Limitations of Freudian psychoanalysis (for people and texts)

Barry acknowledges that “Freudian theory is often deeply masculinist in its bias” (93). In relating the case study of Dora, he admits that “against the combined male forces of her father, Mr. K., and Freud, Dora has little chance, and the case study certainly shows Freud and psychoanalysis at its weakest” (100)

I concur.  But what Barry doesn’t go into at much length is the reason for the limitations of Freudian analysis. It seems to me that the approach is limited not simply by its insistence upon privileging the connections made by the analysts over the connections made by the subject (which begs the question: whose psyche are we exploring in the analysis?), but more so by its presumption of the veracity of the connection made by the analysts simply because Freud decided that x means y. There is no appeals process on the part of the subject; the subject’s unconscious is inaccessible to his conscious mind and he therefore cannot verify the analyst’s claim. There is no peer review process except by other analysts who are relying upon the same relatively stable glossary of sorts. Authority is claimed simply by virtue of claiming authority. And unfortunately, it is clear that this authority is biased, which taints many of its assumptions and discredits them for the analyst interested in maintaining objectivity.

The application of these concepts to literary criticism is susceptible to the same circular logic trap if the critic is not careful to ground each claim in the evidence found in the text. It is not enough to assert that every time the word “dog” is found in a text, the dog represents a chicken (or what have you), because Freud says so. (I have seen an example of this, and the piece failed miserably.) This is especially true for any associations that could reflect the kind of bias to which Freud was prone. Instead, the critic must find a pattern *within the text* in which the association is suggested, grounded, and repeated. In other words, the text has to give at least some “conscious” clues to its own unconscious in order to make a psychoanalytical reading successful. Otherwise it becomes an exercise in manipulating text after text to appear to fit a preconceived narrative that is tainted by bias. 

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