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Freud’s Impact on Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Giorgio de Chirico’s The Vexations of the Thinker

Freud’s Impact on Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Giorgio de Chirico’s The Vexations of the Thinker

The 1920 publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle formalized a meaningful shift in Sigmund Freud’s theory of sexual drive: his original hypothesis distinguished the ego instincts from the sexual instincts. Subsequent psychoanalytic researches force him to refine this configuration:

. . . psycho-analysis observed the regularity with which libido is withdrawn from the object and directed on the ego (the process of introversion); and, by studying the libidinal development of children in its earliest phases, came to the conclusion that the ego is the true and original reservoir of libido, and that it is only from that reservoir that libido is extended on to objects. [1]

Freud recognizes the narcissistic nature of sexual instinct yet clings to a dual (read: non-Jungian) model for instinctual drive. He “. . . describe[s] the opposition as being, not between ego-instincts and sexual instincts but between life instincts and death instincts” (Freud 64). Freud sees the natural goal of the sexual drive as reproduction – life – and the natural goal of the ego as death. This newest polarity leads to Freud’s exploration of the so-called “perversions”, sadism and masochism, as they characterize the death instinct.

It may seem odd to equate sadism with narcissism considering that a sadist receives pleasure only from another’s pain. “[But] is it not plausible,” Freud asks, “to suppose that this sadism is in fact a death instinct which, under the influence of the narcissistic ego, has been forced away from the ego and consequently only emerged in relation to the object?” He goes on to explain tha…

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…irico builds a wall of narcissism to entrap his solitary figure. This fact leads me to draw a parallel between the figure in de Chirico’s painting and Charlotte Brontë’s Heathcliff. Both suffer unnecessarily. Arguably, both would be better off dead. But their pain keeps them going even as it slowly kills them. Life serves death serves . . . life. Yes, we are slowly moving toward death, but each step is a lively one.

Works Cited

[1] Sigmund Freud. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: W.W. Norton

Perversity and Lawrence’s Prussian Officer

Perversity and Lawrence’s Prussian Officer

Ferdinand de Saussure developed his “theory of the sign” as part of a more general course on linguistics he taught in the nineteenth century. The “sign” represents the arbitrary relationship between the signifier (a word, or even a sound), and the signified (the meaning we give to the word or sound in our minds). For example, the word “can” signifies a cylindrical container to me, but could mean something entirely different to someone who does not understand English. The relationship of the word “can” to a can is completely subjective. It’s nothing but a trigger for my pre-existing notion of a can.



Actual meaning comes from the thing itself, rather than our word for it. Jacques Lacan modified Saussure’s original algorithm so that the signifier dominated the signified. We have many words for the same object. For example, the adjectives ugly, unattractive, hideous, revolting, and homely describe a less-than-desirable state of physical beauty. Why choose one word over another? The signification is roughly the same. Yet subtle differences exist between these signifiers – differences which relate as much to the speaker as to the object being described.

The choice of a signifier is nowhere near arbitrary; words may not have transcendental meaning, but they certainly relate to each other within a given linguistic structure – a language, a dialect, or even a piece of fiction. One interesting way to explore the mystery of the signifier is through constructs like metaphor and metonymy. These work within a text, simultaneously concealing and betraying meaning. Metaphor an…

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… the characters oppose each other. The tension becomes too much, and the binary opposites cancel each other out, literally – the orderly murders his captain and then dies himself. Truly, “The Prussian Officer” is bound up in a language of its own. Signification is dynamic, moving with increasing speed toward destruction. Meaning collapses at the end of the story. Luckily, there is a backtrail of metaphor and metonymy to reflect the shifting relationships between the terms of battle.

[1] David Herbert Lawrence, “The Prussian Officer”. D.H. Lawrence:Complete Stories. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1955 (105). Hereafter cited parenthetically.

[2] Anthony Wilden, “Lacan and the Discourse of the Other”. The Language of Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981 (225).

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