“Life ain’t Nothing but Bitches and Money” – A half arsed discussion of Psychoanalytic and Marxist Criticism

God…that title looks boring.

Anyway, basically, I’m going to do a half arsed version of an essay I’ve been intending to do for ages. But because its Sunday, I’m not going to do any research, and I’m probably going to stop halfway through to start tidying up my room.

Still, at least I’ve got an NWA quote in the title.

Anyway, lets get on this.

So, I guess this could be considered an attack on the grand narratives of Freudian Psychoanalysis and Marxism. Which is interesting because It think there are lessons to be learnt from both. Its just the old post modernist thing of attacking the grand narratives I guess. Plus when you try and summarise Freud and Marx using the words of Ice Cube…it becomes much clearer just how much the two can be seen to reducing everything to nothing.

Lets (for some reason) ignore the fact that Freud was a sexist pig who had no idea of anything that happened in the lives of people who didn’t live in Middle class Vienna. This is probably a gross oversimplification of him…but that’s all that everybody ever does with Freud, which is perhaps the problem. My housemate did Psychology at Uni, and she always finds it interesting that I did loads of stuff on Freud (in my Literature degree) when they were taught from the beginning that the whole thing was unprovable tosh. Freud and the interpretations of Freud (we’re talking Lacan’s phallus here by the way) are still prevalent modes of criticism in the field of Literature.

There is genuinely some really interesting stuff going on there. You can compare Freud’s understanding of ‘the dream work’, that is the way our subconscious presents thoughts in dreams but then we encode and disguise them so our conscious mind doesn’t have to face up to the unpleasant truths within, with the practice of writing and creativity. The construction of meaning in writing can be compared to an expression of the mind of the author (who, as we all know, is dead) being transmitted through the veiling and changing process of language. Does that make sense to anyone who isn’t a pretentious wanker? Possibly not. But there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on there. For the likes of Nick Royle, literature is a form of telepathy (I’ll post my dissertation on Philip K Dick at some point for more discussion of this) between the minds of author and reader. In fact this is probably a gross mis-interpretation, but that’s what I always got out of it. In fact I think that its closer to empathy at least half of the time. Good literature has an ability to make you feel a situation, rather than just think about it. That’s why we love reading even when its not the smartest and wittiest and most intelligent pieces of Canonical literature. That’s why ‘trashy’ and ‘lowbrow’ books are still damn good.

Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward is an excellent book that essentially deals with psychoanalysis through the medium of a witty and fast paced sci fi narrative. Read it now…its worth it. The writing seems a little stilted at times but the pace and humour is so good that you forgive it immediately…and its a first novel…so its a pretty damn fine achievement. I won’t analyse it now as it would spoil it. First person who lives in my area and e-mails me asking for it can borrow my copy.

Anyway. The point is that you need to get the whole breadth of Psycholanalysis being considered in order to get something useful out of it. I don’t like the way that one tiny element has effectively become the whole grand narrative. Its a simplification. Everything is about sex…apparently…it just becomes a hunt for phallic symbols and returns to the womb. Eye removal is apparently synonymous with castration anxiety…as is almost anything else that can happen. I mean…I can appreciate that people think about sex a lot…I sure do. I can even see how it could be considered one of the primary motivational drives. The reproductive drive (continuance of DNA…the selfish gene and all that jazz) is the obvious motivation. But even Freud had to override that with the Death Drive once he saw the results of the First World War. I don’t know…I guess its the reductionism of most psychoanalytic criticism that pisses me off. It is possible to take note of Siggy and not actually have to make everything about a couple of out dated and genuinely quite ridiculous statements. If most psychologists think that its nonsense…then why is the literary world still so obsessed with the Mother Loving Austrian Prick.

And I haven’t even mentioned Oedipus yet.

Anyway. Marxism is something i like. The key reduction here is viewing everything through a system of economic relationships. Sahil believes that every relationship is a constant series of negotiations…and that applies on International levels and on personal relationships. For Marx it’s about class war (aside: protest on campus once…someone yelled out ‘its a class war’ and got the biggest laugh of the day as everybody noted that in fact the only classes present were the middle…that’s what University protests are all about..middle class kids pretending they aren’t) and the constant dialectic struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. The important thing however, is that everything becomes economic. The money and the value of goods is exchanged, and this leads to the exploitation and alienation of the proletariat etc etc blah blah blah.

We all know about it. If you don’t (or just like re contextualised works) look at this .

