maura king
web page assignment
Laura Arnold
Eng. 341

Edgar Allan Poe and Freud Chase The Dragon

I'm interested in utilizing psychoanalytic theory to dissect Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. Given the highly visual nature of Gothic literature, utilization of Film Theory also seems appropriate. In my preliminary blitzgrieg of psychoanalysis, it seems to me the concepts of instinct, id, ego, superego and the interactions among these processes can provide a very useful framework through which to read The Fall of House of Usher. Please see the definitions below for a quick peak at these concepts. I'm also interested in the roles that anxiety (or "nervous agitation") and dissociation play both within the text and within the reader, as defined by these concepts. Issues from Film Theory of framing and gaze will be incorporated. I will be utilizing Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" article, Susan Wolstenholme's Gothic (Re)visions: Witing Women as Readers, Patrick Mullahy's Oedipus: Myth and Complex, A Review of Psychoanalytic Theory, an introductory text on Freud, and Concepts in Film Theory.

 

 

Sigmund Freud

Definitions of Psychoanalytic Concepts

Instinct: A borderland concept between the mental and the physical, being both the mental representative of the stimuli emanating from within the organism and penetrating to the mind, and at the same time a measure of the demand made upon the energy of the latter in consequence of its connection with the body. (quoted in Oedipus from Freud)

Id: described as a "cauldron of seething excitement" and as the "great resevoir" of the libido, that which drives instinct
 

Ego: controls consciousness and "is a coherant organization of mental processes" This description seems to me to be analagous to the commonly held perception of the difference between intuition and reason.

 
Superego: The ego possesses the ability to "step outside itself" and critically view or observe its own structure. The split section of the ego which performs this function is termed the super-ego.
 

Brief Application of Psychoanalytic Theory to the introductory paragraph of The Fall of the House of Usher

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain upon the bleak walls upon the vacant eye-like windows upon a few rank sedges and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium the bitter lapse into everyday life the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart, an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it? I paused to think what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth.

(pasted from http://bau2.uibk.ac.at/sg/poe/works/usher.html)

In psychoanalytic theory, instinct incorporates desire, affect associated with that desire, behavior through which that desire can be satisfied and object at which that action is directed into a single, but not fused concept of instinct presentation. If satisfaction of an instinct threatens the existence of the organism (as perceived by the ego), a process of repression occurs. In this process the instinct presentation is transferred into the sub- or pre-conscious. This process is not always fool proof, and parts of the instinct presentation, such as the affectual component, may resurface to consciousness. The introductory paragraph of The Fall of House of Usher lends evidence to the reemergence of affect once repressed. I looked upon the scene before me upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain upon the bleak walls upon the vacant eye-like windows upon a few rank sedges and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium. Imagery in this sentence moves from that of innocuous ("mere" "simple") to vile ("rank"). The description of the trees themselves pull together this replacement of positive/neutral affect with negtive affect by juxtaposing "white" with "decayed." This emergence of affect implies a return of a previously repressed instinct to the conscious or preconscious. The narrator substantiates this notion of the influence of instinct presentation through his attempts at understanding the nature of the "sickening of the heart." It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth.

The narrator's poweres of reasoning fail him, forcing him to abandon the fruits of rationality for the more unsettling notion that one is immersed within the sea of the psyche, subject to the conflicts between ego and instinct.

http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~mmaynard/

http://www.ultranet.com/~rsarkiss/POE.HTM