TEXT AND SIGN
CAMELIA ELIAS
Dept of Culture and Identity, English Program
Marxist/psychoanalytic theories
session 2
Karl Marx (1818-1883) &
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)
 economic theory  ‘communism’
 materialist theory within Western philosophy
 AIM: “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various
ways; the point, however, is to change it.”
Marxist literary criticism
 especially in the 1930s and ’60s
 Since the 1970s:
Marxist feminism: from class to gender
Marxist structuralism: from class to language
Marxist post-structuralism: difference creates
class  postcolonialism
position and concerns
 insistence on the social meaning of texts
 insistence on the political function of
literary and textual studies
 literary into cultural studies
Das Kapital (1867)
 shows the basic struggle between classes, and
recommends action against the 'spectre' of capitalism
 shows how the capitalist system is exploitative in that it
"transfers the fruit of the work of the majority...to a
minority”
 Focus on:
 economy
 modes of production
 forces/relations of production
 Each mode of production has three aspects.
 A distinctive principle determining property
 A distinctive division of labour
 A distinctive principle of exchange
Das Kapital 2
 the material relations of society determine the
way we think/our consciousness
 the economic base of a society produces a
superstructure of laws and politics
 the function of the superstructure is to legitimate the
power of the social class that owns the means of
productions
 the relationship between base and superstructure is
dialectical
Das Kapital 3
 aspects of the economic base
 what is produced, made or manufactured
 who controls the production
 where things are produced, made or manufactured
 how products are circulated and distributed
 what results from the circulation and production
 aspects of the superstructure
 political, religious, philosophical, ethical, aesthetic,
ideological
socialist realism
 socialist realism
the official Communist ‘artistic method’
a certain kind of realism founded on the 19th
century tradition of Russian realism
anti-modernist and anti-formalist
emphasis on the individual’s involvement in
the complex network of social relations as
opposed to the alienated individual
consciousness of modernism
general characteristics
 all texts are products of a particular society and
a particular context
texts are not products of timeless artistic
criteria
a historical concept of literature
 texts are not products of either the conscious or
unconscious intentions of the author
 literature is part of a particular society’s
superstructure and belongs to the ideological
sphere
ideology
 a discourse representing the world
BUT different from other discourses insofar as
it’s an explanation of the economic
organization of society
 the material production of values, ideas
and beliefs
BUT these values are often conflicting and
overdetermined by power relations
ideology 2
 classical Marxism
 ideology is an imagined representation of reality
 ideology is false and distorted by definition
 ‘false consciousness’ vs. the underlying reality of
economic and class relations
 neo-Marxism - Louis Althusser (1977)
 ideology represents the imaginary relationship of
individuals to their real conditions of existence
 ideology is a system of representations which enables
individuals to realize their place in the social network
ideology 3
 Terry Eagleton (1976)
ideology is not a ‘set of doctrines’
ideology ‘signifies the way men live out their
roles in class-society, the values, ideas and
images which tie them by their social function
and so prevent them from a true knowledge of
society as a whole’
literature and ideology
 literature itself is an ‘ideological form’
 both produced by ideology
 producing ideology
 ‘The literary text is not the ‘expression’ of
ideology, nor is ideology the expression of social
class. The text, rather, is a certain production of
ideology, for which the analogy of dramatic
production is in some ways appropriate. A
dramatic production does not ‘express’, ‘reflect’
or ‘reproduce’ the dramatic text on which it is
based; it ‘produces’ the text, transforming it into
a unique and irreducible entity’. (Eagleton, 1976)
Georg Lukács
 associated with Socialist realism
 form
 realism
 formal unity
 ‘positive’ heroes
 a realist work reflects reality
 all the contradictions and tensions of social existence
are realized in a formal whole
 a realist work should show human existence as
part of a dynamic historical environment
Bertolt Brecht
 dramatist and theorist
 form
 experimental
 loosely linked episodes
 ordinary, tough, and unscrupolous ‘heroes’
 alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt)
 the facts of social injustice need to be presented as if
they were shockingly unnatural and totally surprising
 the actor must present a ‘role’ both recognizable and
unfamiliar to the audience
 Brecht and Brian (Monty Python’s The Life of Brian)
methods
 make a division between overt (manifest or surface) and
covert (latent of hidden) content of a literary work
 relate the covert subject matter of the literary work to
basic Marxist themes such as class struggle
 relate the context of the work to the social-class status of
author
 explain the nature of a whole literary genre in terms of
the social period that ‘produced’ it
 relate the literary work to the social assumptions of the
time in which it is ‘consumed’
 politicize the literary form
psychoanalytic theory
 1920s → ? post-Freudian theory  feminism
 Freud: studies in hysteria  the unconscious: ‘a
psychic apparatus’
 emphasis on the body and sexuality
 Peter Brooks: interpretation (hermeneutics) (80s)
 Shoshana Felman (revisions of Freudian theories 
feminist approaches) (70s-90s)
 Jacques Lacan (language), Norman Holland
(reading), Harold Bloom (literary influence)
 radical hermeneutics
history and background


