Psychoanalysis and LOTR

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gandalf-olorin
Posts: 481

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#51 » Sat Mar 04, 2006 8:17 pm

I fear to say too much, Eruwen. Earlier in this thread, I posted what Tolkien himself thought of this subject, though I may not have posted ALL he said. You will have to look up that subject in his Letters and see for yourself.

I can understand and sympathize that you should want to bring a work you love very much, LOTR, into the field of study you have pursued, psychoanalysis. However, to point out what Tolkien probably said more succinctly, I wonder how accurate a psychoanalysis of a work of literature can be without recourse to a living author. In essence, you must not merely analyze the one work to get at Tolkien, you must analyze all his works and then sit down with him--not once but many times--to come to a valid conclusion. It is true that we can learn a great deal about a writer from his works. I would hardly argue against that and remain an English teacher! But we cannnot claim to know nearly enough through one work alone.

Then of course there is the framework of the analysis. If we adhere to the tenets of Freud, largely abandoned by the psychiatric community itself, then we will see the universe through a very confined prism. Any validity in the field has been the product of concrete observations without preconceived theories. Since the experts in this field deliberately exclude the supernatural from the life of man--something foreign and abhorent to Tolkien--then recourse must at least be had to those whose theories have been borne out in solid observable results.

As for the Romantics, Blake's idea seems to me to faintly echo Emerson's of the "oversoul"--also foreign to Tolkien's notion as expressed in LOTR and elsewhere. There are indeed many elements used (abused?) by the Romantics which Tolkien has made use of. But the overview he held, and the themes to which he returned again and again, are not Romantic.

Eruwen, I wish you well on your theses. I hope you continue to study and write after you take your masters--even if you do not pursue a doctorate in the same field. It is well worth the effort to study works of literature. Your present paper will do the most good if it opens up to you (and to others) the vista of the many facets of Tolkien that have yet to be generally understood and pursued.

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eruwen
Posts: 1277

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#52 » Sun Mar 05, 2006 7:43 am

Response to Finrod:
Did'nt most of Freuds theories revolve around sexuality ??

Yes, they certainly did, and I really do not want to ignore these theories for I believe they are a significant in regards to both the pleasure-principle and the reality-principle. I simply have a difficult time with the Oedipus Complex as well as believing that women envy a certain part of the male anatomy. Also, many psychoanalysts, for example, would look at Sam and Frodo and discuss their hidden sexual motives for one another...and those are things I just do not believe and cannot discuss in a paper about LOTR. I think that's where I hold back in regards to Freud and his theories.

And yes, I probably could have incorporated the Silmarillion or completed an entire thesis on it, but there is so much to cover in LOTR that I don't have enough paper or time.

Thanks for your feedback! :)
________________________________________________
Response to Gandalf-olorin:
Hey, I,too, am an English teacher (well, a certified, non-practicing one.) I have done some due diligence though. You know, it's funny how in the world of academia I must defend both my love for LOTR as well as my use of psychoanalytical theory. Yes, most modern academians look upon psychoanalysis as an out-of-date theory, but I really can't stomach theories such as Derrida's -- if it's not stated clearly, then it's not thought out clearly I always say.

I fear to say too much, Eruwen. Earlier in this thread, I posted what Tolkien himself thought of this subject, though I may not have posted ALL he said. You will have to look up that subject in his Letters and see for yourself.

I've read his letters regarding psychoanalysis (as well as many of his works), but one does not have to disregard a critical theory because the author does not like it. Sorry Tolkien. What I understood from his letters though was that Tolkien himself does not want to be psychoanalyzed through his text, and I agree that it is difficult to gain psychological insight into an author through his writing, but again, I don't think it's impossible, and I don't think it means people won't or can't do it. However, I'm simply using his text to demonstrate why it psychologically moves us, the readers, members of society, people who need something to help us explain our own lives and motives.

Going back to critical theory though -- there are many ways to approach a work, and the way I have chosen is to use the text of LOTR in particular (a very close reading) and to look at how it affects the reader, why it mirrors our own journey through life. I could have looked at the work and psychoanalyzed Tolkien, but I agree that that is not fair to him. Not quite what I was going for.

Any validity in the field has been the product of concrete observations without preconceived theories.

Validity to whom? The scientific community? Or to you? I must disagree here, for concrete observations stem out of preconceived theories (hypotheses). And in any case, I am not a scientist, I am a literary critic who likes to use psychoanalytical theories to interpret works. I use what I believe and feel is true, which is what literature is all about. Besides, I am not one who greatly appreciates what the scientific community and society validate anyway, which you might see from my paper, for they are blinded by reality.

Since the experts in this field deliberately exclude the supernatural from the life of man--something foreign and abhorent to Tolkien--then recourse must at least be had to those whose theories have been borne out in solid observable results.

I'm not quite sure what you are saying here. First, I'm not sure exactly what you are referring to regarding the "foreign and abhorent to Tolkien?" Supernatural itself? (Which I doubt you mean) Or the fact that experts in the field of psychoanalysis deliberately exclude the supernatural? In which case, psychoanalysts do refer to the supernatural, but only as images rising out of our unconscious. And then, I'm not sure what you mean by the recourse bit. In any case, even though I am pulling on Freud's theories, I am using more modern interpretations of his theories, utilizing a great deal of Norman O. Brown.

As for the Romantics, Blake's idea seems to me to faintly echo Emerson's of the "oversoul"--also foreign to Tolkien's notion as expressed in LOTR and elsewhere. There are indeed many elements used (abused?) by the Romantics which Tolkien has made use of. But the overview he held, and the themes to which he returned again and again, are not Romantic.