Anyway, I’m talking through a literary lens today…so lets go into what Marxist literary criticism is like. Basically, (I think) literature is considered complicit in the oppression of the ‘people’. It forms part of the ruling hegemony (unless it is subverting it of course) and creates and uses language to promote the status quo. The ideology of the ruling class controls the language and uses its meanings to impose its thought upon people. Language itself is guilty of oppression, which is why people try to screw the system up by subverting language itself. Look for those experimental poets fucking shit up. My mate Jeffers does a fine job of it. I think its all well and good. I kind of tend to agree with bits and pieces of it to an extent. But at the same time…I don’t like the idea that language is to blame. Can we not change language. I mean…I know language and meaning has its limits. But the beauty of language is in the fact that it changes every fucking time you use it. Every time I use a word in the company of someone…then for both of us that word acquires a meaning related to that moment. It adds an extra level to it. A lot of the stuff in my short story posted below (Abort , Retry, Fail) is little words and phrases that only make sense to me and a couple of people who will recognise the original situation. I don’t know if it makes sense to put them in there…but I think it actually challenges other readers to associated new meaning with those phrases. The story isn’t as subversive as I’d originally hoped…but it certainly is a struggle to read…it makes you think…but at no point to I make up or invert language. Everything is in vaguely accurate English. The grammar is disjointed…but you generally understand what is going on.

Anyway, I’m going to edit it soon and hopefully it’ll be better then.

I’ve rambled off topic.

Basically..the general point is that grand theories must be looked at in all their intricacies, and should be only used as a lens. You must be aware that you are making a certain judgement of something using a certain set of rules laid out, by that something.

Life is more than sex and economics. Don’t reduce things to that. Look at everything. If you’re being Marxist..then note that you’re being Marxist and try and think of what the other side is. same for Freud…don’t just glue yourself to his ideas so that eventually all you can see is cocks flying through tunnels or whatever it is that Freud saw everywhere.

Hmm,

I haven’t said anything have I…ah well…any thoughts? Any questions? Want to call me a big shit and tell me I’m wrong? Go on…make a comment…I dares ya.

Edit: Read the commments if you haven’t. My second comment below actually ends up saying what I was trying to say above but couldn’t quite figure out.

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15 thoughts on ““Life ain’t Nothing but Bitches and Money” – A half arsed discussion of Psychoanalytic and Marxist Criticism”

  1. I have read this, but I have kept only the general idea, there are also terms I didn’t know , so I have got just the main ( I hope at least ehehe). I dare a comment (I’m very brave) , here you are: Both the theories ( Freud’s and Marx’s) likely hit something true, but they are limited since they want explain things by a main reason ( love, death, economy ). This is related to the cause idea. What is the cause? there isn’t a cause, but several causes. It’s hard chose the “main ” cause, among the others (all the causes are necessary).

  2. @V
    Thanks for stopping by. It’s probably one of my more boring articles…I just wanted to use the Ice Cube title quote for ages and thought I’d do it. I’m going to start posting a few essays I did for Uni soon..so I thought I’d set up the idea that this might get a bit more pretentious (ie literary) in between the other stuff. More variety methinks…let me know what you think I should actually be writing about that will interest you…lets make this more about the people.

    @Diddue
    Not sure what you mean by ’cause idea’. Do you mean what causes things to happen? I’m probably going to go into Marx and Freud more at some point (separately). I just wanted to set it up by criticising both of them. Just in case people don’t think I’m a cynic. Anyway…can you clarify what you mean (and as always ask me to explain any words you don’t understand….it helps me too you know.

  3. Okay, I tried reading this one, even though when I read the end of each para everything became a blur and I started thinking of something else, several times. (it’s me, not your writing). But it gets me a bit worried. I remember I was asked to improvise once and there was a psychiatrist in the board and he asked me and intensely personal question in relation to my story which I meant purely as fun, like “why did the dragon and the king both want to possess her?” or something, luckily someone interupted and I didn’t have to answer. It might have been a deep question or he might have been pulling my leg, but it got me flustered either way. That was a nosy psychiatrist. But the point is everything is on the surface with my story, even the layers arent very many, or any. I leave some stuff unansewered to drive the plot yeah, but I wonder if it could hold up to any sort of scrutiny?

  4. @V
    Glad you gave it a try…I’m afraid I am actually being very vague and you might need to know quite a bit about Marx and Freud to get what I’m talking about half the time.
    If you don’t mind me continuing to be literary..can I jsut say that your response of ‘everything is on the surface with my story’ wouldn’t hold up to any literary criticiser.
    The line I made about the Author being Dead is a reference to a Roland Barthes essay called the death of the author. There’s a lot of stuff in that essay, but one of the key features of it (and one used as a basis for all marxist and psychoanalytical criticism) is the idea that the author is not the ‘God of Meaning’, in any work.
    Though you may see your work as your creation, Barthes doesn’t. The Marxists see it as an expression of your economic situation and the political structures that create your life. The Psychos reckon its just all expression of your unconscious desires (mostly sexual..but a little drive toward death if you accept some of Freud’s later and quite interestingly depressed work).

    You have nothing to do with it.

