait "basic
trust," .because it is only through this ability to trust that his
mother will come and will gratify him that the child can learn to
trust that "other," all the outer realities which are not his own fan-
tasy. "Basic trust in mutuality is that original 'optimism,' that as-
sumption that 'somebody is there,' without which we cannot live."
"One may well claim for that earliest meeting of a perceiving sub-
ject with a perceived object (which, in turn seems to 'recognize'






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


the subject) the beginning of all sense of identity." 21 That is, the
child cannot conceive of himself as a separate being until he can
trust, await, have faith in his mother as a separate being. Because
he accepts her as separate, he can recognize he himself is also sepa-
rate. Even in adult life, our very sense of identity is predicated
upon this sense of "basic trust" in an environment that will sup-
port us.
In the literary setting, however, we are not expecting that other:
we are in the process of being gratified by it. We are responding,
therefore, from a level of our being which existed prior to the sense
of another reality. We have partially returned to that original "all-
embracing" feeling before the ego "separates off an external world
from itself." It is because part of us has regressed so deeply that we
can so easily make the concerns of a literary character our own or
project our concerns onto him.
Psychoanalysis assumes the early process of differentiation be-
tween inside and outside to be the origin of projection and in-
trojection which remain some of our deepest and most danger-
ous defense mechanisms. In introjection we feel and act as if an
Souter goodness had become an inner certainty. In projection, we
experience an inner harm as an outer one: we endow significant
people with the evil which actually is in us. These two mechan-
isms, then, projection and introjection, are assumed to be
modeled after whatever goes on in infants when they would like
to externalize pain and internalize pleasure, an intent which
must yield to the testimony of the maturing senses and ulti-
mately of reason. These mechanisms can characterize irrational
attitudes toward adversaries and enemies in masses of "mature"
individuals.22

And these mechanisms arise, I take it, not just in political move-
ments like Nazism, but in audiences collectively hating a film vil-
lain who is "really" just a shadow on a lenticular screen.
Our ego boundaries between self and not-self, inner and outer,
become blurred as we approach, in part, the undifferentiated state
of earliest infancy. And thus, too, this chapter returns to its earliest
phase, the initial remarks of the professional aestheticians, Guthrie,






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


Berenson, and Bachelard, and the amateurs. An audience is taken
out of itself and into the imaginary world of the play-"absorbed."
The "aesthetic actuality is no longer outside" the spectator. "The
poem possesses us entirely." "I am gathered up, carried along, and
unaware of being a reader, viewer, etc."
The pediatrician-psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott has said of this
undifferentiated state in infancy: "'There is no such thing as an
infant,' meaning, of course, that whenever one finds an infant one
finds maternal care, and without maternal care there would be no
infant." 23 Could not the same thing be said of an audience?
There is no such thing as an audience as an entity-in-itself, for
whenever one finds an audience one finds a literary work creating
it, and without a literary work there would be no audience.*
Be that as it may, we are now in a position to state how and why
we willingly suspend disbelief. We come to a literary work with
two conscious expectations: first, that it will give us pleasure (of an
oral, "taking in" kind); second, that it will not require us to act on ,1
the external world. The literary work thus finds in us a matrix i
reaching back through many, many experiences of gratification in
fantasy to our earliest experience of passive satisfaction. That oc-
curred prior to our recognition of ourselves as separate beings, and
literature re-creates this undifferentiated self: we absorb and be-
come absorbed into the literary experience. Indeed, as Tyrone
Guthrie's examples show, we can become absorbed in any external
reality to which we come with those two expectations, to be fed
pleasure and not to act: music, painting, novel, or philosophical
argument. Camus's phrasing shows the link between "absorption"
and orality: "Plongee dans la beauty, I'intelligence fait son repas
de ndant."

* Infans literally means "unable to speak." We do not (ordinarily) speak when
we are engrossed in a literary work. The etymology and the analogy return us
to Dr. Edmund Bergler's suggestion: that writers may acquire their predisposi-
tion to become writers because in early infancy they use words coming out of
their mouths as an important defense against masochistic impulses aroused by
their mothers' putting food in.24 But, as readers, we do the opposite: we do not
emit words to defend against passively being fed.






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


Thus, Coleridge's term, marvelous as it is, does not tell the
whole story. It is true that we suspend disbelief or, more exactly,
we do not reality-test as we do in everyday life. But something
much more profound has happened. We do not reality-test be-
cause, in part at least, we have ceased to feel we are separate from
external reality. To some extent, we fuse with the literary work. In
absorbing it, we become absorbed.
A more useful phrasing, then, of the phenomenon Coleridge was
describing is that what is in fact happening "out there" in the lit-
erary work feels as though it is happening "in here" in us, or, still
more exactly, in some undifferentiated "either." To paraphrase, ex-
cept ye become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of
literature. And we do-we become infants prior even to an aware-
ness of ourselves as such, quite unable to disbelieve. Or so we do
in part.