I don't know much about Emerson, but Blake probably does faintly echo his ideas of the oversoul, which are not the Blakean ideas I am referring to in Tolkien. I am referring to the fact that Tolkien says we are spiralling upward to a higher plane of Paradise, and Blake believes in this as well.

Thanks for your feedback! :)

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gandalf-olorin
Posts: 481

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#53 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 12:20 am

I grant that you can legitimately use various methods to criticize literature. If you wish to use psychoanalysis to criticize Tolkien, what I am saying is that you ought to rely on someone whose theories were in fact borne out by observation. This would exclude the whole Freudian school of thought.

I am not sure I can agree with you that observations must proceed from some hypothesis. If we first observe, without any preconceived notions, we are more apt to find the cause of a problem. If we proceed from a psychiatric/psychologic hypothesis, then we have a tendency, however sublimated, to try to bolster our hypthesis. This is what I call the "pride principle," found in abundance in psychiatric circles.

Now you say, "I am referring to the fact that Tolkien says we are spiralling upward to a higher plane of Paradise, and Blake believes in this as well." I cannot recall ever reading anything like this in Tolkien anywhere, nor does the language sound like Tolkien. Do you have a quote or reference which I can read? I would have to say at the outset that Tolkien would not speak in this vein at all, since he would not share the Romantic notion that we are "spiralling upward to a higher plane," even naturally speaking. He might say that we are destined for heaven, but I don't know that that requires any "spiralling." And that destiny is on the supernatural level--i.e., needing the help of God. This supernatural level both psychoanalysis and the Romantics generally do not admit, but which Tolkien certainly did.

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virumor
Posts: 3567

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#54 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 5:01 am

I haven't found the "spiraling" remark anywhere in Letters.
Give up the Halfring, she-elf...

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eruwen
Posts: 1277

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#55 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 10:56 am

Well, I can see that people are critiquing my work without reading it :(.

In a letter to Christopher Tolkien dated Jan. 30, 1945, Tolkien mentions that repentance does not work in "a closed circle," but "works spirally," and that we will not obtain Eden once again, but will recover "something like it, but on a higher plane.”

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gandalf-olorin
Posts: 481

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#56 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 12:01 pm

Briefly, because I do not at the moment have time to go into much detail, if Blake is also using this word "spirally," then you have found an identity of words between him and Tolkien, but this is not an identity of thought. Tolkien is in this letter expanding on the notion that repentance begets a recompense from God, a reward. This, he says, will not be a return to Eden, which can be no more for the human race. This reward will be something higher, heaven. Thus if we took the analogy that rewarding with Eden would be a circle, then a reward on the higher level would become a spiral. This he uses by way of comparison. Further on, Tolkien says that "the whole human race...is free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom...And at certain periods, the present is notably one, that seems not only a likely event but imminent." This means that in his own opinion it is far more likely that the bulk of humanity will not repent and will not be raised to this reward. Obviously, this part of his letter is theological, not psychological--but that was true of a number of his letters.

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virumor
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Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#57 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 4:15 pm

Thank you, Eruwen. I have found it in my copy of Letters now.
Give up the Halfring, she-elf...

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eruwen
Posts: 1277

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#58 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 5:46 pm

Have you read much of Blake? He, too, believes that we will spiral up to a higher-plane. His view of what that higher-plane (heaven) actually is may differ from Tolkien's, but it doesn't mean their line of thought is estranged from one another. They both believe we incurred a Fall from Eden, and that we are moving in a spiral to obtain a different form of Eden on a higher-level. BTW, I do not mention Blake in my paper, but his line of thinking was mostly theological rather than psychological as well. I am not just picking up on the word from Blake and Tolkien though, (which would be okay to do in what is considered a close reading anyway), but this particular line of thought is similar to both. Blake was a very religious person.

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gandalf-olorin
Posts: 481

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#59 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 6:15 pm

A lot of people are considered very "religious" today who have absolutely no common ground. It may be true that Tolkien and Blake both say that we will "spiral" up to our ultimate reward. But, if I know my Romantics, I do not think Blake means this at all in the sense that Tolkien does. Blake, if he shares the idea of "oversoul" with Emerson, imagines that we shall all merge with the greater universe, and that the more we lose of our individuality and accelerate this "oneness" with nature, etc., the better. The Romantics also thought their writings, especially their poetry, could replace faith and religion and bring about through their natural power this ultimate union.

Tolkien loved nature--no doubt about that. But he would never have imagined that his writings would of themselves, or even with the concerted love of all his fans, elevate so much as a molecule to a higher plane. He believed that God stooped down to us and raised us up through a specific revelation--and that by following what God has laid down and by using His supernatural aid we can obtain that goal, the terminus of the "spiral." This difference might also be ascertained in his discussion, in the foregoing letter, of forgiveness. To Tolkien, as to any Catholic, forgiveness means asking God for pardon. To the Romantic, however, forgiveness means begging the pardon of Nature, or at the most of one's fellow men as representing Nature.

You have a legitimate goal in mind, Eruwen, in analyzing LOTR to see what makes us love it. My point is, make sure that the things you compare really do compare.

Morambar
Posts: 1022

Psychoanalysis and LOTR

Post#60 » Mon Mar 06, 2006 6:54 pm

I dunno; there's latitude in any movement. The're not just all one artist writing with many pens, however literally we take the Oversoul. There's plenty of classically religious imagery in Blake; we can see it in Go and Catch a Falling Star, without recourse to his lithographs of the Divine Comedy. Though how much this has to do with psychoanalysis of the Trilogy I'm not sure. ;-p

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