Necessary Fictions

[This essay was submitted as my Psychoanalysis term paper, MA Creative and Critical Writing, University of Sussex, January 2015.  Mark: 67]

 

Exploring the Transcendent as the Impulse to Create Fiction through Freud’s Figures of Repression, Repetition and Return, with reference to Virginia Woolf’s An Unwritten Novel, and including my own creative response, Rehearsal

 

“[T]he inanimate existed before the animate.”  Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle

“We are thus always trying to work back through time to that transcendent home, knowing of course, that we cannot.”  Peter Brooks, Freud’s Masterplot

 Freud explores the figures of repression, repetition and return throughout his writings on psychoanalysis, particularly in the three essays, The Uncanny, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Remembering, Repeating and Working Through.  In these essays, in which Freud sets out his theories and speculations about the human drives compelling us to repress our desires – only to continually repeat and return to them – he demonstrates through his writing process the necessity to create fiction and the compulsion towards participation in the perpetual act of creation.  As Adam Phillips suggests in Becoming Freud[1], Freud shows us, through his own writing, that at the heart of life is a desire to create and tell stories.  In this essay, I will be exploring Freud’s desire to tell stories as a necessary engagement with the transcendent principle.  For the purposes of this paper, the transcendent principle could be defined as the principle which stimulates life into being and to which life returns at its end, the experience of which can be equated with the aesthetic Sublime.

Harold Bloom makes connections between Freud’s writing, the Sublime, and creativity theory in his essay Freud and the Sublime: A Catastrophe Theory of Creativity[2], where he argues that Freud is a great ‘prose-poet of the Sublime’, and makes connections with the Sublime aesthetic through both The Uncanny and Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  He says:

The text of The ‘Uncanny’ is the threshold to the major phase of Freud’s canon, which begins the next year with ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’.  But quite aside from its crucial place in Freud’s writings, the essay is of enormous importance to literary criticism because it is the only major contribution that the twentieth century has made to the aesthetics of the Sublime.  It may seem curious to regard Freud as the culmination of a literary and philosophical tradition that held no particular interest for him, but I would correct my own statement by the modification, no conscious interest for him. The Sublime, as I read Freud, is one of his major repressed concerns, and this repression on his part is a clue to what I take to be a gap in his theory of repression.  [p182.  Bloom’s italics.]

According to Freud in The Uncanny (1919[3]), it is the return of the repressed that creates the most hauntingly uncanny effects, and this sense of the repressed Sublime can be glimpsed through the figures of repetition and return which haunt Freud’s later writings.  Freud devotes several pages of speculation to the idea that ‘the old, animistic conception of the universe’ is responsible for a large proportion of what we now consider to be ‘uncanny’, even suggesting that, ‘everything which now strikes us as “uncanny” fulfils the condition of touching those residues of animistic mental activity within us and bringing them to expression’ [p363, my italics].  Here he adds a footnote referring back to his 1913 paper Totem and Taboo, in which he recalls that traces of this mode of thinking become uncanny ‘after we have reached a stage at which, in our judgement, we have abandoned such beliefs’ [p363, Freud’s italics].  Throughout this line of the argument he repeats variations on the words ‘return’, ‘repressed’, ‘recur’ several times over the course of the following nine pages, hypothesising through the linguistic morphology of ‘das Heimliche into its opposite, das Unheimliche’ that ‘this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression’ [p363-4, my italics].

These repressed ideas will continue to haunt Freud’s writing throughout the rest of his life, compelling him to write new papers and return to previous ones in a perpetual effort to come closer to a deeper understanding of the transcendent.  In his final paper, Moses and Monotheism [1937-39[4]], he is again occupied by (in other words, he returns to) the question of belief in something beyond the empirical, parenthesising his entire argument within the metaphorical brackets of doubt and admitting that the course of what follows is pure speculation pushed to its wildest limits.  Patrick Mahoney[5] quotes from Freud’s uncertainty in this text and suggests that, ‘[h]aving given free rein to speculation, speculation spurs him on a course of extravagance’ [p79].  Repression, just as Freud describes in his own writing, induces him to continue to return to and repeat his explorations of the topics that most deeply haunt him.