Romantic aesthetics and criticism
 the romantic replacement of mimetic or pragmatic views of art
 focus on the expressive view of literature
 psychological criticism: deals with the work of literature as an
expression of the author’s personality or mind in fictional form
 shift to the interpretative
Materialist reversals in the 19th century
 Marx
 der Geist
 das Kapital
 Nietzsche
 morals
 will to power: ‘happiness and instinct are one’
 Freud
 conscious
 unconscious (low, hidden, repressed, basic)
 Ricoeur:
 hermeneutics of faith: restores meaning to a text
 hermeneutics of suspicion: decodes meaning that are
disguised
general characteristics


Literature is thought of in terms of, or as analogous to
dreams
Both literature and dreams:
 are inventions of the mind/fictions
 are not literally true, but may nevertheless have
some truth to tell
 have to be interpreted in order to reveal their truth
 truth has a pathetic nature
 pathos vs. logos  mimesis
 Literature and dreams are force fields in which strong
feelings, drives and desires express themselves
 Literature/dreams are manifestations of desire, they
are driven by desire, desire is their fuel.
 Plotted and constructed so that they express desire
most efficiently (Bennett and Royle)
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
 The human mind is dual in
nature
 conscious – unconscious
 The prime forces of human
consciousness are mainly
and normally unconscious
 conscious:
predominantly rational,
logical and orderly – the
reality principle
 unconscious:
predominantly irrational,
passion driven,
unknown – the pleasure
principle
the unconscious
 What lies in the unconscious mind is put there as a
result of its repression by the conscious mind that
deems it unacceptable
 Freud’s alternative and extended model of the dual
nature of the human mind includes a third term,
representing the censoring aspect of the conscious
mind (a product of the oedipal stage):
 the ego (conscious; the agency which represents
the subject’s identifications and mediations with
external reality)
 the superego (conscious/unconscious)
 the id (unconscious, the centre of instinctual
drives)
forms and mechanisms
 The repressed desires of the unconscious only
show themselves obliquely in consciousness:
 their morally unacceptable content seeks
expression in morally acceptable forms (return
of the repressed, or sublimation)
 chief forms:
 dreams, lapses of memory, slips of the tongue,
puns, jokes, nonsense, too much sense, bizarre
actions, literature (sic!)
 chief mechanisms:
 condensation: metaphoric (associative)
connection
 displacement: metonymic connection (selective)
 symbolism: metaphoric/metonymic: the phallic
the dream
 The dream (and other disguises of the unconscious
in the conscious mind) is a rebus:
 the dream has a manifest content and latent
content
 dream content and dream thought

The dream-thoughts and the dream-content are presented to us
like two versions of the same subject-matter in two different
languages. Or, more properly, the dream-content seems like a
transcript of the dream-thoughts into another mode of expression,
whose characters and syntactic laws it is our business to discover
by comparing the original and the translation. The dream-thoughts
are immediately comprehensible, as soon as we have learnt them.
The dream-content, on the other hand, is expressed as it were in a
pictographic script, the characters of which have to be transposed
individually into the language of the dream-thoughts (The
Interpretation of Dreams,1900)
the analyst
 It is the job of the analyst to figure out the
latent content of the dream – its truth:
Freudian psychoanalysis is fundamentally
a hermeneutics/a theory of interpretation
(that is, the uncovering of a text’s hidden
meaning) (cf. Freud’s Traumdeutung,
trans. Interpretation of Dreams)
Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)
 Translation of Freud’s
insights into linguistic
categories/ structuralist
terms:
 “The unconscious is
structured like a
language” (Lacan)
 “For Lacan, language is
not something that we
can use in order to try to
make ourselves more
comfortable with the
alien nature of desire:
desire speaks through
language and it speaks
us” (Bennett & Royle)
LANGUAGE:
 makes me
 is not me
 is incomplete
 incompletes me
 is all I have
Freudian dualism
 Radicalising of Freudian dualism: a
fundamental split at the heart of human
existence:
 we can never say what we really mean, want, are
 the insatiability of desire


