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BOOK REVIEW

THE ANALYSTS EAR AND THE CRITICS EYE: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature, by Benjamin H. Ogden and Thomas H. Ogden, London: Routledge, 2003, 99 pp.,
$36.05.
Reviewed by

Lissa Weinstein, PhD


City College of City University of New York

Sibel Halfon, PhD


Bilgi University
Thomas Ogden, a prolific psychoanalyst and his son, a literary critic, have written a much
needed monograph on the interrelationship between applied psychoanalytic studies and
literary criticismtwo fields which may address the same material yet use vastly different
methods to decipher the meanings in written text. The authors use three previously
published articles to explicate their differing, yet related viewpointsThomas Ogdens
reading of Frosts Never Again Would Birds Song be the Same, his article on Kafkas
The Hunger Artist, and Benjamin Ogdens interpretation of Phillip Roths The Ghost
Writer. Each author comments on the others article to compare and contrast their
working methods. A subsidiary, but no less ambitious aim, is to articulate what is
specifically psychoanalytic in the way an analyst listens, in his receptivity to language as
it manifests in literary material and in his interactions with patients, apart from any
ossified psychoanalytic terminology. To again make psychoanalysis relevant to literary
theory (p. 2) the authors situate their personal style of reading a text in distinction to each
other, yet pen their narrative in the we voice because the psychoanalytic lens is
conceived of as one of many perspectives available to a literary critic. The tension
between their viewpoints is central; in creating a dialogic text, they espouse a Bionian
notion of change as growing out of different vertices. Although the books subtitle
suggests equal attention to both fields, the book will be primarily useful to psychoanalysts,
as less specific attention is devoted to the working methods of the literary critic.
Applied psychoanalysis, while having a long history dating back to Freuds study of
Hamlet, has ceased to be a central methodology in literary studies. The authors argue that
this is because of the strategy of applying analytic concepts in a formulaic and rote manner
to decode the text or to use the text as a window into the unconscious of the author,
assuming that it is impossible to write convincingly about an emotional experience that
one has never had. Melos (2014) concurs, noting that in his pathography (Freud, 1910,

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sibel Halfon, PhD, Masters Program
in Clinical Psychology, Bilgi University, Eski Silahtaraga Elektrik Santral, Kazm Karabekir Cad.
No: 2/13, 34060 Eyp Istanbul. E-mail: sibel.halfon@bilgi.edu.tr
Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2015, Vol. 32, No. 2, 371375
2015 American Psychological Association, 0736-9735/15/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038174

371

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372

BOOK REVIEW

p. 130) would, using biographical and autobiographical material, interpret the content of
the artwork to demonstrate how conflict and fixation found indirect expression in the
artists work.1 It is important to emphasize that even though Freuds primary concern was
to understand the connections between artwork and the psychic needs and unconscious of
the creator, some authors have pointed out that he repeatedly emphasized that art also
produces emotional effects on its audience and he tried to understand the mechanisms
behind this bidirectional process (Jurist, 2006; Kris, 1952; Spector, 1972). Jurist (2006)
analyzed Freuds claim that art produces emotions especially focusing on Freuds reading
of Leonardo da Vinci and A Memory of Childhood (Freud, 1910) and The Moses of
Michelangelo (Freud, 1914) and coming to the conclusion that Freud theorized about the
regulation of emotions in the inner worlds of Leonardo and Michelangelo and their
ultimate decisions to control and sublimate their emotions to accomplish their creative
work. However, Jurist (2006) also states that Freuds interest in emotions and art has not
received much attention in the secondary literature on Freuds aesthetics. Instead the
primary interest of applied psychoanalysis stayed fixed on what art said, rather than how
it was made, or why its construction was capable of evoking pleasure or recognition in
others; in short, remaining loyal to a therapeutic theory of art rather than an aesthetic
one, being more concerned with product than the process of creation. This strategy has
certain glaring, inevitable limitations that stem from the difference between a fixed text
and a living patient, which is the lack of associations that could confirm or disconfirm a
given hypothesis. Even if a perfectly accurate history of the artists life was available, the
access to fantasies woven around these events that had become, in themselves, generative
of further developments would be lacking.
Further, the authors argue, these classical approaches no longer represent the current
practice of psychoanalysis. Eschewing the deterministic Freudian notion of the decoded
text as well as reader response theory where the role of readers in responding to and
constructing their own text is highlighted, Thomas Ogden, as the psychoanalytic literary
reader (PLR) centers his definition of psychoanalytic literary criticism as deriving from
its particular way of hearing and writing about literary voice. This way of hearing and
writing has its origins . . . in how practicing psychoanalysts are attuned to the patients
voice and their own in a way that is unique to the practice of psychoanalysis (p. 8). Thus,
it is the analysts practice, his particular form of listening to language and its inherent role
in the creation of self, not his reified theoretical knowledge that should act as the bedrock
of a psychoanalytic study of literature. The analysts immediate and personal affective
response to the material is central, particularly the assessment of the aliveness of the
language, as it is assumed to be created in an effort to articulate qualities of thinking and
feeling that are (or have been present) in the author. However, the effort to receive them
is NOT to analyze the author but to share an authentic human experience. Thus, voice (by
which is meant sound, as well as semantics) and feeling are fundamental, rather than
rhetorical structure or unconscious meaning. Further, the analytic attitude of not knowing is important, allowing a tentativeness to formulations that would be compatible with
psychoanalytic listening, an openness to an ever-evolving intrapsychic and interpersonal
context in which voice is generated (p. 16). The PLR draws a parallel between the
listening analyst and the reader; Ogdens reader approaches the text with a certain
therapeutic urgency, directing his efforts more to transform meaning than to interpret it.