We may be somewhat childlike when we respond to movies and
plays, but we are not totally infantile. Dr. Avery Weisman draws a
useful distinction-between "reality-testing," a matter of intellect
or concepts, and a "sense of reality" such as we have towards a
dream.
Reality sense is a function of the libidinal attachments of the
personality and of the cathexes of the ideas and objects that
comprise the ego image. The sense of reality is fundamentally
irrational in that it requires no justification for acceptance since
it is the nature of irreducible justification itself.25
In simpler language, Irving Singer contrasts the "appraisal" of val-
ue ("This car has a trade-in value of $436") with the "bestowal"
of value ("I love this old car; I wouldn't take a million for it"). In
the literary situation, our relatively passive merger or fusion with
what we are seeing paves the way for something more active, "an
act of the imagination" Singer calls it.
On entering the theater, you have entered the dramatic situa-
tion. You have allowed your imagination to engage itself in one
specific channel. With the assistance of the realistic props, the






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


surrounding darkness, the company of other people doing the
same imagining, you have invested the actors and characters
they represent with a capacity to affect your feelings as real per-
sons might.26
Shakespeare himself asks us: "Eke out our performance with your
mind."
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man
And make imaginary puissance.
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth:
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.
In effect, our minds are split in two. Our ordinary testing of reality
persists to some extent, but at the time we are able to give convic-
tion, a "sense of reality" to the work we are reading. Dr. Weisman
asks:
Why do we not believe that the actor, in reality (that is, from
every point of view), has committed murder on the stage? Al-
though members of the audience may react to the event with
conviction, by hating, crying, or fearing . their active reality
testing is able to differentiate the play of murder from the fact
of murder. . Reality testing is able to index the staged
events and the ensuing emotions into a specific conceptual field,
which states, in effect, that criminals do not run around loose
in theaters to commit murder by prearrangement. Within this
range of meaning, stage actions are real in the domain of artis-
tic phantasy, but are unreal as crime.27
Within our fusion with the literary work and because of it, we cre-
ate a "sense of reality"; yet we never entirely lose our "reality-
testing."
Thus, though it is tempting to call our involvement with litera-
ture a "regression," something more is happening. That term con-
notes a single level of mental functioning lower than one's ordinary
level. But in the literary situation, while we reach down to our ear-
liest, most primitive state of merger with our gratifications, we still
retain some of our highest levels of mental functioning. The kind






THE MODEL DEVELOPED


of total immersion we have been describing is at best the major
part of our response in "entertainments," not great writing. We do
not read Shakespeare or Tolstoy as we read Ian Fleming or Conan
Doyle.
Even when we are reading "entertainments," high ego functions
persist. We reality-test the "as if" itself. We put letters together to
form words. At a play or a movie, we are perceiving shapes and
events and people. We are remembering what has gone before and
anticipating what will come next. We are judging such things as
plausibility and probability. We bring to different kinds of litera-
ture different expectations of rather complicated kinds: expecta-
tions about meter or rhyme, expectations about syntax, expecta-
tions about levels of lifelikeness (we tolerate things in science fic-
tion we would not in a naturalistic novel), and so on. Simon Lesser
says,
There is a willing suspension of disbelief because we want to
obtain the satisfactions which prompted us to read a given book.
But our willingness to meet a book halfway must be requited:
we are constantly judging and appraising, and if a work seems
false or otherwise unworthy of our trust, we will become increas-
Singly critical and less and less immersed in it.28
The word "trust" is crucial-it applies not only to the infant's (or
the reader's) "basic trust" toward what feeds him; it applies
equally to the more sophisticated expectations we bring to litera-
ture.
Rather than speak of regression, then, we can say our minds dur-
ing the literary experience undergo a "deepening." It is as though a
pianist had been confined to the upper three octaves because there
was some danger if he played the low notes--perhaps an explosion
would be triggered off, as, in everyday life, we feel it dangerous to
respond to reality with much affect from the massive, primitive
depths of our earliest selves. In the literary situation, though, we
know no explosion will occur, for we know we are not going to act.
Our minds are therefore free to range up and down the entire key-
board of our prior development. We have seen (in Chapter 2) the
wishes and fears and fantasies that may be brought into play. But,






THE "WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF"


in particular, we take in the literary work, all literary works, in a
very primitive oral way: what is "out there" is felt as though it
were neither "out there" nor "in here"-boundaries blur.
Our awareness of ourselves as such becomes markedly less. As for
myself, I find that as I watch an "entertainment," I am totally en-
grossed much of the time, but at various moments I become rest-
less and aware of myself again, aware, perhaps, that I am sitting in
a theater, that there are people around me, that the theater is over-
heated, and so on. Then, if I am enjoying the play or film, I lapse
back and become absorbed in it again. Bernard Berenson describes
aesthetic fusion as a "flitting instant, so brief as to be almost time-
less." A statistical study offers some evidence that many people
have this all-or-nothing style of absorption.*
Other people tell me they do not experience aesthetic fusion as
an on-off sort of thing. As Lesser puts it, "We are constantly judg-
ing and appraising." Students' phrasings suggest (quite accurately)
that these higher functions serve to defend against an involvement
feared as too deep: "The philosophic part . keeps me from go-
ing under emotionally." "I tend to identify strongly until I see
faults, note trends, try to put together plots . ." "Become in-
volved in a book, movie, but at the same time I attempt to keep
some part far enough away from that involvement to analyze the
work's structure, content . ." Conscious efforts are required to
avoid fusion.
There is, of course, in all of us, a continuation of such higher

"When involved, as during the reading of the central portions of these stories,
the subjects made fewer literary judgments. This apparent inverse relationship
does not conflict with the earlier finding through partial correlation technique
of a high positive relationship between the total response in these categories
[literary judgments and statements of self-involvement]. The two types of re-
sponses seem to reinforce one another, with readers who are emotionally in-
volved formulating more literary judgments even though the responses occur
at different times. Many of the evaluations of the story as literature occur
either before the reader has become involved or after an extended period during
which the subject seems considerably involved in the central experience or the
character whom he is interpreting or identifying with or rejecting. Only when
the reading of a story is completed do literary judgments become a major con-
cern." 29




University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs