Tag Archives: psychology

To Freud

I dreaded the second chapter
Of every psych text.
Methods and history.
Acknowledge.  Move on.

But now here in English
When I thought I was free,
I find you still haunt me
Much worse than before. 

Id versus ego.
Iceberg of consciousness.
Psychoanalyzing dreams.
Oedipus complex.

Your thought changed the world
But it’s time to move on.
My dreams are just dreams
When I remember them.

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What English Produces

While reading through the blogs a few days ago, I came across a post that commented on what English produces.  I remember reading in Klages’ Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed that English produces knowledgeable people, and at the time I was okay with that.  But the more I thought about it, the less okay I felt with this statement.  Engineers, while trained to build bridges, have to learn math, which is knowledge.  Scientists, while trained to discover how natural phenomena work, have to learn scientific theory, which is knowledge.  Philosophers, while trained to ponder existence and our purpose, have to learn about the philosophic thought that came before, which is knowledge.  How then does English get away with saying that our product is knowledge?

Klages herself partially answers that.  She says that Literary Theory helps to examine how our world works.  But wait, don’t other disciplines do that?  Doesn’t psychology and sociology try to describe everyday human life in a scientific way?  Yes, English examines literature, but couldn’t I just apply psychological theory to the literature?  And don’t we already do so, seeing how there is a chapter in Klages’ book devoted to psychoanalysis?

There is obviously more to English than this, or we would just be an offshoot of another discipline.  The more I thought about it, the more English reminds me of anthropology.  But unlike anthropology, we are devoted solely to the written work produced by people throughout time.  We are like historians, but we are looking at more than just the stories of people; we examine the way those stories are written, and we are always interpreting what is on the page.

The more I think about it, the more English seems like the unifying discipline among the humanities.  There is a little bit of everything in us, and we still manage to stand apart from the rest.  While I’m still not entirely clear whether there is a product, I know English produces a unique cultural record that no other discipline has.  And isn’t that good enough?

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The Definition of Literature

“How do you feel about literature having no definition?” 

The class was asked this question after a lively discussion of what we thought literature was.  Everyone wrote their own definition, then Dr. Pound read them all out loud.  The definitions tended to cluster into several groups, dealing with art, fiction, or so-called classics.  The definitions made clear the fact that even within our class we could not agree on what literature is; literature changes and evolves along with us.

So how do I feel about studying something that cannot be defined?  To be completely honest, it doesn’t really bother me.  I encountered this same problem a few years ago with psychology.  In psychology today, there is no unifying theory.  In the past, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis looked at all aspects of behaviour and thought.  But since that time, psychology has fractured.  Now many separate theories look at different aspects of behaviour and thought.  There is nothing to tie them all together except that all the researchers are studying the brain and behaviour.  They just all study it in (very) different ways.

When I was first told straight-up that psychology is a fractured thing, I was shocked.  How could I go home and tell my parents that I’ve essentially been studying a lie?  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this wasn’t true.  While there is large disagreement between researchers, everyone is still aware of what they are doing.  They are all trying to describe human behaviour, to figure out why we do the things we do.  There’s just disagreement on how to go about finding this knowledge.

The lack of a literature definition is much the same as the lack of a unifying psychology theory.  Literature is defined differently, depending on who is defining it.  There is disagreement between theorists, critics and writers what exactly constitutes literature, but everyone is still aware of what we are studying.  We’re all trying to study the stories, poems and letters that make up our written history.  We’re just disagreeing on where exactly to draw the line.

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