    Literary criticism likes to ignore authorial intent. you can often get wholly different and multiple meaning out of one text.

    That’s what the M&P approaches are all about.

    From your perspective…I wouldn’t worry about it. Just keep on writing…people will find phallic symbols if they want to anywhere…and as for the Marxist thing…well…I kind of subscribe to that to an extent. But I’m just not sure if it matters. We can try and escape the dominant ideology through writing…but I think we should just promote discussion and lead people to think about stuff. I don’t buy the idea that high brow challenges to the system will actually promote a great change in society (though I’d like it if they did). I think revolution has to be from the ground up…charity begins at home and all that.

    A paradigm shift in the people will lead to the great changes we need to make society a better society.

    Apologies for vague ramble…Its just that I’ve realised I’m now saying what I was trying to say in the original article…interesting.

  5. Thank you Alabaster. I mean ( hope to be understandable): we are searching a cause (a reason,a motive) that can explain our behaviour, ie a theory. I think that this way means starting already with a deepen theory: a cause exists. That could be helpful sometimes, but it is a simplification.
    When you are talking about responsability it can became more clear, eg in an accident. A judge have to find a cause of an accident in order to find someone responsable that must pay for it, and this is not objective, a lot of discussions will arise ;-)
    So there are some assumpions that for me are not so obvious:
    distiction between causes , not causes and context
    I think that human behaviour is complex and need something complex that explain it. Explaing it by mean a single main cause or motive has no sense in my opinion. The same reason doesn’t trigger the same behaviour always. Hope to have been clear. I’ll ask you by e-mail the meaning of some terms , if you don’t mind.

  6. @Diddue
    E-mail away my dear.
    I think I see what you’re getting at..and we’re mostly in agreement again. Marxism and Psychoanalysis is easy to apply in a reductionist way (ie simplifying it). I’m looking more at the way the two analyse things in literary circles (that’s where my knowledge lies because that was what my degree was in). But at the same time its hard to separate the ideologies in lit from the ideologies that themselves.
    I don’t think that either of them provides an explanation (and a cause) for human behaviour..they just provide us with some interesting tools with which to look at the behaviour and the world. If you start using them for everything then you miss so much that you’ve basically missed the whole point.
    Like you say…its complex.
    At some point I’ll post on some of the Ian Cohen and Jack Stewart books I’ve read on evolution and behaviour, those provide a much more rounded look at all this stuff.
    Anyway, thanks for thoughts…have I clarified myself a bit? (Check the comment I made above as well..it looks like we were typing at the same time so you may have missed it.)
    Still…I’m loving this discussion.
    Everyone please continue

  7. I mean it’s hard enough writing it and reading it over and over, but figuring out what you’re trying to say? Like Ms. LeGuin said, It’s for me to write and them to interpret.
    At least, I think she said that, don’t know where the original source is.

  8. That’s basically the long and the short of it. The literary critics will tell you you have nothing to do with it. But you should just keep on writing as you were. If its obvious that you’re thinking about it then often it comes out crap. What I like about Michael Marshall Smith is that he’s clearly aware of psychoanlysis (his first book is all about dreams and the unconscious mind) he doesn’t constantly try and use it to prove points…he just writes a ripping yarn.
    Now a ripping yarn is exactly what I want in a book.
    Now get ripping them yarns.

  9. I been rippin since 9.00 am. I’ve told myself two hours of writing a day MINIMUM, and put it in front of me in writing.
    I bought an Andean Wind Flute, it’s really pretty it looks like a giant insect with a strange design on its back. It just needs some legs and then it could scuttle away (stop breathing up my arse, wouldya!)

  10. Erm…. I can assure you I’m nowhere near your arse…unless you’ve been lying about your location right now.
    Seriously though. I like the sound of the wind flute…although my Andean Winds haven’t been smelling much today.
    Which is odd for a vegan.
    Anyway, well done. I wish I had that discipline…I need to start finishing my novel..but I have no inspiration for the next scene.
    Bum cheeks.
    Ah well…I’m going to write another blog post at work this evening. At least I’m still writing something.

  11. “.they just provide us with some interesting tools with which to look at..” you are right , this is somewhat a key to look at!
    Just remind that keys are not so “innocent” ;-)
    your comment @V has really clarify the issue !

  12. Hey DUDE, I was speaking for the Andean WInd Flute Insect, not me! And I bet you knew. Well, anyway, you got me snorting and laughing, so good.

  13. @V
    Good…you did the same to me…just thought I’d return the favour (making laugh..not blowing up the arse…obviously

    @Diddue
    Indeed. I didn’t actually make the conclusion I meant to in the article because I got all rambly. Then people asked questions and I realised what I needed to say.
    This is why I love communicating with people and think that the internet is a wonderful source of learning.
    So many points of view…so little time.

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