Freud first suggests the idea of a return to a prior state, or a prior home, in The Uncanny, when he says of the female genital organs, ‘[t]his unheimlich place […] is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning’ [p368].  Maud Ellmann[6] cites Luce Irigaray as making connections between the prior state and the ancient chthonic goddesses, quoting Irigaray’s assertion that ‘the whole of our culture in the west depends upon the murder of the mother’ [p23].  But Freud’s recourse to literary language in this passage is also significant.  Freud uses recognisably formulaic phraseology from both fairy tales (‘once upon a time’) and Biblical narrative (‘in the beginning’), which pulls his argument back into the worlds of literature and creation mythology as a bridge between the creation of fiction or story and the return to a prior or transcendent state of being.

When he is elaborating this theory of a return to a prior state/home in his subsequent paper Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920[7]) Freud again finds it necessary to draw upon the literary and mythological to provide the evidence he is searching for.  His suggestion that ‘[a] drive might accordingly be seen as a powerful tendency inherent in every living organism to restore a prior state’ [p165, Freud’s italics], leads him not materially back to the womb, but towards the dictum that ‘the goal of all life is death’ or put another way, ‘the inanimate existed before the animate’ [p166, Freud’s italics].  This is an argument the full extent of which, Freud is aware, ‘might seem airy-fairy or reminiscent of the mystical,’ but he remains ‘confident in the knowledge that no one can accuse us of intending such an outcome’ [p166, Freud’s italics].  Here again is a trace of Freud’s repression of the idea of the Sublime/transcendent, since, despite his best intentions, his argument has him returning to the literary-mythological sphere for its proofs.  Freud admits to having ‘unwittingly fetched up in the philosophical domain of Schopenhauer’ and goes on to declare that, ‘it would appear that the libido of our sexual drives is one and the same thing as the Eros evoked by the poets and philosophers, the binding force within each and every living thing’ [p179].  Finally, Freud concedes that science ‘can tell us … so very little’ about the origins of sexuality, that he must turn to a myth that he ‘would not dare to mention … but for the fact that it meets precisely that particular condition we are so keen to see met.  For it traces a drive back to the need to restore a prior state’ [p186].  Here Freud quotes the androgyne myth from Plato’s Symposium.  This brings us back to the realm of the literary/mythical, but also obliquely to the transcendent.

In a lengthy footnote to this part of the text, added in 1921, Freud explores the origins of the Platonic myth itself (again, returning to what is prior, to the notion of beginnings, and beginningless beginnings).  Here he says that he is indebted to Professor Heinrich Gomperz for informing him that ‘essentially the same theory already occurs in the Upanishads’ [p190].  The Hindu Upanishads are sacred texts dating from around 800-400BC.  Freud endorses the Upanishads’ story of origins and creation by suggesting that it must have seemed to Plato ‘replete with truth’.  Juan Mascaró, translator of The Upanishads into English for Penguin Classics[8], in his 1964 preface likens the scriptures to the Sublime poetics of the Romantic poets, making numerous links to the writings of Blake, Keats and Coleridge among others.  He says, ‘[t]he composers of the Upanishads were thinkers and poets, they had the vision of the poet; and the poet knows well that if poetry takes us away from a lower reality of daily life it is only to lead us to the vision of a higher Reality even in this daily life, where limitations give way for the poet to the joy of liberation’ [p11].   Freud’s writing, exploring the unknown regions of the psyche, is like the work of the poet exploring the regions of the imagination, or the writers of the Upanishads exploring the realms of Reality.  Mascaró quotes William Blake as saying, ‘I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s; / I will not reason and compare: my business is to create’ [p22].  Similarly Freud must create a system for understanding the psyche that continually returns to circle around and repeat his repression of the sublime/transcendent and continues to manifest itself through his compulsion to create a system for understanding, which in turn becomes his own story, or mythology.

 

Freud’s language in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is itself highly literary – he makes extensive use of a range of metaphorical and mythological concepts to illustrate his psychological theory of the drives and ultimately acknowledges that he is bound to work within the ‘figurative language specific to psychology’ [p188].  Thus, psychoanalysis becomes its own founding mythology.   Pamela Thurschwell[9] suggests that Freud is a myth-maker: ‘one who creates stories that others find compelling, that others see themselves reflected in; stories which, in some sense, both are true and also become true,’ because, ‘[t]he process of reading does not simply involve unearthing what is already there in a text; it also always involves creation and construction’ [p123].  Freud is engaging his readers in a story of the drives within human psychology because he is compelled to explore them and communicate his own understanding to others, but he can only do this through the figurative language of metaphor and analogy, drawing on literary and mythological comparisons and developing his own metaphors for the processes he must explain.  In his reading of himself and others through analysis, Freud necessarily becomes the creator and constructor of his own stories of meaning and interpretation, which he in turn must pass on through the creative act of his writing.

