Literature on the Couch

The Quest for Love

by David Holbrook
University of Alabama, 376 pp., $5.95

Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare

by Norman N. Holland
McGraw-Hill, 412 pp., $9.95

It is a little-noted curiosity that lay intellectuals are on the whole more interested in psychoanalytic theory than the psychoanalysts themselves. The latter are understandably concerned with pragmatic medical results instead of with nuances of metapsychology, and the wearing clinical routine does not make for long perspectives. There is also a certain feeling that the higher concepts of psychoanalysis are superfluous or askew. For the theorist of history or culture, however, these concepts have an almost magical appeal, and in recent years we have seen the most scientifically vulnerable aspects of Freudianism—Eros and Death, quantified and differentiated libido, the “Nirvana” model of the nervous system—appropriated for the proof of special moralities and apocalyptic fears. Much excitement and much silliness have been generated behind the psychoanalysts’ backs. But we can hardly blame the intellectuals for trying; it has become increasingly clear that Freudian theory has something significant and perhaps revolutionary to tell every branch of the humanities and social sciences. Both books under review are efforts, vastly different in their scope and degree of success, to deal with the implications of psychoanalysis for literary criticism.

IN THIS BOOK,” begins David Holbrook, “I try to make connections between recent findings of psychoanlysis about love and our dealings with reality, and the poet’s preoccupation with these.” It soon appears, however, that by “psychoanalysis” Holbrook means only the work of Melanie Klein, her recent followers in England, and a few other English opponents of Freudian instinct-theory. Holbrook feels qualified to endorse these parochial sources on the grounds that he has been “in love with and married to the subject of treatment.” He shows no awareness whatever that Melanie Klein’s ideas about the introjection of “good” and “bad” objects in early infancy have been continually challenged since 1930; any doubts would be disrespectful to “those psychoanalysts who have had the courage to encounter and live in these terrible areas of primaeval spirit.”

Many of Holbrook’s citations, in any case, do not refer to the disputed timetable of mental development but to what he calls “psychoanalytical philosophy”: He has gone through the published papers of the pediatric psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott and culled the most uplifting thoughts about creativity and love. Winnicott’s “great value as a psychoanalytical philosopher is that he portrays [the formation of infantile guilt] as positive and triumphant…” When Winnicott does sound like the unspiritual mechanist Freud, for instance in isolating the aggressive component of the sexual act, Holbrook imagines that he is really discussing “that need for mutual regard, in freedom and ‘separate, separate’ togetherness such as we have seen Chaucer and Shakespeare exploring…” This, to put it mildly, is neither the language nor the dynamic insight of psychoanalysis.

Like all Holbrook’s works, The Quest for Love is a cri de coeur muffled by theory—in this case, sectarian theory that he has grossly moralized. Readers who know his most impressive book, English for the Rejected, will recall his passion for deepening feeling and abolishing decadent values; those familiar with his attacks…

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