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Art and psychoanalysis: A topographical, structural, and object -relational analysis illustrated by a study of Shakespeare's “Hamlet”

Patricia E Scarbrough, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this paper I examine the nature of the relationship between art and reality, arguing for the centrality of the role of art in the creation and cognition of the shared reality which is the human world. I support this argument through reference to the developing discipline of psychoanalysis, specifically considering three “stages” of psychoanalysis: classic Freudian psychoanalysis, ego psychology, and object relations theory. I take the position that if we are to reap the full benefit of the explanatory power of psychoanalysis as it may be applied to an understanding of aesthetics, we must treat psychoanalysis as we do any other growing body of theory, recognizing that initial formulations may be transformed, superceded, or restricted to a circumscribed area of applicability by advances based on new evidence. To this end, I examine classic Freudian psychoanalysis in terms of concepts such as conscious/unconscious, repression, instinctual derivatives, primary and secondary process functioning, condensation and displacement, phantasy, symptom, and dream. I also consider the development of the psychoanalytic techniques of free association, transference analysis, and interpretation. I look at ego psychology in terms of the mechanisms of defense, the formation of the superego, adaptation, the “conflict free sphere of ego functioning,” and “regression in service of the ego.” And I examine object relations theory in terms of Melanie Klein's inner and outer reality, D. W. Winnicott's transitional space, and the elaboration of world and self through mechanisms of identification, introjection, projection, and regression to dependence. I tie each of the psychoanalytic theories to a theory of aesthetics developed from the psychoanalytic premises, and I provide concrete examples through interpretations of Hamlet based on each of the three aesthetic theories. I conclude that Winnicott's object relations theory grounds the most robust theory of aesthetics, one which supports the centrality of the role of art in our constitution of our selves and our world.

Subject Area

Philosophy|British and Irish literature|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Scarbrough, Patricia E, "Art and psychoanalysis: A topographical, structural, and object -relational analysis illustrated by a study of Shakespeare's “Hamlet”" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9960786.