Peter Brooks states in his essay Freud’s Masterplot[10] that Beyond the Pleasure Principle is ‘not merely metapsychology, but also mythopoesis, necessarily resembling “an equation with two unknown quantities”’.  Furthermore, Brooks quotes Freud’s words from his New Introductory Lectures: ‘The theory of the instincts is so to say our mythology.  Instincts are mythical entities, magnificent in their indefiniteness’ [p106].  In this sense, Freud’s writing becomes a part of that lineage of literary mythological writings that he is elsewhere so keen to repress.  His creation mythologies are as mythological and poetic as those he grudgingly brings to bear as evidence for his own arguments; equal in their aesthetic qualities and structure to the mythologies and scriptures of those belief systems he would seek to ‘surmount’ with his preferred scientific empiricism.  However, Harold Bloom has contended that the writing psychoanalyst, ‘cannot invoke the trope of the Unconscious as though he were doing more (or less) than the poet or critic does by invoking the trope of the Imagination, or than the theologian does by invoking the trope of the Divine’ [p177]. For Bloom, the figurative language used to describe the story of psychic drives is exactly equal to the figurative language used to describe the story of the imagination or the Divine.  These stories are necessary fictions that we must create if we are to begin the process of exploring and communicating our most subtle and powerful ideas about life.

 

Peter Brooks applies the model developed by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to the study of narrative form and structure.  He says:

As a dynamic-energetic model of narrative plot, Beyond the Pleasure Principle gives an image of how the nonnarratable existence is stimulated into the condition of narratability, to enter a state of deviance and detour (ambition, quest, the pose of a mask) in which it is maintained for a certain time, through at least minimally complex extravagance, before returning to the quiescence of the nonnarratable. [p108]

Here, we may return to the Upanishads for a similar reading of the transcendent: ‘The sound of Brahman is OM.  At the end of OM there is silence.  It is a silence of joy.  It is the end of the journey where fear and sorrow are no more: steady, motionless, never-falling, ever-lasting, immortal.  It is called the omnipresent Vishnu’ [Maitri Upanishad 6.23].  Vishnu, the preserver, could  perhaps be likened to Freud’s figure of ‘that all-preserving force that is Eros’ [Beyond the Pleasure Principle p181] ‘which holds all living things together and which seeks to combine things in ever greater living wholes’ [Brooks, Freud’s Masterplot, p106].  Thus, Eros is figured as both preserver and creator.  Freud’s question, ‘But how could we possibly suppose that the sadistic drive, which aims to harm its object, derives from Eros, the preserver of life?’ [p183] is an apt one which suggests that Eros is not only the binding force of the universe and the desire to create, but also the urge towards – and act of – destruction.  This triple aspect of Freud’s figure of Eros is figured as Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva in Hindu mythology and fulfils the same function.  Both systems are an attempt to define and explain the unnameable transcendent urge that stimulates life into consciousness, impels it with the dual desires for creation and destruction, and reclaims it back into itself again.  This figuring is the same as the narrative process described by Peter Brooks, above, and leads us back towards Harold Bloom’s ‘catastrophe theory of creativity’, from which we can apply the figures of repression, repetition and return to the creative process in the act of creating.

 

For Freud, encounters with literature were always returning to haunt him, like some uncanny spectre, and the thread of intertextuality connects him to the great literary canon of his world; experiences with literature would also prove to be Freud’s dark and terrifying encounter with the Sublime.  Adam Phillips quotes Freud’s ‘element of timid reverence, the feeling of one’s own smallness in the face of greatness’ in connection with certain works of great literature, suggesting that this is ‘rather more akin to feelings of religious awe’.  In fact, for Freud and his contemporaries, ‘[t]he secular religion of great writing […] had replaced the sacred religions of their forefathers’.  Phillips concludes by saying that ‘for Freud, reading had been the modern equivalent of what, beginning in the eighteenth century, had been called the experience of the sublime.  To write and to read was to be close to the source of something, close to the source of the most important something[11] [xi, my italics].  Here again, the creative act of writing (and reading) is seen as the necessary compulsion to repeat the process of coming close to the sublime; again the transcendent non-narratable state manifests itself into narratability, never quite to be revealed, always to be just far enough out of reach to make the perpetual repetition and return to itself a constant desire for the creative writer in Freud.