1
For a more comprehensive and illuminating discussion of Freudian and Kleinian contributions to aesthetics, see Melos (2014). We are deeply indebted to his conceptions.

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373

The listener must add something new to the work, a personal reading, not unlike Bruners
(1986) notion of the reader as author.
The PLR response to literature is based on a clinical stance most clearly articulated in
the work of Bion, who differentiates an understanding of the unconscious as the repository
of unbridled impulse, redefining it as a mode of thinking, synonymous with dreaming.
Unconscious thinking, an essential component of the personalization of external experience, is particularly valuable for its capacity to embrace multiple perspectives and to view
an event from numerous vertices. It allows for the simultaneous perception of past and
present, tolerates without contradiction rational and irrational, allows for an equation of
thought and action coterminously with more mature odes of symbolization, and lets one
to be both inside an experience with the concomitant loss of reflective self-representation
and an observer. Given this redefinition, the goal of analysis is (cleverly put) making the
conscious unconscious (p. 24) thereby enhancing the patients access to more flexible and
creative modes of thought that are particularly well suited for dealing with ones emotional vicissitudes. A second premise is that thinking is inherently intersubjective from its
earliest inception in the mother child relationship; therefore, the role of analysis is to
encourage the capacity to access unconscious thinking. This is done through the shared
reveries of patient and analyst, who dream together, creating something additional to
both of them, the analytic third, and owned by neither (Ogden, 1994). The analyst, with
his redefined goal, focuses not only on conflict resolution or the removal of symptoms, but
on indications of how accessible unconscious modes of thinking are to the patientthese
signs are manifest in the aliveness/deadness of the patients narrative, hence the focus on
voice, which will include the sound of the narrative as well as its grammatical form and
semantic meaning. These insights will translate into literary criticism through the assumption that psychological reality is built into language; language (including its sound) gives
shape to psychological reality (p. 32).
However, as the authors note, The relationship between language and psychology,
however, will be mediated almost entirely by the ear of the PLR (p. 32). While Ogden
brings up the problem of subjectivity inherent in this statement, he does not adequately
answer the charge. There is a significant difference between providing an interesting and
even illuminating interpretation of a work, as Ogden clearly has in his reading of Kafkas
story, and providing a model of literary criticism. It is fine to say that interpretation is a
personal matter dependent on both the ear, the openness and experience of the reader,
but this approach, by itself, cannot constitute a body of literary criticism; that requires a
set of criterion which others (perhaps with different ears) can follow. It neglects the
question of how one judges the fidelity of the interpretation to the text, in other words,
how one might distinguish a quality from a random, subjective interpretation? In the
clinical situation, one has the patients subsequent language to help us understand the
efficacy of an interventionwhether the patients associations become more vivid,
specific and evocative or if they deaden toward the use of invariant repetitions that do
not allow any elaboration of meaning (Halfon & Weinstein, 2013). Clearly, this is not
possible with written text. However, not all interpretations are equally valid. In part, the
problem comes from privileging voice over the actual structure of the text how the
language works, the use of paragraphs, punctuation, dialogue as well as the texts literary
history, its genre and conventions. Thus, the PLRs methodology shares some of the
problems of the decodified text approach, namely that without the writers reactions,
the necessity of staying true to the limitations imposed by the text can be overridden by
the readers subjective affective response. In addition, it is not made clear how the readers
subjective response to the voice of the author is different from reader response theory, as