needs instincts; demands discursive
the satisfaction of these demands is socially/discursively
organized
DESIRE
• the motive engine for everything
(libido)
• desire is unsatisfiable lack, not
knowing what it lacks
• we are formed by others’
expectations
the imaginary, the mirror stage, the
phallus (the symbolic order)
 the imaginary
 the pre-oedipal stage  total symbiosis between mother and
child; no sense of self
 the mirror stage
 the acquisition of language emerges
 the “I” is unstable and is reflected through other people or
objects
 the "mirror" is at once self and not-self
 the phallus (symbolic order)
 the child is socialized into the family through acknowledgment
and acceptance of difference (in gender) and absence (of the
mother's body).
 the child introduced to the world through a series of interdictions
the “I” in the symbolic order

The human subject always enters a pre-existing
linguistic order of signifiers/system of differences - the
symbolic order
 split between ‘subject of enunciation’ (“I”) and
‘subject of the enunciating’ (the subject)
 “I” does not signify the subject, but only has meaning
in relation to other signifiers in the linguistic system
(I/you, man/woman, young/old, etc.)
 what the subject is/its identity remains unconscious
unconscious disorders
 The unconscious articulates itself through
linguistic dis-order:
 imaginary identities/identifications on the
level of the signifier
 metaphor (‘condensation’/’symbolism’),
 metonymy (‘displacement’)
 a rhetoric of desire
It is the job of the analyst to deconstruct the
rhetoric of desire in order to point to the
fundamental discontinuity of the subject
 The Borromean knot  interdependence
 The imaginary: is the realm of unarticulated (but articulable)
identifications
 The symbolic: utterly excludes the real and dissolves the
imaginary
 The real: neither symbolic, nor imaginary: lies beyond the
network of signifiers, is beyond all signification
criticism
 Both Freud and Lacan have been criticized (eminently by
Derrida) for privileging the phallus/signifier and for not
offering adequate insights into women’s experience
 The unconscious for Derrida is NOT structured as a
language, nor does it come into being through the
accession to the symbolic
 The unconscious is before language, in language and
beyond language
Theory, focus and aims of
psychoanalytic literary criticism
 All texts are (like) fantasies or dreams:
 All texts are disguises for the expression of
unconscious desire:
 on the level of the author (Freud)
 on the level of characters (Freud)
 on the level of language (Lacan, Kristeva)
 All texts can be:
 interpreted in order to figure out the
author’s/character’s unconscious desires (Freud)
 deconstructed in order to demonstrate the workings
of the unconscious on the level of the signifier
(Lacan)
“Bliss” in Marxist reading
 private sphere
 not as intimate as described
 objects are just objects, they are not mysterious 
critique of the illusion of happiness
 public sphere
 dominated by bourgeois values
 poets are useless; capitalists are ruthless
 public and private spheres interfere with each
other
 artificiality vs. authenticity
 recognition and oppression
“Bliss” in psychoanalytic reading


unconscious desires articulate themselves in
spite of the character’s aim to control them
the ‘reality principle’ vs. the ‘pleasure principle’


clear-cut division between characters that embody
each of the two principles
the symbolic order and the imaginary

“What had she to say? She’d nothing to say. She
only wanted to get in touch with him for a moment,
She couldn’t absurdly cry: ‘Hasn’t it been a divine
day!’ ‘What is it?’ rapped out the little voice.
‘Nothing. Entendu,’ said Bertha, and hung up the
receiver, thinking how much more than idiotic
civilisation was.”
“Was there anything beyond it? Harry said ‘No.’
(p. 111-114)
contrasts
Bertha
 innocent, childish, plays
with her daughter
 considers the house a
playhouse
 plays with the guests
 disavowal
 repetitions: “really – really –
she had everything”
 irony
 likes/interprets symbols
 “ignorance is bliss”
Ms. Fulton
 older and mature
 and exotic and
communicative medium
between Bertha and
Harry
 averts others’ constitutive
gazes
 strange, curious,
mysterious
 is a symbol
 fulfills functions (is an
artist)
Marxism and psychoanalysis
 the hidden or latent (ideology/the
unconscious) structures in a text has the
potential to enforce (ideology) or disrupt
(the unconscious) the manifest content of
the text
 both Marxist and psychoanalytic theories
are therefore structuralist theories that
focus on binary oppositions
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TEXT AND SIGN