Harold Bloom reads Freud’s later texts as intrinsically part of the Sublime poetic canon.  For Freud, looking ever farther backwards in time to arrive at ever more distant and inestimable origins and beginnings, and looking ever further forwards towards the conclusion of an analysis which may well render itself interminable [cf. Freud, Analysis Terminable and Interminable] was the source of an anxiety, or restlessness, that was the driving force behind his desire to keep returning to the process of writing, to repeat the act of creativity, which Bloom suggests arises from and circles around his repression of the aesthetic of the Sublime, (or the transcendent), ‘until at last the Sublime mediation of otherness begins to be performed by his text-in-progress’ [p195]. Therefore, it is the act of creative writing itself that becomes the necessary process for Freud to explore and develop his own thinking around the repressed subject of the sublime-transcendent.  Through writing, Freud is creating a powerful mythology which contains within itself its own negative dialectic: the otherness of the transcendent begins to express itself in the repressed silences that Freud finds himself compelled to return to and repeat with every act of creativity as he writes.

Combined with Peter Brooks’ reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle which sees the narrative impulse as intrinsic to the energetic-dynamic model of Freud’s text, but concedes that, ‘[i]t may finally be in the logic of our argument that repetition speaks in the text of a return which ultimately subverts the very notion of beginning and end, suggesting that the idea of beginning presupposes the end, that the end is a time before the beginning, and hence that the interminable never can be finally bound in a plot’ [p109], we begin to arrive at a theory of creative writing which is the continual act of creativity creating, much like the ‘pensée pensante, thought thinking or thinking-thought, thought in the very act or passion of its proceeding’ [Veering p37[12]].

Freud, in his ‘text-in-progress’, demonstrates the ‘radical openness’ [Veering p38] of the impulse to ‘throw oneself into a line of thought and to follow it wherever it leads’ [Beyond the Pleasure Princinple p187].  This is creativity creating: the creative impulse in the passionate act of creation, imbued with its own dynamic thrust and radically open to the limitless possibilities that may ensue.  Freud himself attributes this ‘restless urge for ever greater perfection’ to ‘the repression of drives – the foundation on which all that is most precious in human civilisation is built.  The repressed drive,’ he states, ‘never abandons its struggle to achieve full gratification, which would consist in the repetition of a primary gratification experience,’ [p170].  In other words, we are driven towards striving for ever greater perfection precisely by the desire to return to and repeat a prior state of complete gratification, the drive for which arises from primary repression and is destined never to be satisfied.  As Freud would suggest, we are destined to exist in a constant state of creativity creating, ‘[pressing] “ever onward, unbridled, untamed” [Mephisto in Faust I, ‘Faust’s Study’] … though without any prospect of bringing the process to a conclusion and attaining the desired goal’ [Beyond the Pleasure Princinple p170].  This is creativity creating in perpetuity, and our desire to construct fictions of our own is an intrinsic part of this process.

In discussing the novel form as the epitome of the relationship to time embodied within Freud’s texts Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Remembering, Repeating and Working Through [1914[13]], Brooks quotes Georg Lukács in calling the novel ‘the literary form of the transcendent homelessness of the idea’ [p110] – and here we may be back in the realm of The Uncanny, (which according to Cixous ‘proceeds as its own metaphor’ in the manner of a novel itself[14]) – ‘[o]nly in the novel, whose very matter is seeking and failing to find the essence, is time posited together with the form […] we might almost say that the entire inner action of the novel is nothing but a struggle against the power of time’ [p111].  Brooks elaborates on this with specific reference to Freud by saying, ‘[r]epetition, remembering, re-enactment are the ways in which we replay time, so that it may not be lost.  We are thus always trying to work back through time to that transcendent home, knowing, of course, that we cannot.  All we can do is subvert or, perhaps better, pervert time: which is what narrative does’ [p111].  Thus, our desire to create and construct narratives can be seen as intrinsic to our striving within the perpetually transcendent moment of creativity creating.  The moment which arises in timeless silence, is stimulated into narratability through time, and seeks interminably to repeat and return to that prior state of silence through the ramifications of its discourse.

