Tuesday, February 4, 2014

And Finally... Freud

Today's Notes from the Ivory Tower are being pulled from the annals of the Literary Theorists. That's right everyone, today We're talking about Freud!

I'm sure that lots of us can quote a line or two from Freud:

"Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar"

"The Oedipus Complex"

"Psychoanalytic Theory"

"Freudian Slip"

But what actual theory do these snippets entail? A lot of it has been discredited in the world of clinical therapy, but Freud is still widely used in literary criticism, and his theories have influenced the western world more deeply than many realize. For instance, Freud drastically changed the way we read, interpret and perform Hamlet. (Oh yes, there ARE a lot of references to Shakespeare. I'm writing my thesis on him, so deal with it. Also, Freud intentionally misreads Hamlet, which is INFURIATING.)

What we're going to do this time is  quick, boiled-down overview of Freud's main theoretical texts. So, without further ado, here we go!

The Oedipus Complex (From The Interpretation of Dreams)

The quickest way to describe the Oedipus complex is that young boys are born with a desire to marry their mothers and kill their fathers. Which also happens to be the plot of Sophocles' Oedipus. Rather than commenting on a classic Greek work, however, Freud is looking at this as a developmental stage that children go through, and can be the basis for the later development of neuroses.

Some problematic quotes (From The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism 2nd Edition):
"Being in love with one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis."

"It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father."

"The play is built up on Hamlet's hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him: but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations and an immense variety of attempts at interpreting them have failed to produce a result."

Clearly, there are a couple of problems with Freud's theory. Like, for instance, what on earth do you do if you're a female? Or, quite frankly, anything other than a heterosexual, white male? Freud addresses this late in his career, or tries to. He disdains the Electra complex, and attempts to create a rather tortured argument to demonstrate how boys and girls develop in the same manner. Obviously this is considered some of his weakest work.

As for his blatant misreading of Hamlet and complete ignorance of the critical storm that revolves around that play, all I will say is that Laurence Olivier had clearly read Freud before filming his Hamlet, and frankly the results are a weak, unbelievable Hamlet with a seriously uncomfortable closet scene.

Prior to Freud, the closet scene would have been done very differently. Like, with two chairs and a plate of sandwiches. Not in the bedroom. Without the uncomfortable Freudian subtext. (For more context, see the linked video above.)

Medusa's Head

This is a short text, about a page long that expands on the single idea that "To decapitate = to Castrate" (From The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends 3rd Edition, Edited by David Richter). Essentially, the multiple phallic symbols on Medusa's head represent castration. Freud also posits that an erect phallus on display is saying "I am not afraid of you. I defy you. I have a penis."

Oh yes, Freud did just pit the penis and vagina in an epic mythological battle and had the penis win.

The Uncanny

This text is Freud's attempt to concretize an aesthetic quality. The word in the original German is "unheimlich", which Freud goes on to lengthily define as something that is belonging to the house/family, is familiar, concealed, kept from sight... it goes on until we have such a mishmash of definitions that the word itself almost becomes meaningless. So we begin with a translation problem; Freud himself states that "uncanny" is not the best translation for "unheimlich". But the point of this first section of the essay is to define a word to describe a certain feeling.

The second half of the essay examines a short story called The Sand Man. What that analysis devolves into is Freud going back to his roots and positing that the fear of losing one's eyesight is a substitute for the fear of, you guessed it, castration!

Hopefully you've enjoyed this edition of Notes from the Ivory Tower, and if you didn't precisely enjoy it, I hope you got a few good giggles out of it. We'll be back next time with something else fun!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

What Would Rheumatoid Awareness Mean to You?

This is a Special Edition of Notes from the Ivory Tower, for Rheumatoid Awareness Day 2014.

Let me start by briefly telling you my story.

In December of 2011, I went to the hospital for a breathing issue. The next day, my left arm wouldn't straighten completely. Then, as December wore on into January, I began to be in a great deal of pain. By February 2012, I was missing classes due to extreme pain and fatigue. I finally went to the doctor at the end of that month, and a few weeks later, I got a phonecall from my GP, telling me that my blood test had come back positive for Rheumatoid Arthritis, and he was referring me to a rheumatologist. I was not nearly as afraid as I should have been that day. My expectation at the time was something along the lines of "I'll take meds for three weeks and be fine". Since that time, I have tried methotrexate, Humira, Simponi, Actemra, Xeljanz, Orencia, and I'm currently awaiting my second Rituxan infusion. During that time, I was going to university. When I was diagnosed, I was in my third year of my undergraduate, studying English and Theatre. I have since graduated with a BA in English, and I'm currently enrolled in an MA program, also in English.

I honestly thought I was going to crash and burn the year I was diagnosed, and so what Rheumatoid Awareness would mean to me is coming from the viewpoint of a university student.

