Gods and Goods: Psychoanalysis, Holism and Modernist Women
Date: 13 January 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in English Literature
The first half of the twentieth century was a time of seismic shifts in scientific and cultural perceptions of what constitutes individual and social development. The expansion of industry and communication technologies, Darwinian and Lamarckian theories of evolution, changes in the conception of gender, class and sexual identity as ...
The first half of the twentieth century was a time of seismic shifts in scientific and cultural perceptions of what constitutes individual and social development. The expansion of industry and communication technologies, Darwinian and Lamarckian theories of evolution, changes in the conception of gender, class and sexual identity as well as the devastating effect of the two world wars left the modern citizen in the East and the West with few stable reference points to hold on to. These global trends resulted in two opposing tendencies in the scientific and artistic understanding of the mind. One sought to infuse the brain and body with trans-individual forces and eternal communities which transcend cultural and linguistic differences and resist the passage of time. The other looked to investigate the impact of society on individual psychic life and to employ this knowledge as the basis for psychologically founded social interventions. This thesis will explore the tension between these transcendentalist and materialist narratives in psychoanalysis, film and literature between the 1910s and the 1950s. In particular, I will focus on the work of the psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein and three literary authors: Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Annie Winifred Ellerman (Bryher) and Djuna Barnes. The psychological conceptions of these scientists and artists afford insight into how individual and social development was understood by authors who – as non-Western or homo/bisexual women – were excluded by dominant progress narratives. Their work thus sheds important light on the political implications of different models of the human mind that appeared in the modernist period. Chapter one outlines the political specificities of Spielrein’s understanding of drives and unconscious symbolism as well as her journey towards a materialist approach to psychoanalysis. Chapter two shows how H.D. adapted Freud’s idea of universal symbols to her feminist mythological system and how this narrative became a defence against the traumatic impact of war-time events. Chapter three explores Bryher’s oscillation between the exclusive image of the pre-oedipal poet and the materialist psychology of her post-war fiction and her cinema articles. Chapter four gives voice to Djuna Barnes’s subversion of psychoanalytic stories of progress that opposed pleasure to reality, myth/fiction to science and passion/sexuality to reason and cultural advancement.
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