 

The Modernist novel, contemporary with Freud’s writing, is illustrative of the ways that narrative fiction explores the themes of temporality, beginnings and ends, repeating and returning, and the stimulative desire to engage with the transcendent through creative writing.  Virginia Woolf’s short story An Unwritten Novel [1920[15]] was published in the same year as Beyond the Pleasure Principle and clearly demonstrates a narrative exploration of the themes central to Freud’s text.  In her diary entry of 26 January 1920, Woolf writes (with reference to An Unwritten Novel), ‘Suppose one thing should open out of another […] doesn’t that give the looseness and lightness I want . . . […] What the unity shall be I have yet to discover: the theme is a blank to me; but I see immense possibilities in the form . . .’ [p111].  This is reminiscent of Freud’s radical openness in starting sentences which could lead anywhere, the radical openness of thought thinking, of creativity creating: the desire to engage with the transcendent through creative writing.

This story is, in its very essence, creativity creating.  It seeks to explore the blurred boundaries between fiction and reality, catching itself up in the very passion of the process of creativity creating by constructing a fictional life-story for the character of a woman on a train (who is herself very probably fictional).  The reader is plunged into an abyss and the relationships between reality and fiction are dynamically entwined.  The stimulating process that urges one to create is figured as an inaccessible irritation between the shoulder blades, demanding to be continually returned to but without any prospect of ever being fully satisfied: ‘Her twitch alone denied all hope, discounted all illusion.’  The woman seems ill-at-ease precisely because ‘she looks at life’, and in time her irritation is passed on to the narrator: ‘And then the spasm went through me […] she had communicated, shared her secret, passed her poison; she would speak no more.’  From this point forward in the narrative, the narrator enters into a burning desire to repeat the creative process by constructing the story of the woman’s life, believing that, ‘I read her message, deciphered her secret, reading it beneath her gaze.’  The itch that can never be scratched, the irritation that can never be satisfied, the poisonous twitch that denies all hope is the perpetual desire to construct meaning, to create narrative, to repeat endlessly the creative process without hope of ever attaining the desired goal: the return to the transcendent home where desire is no more because it is eternally gratified.

What follows is a rollercoaster of fictional construction that gathers pace and sees the narrator becoming ever more entwined with the unfolding story of Minnie Marsh, with narrative intrusions breaking through increasingly frequently, sometimes parenthesised and at others part of the continual flow of the text:  ‘[Minnie you must promise not to twitch till I’ve got this straight]’; ‘No, for I assure you I come willingly; I come wooed by Heaven knows what compulsion…’  Interlaced between these two instances, the narrator pulls us momentarily out of the fictionally-constructed narrative of Minnie Marsh’s life, back into the fictionally-constructed narrative of the train journey where the narrator supposedly encounters the character of Minnie, the association sprung from the phrase ‘end of the line’ to leap into the parenthetical ‘– are we past Lewes? –‘.  The bewildering fluidity of narrative perspective in this story is suggestive of the continually unfolding process of creating narrative fictions – which we all do daily in the process of our everyday lives and relationships, and which Freud did in his analytical constructions and his creation of the psychoanalysis mythology.  The title ‘An Unwritten Novel’ hints at the connections between life and the narrative form, figuring the creative act of the writer or storyteller in a perpetual engagement with the desire to come close to the transcendent.

Woolf’s opening sentence in this story contains within it a reference to the ultimate “end” of all human life: ‘human destiny’.  Beginnings, here, arise out of endings, which are one with their beginnings, just as they are in Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Freud’s Masterplot.  Significantly, the story comes into being as predicated upon the repression of a catastrophe, Minnie’s ‘crime’, which is concurrent with Bloom’s reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle as ‘a catastrophe theory of creativity’.   The end of the story sees at first disappointment: the ending of the possibility of creating fiction leaves the narrator destitute and empty, without substance or identity, ‘Who am I?  Life’s bare as bone’ [p36]  This soon shifts, however, as the spark of irritable wonder is rekindled anew and further scope for endless creativity reveals itself through fresh mystery.  The final sentence suggests a renewed sense of powerfully exuberant compulsion in returning to something ancient and familiar: ‘If I fall on my knees, if I go through the ritual, the ancient antics, it’s you, unknown figures, you I adore; if I open my arms, it’s you I embrace, you I draw to me – adorable world!’ [p36]  Here, to return to the ancient and familiar is specifically to return to the act of creating fiction.