The first semester I was sick, my GP told me that my tests had come back positive in mid-March. I was not formally diagnosed until July 2014, after changing Rheumatologists. That was one of the hardest things to try to explain to my Professors, especially mid-semester. I was clearly sick, but I couldn't tell them what, specifically, was wrong, and I didn't know what I needed other than time and understanding. Thank goodness for teachers who were willing to give me just that, because I passed every class I took that semester. What Rheumatoid awareness would have meant in that situation, and still would mean to me, is that... well, let me do it this way:
  • Patients get speedy, clear, and EARLY care/diagnosis, so that we can begin to educate those around us and ourselves;
  • Patients get clear and realistic information from our Rheumatologists
  • Drop "Arthritis" from the name of the disease... those of us who are attractive 20-somethings get disbelieved based on the "A"-word alone and it can be devastating
  • Professors, Employers, Family members, Friends and everyone in the lives of those living with Rheumatoid Disease would listen with open ears and minds
  • Universities would redesign their Disabilities Services offices so that students with chronic illnesses can function within the system, instead of around the edges and grey areas of the system
The list goes on, but those are the big ones for me, and those are the ones I would emphasize, given a choice to change anything in my life (except for having Rheumatoid Disease, obviously. If I could change that, I would in a heartbeat.)

That is what Rheumatoid awareness would mean to me, and as a student, I will continue to speak up about my disease and what I need, and I hope to continue to work with people (and there are and continue to be many in my life!) who listen with compassion and understanding.

Thanks for reading this special edition of Notes from the Ivory Tower, we'll be back next time with our regularly scheduled notes!

The Turducken Time Theory

Today's Notes from the Ivory Tower are being pulled from Literary Theory, with an emphasis on Time. These notes come from a combination of existing theories of literary time, mixed up together into my own Turducken theory.

Just like a Turducken is various deboned birds stuffed into one another, the Turducken Time Theory takes existing types of literary time and stuffs them inside each other in various incarnations to make time work in various ways in various pieces of literature. And yes, I did just overuse the word Various. Let's start by looking at the different varieties of literary time.

Chronologic Time

Chronologic time is the thing most people automatically think of when someone mentions time. It flows forward in a linear fashion, and is continuous. "Chronologic" comes from the Greek "Chronos", and it is the simplest form of literary time. It can also be used in literary discussion as "out-story" time.

Kairos (Event Time)

Kairos, or "event time" comes from the Ancient Greek word "Kairos", and it describes a section of time in which an event occurs. The ancient Greek is also associated with weather; by this association then, kairos refers to events that are beyond the control of characters in the narrative. Weather included. For example, the storm scene in King Lear is a good example of kairos, because it is an event which is clearly outside of Lear's control, and yet is a temporal shaping factor of the arc of the narrative.


Periodicity is another form of event time, but rather than being associated with weather, periodicity is associated with disease. Specifically, the time in which a disease runs its course. This article discusses periodicity in terms of geologic time and climate change in Cowper's The Task, and is certainly worth a read; it helps explain periodicity.

Mythologic Time

Mythologic time is fully and expertly explained by Umberto Eco in his article "The Myth of Superman", but I'll break it down quickly here. The two mainstays of Mythologic time are In-Story Time and Out-Story Time.

In-Story Time is basically the chronologic time within a narrative, and is 'consumed' by the characters. It has a beginning and a middle and an end, and while it can be linear and forward moving, it can also be cyclical, backwards, spiral...any narrative flow can be in-story, consumable time. Once In-Story Time has been consumed, it's finished, done, and we as the audience or reader can take the narrative as a whole.

Out-Story Time is either chronological time, or it is the time that we as readers use as a lens with which to analyze In-Story Time which has been fully consumed (or, as with Superman, exists in an omnipresent now that prevents Superman consuming his In-Story Time and thus ending the story).

Biblical Time

Biblical time is an easy one. The Bible lays out a timeline, and then attempts to impose that timeline on chronological or Out-Story Time.

Now that we've quickly gone over the existing theories of literary time, let's explore how we can stuff them inside of each other and how it affects the way we look at time and temporality in literature.

Obviously, chronological time is the Turkey, because it exists both within and without literature. So everything we stuff into chronological time exists, but whether it exists inside or outside of story time can make the turducken theory kind of meta at times. The myth of Hercules is a good place to look, and actually Superman functions in the same way (Seriously, read the linked Eco article, it is AMAZING). Because we have a concrete body of literature in the cases of Hercules and Superman, their narratives exist and evolve in chronological time outside of the narratives. They also both contain event times, and mythological times as well as fun little narrative arcs that serve to keep Superman from "ending". This is a quick look into what time can do, but it applies to literally any literature you care to examine with the Turducken Time Theory.

Hopefully you enjoyed these Notes from the Ivory Tower! We'll be back next time with something else fun.