Psychoanalysis, Cultural Studies, and The Transmission of Affect

Hi, everyone! I am putting my notes for psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and The Transmission of Affect here, and I am including a key! Text that is italicized is, to me, most important in each section. Bold text relates directly to our exam. I hope this helps!

In Chapter Five (Psychoanalysis), Parker first describes psychoanalysis as it pertains to analysts and psychologists. “So how can a method of analysis and therapy be applied to literature?” you may be asking. Well, Parker tells us that we can draw on the structure and approach of psychoanalysis when thinking about texts– without actually performing psychoanalysis. This caution may seem simple– don’t try to evaluate a novel’s childhood issues– but it can be really difficult, and wind up putting us in not-so-academic positions! For example, we may want to use psychoanalysis to look at the author of a work. However, this can be a dangerous move! By psychoanalyzing an author to learn more about something they’ve written, we are treating an author as the sole producer of the work, and therefore ignoring the influence that society and the historical moment have on writing as well. Something we have probably all been tempted (and tried) to do is psychoanalyze a work’s characters. Parker also warns us about this! We cannot psychoanalyze a character because characters are, first of all, NOT PEOPLE. They don’t exist outside of the text– they have no life before or after what is actually written down. “So then what good is psychoanalysis? It seems as if it only causes more trouble.” Well, we can use psychoanalysis when looking at form, audience, and culture. In other words, by a text telling a certain story, specific details are being left out– and furthermore, other stories are not being told. Looking into what is concealed (or repressed, in Freud’s terms), is a legitimate way to analyze a work using psychoanalysis.

Parker defines cultural materialism as “weaving together literary studies with the study of popular culture, cultural history, and Marxism” (275). He describes that cultural studies investigates the reproduction of certain ideas through popular culture– most of these ideas being things that oppress people or encourage them to remain complacent (with, for example, having or even aspiring to have a working-class job). Most importantly, Parker presents us with a tension between cultural studies scholars, best worded on page 276: “By taking the people and the pleasures of popular culture seriously rather than scornfully, cultural studies scholars shifted the study of popular culture from how its fan are dupes of the broader cultural hegemony to studying how they use popular culture to speak back to and perhaps resist or begin to resist the expectations of dominant ideologies, such as consumerism, sexism, racism, capitalism, class elitism, and so on.” This tension between scholars is centered around popular culture– some believe that popular culture keeps us (and could even be argued to be designed to keep us) complacent with our lives and the systems we live under, while others think that popular culture can actually motivate us to create change and fight oppressive systems. In class, Professor Tougaw also mentioned the term “interpolation,” which he defined as “absorbing the norms of culture and that becomes who you are.” Kelly and I thought that a great connection for the exam would be to use The Brief Life of Oscar Wao, as it significantly involves popular culture. The novel stages questions about popular culture and its influence– is pop culture liberating or constraining? Oscar is indeed limited in his social status by his obsession with popular culture, BUT the popular culture that he is interested in doesn’t fit in with the culture in which he’s living, which motivates him to keep breaking out of the norm and, no matter how many times the narrator tries, he goes back to his odd but comfortable life with no girls and few friends.

Brennan’s introduction to The Transmission of Affect begins with the idea of “feeling an atmosphere,” which I related to the more common term “vibe.” She writes that this “vibe” can be both objective and certain, and involves both physiology and psychology, as opposed to just one or the another. As she puts it, “I am using the term ‘transmission of affect’ to capture a process that is social in origin but biological and physical in effect” (3). At first, the difference between feelings and affects can get confusing, so Brennan sets the facts straight: “In other words, feelings are not the same things as affects. Putting it simply, when I feel angry, I feel the passage of anger through me. What I feel with and what I feel are distinct” (5). Brennan discusses the different pathways for affect, sight and smell, but focuses on smell (aka hormones). Brennan is establishing an idea that we’ve all felt at one time or another– that we can feel and are affected by one another. However, this does not mean that we all process these “vibes” the same way. In fact, “the point is that, even if I am picking up on your affect, the linguistic and visual content, meaning the thoughts I attach to that affect remain my own: they remain the product of the particular historical conjunction of words and experiences I represent” (7). Although we considered “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a clearly relevant text, Kelly and I were more interested in Fun Home‘s direct connection to this last quotation. Just as Brennan describes that the thoughts that are attached to the same affect vary by experience, Alison and her father have clearly different feelings regarding their museum of a house. To her father, the house is a project that must be perfect. To Alison, the house is her replacement– the child her father always wanted. Brennan also writes that “there is no reason why one person’s repression could not be another man or woman’s burden, just as the aggression of one can be the anxiety of another” (12). This refers to her idea of “self-containment,” or when one projects unwanted affects onto another person that he or she depends on– something that is definitely going on between Alison and her father in both directions. Any quotations from pages 11 to 16 of Fun Home, in which Alison is describing her family home and her and her father’s interesting (and interconnected) relationships to it would work on our exam to demonstrate the complex affective relationship Alison has with her father. 

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