This disorientating narrative of the journey without final destination, the interminable circling of repetition and return, the continual eruption of narrative voice within the tapestry of the narrative itself centres around the ineffable silence of the transcendent, signified by broken sentences, anacoluthon, diataxis and ellipses, to become the embodiment of creativity creating.  Nicholas Royle suggests (with reference to Patrick Mahoney) that ‘diataxis is about the veering of the “inner” world, having to do with moments of “decisive spiritual illumination”.  It is about a sudden alteration in understanding or even a transformation of self.’ [Veering p39].  Woolf, like Freud, is compelled to repeat the act of creative writing in an attempt to return to ‘that transcendent home’ that can never be revealed and therefore compels us towards an endless desire to create, through which efforts the transcendent whispers in the silences within the creation.  Creative writing is, as Adam Phillips suggests, the desire to come ‘close to the source of the most important something’.

 

The desire to create fiction, to tell stories, to enter into a dialogue with meaning, is necessary to our human desire to understand the truth about ourselves and our universe.  Freud’s writing passionately embodies this creative desire.  Our need to create fiction is what gives voice to our desire to explore and communicate meaning.  For Freud, creating a mythology of the psyche using the figurative language of psychoanalysis, was the story that he needed to tell, the system he needed to create, in order to understand and communicate his meaning.  Harold Bloom says, ‘Freud knew that “primal repression” was a necessary fiction, because without some initial fixation his story of the psyche could not begin’ [p190, my italics].  The creative desire to write fictions and tell stories is a necessary engagement with the transcendent principle fuelled by our insatiable desire for knowledge and meaning.  This was Freud’s quest in the pursuit of understanding, which manifested itself in his writing through the creation of constructions in analysis and the founding mythology of the drives of the psyche.  The impulse-compulsion to participate in creative writing in the form of narrative storytelling impels us towards fiction precisely because metaphor and mythology are the only way for human beings to make sense of the world.

The Immortal is veiled by the real.  The Spirit of life is the immortal.  Name and form are the real, and by them the Spirit is veiled.  [Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 1.6]

 

 

Rehearsal

Seven years this story has lived in her bones.  Daily, almost hourly Sappho has rehearsed, repeated, remembered.  Is it true?

At the carnival, her mime act is just another sideshow – a silent symphony amidst a cacophonous assault upon the soul.  Painted masks, goblin faces; leering eyes and lolling tongues.  Pressing in on her, they drink her, hungry for the sense of her.  Then spit her out, impossible to swallow.

Silent enigma.  Arriving on horseback from nowhere, white face painted with black, she’s like fire to the fingertips: nobody dares get too close.

But her story is not just a story, not to her.  This mime she’s forced herself to remember; the movements she’s repeated so many times, over and over, rehearsing every detail as she re-enacts the moment.  Her son’s blood smeared on her lips and hands, the look of anguish on her face, the convulsion of grief and slump of her limbs like a marionette whose lifelines have been cut.  All too real.  Like a harrow to the heart.

 

‘What does she mean?’  Faceless voices whisper behind silent masks.

‘Looks like some kind of –‘

‘Ritual?  Story?‘

‘About what?’

‘Love.  Oh! Murder –‘

‘Betrayal.  But whose –‘

‘Whose story?  Which story?’

‘Witch story.’

 

Whispers become cries become shrieks.  Feathered faces, horned faces, sharp-fanged faces pressing closer, blocking the light from her tear-black eyes.

 

‘Witch, witch, witch,’ they howl, surrounding her with darkness:

Witch – coiling

Witch – crushing

Witch – clawing

Rising, baying, moving as one, the serpentine crowd strike and slit her tongue from her mouth.  Silencing the silent storyteller.

Sappho tumbles and plummets, sinking far beneath the surface of the earth as her bones clatter against it.

 

And when she wakes, she runs.  Into the forest.  Dank trees drip and the stench of leaf mould rises.  Dark shapes slither.

Shivering with cold and fear she dives into a cave where a fire is burning.  Warm rocks welcome her with the eerie sense that they are listening, watching, waiting.  Even expecting.

