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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


"Insofar as imagination is spontaneity, I also sometimes entitle it productive imagination, to distinguish it from reproductive imagination,whose synthesis is entirely subject to empirical laws, namely, of association, and which therefore contributes nothing to the explanation of the possibility of an *a priori* cognition."-- Immanuel Kant.

Sigmund Freud was, as I've noted elsewhere, a foursquare empiricist in both his psychological theories and his personal philosophy. He considered his Oedipus complex to be a universal experience of all mankind because every human psyche, like every human organism, was designed (at least under optimal conditions) to pass through a series of developmental phases of which the complex was the foundation. When proper development did not take place, the psyche, just like the physical organism, could become deformed. (Deleuze points out Freud's early concerns with and influence by the science of teratology.) For Freud, there was no such thing as a "productive imagination" able to perceive the "pure representations of space and time": all imagination was the product of associations based in a given subject's experience.

Kant clearly opposed the Empiricists of his time, who viewed all imagination as experience-based, as well as the Rationalists who attempted to conceive it as fundamentally transcending experience. But as Kant's dichotomy shows, he does not deny the existence of a "reproductive imagination," an imagination based in pure experience; rather, Kant demonstrates that its existence does not rule out a dichotomous form of the imagination which does reach beyond individual experience.

Kant's formulation of two complementary forms of imagination proves useful for the critic seeking to suss out why Freud's schema applies well to some literary works, both canonical and popular, but not to others. For every ROSMERSHOLM that seems to validate the Oedipus complex, in part because the Ibsen play appeared prior to Freud's seminal INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, there are dozens of works, from MOBY DICK to BATMAN, where Freudian analysis has been fallaciously, and often comically, misapplied.

Alternately, because in contemporary times Freud is not really considered to be that good an empiricist in terms of using experimental evidence, academics will often employ the "old wine in new bottles" trick, applying to literary works the doctrines of intellectuals strongly influenced by Freud, whether they actually styled themselves as Freudians (like Lacan) or not.

As a critical idealist myself, I reject any doctrine that reduces all facets of imagination to random associations, or to cognitively-reasoned associations (i.e., allegory), or any combinations thereof.

However, I can't deny the likelihood that there must something to the Oedipus complex if Henrik Ibsen wrote a play that seems to reproduce the fundamentals of that schema (specifically in its feminine iteration) long before Freud had made the complex famous enough to be liberally referenced in literature, as by writers as diverse as Eugene O'Neill and Robert Bloch.

In short, it's my contention that Freud's Oedipal fantasy is a real archetype, though obviously not as univerally pervasive as he liked to think. But it is an archetype that springs from the "reproductive imagination" in that it's an archetype concerned more with experience than essence in the critical-idealist sense. The archetype's central message is always the blending of *eros* with all other forms of love-- *agape, caritas,* et al-- and in that sense it is dominantly associational. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, in that the base Oedipal can be crossbred as it were with images of the productive imagination.

In future installments of this series I'll deal with some of the right and wrong ways to impose Freud's "reproductive imaginings" upon fictional works.

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