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Narcissism and the Literary Libido: Rhetoric, Text, and Subjectivity

Marshall W. Alcorn
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Narcissism and the Literary Libido
    Book Description:

    What is it that makes language powerful? This book uses the psychoanalytic concepts of narcissism and libidinal investment to explain how rhetoric compels us and how it can effect change. The works of Joseph Conrad, James Baldwin, Michael Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Arthur Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Ben Jonson, George Orwell, and others are the basis of this thoughtful exploration of the relationship between language and subject. Bringing together ideas from Freudian, post- Freudian, Lacanian, and post-structuralist schools, Alcorn investigates the power of the text that underlies the reader response approach to literature in a strikingly new way. He shows how the production of literary texts begins and ends with narcissistic self-love, and also shows how the reader's interest in these texts is directed by libidinal investment.Psychoanalysts, psychologists, and lovers of literature will enjoy Alcorn's diverse and far-reaching insights into classic and contemporary writers and thinkers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0751-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Jeffrey Berman

    As New York University Press inaugurates a new series of books on literature and psychoanalysis, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect briefly upon the history of psychoanalytic literary criticism. For a century now it has struggled to define its relationship to its two contentious progenitors and come of age. After glancing at its origins, we may be in a better position to speculate on its future.

    Psychoanalytic literary criticism was conceived at the precise moment in which Freud, reflecting upon his self-analysis, made a connection to two plays and thus gave us a radically new approach to reading literature....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. ONE Political Ties and Libidinal Ruptures: Narcissism as the Origin and End of Textual Production
    (pp. 1-28)

    This book is about change—changes in people, changes in value, changes in thinking, changes in perception, changes in attention, and changes in the intensity of attention. This subtle continuum between changes in people and changes in the intensity of attention is part of the complexity of change. Because readers and teachers direct (and to some extent control) acts of attention, a better understanding of this continuum is important. We need a theoretical framework that will help us understand how changes in the intensity of attention affect social action and value.

    There are many simple ways to explain changes in...

  6. TWO Self-Structure as a Rhetorical Device: Modern Ethos and the Divisiveness of the Self
    (pp. 29-62)

    Contemporary scholarship in English has begun to show an increasingly sophisticated attentiveness to the forces of politics and persuasion. It is not simply that Marxists like Terry Eagleton pronounce literary theory dead and rhetoric alive; many traditional scholars, people deeply committed to politically disinterested New Critical views of art, have begun to recognize political forces and rhetorical patterns in texts long considered distant from such concerns. In keeping with this new interest in the operations of rhetoric, it is useful to examine the traditional concept ofethos. Ethosseems especially fitted to advance an understanding of textual rhetoric because it...

  7. THREE Projection and the Resistance of the Signifier: A Reader-Response Theory of Textual Presence
    (pp. 63-102)

    Reader-response theory can be useful for explaining the mechanisms of textual rhetoric. But the present theoretical positions that define reader response generally undermine the rhetorical complexity of interactions between the text and the subject. Because reader response is most often represented in either emphatically psychoanalytic terms or in emphatically poststructuralist terms, reader-response theories either underestimate the status of the text (as in psychoanalytic perspectives) or underestimate the status of the subject (as in poststructuralist perspectives).

    Rhetoric, in order to function as rhetoric, has to assume that language in and of itself can affect a reader’s response. This assumption is generally...

  8. FOUR Character, Plot, and Imagery: Mechanisms That Shift Narcissistic Investments
    (pp. 103-157)

    Professional critics normally imagine reading as a complex conscious attentiveness that moves toward interpretive understanding. Wolfgang Iser emphasizes that reading requires problem-solving tasks and complex syntheses of perception and recognition. Norman Holland emphasizes that the matter of reading is not so much conscious as unconscious: Reading engages identification and unconscious fantasy formation. All of these descriptions of reading, however, attempt to name a particular “content” that is given to consciousness, or the unconscious, through reading. To understand literary rhetoric, it will be useful to consider the unique nature of the reading process as more significant than the reading content. Victor...

  9. FIVE The Narcissism of Creation and Interpretation: Agon at the Heart of Darkness
    (pp. 158-189)

    Every author strives to create a work of substance. We might modify this truism to suggest that authors strive to perfect and augment their own substance by means of the work they create.¹ In a letter of 1899, close to the time he was working onHeart of Darkness, Conrad complains of a fear that his work lacks substance. As he makes this complaint, he imagines himself face to face with a monster threatening to consume him, threatening to deprive him of his own substance:

    The more I write the less substance do I see in my work. The scales...

  10. SIX Language and the Substance of the Self: A Lacanian Perspective
    (pp. 190-216)

    This book has offered an extended discussion of relations between language and the subject. I have suggested that language can have a powerful effect on self-functions because the subject is, in part, a linguistic entity. For the most part, the theoretical underpinnings of my discussion have been eclectic. In emphasizing the self-divisive structure of the subject, I have used Freudian, post-Freudian, and even poststructuralist ideas to develop my argument. Because relations between language and the subject are central to my argument, and central also to many other influential theoretical positions, I want to devote this chapter to an extended discussion...

  11. SEVEN Conclusion: What Do We Do with Rhetorical Criticism?
    (pp. 217-228)

    This book has employed psychoanalytic theory to explain the complex experiential effects, the conflictual rhetoric, of literary texts. But ifrhetoricis really the central term, the umbrella word, then rhetorical criticism must both encompass and go beyond traditional psychoanalytic concerns. Good rhetoric, like effective psychoanalysis, is a response to suffering, and social formations are as likely to make us suffer as personal history. Good rhetoric must be concerned as much with politics and social history as with the psychological battles of the inner self.

    Rhetorical criticism must explore those mediating verbal structures that are the textual interface between the...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-244)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)