Her body begins to move in the familiar sequence of shapes.  She no longer feels afraid.  Flames cast her flickering shadow onto the wall and she feels that her danse macabre is being witnessed for the first time.  She lets it flood her.  Her secret, her story: the loss, the separation and the pain.  And in this final rehearsal, this ecstatically painful tilling of old ground, the burning furrows of her veins are torn open, ploughed deep for new sowing.

 

Inside, the fire leaps and the shadows disappear.  A raven flies from the cave-mouth, kakkawing its story to the moon.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Reading

Bloom, Harold. ‘Freud and the Sublime: A Catastrophe Theory of Creativity’, in Argon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.  Collected in Ellmann, Maud (ed.) Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (Longman 1994)

 

Brooks, Peter, Freud’s Masterplot from Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984) pp90-112

Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle 1920.  (In Phillips, Adam, The Penguin Freud Reader, Penguin, 2006)

Freud, Sigmund.  ‘The Uncanny’, trans. Alix Strachey, in Pelican Freud Library, vol.14 (Art and Literature).  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985, pp339-376

Woolf, Virginia.  An Unwritten Novel, first published in the London Mercury, July 1920.  Collected in Virginia Woolf Selected Short Stories, ed. Sandra Kemp.  London: Penguin, 1993, [Reprinted 2000] pp25-36, plus notes pp111-112

 

Select Secondary Reading

Brooks, Peter.  Psychoanalysis and Storytelling.  Blackwell, 1994

Cixous, Hélène. ‘Fiction and Its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud’s Das Unheimliche (The ‘Uncanny’), in Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972-2009  (ed. Eric Prenowitz) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

Ellman, Maud. Introduction to Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism, ed. Maud Ellman.  London: Longman, 1994, pp1-35

Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones.  Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1939.

 

Freud, Sigmund, Note on the Magic Notepad 1925, in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp101-105

Freud, Sigmund.  ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working Through’, in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp391-401

Freud, Sigmund, ‘Psychoanalysis’ and ‘Libido Theory’ 1925, in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp106-131

Mahoney, Patrick.  ‘Proportions of Certainty’, in Freud as a Writer, Expanded Edition.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, pp75-96

Phillips, Adam.  Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014

 

Phillips, Adam. Introduction to The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp vii-xv

Royle, Nicholas.  ‘Reading a Poem’, in Veering: A Theory of Literature.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011, pp34-53

Thurschwell, Pamela.  Sigmund Freud. Second Edition.  London: Routledge, 2009

 

Upanishads, The, trans. Juan Mascaró.  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965

 

Rehearsal illustration by Joe Evans

[1] Phillips, Adam.  Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014

[2] Bloom, Harold. ‘Freud and the Sublime: A Catastrophe Theory of Creativity’, in Argon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.  Collected in Ellmann, Maud (ed.) Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (Longman 1994)

[3] Freud, Sigmund.  ‘The Uncanny’, trans. Alix Strachey, in Pelican Freud Library, vol.14 (Art and Literature).  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985, pp339-376

[4] Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones.  Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1939.

[5] Mahoney, Patrick.  ‘Proportions of Certainty’, in Freud as a Writer, Expanded Edition.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, pp75-96

[6] Ellman, Maud. Introduction to Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism, ed. Maud Ellman.  London: Longman, 1994, pp1-35

[7] Freud, Sigmund.  ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp132-195

[8] The Upanishads, trans. Juan Mascaró.  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965

[9] Thurschwell, Pamela.  Sigmund Freud. Second Edition.  London: Routledge, 2009

[10] Brooks, Peter. ‘Freud’s Masterplot’, in Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984, pp90-112

[11] Phillips, Adam. Introduction to The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp vii-xv

[12] Royle, Nicholas.  ‘Reading a Poem’, in Veering: A Theory of Literature.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011, pp34-53

[13] Freud, Sigmund.  ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working Through’, in The Penguin Freud Reader, ed. Adam Phillips.  London: Penguin, 2006, pp391-401

[14] Cixous, Hélène. ‘Fiction and Its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud’s Das Unheimliche (The ‘Uncanny’), in Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972-2009  (ed. Eric Prenowitz) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

[15] Woolf, Virginia.  An Unwritten Novel, first published in the London Mercury, July 1920.  Collected in Virginia Woolf Selected Short Stories, ed. Sandra Kemp.  London: Penguin, 1993, pp25-36, plus notes pp111-112

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