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374

BOOK REVIEW

in both cases the reader invests the text with a meaning that emanates from their own
experience.
As an antidote to these criticisms, the viewpoint of the literary critic (LC) is offered.
The perspective of the LC differs from the PLR in several regards that emanate from their
views of the relationship between language and its resonance with emotion. The LC treats
language as a system with rules, conventions that are part of the craft of writing; the LC
is concerned with how language syntax and punctuation create meaning (p. 47) and sees
language as mediating the experience of emotion. Thus, language is seen equally as a
craft, capable of creating its own emotion, rather than reflecting the self-state of a
character or by implication the author. The PLR, in contrast, assumes a direct connection
between language and intrapsychic states; methodologically they differ as well, with the
PLR responding to the broad outlines of a piece, rather than the how, the small details
that allow the LC to understand literary effect. Further the LC includes in his analysis the
history of the genre in which the work is written, for example the Gothic and grotesque
conventions of the language used in Kafkas Hunger Artist. The literary critics
interpretations are presented as visual depending on the look of the punctuation as
opposed to the PLRs reliance on the auditor, a distinction that seems a bit contrived, as
punctuation is meant to be a written form that allows one to hear voice. In fact, many
writers read their work aloud to understand the correct punctuation.
Although the argument is made that the reliance on linguistically sophisticated
methodology may not be more scientific than depending on voice, as research has been
unable to consistently demonstrate correlations between syntactic forms to meaning or tie
syntactic style to specific authors, linguistics, one can still argue that at least there is
something external to the reader to refer to. One possible way of uniting the two
methodologies, which in effect would increase the reliability of either approach, is to
follow the progression of the text (beginning, middle, and end) and compare the systematically the changes in the syntactic style and form and comment on its feel on the reader.
This would be akin to following the associations of a patient and focusing not just on his
voice but the sequence of his narrative, its changing qualities based on the patients
capacity to symbolize at any given moment and its effect on the listener. A similar
methodology was used by the authors in comparing different versions of Raymond
Carvers texts and focusing on the specifics of the language in his revisions as they relate
to their emotional effect on the reader (Halfon & Weinstein, 2014). Although it may not
count as scientific evidence, it does allow for a shared consensual reality. As the authors
point out, literary criticism offers a grounding, something more than a feel. One could
also argue that attention to linguistic structure and genre also have a parallel in the
treatment situation. As analysts we become aware of the patients typical linguistic usage,
as well as the genre and history of his stories. Both form part of the background upon
which interpretations are formulated.
For these readers, the enduring value of the book lies in its implicit message to analysts
to step outside of their narrow and ossified approaches to literature and to engage with the
tools of textual analysis. As the authors suggest, the presentation of two views in dialogic
relation does serve to widen ones perspective, but the book would have been stronger if
more specifics about literary analysis had been provided. The book is more like an
appetizer than a full meal. The interpretations of the two authors were not opposed to each
other, they merely used different evidentiary bases. It would have been even more
interesting if they had presented a piece of text where they disagreed and allowed the
readers to see how they attempted to resolve their differences, what kinds of evidence they
called upon, and their eventual synthesis. As it stands, despite the authors self-

BOOK REVIEW

375

congratulatory end that they created a we, the book ends up seeming like the presentation of two separate, if complimentary methodologies.

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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

References
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Freud, S. (1914). The Moses of Michelangelo. In The standard edition of the complete psychological
works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 13, pp. 211238). London: The Hogarth Press.
Halfon, S., & Weinstein, L. (2013). From compulsion to structure: An empirical model to study
invariant repetition and representation. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 30, 394 422. http://
dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033618
Halfon, S., & Weinstein, L. (2014). Imaginative and analytic transformations of trauma: Repetition,
revision and rebirth in two stories of Raymond Carver. Unpublished manuscript, in submission.
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Ogden, T. H. (1994). The analytical third: Working with intersubjective clinical facts. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75, 320.
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